When most people think about vitamin C two things come to mind: Cold and flu season and a glass of orange juice. Most are aware, if only generally, that Vitamin C does have a role to play in immune health.
Furthermore, many people know that this important vitamin is found in some of the foods we consume. However, that is usually where their knowledge of vitamin C starts and stops. Many people are unaware of the many benefits of vitamin C that go beyond immune support.
Vitamin C: An Essential Nutrient
Vitamin C is a natural, water-soluble vitamin — it dissolves in water. It is also called ascorbic acid, an organic compound consisting of oxygen, carbon, and hydrogen.
Water-soluble vitamins are carried to our body’s tissues but are not stored in the body, except in miniscule amounts. Humans are not able to synthesize or produce vitamin C on their own.
Why Do We Need Vitamin C?
Vitamin C is needed for the growth and repair of tissues, for protein formation, immune health, and more. However, vitamin C, as an essential nutrient, must be obtained through dietary means as we cannot produce it naturally.
Thankfully, it is naturally present in many foods. A deficiency in Vitamin C can be quite problematic, leading to a condition known as scurvy; which carries symptoms such as anemia, gum disease, reduced wound healing and other skin problems.
Vitamin C in foods
Vegetables and fruits are the most common sources for vitamin C. The foods with the highest sources of vitamin C tend to be citrus fruits and juices, as well as green and red peppers.
In addition to foods and juices in their raw form, many foods, such as cereals, are also fortified with vitamin C. However, the amount of vitamin C added in each product varies.
10 Benefits of Vitamin C
Although our bodies don’t produce vitamin C naturally it is still an essential nutrient that cannot be ignored. A glass of vitamin-rich orange juice during flu season is just the tip of the beneficial iceberg.
Let’s look at 10 benefits of vitamin C, some of which you may recognize, but some other lesser known benefits may surprise you.
1. Vitamin C as an Antioxidant Against Oxidative Stress
Vitamin C is most commonly known for its immune support. This is largely due to its role as an antioxidant. Antioxidants are a common buzzword these days but many are unaware of what they actually are and their importance in the body.
In short, antioxidants are molecules that patrol the body seeking harmful free radicals — this is an essential function as it relates to immune health.
Vitamin C: The Free Radical Fighter
Free radicals are unstable molecules that contribute to cell damage, which can lead to illness and disease. The term for this process is called oxidative stress.
Oxidative stress happens when oxygen molecules split into single atoms and are left with unpaired electrons. These free radicals become a waste substance in the body and they roam the body seeking a bond.
This process, oxidative stress, causes damage to cells, proteins, and DNA. Antioxidants, like vitamin C, help neutralize these free roamers by inhibiting certain enzymes and donating molecules to the unpaired electrons.
2. Vitamin C and Immune System Support
Vitamin C is a key antioxidant player in the process of fighting oxidative stress within the body. This antioxidant role is one reason for its claim to fame in immune system support.
Vitamin C supports various cellular functions within the body’s immune system, both in the adaptive and innate immune systems:
- Helps protects immune cells against oxidative damage wrought by viruses and pathogens
- Vitamin C stimulates the production of some white blood cells (WBC). In fact, vitamin C has shown to enhance the proliferation of some lymphocytes; natural killer T-cells and B-cells
- Supports the production of interferons — proteins released by cells in response to pathogens — such as cytokines, which are important for cellular communication during immune response
Vitamin C: Antimicrobial Defense, and More
It also has a role in antimicrobial defense. Vitamin C accumulates in WBCs known as phagocytes, which through phagocytosis help to engulf bacteria in the body. Vitamin C helps enhance this microbial killing process of phagocytosis.
Vitamin C is an essential nutrient for the process of apoptosis — which eliminates used white blood cells after they have completed their function of fighting infection. This helps decrease the potential for cellular tissue damage.
Bear in mind that these are just a few examples. It is clear that Vitamin C’s reputation for supporting proper immune function is well deserved.
3. Vitamin C and Cardiovascular Health
Perhaps one of the most promising benefits of vitamin C is its role in supporting heart health. In the U.S., the Central for Disease Control (CDC) reports that heart disease is responsible for one out of every four deaths.
Heart disease is not isolated to one malady, it consists of many risk factors; such as high LDL cholesterol levels (bad cholesterol), high triglycerides levels, and chronic high blood pressure. However, the most common type of heart disease is known as coronary artery disease. This restricts arterial blood flow to the heart, which can result in a heart attack.
In some cases, vitamin C has been shown to reduce some of the risk factors of heart disease.
Vitamin C and LDL Cholesterol
One research analysis looked at 13 different randomized controlled trials on vitamin C’s role in lowering LDL cholesterol. It found that vitamin C supplementation (500 mg daily) significantly reduced LDL cholesterol levels by an average of 7.9 mg/dL and triglyceride levels by 20.1 mg/dL.
Vitamin C Helps Strengthen Blood Vessel Lining
Vitamin C’s ability to enable the synthesis of collagen — an important protein for the structural development and health of bone, skin, muscle, and tissues — helps strengthen the connective tissue lining of arterial walls.
