Do you need a vitamin C supplement?

Mar 21, 2022

Of course, Vitamin C is an essential part of our diet. You should be able to get enough if you are healthy overall, and eat a variety of fresh fruits and vegetables.

So, if you are healthy for the most part, you may wonder why it’s still important to consider taking a supplement. Let’s talk a little about the role of VC in health and physical activity!

Vitamin C is a water-soluble vitamin and micronutrient that is also known as ascorbic acid, and is found in many foods. You can also get it as a supplement and in some fortified foods.  We don’t naturally ‘make’ this vitamin – in other words – we only get it from the many foods we eat. And because it is water-soluble, excess VC is excreted in urine and cannot be stored. So don’t worry about ever over-dosing on it :p

The recommended daily VC intake for adults is:

  • Adult Men – 90mg
  • Adult Women – 75mg
  • Pregnant Women – 85mg
  • Lactating Women – 120mg

if you smoke, an additional 35mg is recommended daily. Oxidative stress from smoking, and yes even second hand smoke, lowers levels of VC in the body.

Vitamin C Functions and Food Sources

We need VC to function normally, and is obviously essential to our daily living. It is a component of collagen, for example, which is necessary for building and maintaining strong connective tissue, skin, muscles, and blood vessels. It is also an antioxidant, which helps protect cells from damage that is caused by free radicals. Therefore, VC is important for reducing the risk of heart disease and cancer. It also supports the immune system, helping wounds heal and the body to fight infections.

All fresh foods have some VC, even meat! The best sources are fruits and veggies, especially citrus fruits, bell peppers, strawberries, tomatoes, guava, kiwi, and cruciferous veggies such as broccoli, cauli, cabbage and brussel sprouts (YUM!). BUT did you know that when cooking these foods, it actually destroys some VC, so fresh and raw are best!

Vitamin C Deficiency

Vitamin C deficiency is called scurvy, and it occurs more often than you may think. However, with access to a variety of fresh foods, scurvy can be fought.

Risk factors for scurvy/VC definciency:

  • Smoking
  • Alcohol use disorder
  • Poor diet, especially lack of fruits & veggies
  • Restrictive diets
  • Eating disorders
  • Type 1 diabetes
  • Gastrointestinal conditions
  • Dialysis

The following signs (if caught early enough), can help reverse deficiency:

  • Rough, dry, damaged and sensitive skin
  • Blood around hair follicles
  • Concave fingernails with red spots
  • Bruising readily
  • Slow healing from wounds
  • Painful joints
  • Bleeding gums
  • Loose teeth
  • Getting sick frequently
  • Fatigue
  • Weight gain

Benefits to Taking Vitamin C Supplements

If you have a healthy, well-rounded diet and don’t have medical conditions that put you at risk, you should get enough VC from food. However, there may be some benefits to adding extra vitamin C to your diet.

Vitamin C Boosts Immunity

This is one of the most common reasons people supplement vitamin C, especially during cold and flu seasons. It plays a role in producing white blood cells and helping these immune cells function. Research indicates that a vitamin C supplement can speed wound healing and that people who are sick with infections have a lower level of VC.

Here is a list of some good ‘power foods’ that can help boost your immune system:

  • Red bell pepper
  • Broccoli
  • Spinach
  • Grapefruit
  • Oranges
  • Lemons and limes

Vitamin C for Heart Health

As an antioxidant, vitamin C repairs damage caused by free radicals. The accumulation of free radicals in the body causes oxidative stress, which can increase inflammation and the risk of chronic diseases, including heart disease.

Studies have indicated that a vitamin C supplement can lower blood pressure in people with normal and high blood pressure! People who took 500 mg or more of vitamin C per day had lower levels in their blood. All of this together provides compelling evidence for the role of vitamin C in lowering heart disease risk.

Prevent Iron Deficiency with Vitamin C

Iron is another essential nutrient, as it carries oxygen throughout the blood to tissues that use it for energy. Everyone needs adequate iron, and having low levels of iron or low iron absorption causes anemia.

Vitamin C aids the absorption of iron. You don’t need a C supplement if your iron levels are normal. However, supplementing with both iron and vitamin C may help if you struggle with anemia. People at risk for iron deficiency can be those with poor diets, pregnant women, all women of child-bearing age, older adults, and teenagers going through rapid growth spurts.

If you are on a vegan or vegetarian diet, you could also be at risk for iron deficiency. It would be very beneficial to consume iron-rich plant-based foods.

Boost Brain Power

As an antioxidant, vitamin C is essential for brain health, memory, and cognition. Oxidative stress and inflammation in the brain may be causal factors in age-related brain diseases like dementia.

Safety and Risks of Vitamin C Supplements

Because it dissolves in water, it is difficult to overdose on vitamin C. Excess amounts get excreted in the urine rather than absorbed. However, it is always possible to overdo it. Taking more than 3000mg of VC a day may cause diarrhea, headaches, stomach cramps, heartburn, and fatigue. It can also contribute to and worsen some existing conditions: kidney stones, iron overload, and gout.

There is also evidence that a high dose can turn vitamin C from an antioxidant to a pro-oxidant. In other words, too much vitamin C can damage cells and tissues.

Supplementing with vitamin C is generally low-risk, but it is also unnecessary for most people. If you are concerned about your vitamin C levels, talk to your doctor about it. Otherwise, a healthy, varied diet in fresh foods should be enough to keep C levels high and athletic performance optimal.

Information inspired by ISSA.

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