Vitamin C, also known as ascorbic acid, is a powerhouse antioxidant required for a variety of bodily functions and processes needed to keep us healthy. It’s one of the most effective & safest nutrients to consume through your diet and is found in quite a few fruits & vegetables. Vitamin C also works wonders in boosting your immune system and easily my go-to whenever I’m feeling under the whether.
It’s an essential nutrient required for collagen synthesis, l-carnitine, and biosynthesis of certain hormones, like the conversion of dopamine to norepinephrine (1). To function effectively as an antioxidant, high levels of vitamin C need to be maintained in the body.
Before I go further, here’s a quick oxidative stress / free radical lesson 101:
Oxidation is a very normal process in the body, and can either be beneficial or harmful. Many external factors contribute to oxidative stress, such as diet (high in sugar, fat & alcohol), pollution, radiation, cigarette smoke, UV light, the ozone, pesticides, and toxins, or more internally from things like exercise and inflammation.
Oxidative stress* occurs when there’s an imbalance between free radicals and antioxidants / when free overwhelm the body’s ability to regulate them. Free radicals are highly unstable molecules with an uneven number of electrons (2). The uneven number of electrons allows the electron to pair/react with other molecules. These reactions are called oxidation. Oxidative stress is now thought to make a significant contribution to many inflammatory diseases.
I know we’ve heard the word, ‘antioxidant’ all the time and the positive effects it has on the body, but what exactly is it? An antioxidant is a molecule stable enough to donate an electron to a free radical and neutralize it, thus reducing its ability to cause damage. These low-weight antioxidant molecules can safely interact with free radicals and stop the chain reaction before vital molecules are damaged. The main antioxidants we consume through food include vitamin E (alpha-tocopherol), vitamin C (ascorbic acid) and B-carotene. These are all called “essential nutrients” as the body cannot produce on its own, so we must obtain through diet.
Vitamin C has also been found to improve iron absorption. It assists in converting non-heme iron (the more poorly absorbed type of iron) found in plant-based sources, into a form that’s easier to absorb (3). This can be especially helpful for those following a vegetarian or vegan-based diet.
Further, this vitamin plays a massive role in our immune system. It encourages the production of white blood cells called phagocytes and lymphocytes, which help protect the body against infections (4).
POWER OF VITAMIN C
- Boost immune system (white blood cell function) / protect against deficiencies
- Improves your body’s defense against disease
- May help lower blood pressure
- Helps to repair and regenerate tissues
- Improves iron absorption
- Speeds up wound healing
One of the most important modifiable determinants of cancer and cardiovascular (CVD) risk is diet. Countless studies have shown that an increase in fruits & veggies on a daily basis can contribute to decreased risk of many types of cancer and atherosclerosis. And since vitamin C is found in a large number of fruits & vegetables, it’s safe to say they play a huge part in your health (6). Further, vitamins C and E can interact synergistically in protection against the development of CVD (5).
SOURCES OF VITAMIN C
- Red bell peppers: I like to eat a red bell pepper every single day– super high in vitamin C!
- Citrus fruits (oranges, grapefruit, lemons, limes)
- Green peppers
- Brussel sprouts
- Spinach: can sneak extra of this into any of your meals; freeze it & put into your smoothies, in spaghetti sauce, saute’s, etc.
The recommended dietary allowance (RDA) for women 19+ years old is 75g, men 19+ years old is 90mg and lactating women is 120mg.
Vitamin C is water-soluble, meaning that it dissolves in water and is not stored in the body unlike fat-soluble vitamins (A, D, E and K). The vitamin C that you do consume through your diet is transported to the tissues that need it via body fluids, and the rest is excreted in urine (7). If you think you’re not getting enough through your diet (caution if this is true! Make sure you’re consuming a variety of different fruits and vegetables every single day), then supplementation works great as well! Some brands I like are linked below–
Acute deficiency include impaired immunity and since vitamin C helps facilitate the growth of connective tissues, which speeds up the healing process, low vitamin C levels can result in poor wound healing (5). Extreme deficiency of vitamin C is called ‘scurvy,’ but very rare nowadays. Symptoms include weak limbs, fatigue, exhaustion, curly hair, gum disease, decrease in red blood cells.
VITAMIN C NOT ONLY NEEDED IN YOUR DIET
Vitamin C is extremely hydrating, which, if you’ve been experiencing intense whether changes this season, I’m sure your skin can FEEL IT. Vitamin C naturally helps to strengthen your skin and again, fight off free radicals that could be damaging the cells.
Of course, nutrition (macronutrients & micronutrients) is so important for skin health and appearance, but topical vitamin C is another way to ensure your skin is staying hydrated + healthy. Check out two of my favorites below.