The Benefits of Vitamin C: Are You Overlooking This Essential Vitamin?
You know vitamins and minerals are critical to your health; it’s practically drilled into your head from the time you began to eat solid foods. That’s why we’re meant to eat five servings of fruits and vegetables every day—to ensure we’re getting all those essential vitamins and micronutrients.
Among the essential vitamins, one of the most widely recognized is vitamin C. You might think of it as a big part of immune function, thanks to widely advertised over-the-counter drugs designed to help you fight the common cold. However, vitamin C is less involved in your immune response than some less trendy vitamins (like vitamin D).
That’s not to say vitamin C isn’t incredible; it’s just slightly misunderstood. So, let’s talk about the benefits of vitamin C and what it does do!
What is Vitamin C?
Vitamin C is also known as ascorbic acid. It’s known as an essential vitamin, meaning it’s necessary for many cellular functions, and yet it cannot be produced within the body and therefore must come from our diets.
Vitamin C is also a water-soluble vitamin, meaning it dissolves in water and cannot be stored. This means that to receive the benefits of vitamin C, you must consume it every day.
Benefits of Vitamin C
We typically think of citrus fruits as the best sources of vitamin C, and while they are a great option, there are many other foods you can eat to reap the benefits of vitamin C.
Whether you’re getting it from a multivitamin supplement or some spinach, the most well-understood benefits of vitamin C are as follows:
- great source of antioxidants
- healthier blood pressure
- supported heart health
- increased immune function
- boosted brain power
One of the most widely recognized and understood benefits of vitamin C is its powerful antioxidant properties. While not all essential vitamins are recognized as having antioxidant properties, many do. However, vitamin C is one of the best sources.
Antioxidants are molecules that offset the damage done by free radicals. Free radicals are a result of oxidation in the body. They have an unpaired valence electron, making them volatile and dangerous. While free radicals are produced by normal, and even healthy, processes in the body (like exercising), if levels get too high, they can cause significant problems, like:
- heart disease
Antioxidants like vitamin C neutralize these free radicals by donating an electron, preventing excessive damage from occurring.
Reduced Blood Pressure
Another benefit of vitamin C is the effect it has on blood vessels. Studies show that vitamin C relaxes the blood vessels that carry blood from the heart to the rest of the body. This results in reduced blood pressure in both healthy individuals and those that suffer from high blood pressure.
High blood pressure, or hypertension, is a concern because it can lead to the hardening and thickening of the arteries. This is known as atherosclerosis, and it’s a dangerous condition that can cause:
- heart attack
- heart disease
Vitamin C for a Healthier Heart
Along with lowering blood pressure, vitamin C is also known to reduce other conditions which can result in an increased risk of heart disease. One of these conditions is high cholesterol levels.
Cholesterol is a waxy, lipid substance found in the blood. Your body produces the necessary cholesterol needed to carry out cellular functions, and it also gets more from the animal products we consume. However, when too much cholesterol accumulates, it can lead to dangerous conditions like those listed above.
Research shows that vitamin C can significantly reduce cholesterol levels and lower the risk of heart disease by up to 25%.
Immunity Booster from Vitamin C
Vitamin C may not be the main player in immune function, but it does play a role. The essential vitamin supports a healthy immune system in the following ways:
- helps produce white blood cells
- protects these vital white blood cells from damage from free radicals
- supports the health of the skin, the body’s first line of defense
In addition to these obvious benefits of vitamin C, low levels have also been linked to unfavourable health outcomes. For example, those who develop pneumonia are more likely to have low levels of the essential vitamin.
Lastly, another antioxidant benefit of vitamin C is that it’s been linked to a decreased risk of dementia. Dementia is a condition that occurs mainly among older adults and causes poor cognitive and memory function.
Studies suggest that oxidative stress (read: free radicals) that causes inflammation and damage near the nervous system increases the risk of dementia. In addition, other studies suggest that, as with pneumonia, dementia patients also tend to have low levels of the essential vitamin.
Misunderstood Benefits of Vitamin C
By now, you can see that vitamin C is beneficial in many ways. However, there are some myths regarding its benefits. Some of the most common myths are:
- vitamin C prevents or shortens colds
- vitamin C prevents or reverses eye disease
Defender Against the Common Cold
While we already covered some of the ways vitamin C is involved in immune function, the idea that vitamin C supplements prevent the common cold developed somewhere along the way. While this isn’t true, some evidence does suggest that vitamin C reduces the severity of the cold.
Reversed Eye Diseases
Vitamin C is also believed to reduce the risk, prevent, or even reverse eye diseases like macular degeneration or cataracts. Unfortunately, the evidence doesn’t support these claims, and, in fact, vitamin C supplements and multivitamins that contain high doses might actually be harmful in these patients.
How to Get Vitamin C in Your Diet
Fruits and vegetables are the best ways to ensure you’re getting enough vitamin C every day.
Some of the foods that are highest in the antioxidant are:
- oranges and orange juice
- bell peppers
- tomatoes and tomato juice
The officially recommended amount of vitamin C is about 90 mg for adult men and 75 mg for adult women. However, some experts suggest that a much higher 500 mg daily is beneficial. You will likely need to include a multivitamin or a stand-alone vitamin C supplement to meet this suggestion.
Essential Vitamins: Can You Have Too Much of a Good Thing?
The upper limit, or how much daily vitamin C is considered safe, is 2000 mg. Because vitamin C is a water-soluble vitamin, the body expels what it does not need via the urine.
However, if too much vitamin C is consumed in one sitting, it can cause an upset stomach and diarrhea.
Supplements and Multivitamins to Get the Benefits of Vitamin C
Multivitamins are a great source for those who can’t meet the suggested 500 mg daily but still want the benefits of vitamin C.
Animal Pak by Universal Nutrition is a multi-pill multivitamin supplement containing 1000 mg of vitamin C and all the other essential vitamins and minerals, plus more micronutrients to support an active lifestyle.
For those who already get most of the necessary micronutrients, you might be interested in boosting just your vitamin C levels by using a stand-alone supplement.
Vitamin C by Naturally Canadian is a vitamin C supplement containing 1000 mg of vitamin C with additional citrus bioflavonoids, which help the body absorb and utilize the powerful antioxidant.