Supplements in the Spotlight: Vitamin C
Ever since Dr. Robert Lind’s experiment with scurvy-plagued sailors in the 1700s, oranges have been automatically associated with vitamin C (ascorbic acid). A glass of OJ is an American breakfast staple. The beverage dots countless tables in breakfast joints and lines our grocery store shelves. It’s hard to imagine a time when the juice wasn’t so commonplace.
But, surprise. There was such a time—not too long ago, actually. Marketing put it on the map in the early 20th century.
Sailors and Sunkist
In 1932, ascorbic acid was first discovered by Albert Szent-Györgyi. He found that it allowed for the efficient processing of proteins, carbohydrates, and fats . Prior to this research, Dr. Lind had already discovered that something in citrus fruits helped curb scurvy, a disease that afflicted those who spent a long time at sea and were often malnourished.
Then, in 1970, Linus Pauling declared that megadoses of vitamin C would help prevent colds and other illnesses. While the benefit and necessity of megadosing hasn’t been approved wholeheartedly by the scientific community, vitamin C is a water-soluble vitamin, meaning the body can’t store it. Since it passes quickly through the body, a steady daily intake through diet or supplementation is required to maintain optimal levels.
Fast forward to today: We now know that orange juice contains a high amount of sugar. And, oranges aren’t the sole source of vitamin C out there. As a result, a lot of us have turned to supplements to skip the sugar surge but still get our daily nutrients.
Why is vitamin C so important anyway? Let’s run through the head-to-toe benefits!
While everyone knows ascorbic acid is beneficial for overall immune health, does everyone know exactly how it helps?
As a powerful antioxidant, vitamin C protects against oxidative stress, which is an imbalance of free radicals that can lead to tissue damage. While free radicals are not intrinsically bad, excess free radicals can contribute to the development of:
- Hardened blood vessels (atherosclerosis)
- High blood pressure
- Heart disease
- Inflammatory conditions
- Neurodegenerative disorders (Parkinson’s, Alzheimer’s)
Additionally, vitamin C aids in the production of white blood cells and in destroying harmful microbes. Deficiency in this essential vitamin has been connected to a higher rate of infections, underscoring its reputation as MVP of immune support.
While the immune support benefits alone are normally enough to persuade people to consume vitamin C, there are other vitamin C benefits that aren’t as widely known. Collagen has skyrocketed in popularity in recent years for its ability to promote healthy skin and hair and nail growth, but not many people know that vitamin C is needed to produce collagen.
Vitamin C helps stabilize the molecules that control cell production, facilitating the right conditions for increased collagen production. High levels of collagen provide the structure skin needs to retain its natural elasticity. As the most abundant protein in the human body, collagen is a critical component in a variety of other types of tissues, including:
- Blood vessels
- The gut
- The cornea
Skin DefenseHealthy skin goes beyond the glowing surface. As seen in the days when scurvy was rampant, inadequate vitamin C levels can lead to bleeding gums, slow-healing wounds, and sudden bleeding. While those symptoms only appear in cases of extreme deficiency, it demonstrates the importance of vitamin C. Without it, the lack of support for collagen production can lead to tissue breakdown.
Ascorbic acid is directly transported to the skin to help strengthen the barrier, making it a significant player in skin defense. Several studies have even demonstrated its ability to speed up wound healing, and vitamin C may be prescribed by medical professionals to encourage quicker recoveries !
Iron is yet another nutrient that is vital to countless bodily functions. It’s needed to produce red blood cells, transport oxygen throughout the body, and is a part of many proteins and enzymes.
Ascorbic acid comes into play here because it’s a powerful enhancer of non-heme iron absorption. Non-heme iron is the type of iron that’s found more abundantly in most diets, as its source is plants (especially leafy greens) as opposed to heme iron, which comes from meat.
It’s more difficult for the body to absorb non-heme iron. Vitamin C helps convert it into a substance that the body can more easily absorb . This is particularly important for those prone to iron deficiency and, subsequently, anemia. As a matter of fact, consuming just 100 mg of vitamin C may improve iron absorption by a whopping 67% !
Now You C
Yes, vitamin C is good for staving off infections and helping to prevent chronic illnesses. Now you know that there are several more reasons why it’s essential. And since humans can’t synthesize it ourselves, we have to make sure to get adequate amounts from food and supplement sources.
Just how much? According to the Harvard School of Health, the recommended daily dosage of vitamin C for adults age 19 and older is 75 mg for women and 90mg for men. But, as always, the safest course of action is consulting a doctor to make sure you’re meeting your specific needs.