Weakened collagen and oxidative stress promote inflammation in arterial lining in the heart; promoting the formation of dangerous plaque within the coronary arteries.
Vitamin C Helps Support the Availability of Nitric Oxide
Another important benefit related to vitamin C and heart health is vitamin C’s role in nitric oxide production.
Nitric oxide (NO) is a vasodilator, it promotes the healthy dilation of the vein and arteries within your body, supporting healthy blood flow to organs and tissues.
Due to its positive role in fighting free radicals and oxidative stress, vitamin C promotes the production of nitric oxide and helps protect the blood vessels from their damaging effects.
4. Vitamin C and High Blood Pressure
As stated, one potential risk factor for developing heart disease (and stroke) is chronic hypertension (high blood pressure).
High blood pressure can have a variety of causes, such as stress, poor diet, lack of exercise, and genetic factors. Over time, high blood pressure contributes to the damaging and weakening of arteries, which can increase the development of coronary artery disease.
Vitamin C Supplementation and Blood Pressure
Studies have shown that maintaining higher levels of vitamin C may contribute to lower incidences of high blood pressure. According to a vitamin C research analysis, an increased intake of vitamin C supplementation and higher concentrations of vitamin C are associated with lower blood pressure.
Looking at 29 different trial results, researchers concluded that among hypertensive participants, 500 mg of vitamin C supplementation reduced both diastolic and systolic blood pressure; by 1.7 mmHg and 4.9 mmHg respectively.
Of course, vitamin C is not a substitute for hypertension medication and further clinical trials are needed. Even so, the results are promising.
5. Vitamin C: Lower Blood Sugar and Diabetes
Vitamin C and diabetes? Left out of most conversations surrounding vitamin C are its benefits regarding blood sugar; specifically, its ability to help lower blood sugar and prevent diabetes. Diabetes is typically characterized as a chronically elevated level of glucose in the bloodstream.
Glucose (blood sugar) is the primary sugar found in the blood. It is the main source of energy for the body and helps facilitate nutrients into the organs. This glucose comes from the carbohydrate-rich foods we eat. In short, these foods are broken down by various enzymes and glucose is absorbed into the cells and stored for energy use.
The glucose is facilitated into the cells with the help of insulin (a hormone released by the pancreas). If this process is interrupted, glucose levels in the bloodstream can remain high, resulting in high blood sugar and diabetes.
Vitamin C Lowers Blood Sugar Levels
This is where vitamin C's role against oxidative stress comes into play once again. Increased blood sugar levels increase the prevalence of free radicals within the body. This oxidative stress can contribute to insulin resistance.
Vitamin C helps reduce these diabetic complications by protecting the body from oxidative stress. Furthermore, vitamin C has shown to help control blood sugar levels.
One study on the effects of vitamin C supplementation in individuals with type 2 diabetes showed positive results. Participants who were given 500 mg of vitamin C twice daily for four months showed signs of better glucose control as compared to the placebo group.
Vitamin C and Diabetes Prevention
In addition, many studies have linked higher vitamin C levels with better insulin sensitivity. A large population study published in Diabetes Care found that among other vitamin supplements, vitamin C supplementation made significant improvements in post-meal blood sugar levels. The study concludes that vitamin C may lower the risk of diabetes as it showed to have a role in the energy-dependent release of insulin.
6. Vitamin C Benefits for Your Skin
Already we have seen some of the numerous benefits vitamin C brings to the inside of your body. But what about the outside? Yes, some of the most surprising benefits of vitamin C has to do with its role in skin health.
Vitamin C’s benefits for your skin include its protection against environmental stressors and its promotion of protein production (collagen).
Vitamin C Promotes Collagen Production
Vitamin C plays an active role in collagen synthesis, a protein that promotes elasticity in your skin — it helps give the skin support and structure. As you age, collagen production decreases, which lowers its elasticity and causes wrinkles.
However, vitamin C helps promote the production of collagen, reducing the effects of its loss and helps to promote healthier skin overall.
Vitamin C as an Antioxidant and Environmental Stress Reducer
At this point the pivotal role of vitamin C as an antioxidant is clear. Many environmental factors can contribute to the proliferation of free radicals, such as UV light and pollution. As stated earlier, these free radicals damage cells; skin cells included. As an antioxidant, vitamin C neutralizes roaming free radicals and thus helps to protect skin cells from damage.
In addition, vitamin C also helps to suppress the stress hormone called cortisol. Cortisol can cause redness and swelling. If left unchecked, the effects of cortisol can contribute to the breakdown of collagen; a vital and supportive protein for your skin.
Topical vitamin C has also shown to reduce some of the effects of photo-aging; such as decreasing brown spots and discoloration caused by sun damage. It does so by helping to block the pathways of pigment synthesis.
7. Vitamin C for Wound Healing
Related to its skin health benefits discussed above, vitamin C also shows promise in aiding the process of wound healing. Wound sites often present with redness and swelling, and require an increase in collagen production for proper healing.
