Also known as L-ascorbic acid, vitamin C is a water-soluble vitamin that is naturally present in some foods and added to a few others. And unlike most animals, humans cannot synthesize this vitamin – which is why it is an indispensable dietary component.
Vitamin C is an antioxidant that helps regenerate other antioxidants in the body. It improves the absorption of non-heme iron and plays a vital role in building connective tissue and wound healing. It also delays the damaging effects of free radicals on the skin and body.
At a moderate intake of 30 to 180 mg a day, 70 to 90% of the vitamin is absorbed. When the intake goes beyond 1 g a day, the absorption falls below 50%.
There are different forms of vitamin C –
- Sodium ascorbate – 1000 mg of this vitamin contains 111 mg of sodium.
- Calcium ascorbate – 1000 mg of this vitamin contains 90 to 110 mg of calcium.
- Magnesium ascorbate – Daily intake of magnesium must not exceed 350 mg.
- Potassium ascorbate – Daily intake of potassium must not exceed 11 grams.
- Manganese ascorbate – Daily intake of manganese must not exceed 11 mg.
- Zinc ascorbate – Daily intake of zinc must not exceed 40 mg.
- Molybdenum ascorbate – Daily intake of molybdenum must not exceed 2 grams.
- Chromium ascorbate – The maximum daily intake of chromium has not been established. But the RDA is between 50 and 200 mcg for adults and teenagers.
Except for sodium ascorbate and calcium ascorbate, the other forms of vitamin C are more likely to be found in combination with other mineral ascorbates or other minerals.
What Is Vitamin C Deficiency And What Are The Signs?
Vitamin C deficiency occurs, as is obvious, when the intake of vitamin C is inadequate. The signs include –
- Swollen or bleeding gums
- Inflammation of the gums (also called gingivitis)
- Slow wound healing
- Dry and splitting hair
- Rough and dry skin
- Weak immunity
- Swollen and painful joints
- Possible weight gain
Taking adequate vitamin C not only prevents these signs, but offers numerous other benefits as well – which is what we will see now – the many functions of vitamin C.
What Are The Health Benefits Of Vitamin C?
1. Improves Heart Health —
A regular dose of vitamin C can hinder the activity of a protein named endothelin-1, which leads to the constriction of small blood vessels – and this eventually causes heart attack. The vitamin can also lower your blood pressure and keep your arteries flexible.
Vitamin C was also found to help the arteries dilate under stress – this improves blood flow, and hence, its oxygen carrying ability as well. Another Indian study states that fruits and vegetables rich in vitamin C can prevent heart disease. The study says that a vitamin C-rich vegetarian diet can reduce blood cholesterol by 1%, which reduces the risk of heart attack by 2%.
2. Regulates Blood Pressure Levels —
Vitamin C acts as a diuretic and causes the kidneys to remove more sodium and water from the body – this relieves the pressure on blood vessel walls.
Vitamin C also protects your body’s supply of nitric oxide, a molecule known to relax the blood vessels. The blood pressure lowering effect can be attributed to supplements as well – consuming vitamin C supplements in a dose of 500 mg in a day could reduce systolic blood pressure by 4 points and diastolic blood pressure by 1.5 points – in a period of 2 months.
Vitamin C, according to another Italian study, also enhances vasodilation (the dilation of blood vessels that decreases blood pressure). And it even prevents vasoconstriction.
3. Boosts Immunity –
A deficiency of vitamin C reduces the body’s resistance against certain pathogens. As per a study, vitamin C stimulates the immune system by enhancing the strength and protection of the organism.
In addition to protecting the immune system, vitamin C also reduces the severity of various allergies and fights off infections. It achieves this by enhancing T-cell proliferation in response to the infection. It has also been found that individuals suffering from wounds could accelerate their healing process by an optimal dose of vitamin C. The nutrient had improved the quality of the newly synthesized collagen, thereby quickening the process of wound healing.
And coming to common cold, though more research is required, vitamin C has been found to reduce the duration of the cold. We don’t know yet if the vitamin can protect against a cold – but it sure does reduce how long the cold lasts. Vitamin C might also be a potential treatment for asthma. However, more research is required in this aspect.
4. Helps Prevent Cancer —
Numerous laboratory studies have shown that high doses of vitamin C can slow down the growth of prostate, liver, colon, and other types of cancer cells. Higher concentrations of vitamin C might also help in cancer treatment.
The intravenous administration of a type of vitamin C to inoperable patients with cancer resulted in a significant reduction in tumor volume without any side effects. Ascorbate also killed cancer cells, as noted in numerous studies.
5. Aids In The Treatment Of Osteoarthritis —
According to the Arthritis Foundation, vitamin C can help prevent some forms of arthritis. But too much of it might worsen some other forms of the condition – which is why finding a balance is key. Getting the right dose of vitamin C helps prevent inflammatory arthritis and maintains healthy joints with osteoarthritis.
