When referring to Vitamin C, it is common to mentally connect it to fruits like oranges and lemons, a go-to home favourites, widely believed to relieve the symptoms of cold & flu. However, this is not all this vitamin does, by a long stretch. Vitamin C has numerous health benefits, from strengthening the immune system, fighting oxidative stress, and even can help cope better in the summer heat.
Vitamin C, often referred to as ‘ascorbic acid’, although there are other forms, is an essential vitamin required by the body to carry out numerous functions.
An essential vitamin is one that is not made in the body and must come from our diet or supplements. Additionally, vitamin C is water-soluble, meaning that it is not stored in the body, and therefore must be consumed on a daily basis.
What are the benefits of taking Vitamin C?
As mentioned, vitamin C has numerous health benefits. Some of the most significant are:
- It boosts the Immune system- Vitamin C plays an important role in strengthening the function of white blood cells which fight disease-causing pathogens in the body. It does this by multiplying them and keeping them alive, viable, and effective. This vitamin also helps in the transportation of information between cells, promoting a more effective immune response.
- It is a potent antioxidant- An antioxidant is a substance that neutralizes or eliminates the negative effect of free radicals in the body. Free radicals are byproducts of various body processes. Too much accumulation of free radicals can cause oxidative stress. Oxidative stress damages cells, causing inflammation and premature aging. It is also an underlying cause of chronic diseases such as diabetes and some cancers. Vitamin C goes around the body scavenging for these free radicals, neutralizing and eradicating them.
- It helps in the creation of collagen- Collagen is the structural component found in the skin, bones, and cartilage that holds the body together. The body produces collagen naturally and it is in abundance when young, but unfortunately production starts to decline at about age 25. Collagen depletion can result in saggy, wrinkled skin as well as weak joints. Vitamin C is vital to collagen production which promotes wound healing, skin and nail health as well as strong bones and teeth.
- It enhances iron absorption- Iron is an essential mineral required to produce hemoglobin, the substance in red blood cells that transports oxygen around the body. Additionally, iron helps remove waste such as carbon dioxide, transporting it to the lungs to be exhaled. Iron deficiency can lead to anaemia and other health issues. There are two main types of iron ‘heme iron’ originating from meats and ‘non-heme iron’ sourced from plants such as lentils, spinach, broccoli etc. Non-heme iron is not as easily absorbed by the body. Taking vitamin C greatly boosts the amount of iron that the body absorbs from non-heme iron, which is especially important for vegetarians & vegans.
- Enables the body to respond better to heat stress - Vitamin C acts as a natural anti-histamine. Studies have shown that taking just 500mg of Vitamin C a day can reduce your likelihood of developing heat-related illnesses such as heat rash (prickly heat) as well as to treat heat rash that's already developed. It can also help combat heat exhaustion by shortening the length of time it takes your body to adjust to a new hotter environment, known as heat acclimatization. [source: Ringsdorff, Kotze].
What are good food sources of Vitamin C?
While oranges are synonymous with vitamin C, the truth is that some vegetables have a much higher concentration of this vital nutrient:
- Vegetables: Some of the best sources here are broccoli, Brussel sprouts, cauliflower, red and green peppers as well as tomatoes. You will also find high levels of this nutrient in leafy vegetables including spinach, cabbages, kale, and turnip greens.
- Fruits- Other than citrus fruits like oranges and lemons, vitamin C is high in strawberries, guavas, kiwi fruit, and papayas. Others are watermelon, cantaloupe, pineapples, and mangoes.
What is the recommended daily intake of Vitamin C?
As earlier mentioned, vitamin C is not stored in the body and must be replenished daily. But, how much is enough, and can one take too much of it? For most people, taking a normal balanced diet comprising of fruits and vegetables is enough to supply their daily requirements.
The UK department of health recommends that adults aged 19-64 years should consumer about 40mg of vitamin C per day. This can be increased depending on the circumstances. For instance, expectant women and the elderly may require a higher dose. Smokers should take more Vitamin C. Taking up to 1000mg is unlikely to cause any adverse side effects.
When should I take higher doses of Vitamin C?
As good a time as any, to take a higher dose of vitamin C to boost immunity would be during an illness. Whether a simple cold, a flu, or covid virus, the body will need all the help it can get to fight and recover. Similarly, those recovering from a long illness or surgery should take vitamin C to boost immunity and wound healing. This who exercise more can also benefit from high consumption of Vitamin C.
People who are travelling or under stress from work or family matters might need to boost their vitamin C intake with supplements to keep their health in check.
Are there any side effects of taking too much Vitamin c?
Well, too much of anything is bad, even in the case of a super nutrient like vitamin C. Taking too much vitamin C, such as more than 1000mg per day may cause diarrhoea, stomach pains, nausea, and bloating, mostly associated ‘ascorbic acid’ which is more acidic. However, taking vitamin C in the form of non acidic, sodium or calcium ascorbate can minimize this effect.
Overconsumption of Vitamin C can increase the amount of oxalate (vitamin C designated for elimination via urine) in the body. This can potentially lead to the formation of kidney stones.
What Should I Know about Vitamin C supplements?
Vitamin C supplements can play an important role in bridging the gap between what we consume and what the body actually needs. Vitamin C is highly unstable and therefore easily destroyed during food processing and preparation. It also doesn’t help that due to modern farming methods, the nutrients in our foods have declined drastically. This is where a good supplement comes in.
Most vitamin C supplements are formulated from buffered forms of ascorbic acid or calcium ascorbate. A buffered form of vitamin C means that a mineral such as zinc, magnesium, or calcium has been added to it, making it easier to digest.
When it comes to consumption, it is better to select a highly absorbable form of Vitamin such as Super Vitamin C+, which uses its time-release system to deliver vitamin C over several hours, mimicking the natural digestive process. This is not only easy on the stomach but ensures an effective absorption of the nutrient by the body.
The other consideration is Liposomal Vitamin C, which utilises an advanced deliver system whereby the Vitamin C is wrapped in bubble like micro-spheres, suspended in a liquid form. Once ingested the liposomes protect the Vitamin C from harsh digestive processes and are easily absorbed and transported into cells. Liposomes are made from the same membrane material, Phosphatidylcholine (PT), which our own cells walls are made from. The body recognises the liposomes as being something the body needs, which is why it is easily accepted into the body for better and faster absorption.
When Should I take Vitamin C?
How often should you take Vitamin C? The short answer: It depends. Vitamin C is water soluble which means that your body can't store it like fat soluble vitamins (A, D, E and K). So when you ingest vitamin C in excess amounts your your body will excrete any excess into your urine.
It is suggested that the best way to take Vitamin C, is little and often, say two or three times in the day, rather than in all one go. However this is not always convenient. Slow time release or liposomal delivery mechanisms will help extend the Vitamin C being utilised.
The best time to take Vitamin C is in the morning and on an empty stomach 30 - 45 minutes prior to having your breakfast.