Vitamin C, or ascorbic acid, is absolutely essential for brain health, blood flow, and immunity. Should you supplement? Read on to find out.
Vitamin C (ascorbic acid) is an essential water-soluble micronutrient that has had a dramatic influence on world history. Naval and sea battles have literally been won and lost based on the numbers of the naval forces sick with scurvy (severe Vitamin C deficiency) .
In this article, I will take you through exactly what the science says Vitamin C could do for your health.
Vitamin C is an essential nutrient and antioxidant with a number of important functions in the body. As such, vitamin C deficiency can produce serious symptoms.
Vitamin C is extremely important as an antioxidant owing to its ability to neutralize oxygen and nitrogen-based radicals, and because it also recycles both vitamin E and BH4 (tetrahydrobiopterin), which have key antioxidant and enzyme cofactor functions .
Because of its structural similarity to glucose, Vitamin C can replace glucose in many chemical reactions, and it can prevent the non-enzymatic glycosylation of proteins .
As proof of the importance of Vitamin C for brain health, the brain retains Vitamin C at the expense of other tissues during chronic states of deficiency and can uphold concentrations 100-fold higher than other organs, e.g. liver and kidney [6, 7].
Vitamin C modulates neurotransmitter systems of the brain (cholinergic, catecholaminergic, and glutamatergic) .
Vitamin C helps to maintain the integrity and function of several processes in the vascular system , which helps brain function.
Vitamin C participates in neuronal maturation and myelin formation (the electrically insulating layer around nerves) and is also involved in transmitting signals through the nervous system via neurotransmitters .
Vitamin C also prevents neuronal damage .
Vitamin C stimulates mitochondrial function, by decreasing ROS generation, stimulating the activity of manganese superoxide dismutase/SOD2 and glutathione peroxidase, and modifying the activity of the electron transport chain .
Vitamin C protects the mitochondrial membrane and DNA against oxidative damage .
Stabilization of collagen by Vitamin C is critical to forming the connective tissue framework of the entire body; including skin, bones, cartilage, tendons, ligaments, and blood vessels .
The final steps of collagen production depend on Vitamin C (Vitamin C acts as an electron donor in the hydroxylation of procollagen prolyl and lysyl residues) .
Vitamin C deficiency disrupts collagen maturation, leading to impaired integrity of the blood vessel wall, hemorrhage, and cerebral bleedings in mice .
Vitamin C is essential for normal bone development .
In humans, there is a positive relationship between Vitamin C levels and bone health, indicated by bone mineral density, fracture probability, and bone turnover markers .
Vitamin C-deficient animals show impaired bone health and decreased bone formation. Vitamin C supplementation was able to prevent bone loss in several animal models .
Vitamin C deficiency plays an important role in spontaneous bone fracture by inhibiting bone cell differentiation and promoting the transition of bone cells into fat cells in mice .
Higher Vitamin C intakes were associated with a lower risk of osteoporosis in Korean adults aged over 50 with low levels of physical activity .
Vitamin C contributes to the maintenance of healthy skin .
Applied to the skin, topical Vitamin C is highly efficient as a rejuvenation therapy, inducing significant collagen synthesis with minimal side effects .
Topical Vitamin C can partially correct structural changes associated with the aging process .
Vitamin C is an effective short-term treatment for melasma and post-inflammatory hyperpigmentation .
Levels of vitamin C in the lungs are up to 30 times higher than in the blood.
Vitamin C gets consumed while it protects against oxidants, indicating that even a single dose of vitamin C can be effective in protecting against acute increases in oxidative stress in the lungs .
Vitamin C deficiency, or scurvy, presents with symptoms such as lethargy, anorexia, fatigue, weakness, and rash. As scurvy progresses, it may cause anemia, pain, easy bruising, gum disease, poor wound healing, and depression. Vitamin C supplementation, as supervised by a medical professional, easily and efficiently reverses scurvy; likewise, a diet high in vitamin C or vitamin C supplementation will prevent the development of scurvy [22, 23, 24].
Long-term Vitamin C deprivation is linked to nervousness and emotional instability .
There was a 35% reduction in mood disturbance in hospitalized patients following treatment with Vitamin C .
Another study found that Vitamin C supplementation does not have large effects on psychological performance, personality or current mental state, in young men (17-29 years) except in cases where supplementation corrects an existing deficiency .
Vitamin C reduced anxiety in high school students .
Short-term supplementation of Vitamin C was safe and beneficial for reducing anxiety levels in diabetic patients .
In a trial including depressed shift workers, Vitamin C significantly decreased depression severity .
Poor Vitamin C status is associated with increased symptoms of depression following an acute illness in older people .
Adequate Vitamin C levels are necessary for the conversion of the neurotransmitter dopamine to norepinephrine, an important hormone in depression and mood swings ; according to some researchers, this may explain why patients with Vitamin C deficiency present with symptoms of depression .
