Vitamin C –
Can You “C” the Benefits?

Vitamin C is probably one of the best-known vitamins – but do you know why we need a ready daily supply of this important nutrient?

For starters, Vitamin C is water-soluble meaning the body doesn’t have stores and reserves of this essential nutrient, which is needed for a wide variety of health benefits:

Immune Support

Vitamin C is known for its immune boosting actions – something we could all do with at this time of year and in the current pandemic. Research shows that vitamin C is proven to support the body in fighting off pathogens by stopping the replication of cold and flu viruses, as well as boosting collagen, an important protein in skin and tissue membranes, so the virus can’t enter the tissues in the first place.

Vitamin C can also have a beneficial impact when taken at high doses (1000mg) at the start of a virus infection by increasing our immune system defence (mainly white blood cells and antibodies) and reducing the duration of symptoms.1

Skin and Tissue Healing

Vitamin C is essential for collagen formation and although collagen is associated with healthy, youthful and glowing skin its importance also lies deep below the skin; it’s a vital protein supporting connective tissues that keep our cells and joints healthy and supple.

Collagen also supports a healthy cardiovascular system by helping arteries stay strong and flexible, which is vital to get oxygenated blood around the body. A high intake of dietary vitamin C has been shown to significantly reduce the risk of death from heart attacks and strokes in population studies.2 Signs of weakened collagen in your body include bruising, muscle weakness, and poor wound healing – all something that is key in recovery and performance in an active lifestyle.

Antioxidant action

Vitamin C is a powerful antioxidant, which are key molecules that help protect cells and tissues from free radical damage. Free radicals are a natural by-product of biochemical processes in the body, like metabolism, but in excess they can damage cells and impact how the body produces energy. Excess free radical production in the cells can occur from stress (such as extreme training and sports, as well as lifestyle), smoking, processed foods, ageing, toxin exposure and environmental impact (such as pollution). If the body doesn’t have enough of its own natural antioxidant defences then, in time, this can contribute to low energy, poor recovery and performance and even a number of named diseases.

Dietary sources of vitamin C

So we know that vitamin C is an essential nutrient but how do we make sure we get the right daily amount? Humans, unlike almost all animals, can’t make vitamin C, so we have to get it from our diet. Probably the most famous vitamin C food source is oranges but whilst they do contain vitamin C, and other important nutrients, you would have to eat around 17 oranges to get 1000mg of Vitamin C!

Leafy green vegetables and brassicas like broccoli and Brussels sprouts are another rich source – so having a daily dose of greens in your smoothies, salads or evening meals is key to keeping your vitamin C levels topped up. And it’s not just fresh vegetables that contain vitamin C; frozen veg can be just as high, if not higher, in natural vitamin C levels, and are a convenient way to keep veg on hand.

Vitamin C supplements – how much to take and which type?

The current guidelines suggest 60mg vitamin C daily for adults in the UK. However, there is plenty of research to suggest that we need a lot more, especially to support our immune systems. In fact, some studies suggest 1000mg vitamin C daily to really “C” all the benefits of this essential nutrient.

This is where vitamin C supplements may help support your natural levels. You can find vitamin C food supplements in different forms; ascorbic acid is the most common form but at doses of 1000mg and over this can have a laxative action – something you don’t want from taking a food supplement!

To avoid this, the ascorbate form of vitamin C (such as calcium or magnesium ascorbate) is less acidic so does not irritate the stomach lining so is a better form of the vitamin C to supplement with. Vitamin C capsules are also more easily digested in the stomach and absorbed (i.e. have greater bioavailability) compared to vitamin C tablets so provide a more convenient and cost effective way of supplementing with vitamin C.

For more information about vitamin C supplements then get in touch with Fourfive Nutrition at [email protected].

1 Van Straten M, Josling P.  Herbal Health Centre, Battle, East Sussex, United Kingdom.  Preventing the common cold with a vitamin C supplement: a double-blind, placebo-controlled survey.  Adv Ther 2002 May-Jun;19(3):151-9
2 Ness, A.R., Powles, J.W. and Khaw, K.T., 1996. Vitamin C and cardiovascular disease: a systematic review. Journal of cardiovascular risk, 3(6), pp.513-521.

About Dr Elisabeth Philipps

Dr Elisabeth Philipps is a clinical neuroscientist and runs a health consultancy specialising in nutrition and lifestyle medicine, the endocannabinoid system and phytocannabininoids including CBD and food supplements. You can contact Elisabeth via social media:
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