Vitamin C: A Basket Full of Good Health

Vitamin C, also known as ascorbic acid, is an ESSENTIAL VITAMIN that our body cannot manufacture, yet is essentially required for its various roles linked to impressive health benefits.

It is a water-soluble vitamin and is found in many fruits and vegetables, including oranges, strawberries, kiwi, papaya, guava, mango, watermelon, pineapples, Indian gooseberry or amla, bell peppers, broccoli, brussels sprouts, cauliflower, cabbage, tomatoes, kale, spinach, parsley, white potatoes, sweet potatoes, and sprouts.

The recommended daily intake for vitamin C is 75 mg for women and 90 mg for men, but the ideal dosage may be higher (about 500 mg), in addition to eating five servings of fruits and vegetables. Thus, while it’s commonly advised to get your vitamin C intake from foods, most people practically need to turn to supplements to meet their requirement on a consistent basis.

Vitamin C is not stored in the body (excess amounts are excreted), so overdose is not a concern. But it’s still important not to exceed the safe upper limit of 2000 mg a day to avoid stomach upset and diarrhea.

It is advisable to eat vitamin-C-rich fruits and vegetables raw, or cook them with minimal water so you don’t lose some of the water-soluble vitamin in the cooking water.

A recent study published in Seminars in Preventive and Alternative Medicine that looked at over 100 studies over 10 years revealed a growing list of possible benefits of vitamin C.

1. Reduces your risk of having chronic diseases

Vitamin C is a powerful antioxidant that can strengthen your body’s natural defenses. 

It can boost the immune system by protecting body cells against the damage caused by harmful molecules called “free radicals”.  Free radicals can build up and cause a state of oxidative stress, which has been linked to many chronic health conditions such as cancer, heart disease, and arthritis. 

Studies show that consuming more vitamin C can increase your blood antioxidant levels by up to 30%. This indeed helps the body’s natural defenses to fight any inflammation.

2. Reduces stress

A deficiency in vitamin C is associated with many stress related diseases. In fact it is the first nutrient to be depleted in alcoholics, smokers, and obese individuals. Keeping the levels under check can be an ideal marker for maintaining good health.

3. May help manage high blood pressure

Approximately one-third of adult population across the world have high blood pressure.A high BP puts you at risk of heart disease, the leading cause of death globally.

Vitamin C helps relax the blood vessels that carry blood from the heart, thus lowering the blood pressure levels in both, healthy adults and those with high blood pressure.

An analysis of 29 human studies found that taking a vitamin C supplement reduced systolic blood pressure (the upper value) by 3.8 mmHg and diastolic blood pressure (the lower value) by 1.5 mmHg, on average, in healthy adults.

In adults with high blood pressure, vitamin C supplements reduced systolic blood pressure by 4.9 mmHg and diastolic blood pressure by 1.7 mmHg, on average.

While these results are promising, it’s not clear whether the effects on blood pressure are long term. So, people with high blood pressure should not rely on vitamin C alone for treatment.

4. Lowers your risk of heart disease

A leading cause of death worldwide, heart disease is incumbent upon many factors including high blood pressure, high triglyceride or LDL (bad) cholesterol levels, and low levels of HDL (good) cholesterol. 

Vitamin C may help check these risk factors, thus lowering the risk of stroke.

A study in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition found that those with the highest concentrations of vitamin C in their blood were associated with 42% lower stroke risk than those with the lowest concentrations.

5. May reduce blood uric acid levels to prevent gout attacks

Gout – a type of arthritis – is an incredibly painful inflammation of joints, especially affecting the big toes. It surfaces when there is too much uric acid in your blood. Uric acid is a waste produced by the body, filtered by the kidney from blood and excreted in urine. At high levels, it may crystallize and deposit in the joints, apart from forming uric acid stones in your urinary tract.

People with gout experience sudden and severe attacks of pain and swelling of the effected joint.

Interestingly, vitamin C helps reduce uric acid in the blood and protects against gout attacks.

In a study among 46,994 healthy men over 20 years, its been found that people who took a vitamin C supplement had a 44% lower gout risk.

Additionally, it was also found that taking a vitamin C supplement over 30 days significantly reduced blood uric acid, compared with a placebo.

6. Helps prevent iron deficiency 

Iron is an important nutrient that has a variety of functions in the body. It’s essential for making red blood cells and transporting oxygen throughout the body.

Vitamin C supplements improve the absorption of iron from your diet. It assists in converting iron that is poorly absorbed, such as plant-based sources of iron, into a form that is easier to absorb. (This is especially useful for people on a meat-free diet, as meat is a major source of iron.)

Simply consuming 100 mg of vitamin C may improve iron absorption by 67%.

Vitamin C may also help reduce the risk of anemia among people prone to iron deficiency.

7. Boosts immunity 

One of the main reasons we as doctors advice people to take vitamin C supplements is to boost their immunity. Vitamin C is involved in many parts of the immune system.

It helps encourage the production of white blood cells – lymphocytes and phagocytes – which help protect the body against infections.

Its antioxidant property aids to help these white blood cells function more effectively by protecting them from damage by potentially harmful free radicals.

Vitamin C is an essential part of the skin’s defense system. It’s actively transported to the skin, where it can act as an antioxidant and help strengthen the skin’s barriers. Studies have also shown that taking vitamin C may assist in a speedy heeling of wounds.

Lower vitamin C levels have been linked to poor health outcomes.

8. Protects your memory and thinking as you age

Dementia is a broad term used to describe symptoms of poor thinking and memory. It affects over 35 million people worldwide and typically occurs among older adults.

Studies suggest that any oxidative stress and inflammation near the brain, spine, and nerves (basically your central nervous system) can increase the risk of dementia.

Vitamin C is a strong antioxidant. Low levels of this vitamin have been linked to an impaired ability to think and remember. Furthermore, high vitamin C intake from food or supplements has been shown to have a positive effect on thinking and memory as you age.

Vitamin C supplements may aid against dementia if you don’t get enough vitamin C from your diet. 

Unproven claims about vitamin C

While vitamin C has many scientifically proven benefits, it also has many unfounded claims supported by either weak evidence or no evidence at all.

Here are some unproven claims about vitamin C:

  • Helps in common cold. While vitamin C appears to reduce the severity of colds and recovery time, alone, it does not prevent them. It can reduce the risk of developing further complications, such as pneumonia and lung infections as well. Lower vitamin C levels have been linked to people suffering from pneumonia, and vitamin C supplements in such cases have been shown to shorten the recovery time.
  • Helps in formation of collagen. Vitamin C is necessary for the growth, development and repair of all body tissues including collagen – a protein found in muscle, bones, skin, blood vessels, digestive system and tendons; that gives strength to these tissues. It contributes to the elasticity of skin, replaces dead skin cells and is essential for wound healing. This property helps make it an important constituent of many beauty related procedures for a supple, wrinkle-free, healthier, and younger looking skin.

  • Reduces cancer risk. A handful of studies have linked vitamin C intake to a lower risk of several cancers. 

  • Protects against eye disease. Vitamin C has been linked to reduced risk of eye diseases like cataracts and age-related macular degeneration.  

  • Aids in the maintenance of cartilage, bones, and teeth.

Deficiency of vitamin C is relatively rare, and primarily seen in malnourished adults. In extreme cases, it can lead to scurvy characterized by weakness, anemia, bruising, spongy and or bleeding gums, and loose teeth.

 

The bottom line: Vitamin C supplements are a great and simple way to boost your vitamin C intake if you struggle to get enough from your diet.

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