Vitamin C also increases the effectiveness of antidepressants . Patients treated for six months with fluoxetine and Vitamin C showed a significant decrease in depressive symptoms compared to the fluoxetine plus placebo group .
Vitamin C deficient mice are less active .
Chronic low Vitamin C status in humans is associated with neurodegenerative disorders .
Vitamin C levels were significantly lower in elderly people suffering from different kinds of dementia .
Supplementation with Vitamin C was associated with a reduced incidence of Alzheimer’s disease in humans .
Vitamin C injected for 3 consecutive days improved the learning and memory of aged mice .
However, in the aging brain, Vitamin C deficiency may impair cognitive function through reduced signal transduction, as well as amyloid β deposition resulting in a generation of reactive oxygen species and increased risk of Alzheimer’s disease .
If you are older and concerned about Alzheimer’s, talk to your doctor before supplementing with vitamin C.
Many infections lead to reduced Vitamin C levels .
Vitamin C reduced the incidence of pneumonia .
Vitamin C decreased the duration and severity of respiratory infections in male swimmers, but not in women .
As mentioned above, Vitamin C may inhibit obesity-related inflammation, and therefore prevent obesity-related inflammatory diseases .
As vitamin C levels decrease, blood histamine levels tend to increase .
Histamine is a potential causative agent of seasickness. People exposed to waves show increases in histamine levels.
Vitamin C is effective in suppressing symptoms of seasickness, particularly in younger individuals .
Vitamin C increased physical performance and decreases oxidative stress, but only in those with an already low Vitamin C status .
Vitamin C decreased the levels of free radicals generated during exercise and attenuates oxidative stress .
The following purported benefits are only supported by limited, low-quality clinical studies. There is insufficient evidence to support the use of vitamin C for any of the below-listed uses. Talk to your doctor before taking any kind of supplements, and don’t use vitamin C in place of something your doctor prescribes.
In the developing brain of a baby, neuronal density and maturation are compromised by Vitamin C deficiency, giving rise to decreased brain volume .
An absence of Vitamin C is detrimental to survival in newborn mice. Furthermore, deficiency around birth reduced hippocampal volume and neuron number and cause decreased spatial cognition in guinea pigs .
In one study, high-dose Vitamin C improved mood and increased the intercourse frequency of 42 healthy adults .
Vitamin C improved sperm motility and structure in men .
Administration of high dose intravenous Vitamin C reduced fatigue in office workers .
Vitamin C delays fatigue in rats .
Vitamin C significantly lowered systolic and diastolic blood pressure in patients with mild-to-moderately high blood pressure .
Vitamin C plays a positive role in reversing the earliest stages of hardening of the arteries .
Vitamin C deficiency may result in decreased blood vessel integrity, e.g. through decreased NOS generation and impaired synthesis of mature collagen. This might lead to increased plaque formation and the incidence of stroke .
Vitamin C may improve gut tolerability to aspirin and other non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) .
Vitamin C saves mice from irradiation-induced gut damage that is usually lethal .
People with adequate levels of Vitamin C burn 30% more fat during moderate exercise compared to subjects with low Vitamin C levels .
Vitamin C inhibits the fat accumulation of fat cells. Indeed, Vitamin C supplementation has been associated with bodyweight reduction and a massive reduction in the number of fat cells in rats and guinea pigs .
Low Vitamin C levels are related to a high waist-to-hip ratio .
Check out our complete post on weight loss here.
Vitamin C may benefit patients with type 2 diabetes by decreasing blood glucose and lipids .
In rodents and primates, Vitamin C reduced the area of the brain deprived of blood supply during a stroke .
In humans, higher Vitamin C levels are associated with a lower likelihood of stroke .
Vitamin C supplements of 500 mg twice daily for two weeks were sufficient to normalize the disappearance rate of vitamin E in smokers .
Vitamin C reduces the amount of persistent organic pollutants (POPs) in 15 adult women .
In uncomplicated gastrointestinal surgery, continuous administration of Vitamin C reduced postoperative oxidative stress .
Post-operative atrial fibrillation (abnormal heart rhythm) was prevented after cardiac surgery by vitamin C supplementation .
No clinical evidence supports the use of vitamin C for any of the conditions listed in this section. Below is a summary of the existing animal and cell-based research, which should guide further investigational efforts. However, the studies listed below should not be interpreted as supportive of any health benefit.
A number of reports suggest that high-dose Vitamin C has anticancer effects in a laboratory setting .
High-dose Vitamin C is more toxic to cancer than it is to normal cells and induces the death of various types of cancer cells, including mesothelioma, pancreatic, and leukemia cells .
High-dose Vitamin C suppresses tumor growth in animal models and tissue culture studies .
High dietary Vitamin C has been linked to reduced incidence of gastric cancer .
Higher dietary Vitamin C intake before breast cancer diagnosis was linked to increased survival rates. This association was strongest among women aged over 65 .
