While vitamin C is a powerful regulator of the immune system, it also performs many other functions in the body. Vitamin C is a well-known antioxidant that protects the body against free radicals. As a compound that has lost an electron, vitamin C can play the role of a free-radical scavenger.
8 Potential Benefits of Vitamin C
- Aids Healing
- Strong Antioxidant
- Improves Skin Health
- Reduces Blood Pressure
- Improves Iron Absorption
- Improves Insulin Sensitivity
- Helps Combat Stress
- Boosts Immunity
Vitamin C, also known as ascorbic acid or ascorbate, is a water-soluble essential vitamin that cannot be synthesized by the human body; thus, vitamin C must be obtained through diet or supplementation. Aside from being a cold and flu superstar, vitamin C plays an important role in several other body functions.
Vitamin C as an Antioxidant
Vitamin C acts as a free-radical scavenger by reacting with highly oxidizing species and replacing them with less reactive, recyclable ones, namely dehydroascorbate (SDA). When free radicals accumulate in the body, they increase levels of oxidative stress, which is linked to the development of several chronic diseases.
One study published in the International Journal of Sport Nutrition and Exercise Metabolism found that vitamin C supplementation can significantly reduce oxidative stress in the body. Vitamin C also works synergistically with vitamin E, another potent antioxidant, to destroy free radicals.
Improve Your Skin
Vitamin C is an important component of skin health and has a role in the synthesis of collagen. Vitamin C is found in high levels in both the dermis and epidermis.
Vitamin C’s antioxidant activity is said to protect the skin against UV-induced damage caused by free radicals. Studies show that a combination of vitamin C and vitamin E are more beneficial for protection than vitamin C alone.
Wrinkles are one of the telltale signs of aging, and supplementing with vitamin C can help reduce the physical signs of aging. This is because vitamin C regulates the synthesis of the structural protein collagen, which is necessary for extracellular stability and epidermal support, as well as scar tissue, tendon, ligament, and blood vessel formation.
Declining vitamin C levels in the skin result from aging, excessive exposure to UV light, and environmental pollutants.
Vitamin C accumulates in the central nervous system with especially high levels present in the brain. It is known that ascorbate is essential for catecholamine biosynthesis in neural tissues because ascorbate serves as a co-factor for dopamine beta-hydroxylase, which is involved in the conversion of dopamine to norepinephrine.
Ascorbate also serves as a co-factor for tryptophan-5-hydroxylase, which is required to convert tryptophan to 5-hydroxytryptophan during the production of serotonin.
Vitamin C Decreases Blood Pressure
Hypertension is one of the most common chronic diseases in North America, with 1 in every 3 American adults suffering from hypertension. Hypertension increases the risk of developing both heart disease and strokes, which are the leading causes of death in the U.S.
Researchers at John Hopkins University looked at the mechanism behind vitamin C’s blood pressure lowering effects and deduced that vitamin C might act as a diuretic, causing the kidneys to excrete more sodium and water from the body, thus helping to relax blood vessels and decrease blood pressure.
A meta-analysis on the effects of vitamin C supplementation on blood pressure shows that short-term supplementation with vitamin C can help to decrease both systolic and diastolic blood pressure. However, the long-term effects of vitamin C supplementation on blood pressure have not been well researched.
Vitamin C Improves Iron Absorption
Iron is an important mineral in the body that contributes to many functions, including the production of red blood cells and oxygen transportation.
Vitamin C has been shown to assist in the absorption of iron in the body. This effect is largely due to vitamin C’s ability to reduce ferric to ferrous iron, but also its potential to bond ions and molecules.
Ascorbic acid helps to overcome the negative effect on iron absorption of all inhibitors, including phytates, polyphenols, and the calcium and proteins in dairy. This helps to increase the absorption of both native and fortified forms of iron.
As previously mentioned, ascorbic acid is the only main absorption enhancer of iron in vegetarian diets; thus, iron absorption can be optimized in a vegetarian or vegan diet by including vitamin C-rich roods.
Wound Healing Properties
Poor wound healing can often be a sign of vitamin C deficiency. The inflammatory response involved in tissue damage causes free radicals to assemble at the site of injury, but research shows the presence of vitamin C can limit free radical damage.
Improves Insulin Sensitivity
Everyone knows that exercise is incredibly important for the body, but one of the little known benefits of vitamin C is its ability to increase insulin sensitivity.
Depending on how sensitive your body’s cells are to insulin, high insulin sensitivity means cells can use blood glucose more effectively, thus reducing blood sugar levels. As a result, nutrients are used to promote muscle synthesis rather than going towards fat storage.
Research on the effects of antioxidant supplementation and its effects on exercise found that antioxidant supplementation prevents the initiation of molecular regulators of insulin sensitivity and endogenous antioxidant defense by physical exercise.
Other studies are consistent, showing minimal improvement in insulin resistance with vitamin C supplementation. Another study found that supplementing with vitamin C and vitamin E interfered with the cellular response to resistance training; this shows a possible negative effect on adaptation to strength training.
Safety and Side Effects
While vitamin C is touted as one of the safest supplements around with minimal adverse effects, too much vitamin C can cause issues. If you take too much vitamin C, some of the symptoms you might experience are gastric discomfort, stomach cramping, and diarrhea.
Additionally, one study reported in the American Journal of Kidney Disorders found that higher total and supplemental vitamin C intake was not associated with kidney stones in women, whereas they were associated with a higher risk of kidney stones in men.
As such, you are advised to consult your doctor before starting supplementation with vitamin C if you have any underlying medical conditions.
As an essential nutrient, vitamin C cannot be synthesized in the human body due to a lack of enzymes necessary for vitamin C production. As such, it’s necessary to obtain adequate amounts of vitamin C from your diet.
Since Vitamin C is a water-soluble vitamin, taking too much vitamin C doesn’t cause accumulation in the body; thus, vitamin C is unlikely to harm you. With that said, vitamin C is a vitamin that’s excreted from the body quite rapidly, especially in times of stress. In order to prevent vitamin C depletion, it’s best to supplement with additional vitamin C throughout the day.
Studies show that taking up to 2,000 mg (2 grams) of vitamin C per day is adequate to replenish vitamin C stores. However, be mindful of exceeding this limit as you may experience gastrointestinal upset. Other research conducted at Arizona State University shows that up to 4,000 mg (4 g) of vitamin C per day is tolerable by humans.
Additionally, athletes or people who are regularly active appear to require increased amounts of vitamin C.
Effectiveness of Vitamin C
Vitamin C isn’t just a potent antioxidant that helps combat stress, vitamin C is one of the keys to giving your body a real boost when it comes to optimum health and exercise performance.
Consuming vitamin C rich foods after a workout can increase post-exercise reactive oxygen and potentially benefit insulin sensitivity, but results are currently mixed in this area.
As one of the safest vitamins available, there’s minimal risk associated with taking vitamin C. As vitamin C can disrupt bowel function if too much is taken at once, it’s best to space your dosing out during the day to avoid any unpleasant side effects.