Research also states that people with the lowest levels of vitamin C would be three times more likely to develop inflammatory arthritis. But as we already discussed, taking note of the dosage is important. Dietary intake of vitamin C exceeding the RDA recommendation (90 milligrams per day for men and 75 milligrams per day for women) might worsen arthritis symptoms.
6. Enhances Eye Health —
Evidence also suggests that vitamin C intake can lower the risk of cataracts. The vitamin, when taken with other essential nutrients, can prevent age related macular degeneration and visual acuity loss.
In fact, people with a high intake of vitamin C have 20% lower risk of cataracts. It also fights oxidative stress by preventing the free radicals from causing molecular damage to the lens tissue in the eye. Vitamin C could also extend the proper functioning of your retinal cells as per studies. This vitamin also supports the health of the blood vessels in your eyes.
Vitamin C might also aid in the regeneration of vitamin E in the eye, which further enhances eye health. Regular intake of vitamin C can also aid in the treatment of uveitis (inflammation of the middle layer of the eye, also called uvea).
7. Treats Preeclampsia —
According to an American study, vitamin C might help treat preeclampsia (high blood pressure during pregnancy). However, further studies are warranted. Even oxidative stress could be responsible for preeclampsia. And since vitamin C helps combat oxidative stress, it can also help prevent this condition.
Vitamin C might also help terminate an unplanned pregnancy (abortion). Certain sources suggest that the vitamin can induce heat in the uterus and achieve this. But there is limited research on this.
8. Maintains Healthy Gums —
Deficiency of vitamin C can also cause periodontal disease, a severe form of gingivitis (gum disease). This is because low levels of vitamin C can weaken the connective tissue and easily break down the capillaries. In fact, one early sign of vitamin C deficiency is bleeding gums. And the vitamin is responsible for the health of teeth and gums.
9. Helps Treat Allergies —
It is important to know that allergies are caused when your body releases histamine, a biochemical. Vitamin C intake reduces the release of histamine, thereby preventing allergies.
As per another Japanese study, autoimmune disease and the related allergies can also be controlled by vitamin C. Vitamin C was also found to aid in the treatment of hay fever (also called allergic rhinitis).
10. Alleviates Dry Mouth —
Certain sources suggest that vitamin C helps prevent and even treat dry mouth. However, there is limited evidence in this aspect.
11. Helps Regulate Blood Sugar —
Regular intake of supplementary vitamin C (1000 mg) was shown to regulate blood sugar levels in patients with type 2 diabetes. Vitamin C can also prevent diabetes-related damage to your blood vessels.
Another Japanese study states that diabetes can be controlled by vitamin C treatment. The vitamin was found to stimulate insulin mechanism, thereby aiding in the treatment.
Vitamin C was also found to reduce fasting blood glucose in patients with type 2 diabetes. So was the case with postmeal blood glucose.
12. Treats Viral Infections —
According to a study, high dose intravenous vitamin C can be effective in treating allergies. In the past, such doses were used to treat infections like measles, herpes, mumps, and viral pneumonia. This shows the efficacy of vitamin C as an antibiotic. Also, since vitamin C is an antioxidant, it combats the harmful free radicals and helps treat viral infections.
A high dose of vitamin C was also found to aid in the treatment of mononucleosis (an abnormally high proportion of white blood cells that causes glandular fever). It also fights the free radicals that might lead to mononucleosis.
13. Prevents Scurvy —
Though rare in today’s world, scurvy can affect people who don’t consume enough of vitamin C. And the side effects of the vitamin are rare, even when ingested in high quantities.
In fact, vitamin C was used for this purpose for more than 300 years. Sailors on a long voyage used to include lime juice in their rations to protect themselves from scurvy
Scurvy can be prevented with as little as 10 grams of vitamin C daily.
14. Cures Lead Toxicity —
Low levels of vitamin C in the bloodstream are often associated with high levels of lead. Regular vitamin C supplementation was found to reduce blood lead levels in smokers.
Another study suggests that vitamin C can alleviate lead toxicity. And foods high in vitamin C are safe and help prevent lead poisoning. However, certain studies say taking vitamin C may not have any effect on lead toxicity.
15. Combats Stroke —
Eating foods rich in vitamin C can prevent stroke, and in particular, hemorrhagic stroke. Vitamin C can combat stroke by reducing blood pressure. Low levels of vitamin C can also increase the risk of spontaneous brain hemorrhages.
Vitamin C, along with iron, can help cut stroke risk. Also, as per a study, people with high levels of vitamin C in their blood could reduce their stroke risk by 42%.
16. Improves Your Mood —
Studies on hospitalized patients have proved that taking adequate amounts of vitamin C can improve mood. It has mood-elevating effects.
Vitamin C supplementation was also found to reduce anxiety in students.
17. Aids In Weight Loss —
Getting adequate vitamin C increases the oxidation of body fat during exercise. Hence, a deficiency of vitamin C can hinder weight and fat loss. Vitamin C also enhances metabolism, and this aids weight loss.
19. Boosts Energy —
Vitamin C was found to help you push through the pain barrier and eliminate fatigue.
In another Korean study, vitamin C had significantly reduced work-related fatigue in healthy employees Vitamin C supplementation was also found to improve physical activity levels in men who had marginal vitamin C status.
