What is vitamin C?
Vitamin C, also known as ascorbic acid, is an essential vitamin found in several foods and sold as a dietary supplement. Humans are unable to synthesize vitamin C. Essential vitamins are those that humans must obtain from diet in order to survive. Vitamins A, C, D, E, K, and B vitamins are all considered essential.
Vitamin C is important for bone formation, healing, and aids in the maintenance of healthy gums. It activates the B vitamins and facilitates the conversion of cholesterol into bile acids (resulting in lower blood cholesterol levels). Additionally, it is a cofactor in the synthesis of numerous neurotransmitters including serotonin, or 5HT (also known as “the happy chemical”). It is crucial in the maintenance of collagen which represents about ⅓ of the total body protein. Without vitamin C the collagen disease scurvy develops. Symptoms including bleeding gums, bleeding skin, opening of old wounds, followed by personality changes, and finally death from infection or bleeding if untreated. Scurvy takes at least 1 month of dietary deficiency to develop.
As an antioxidant, vitamin C protects the body from the effects of free radicals, pollutants, and toxins. It can be used as a therapeutic agent in many diseases and disorders.
The highest concentrations of vitamin C are found in the brain, eye, and adrenal gland. A deficiency of vitamin C is associated with anemia, petechiae, bruising, bleeding gums, scurvy, inadequate wound healing, muscle degeneration, and neurotic disturbances. Decreased levels can also be linked to poor diet, stress, heavy alcohol intake, smoking, fever, pregnancy, antibiotics, and heavy metal toxicity.
Vitamin C is mainly found in plant sources such as citrus fruits, green peppers, red peppers, strawberries, kiwi, tomatoes, broccoli, brussel sprouts, turnip, gooseberry, tomatoes, strawberries, potatoes and other leafy vegetables. Eating these foods in their raw form will help increase vitamin C levels since vitamin C levels degrade when heated and during storage. A total of 5-9 servings of fresh or frozen fruit and vegetables is estimated to equal the daily recommended dosing of 200 mg of vitamin C.
Vitamin C and the Common Cold
Several clinical trials have studied the effects of vitamin C and the common cold. Studies have shown that it does not have a significant effect of preventing illness prophylactically, but it can help reduce the severity and duration of symptoms during infection.
Vitamin C and Tissue Healing
Since vitamin C promotes the synthesis of collagen, it is essential for those that have had a recent surgery or suffered from a wound or burn. It accelerates the healing process and is highly recommended for wound repair.
Vitamin C and Iron
Vitamin C is known to enhance the availability and absorption of iron from non-heme iron sources. This coingestion of vitamin C and oral iron is recommended to improve absorption and for protection against iron deficiency anemia. Iron can also be given IV, which is much more bioavailable.
Vitamin C and Cardiovascular Disease
Several studies are currently investigating vitamin C’s effects on the cardiovascular system. Thus far, there has not been any significant data indicating that vitamin C reduces or prevents cardiovascular events. Clinical trials continue to research this.
Vitamin C and Cancer
Several studies are currently investigating vitamin C’s effects on those with cancer. There has been no significant data supporting vitamin C aiding in cancer reduction. However, several research committees have concluded that high fruit and vegetable diets can reduce the risk of different types of cancer. Vitamin C may have a role in combating the toxic effects of chemotherapy as well as general wellness and immune health in those with cancer.
Vitamin C is generally safe and well tolerated, even in large doses. High amounts of vitamin C intake have been associated with an increased risk of kidney stones. Since kidney stones suck really bad, and sometimes require surgical management, every patient should be aware of this increased risk. The current recommendation is to avoid vitamin C supplementation in those susceptible or who have a history of kidney stone formation.
Since humans are unable to synthesize vitamin C, it is essential that we supplement it. Ideally we would receive an adequate daily amount by eating a diet rich in fruits and vegetables. But, we all know that is not always the case resulting in oral or intravenous supplementation. More studies are published every year showing the benefits vitamin C has on our bodies. I will continue to receive monthly vitamin C infusions to help combat my anemia and give me strength in the approaching cold and flu season. If you are interested in IV vitamin C therapy, schedule an appointment with us to learn more!
Karlee Brandenburg, RN-BSN
Wonder Medicine’s Longevity and Performance Program improves your lifespan and healthspan with a research-driven proactive program that focuses on the big picture of your health so you can perform at your highest potential.
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“Vitamin C.” Wikipedia, Wikimedia Foundation, 14 Oct. 2020, en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Vitamin_C.