Both supplemental intake and topical use of vitamin C have been beneficial in this healing process. In fact, supplemental vitamin C, along with vitamin E, improved the rate of wound healing; especially among children with burns.
8. Vitamin C and Gout Prevention
Gout is often referred to as a type of arthritis, though it is also known to be a metabolic disorder. As a disease, gout is caused by a buildup of uric acid (hyperuricemia) in the blood; this forms urate crystals within the joints. Gout usually presents as excruciating joint pain in the big toe, but can also affect the ankles, knees, and other extremity joints.
Vitamin C May Help Reduce Uric Levels in the Blood
Research suggests that vitamin C may be inversely associated with gout; meaning, higher intakes of vitamin C and vitamin C levels may lower the risk for developing gout and reduce the prevalence of uric acid in the blood.
Although studies of the links between vitamin C and uric acid are limited, some research studies are promising.
One prospective study by the Archives of Internal Medicine followed over forty-six thousand men during a twenty-year period to determine the correlations between vitamin C supplementation and gout. The study revealed that higher vitamin C intake significantly reduces uric acid levels and lowered the risk of gout.
In addition, another research analysis found that participants receiving 500 mg of vitamin C supplementation a day, for thirty days, showed a reduction in uric acid levels as compared to the placebo group.
9. Vitamin C and Eye Health
Among the conversations surrounding health and wellness, eye health should be among the top; this becomes increasingly important as you age when you are at a greater risk for developing age-related macular degeneration (AMD).
Vitamin C and Age-Related Macular Degeneration
One comprehensive study, conducted by the Age-Related Eye Disease Study Research Group, suggests that vitamin C, among other vitamin nutrients, may reduce the risk of AMD progression by 25 percent.
Another study produced by the JAMA network reports that a high dietary intake of antioxidants (vitamin C and E, zinc, and beta carotene) was associated with a 35 percent reduction in AMD risk.
Vitamin C and Cataract Prevention
Another age-related eye issue known as cataracts occurs when proteins in the lens of the eyes break down due to age, injury, damage from UV, and other factors.
One study by the British Medical Journal, found that the risk of cataracts was 45 percent lower among participants who used median doses of vitamin C supplementation for ten or more years.
10. Vitamin C for Iron Deficiency
As a nutrient, iron is best known for its role in red blood cell production and oxygen cell transport. Iron deficiency can lead to anemia — the lack of healthy red blood cells. Without sufficient iron, the body is unable to produce enough red blood cells (hemoglobin) capable of carrying oxygen into the cells.
This deficiency can be caused by certain conditions that inhibit the body’s ability to absorb iron, but it is also caused by a lack of iron in the diet; iron-rich foods such as meat, eggs, leafy greens, etc.
Vitamin C Aids in Iron Absorption
Vitamin C supplementation has been shown to improve the body’s ability to aid in the absorption of iron; especially among those with mild iron deficiency anemia. Of course, eating a diet of vitamin C-rich food, in addition to supplementation, will aid in iron absorption.
Vitamin C: Maximizing Its Benefits
Vitamin C boasts numerous benefits; in addition to its immune support function. Cold and flu season need not be the only time this essential nutrient is discussed.
Here are a few ways to help you maximize the many benefits of vitamin C:
Get Enough of It
First and foremost, to maximize its benefits you must make sure you are getting enough of it. There are many lifestyle factors that can contribute to the inability to use vitamin C properly; such as smoking.
Vitamin C deficiency can lead to many issues, including scurvy, fatigue, poor immunity, and the proliferation of oxidative stress. The average recommended dosages vary by age, but the recommended daily intake for adults is 90 mg for men and 75 mg for women; 85 mg if pregnant.
Include Vitamin C-rich Food in Your Diet
Remember, your body does not naturally produce vitamin C. Therefore, it must come from the foods you consume.
To ensure you’re getting enough vitamin C in your diet, focus on adding vitamin C-rich foods to your diet. Here are a few examples of vitamin C-rich foods and their amounts:
- Red pepper, sweet, raw; ½ cup – 95 mg per serving
- Orange (medium) – 70 milligrams (mg) per serving
- Orange juice; ¾ cup – 93 mg per serving
- Grapefruit juice; ¾ cup – 70 mg per serving
- Kiwifruit (medium) – 64 mg per serving
- Green pepper, sweet, raw; ½ cup – 60 mg per serving
The list could go on, including strawberries, broccoli, tomato and tomato juice, potatoes, and more.
Don’t Neglect a Vitamin C Supplement
If you do not feel you will be able to get adequate vitamin C through your diet, consider a vitamin C supplement. As a dietary supplement, take 1 to 2 capsules (1000 mg) daily with a meal.
Although this essential nutrient does have numerous benefits related to immune health and support, it also has an important role to play in the growth and repair of tissue, protein formation, and more.
It has powerful antioxidant properties that help keep harmful free radicals and oxidative stress at bay. As we’ve seen, it also has important benefits related to cardiovascular health, skin health, and even eye health.
This water-soluble vitamin cannot be produced naturally by our bodies, this means we can only maximize its benefits when we consume vitamin C-rich foods or supplements.