20. Heals Burns And Wounds —
Preliminary evidence suggests that vitamin C can improve wound healing and reduce the requirement of ventilation in patients with severe burns. The antioxidants in vitamin C also help treat burn lesions.
A high dose of vitamin C also reduces capillary leakage post a burn injury. And since vitamin C supports new tissue growth and skin, it works wonderfully well to heal burns and wounds.
21. Treats Sunburn —
The antioxidant properties of vitamin C play a role in collagen synthesis, and they help in treating sunburn. Oral vitamin C intake or topical application of vitamin C oil can help improve the condition. But it is important to note that vitamin C must only be used as an addition to sunscreen, not a replacement.
Vitamin C was also found to reduce the effects of UVB-induced erythema (superficial reddening of the skin).
22. Aids In The Treatment Of Eczema —
One good way to treat eczema is a combination of vitamin C and zinc – taking 500 to 1000 mg of vitamin C and 15 mg of zinc every day can act as a potential cure
23. Aids In Collagen Production —
Vitamin C is a required component for the production of hydroxyproline and hydroxylysine, both of which are needed to bind the molecules that produce collagen. This, in turn, firms and tones the skin. Collagen deficiency makes the skin dull and lifeless. Collagen rejuvenates the skin from the roots and reduces wrinkles and symptoms of aging.
24. Protects Against Skin Discoloration —
Vitamin C protects DNA from photochemical reactions that can lead to tumor, skin discoloration, and several kinds of skin cancer. It also inhibits the production of pyrimidine dimers that are the primary cause of melanomas in humans. It lightens dark discoloration like skin freckles and age spots and helps you get younger and smoother skin.
25. Improves Skin Texture —
Collagen also provides the structure for the blood vessels. The tiny blood vessels under the skin carry oxygen and nutrients that keep the skin healthy. Without enough nutrients, the skin will become rough and dry. Creams containing Vitamin C improve the appearance and texture of the skin.
Vitamin C increases the formation of elastin, which thickens, protects, and heals the skin cells. The thickening effect helps retain moisture, increases the skin circulation, and plumps up the skin surface.
26. Enhances Hair Growth —
Low intake of Vitamin C may be a root cause for a number of hair-related problems that affect our hair growth. Vitamin C deficiency may result in dry hair and split ends. These conditions are unfavorable for the regular growth of hair and eventually lead to hair loss.
When our body turns food that we consume into glucose for energy production, free radicals are naturally formed. These free radicals damage our hair by making it weak, brittle, and thin, which interrupts hair growth. Vitamin C’s antioxidant properties reduce the formation of free radicals and minimizes their effect on our body. Having an adequate supply of Vitamin C in our diet is essential for antioxidant protection against free radicals.
People who take huge amount of vitamin C have healthy, strong, and thick hair.
27. Fights Dandruff —
Our hair follicles often get clogged due to dandruff and dry, flaky skin. This can damage the hair follicles and also inhibit hair growth. Vitamin C helps fight the bacteria on the scalp. It wards off dandruff, helps to get rid of the follicles’ debris, and encourages the growth of new hair. It also helps with dry and itchy scalps because of its antiviral properties.
28. Prevents Premature Greying Of Hair —
Vitamin C not only helps combat hair loss but also helps retain the natural color by preventing the premature aging of hair. However, there is limited research on this.
What Are The Dietary Sources Of Vitamin C?
There are numerous foods right in your kitchen that are excellent sources of vitamin C. These include
- Chilli peppers
- Bell peppers
- Green Peas
- Cantaloupe Melon
What Is The Recommended Daily Intake Of Vitamin C?
- For men more than 18 years old, the amount of vitamin C to be taken daily is 90 mg.
- For women over 18 years of age, it is 75 mg.
- And for pregnant and breastfeeding women more than 18 years old, it is 85 mg and 120 mg respectively.
- As per some experts, smokers must add an extra 35 mg to their regular intake.
- For infants (0 to 12 months old), it is the amount of vitamin C in human milk. For children 1 to 3 years old, it is 15 mg; 4 to 8 years old is 25 mg; 9 to 13 years old is 45 mg.
- For adolescents (14 to 18 years old), the recommended intake is 75 mg for boys and 60 mg for girls.
However good anything might be, one must exercise precautions. So is the case with vitamin C.
Any Precautions To Be Taken?
Vitamin C might cause
- Abdominal cramps,
- Dental erosion,
- Chest pain,
- Nausea, and
- An inflamed esophagus.
Stop its use and consult your doctor if you notice any of the symptoms.
High dose of vitamin C can lead to vitamin C toxicity, causing blood clots, kidney stones, and problems with the digestive system.
Vitamin C is considered safe in normal amounts during pregnancy and breastfeeding – but practice caution when using more than the recommended dosage.
I’m Dr. Malini Bhat MD (Ayu); an Ayurvedic Doctor and a health blogger. Follow me on social media to get daily health tips which you can easily adapt to a healthy lifestyle.