In one study, men with low Vitamin C levels were 62% more likely to die from cancer .
Intravenous Vitamin C alleviates a number of cancer- and chemotherapy-related symptoms, such as fatigue, insomnia, loss of appetite, nausea, and pain .
Vitamin C can reduce pain by 55% in radiotherapy patients with bone cancer .
Vitamin C can improve the quality of life of cancer patients, including reduced pain and the need for painkillers, both in the presence and absence of chemo- and radiotherapy .
The current recommended daily intake for Vitamin C is 75 mg/day for women and 90 mg/day for men .
Most animals can produce Vitamin C from glucose in the liver. However, humans have lost this ability and so an adequate, regular dietary intake is essential .
Vitamin C is needed in relatively high quantities since it is not retained nor accumulated in the body and the excess is immediately eliminated through urine .
The RDA for a given nutrient is calculated based on avoiding deficiency. Several sources now suggest that RDA should be as much as double the currently advised 75-125 mg per day depending on age, gender, pregnancy and smoking habits .
At Vitamin C intakes above 60 mg/d, vitamin C begins to appear in the urine. However, intakes of 250 mg/d and higher (approximately 400 mg/day) are required to saturate vitamin C concentrations in the blood and white blood cells [5, 1].
The ‘tolerable upper intake level’ is stated to be 2 g/day for adults. However, many people receive more than that in clinical settings, without suffering from apparent side effects .
Patients with pneumonia have received up to 100 g/day of Vitamin C without developing diarrhea, because of the changes in Vitamin C metabolism caused by the infection .
We strongly recommend against taking such large doses of vitamin C without the express recommendation and supervision of a doctor.
When the daily dose was increased from 200 to 2,500 mg, blood concentration increased from approximately 12 to 15 mg/L due to kidney clearance. Hence why some state that there is no justification for megadoses of vitamin C in healthy individuals .
Vitamin C is absorbed from the intestinal lumen and kidney tubules and then distributed throughout the organism by the bloodstream .
The uptake and distribution of Vitamin C in the body is under close control and primarily regulated by tissue-specific, sodium-dependent Vitamin C co-transporters (SVCT) 1 and 2, which transport Vitamin C in exchange of sodium .
Generally, blood Vitamin C concentration of:
Some researchers believe that up to 22% of the U.S. may have below adequate Vitamin C status (blood concentrations < 28 µmol/L), and about 6% of the adult population is classified as Vitamin C deficient (<11 µmol/L) .
Vitamin C is found in high concentrations in the pituitary, adrenals, and the ovaries, but muscle, brain, and liver contain the largest stores of this vitamin .
Early indications of Vitamin C deficiency are fatigue, malaise, depression, and they may manifest as a reduced desire to be physically active .
Scurvy (pathological Vitamin C deficiency) leads to blood vessel fragility resulting in hemorrhage, as well as connective tissue damage due to failure in collagen production, often leading to loss of teeth and tendon rupture. At worse, scurvy can lead to death [4, 5].
Non-supplementing men aged 20-49 are particularly at risk of poor Vitamin C status .
Vitamin C concentrations decrease with age .
Patients receiving kidney dialysis are prone to deficiency of Vitamin C .
Schizophrenic patients tend to have significantly lower levels of blood Vitamin C .
Subgroups at particular risk of Vitamin C deficiency are communities of low socioeconomic status, smokers, elderly, pregnant women, and children with poor nutritional status .
Blood Vitamin C levels differ according to polymorphisms of SVCT2 and SVCT1 .
If you are concerned about your vitamin C intake, talk to your doctor to determine whether supplements could be right for you.
Supplemental intakes greater than 500 mg per day may cause kidney stones in those that are prone to them .
Vitamin C can enhance iron absorption by maintaining iron in ferrous (Fe2+) rather than ferric (Fe3+) state. This is beneficial in some patients (such as those with gut issues and low ferritin) but not in those that suffer from medical conditions that cause iron overload .
High intake of Vitamin C exerts a pro-oxidant effect by its interaction with metal ions via a number of established RONS generating systems. Caution should be exerted regarding surplus vitamin C intake for patients with chronic inflammatory diseases or atherosclerosis [73, 5].
Some research has found that combining high-dose Vitamin C and vitamin E supplementation can be harmful, even though the harm may be restricted to selected groups among smokers .
Higher uric acid can be a good thing, such as improving productivity and intelligence, but it can cause problems if you’re prone to kidney stones or gout.
High Vitamin C intake from supplements was associated with an increased risk of cardiovascular disease mortality in postmenopausal women with diabetes .
Many fruits and vegetables contain plenty of vitamin C, including citrus fruits, peppers, berries, and broccoli .
Most comparative bioavailability studies in humans have shown no differences between synthetic and natural Vitamin C, regardless of the subject population, study design or intervention used .
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