Vitamin C’s Role
Vitamin C is a water-soluble vitamin. It was discovered in 1912 and isolated in 1928. Vitamin C is an antioxidant that helps repair damaged cells by fighting off free radicals, which are unstable molecules that can cause oxidative damage to the body.
It aids in the growth, development and repair of all body tissues. The body cannot synthesize vitamin C—it must be ingested through food or supplements. Vitamin C is essential for collagen formation and wound healing; it also plays a role in the maintenance of bones, teeth and cartilage.
Collagen is the main structural protein of the body and is found abundantly in skin, bone, connective tissue, tendons and ligaments. Vitamin C is an essential cofactor required for collagen synthesis. The production of collagen requires vitamin C (ascorbic acid) as well as copper and iron – all of which are nutrients you can find naturally in foods.
Symptoms of scurvy were recognized way back in 1550 BC by Egyptian physicians who noted that sailors who were at sea for long periods without access to fruits and vegetables developed fatigue, bleeding gums and gum disease leading to tooth loss. Later these symptoms were found to be due to lack of vitamin C from fresh fruits and vegetables which was finally described in 1753 by Dr James Lind’s discovery that citrus fruit cured scurvy.
Researchers have found that vitamin C has a number of benefits:
- It can protect you against scurvy. Scurvy is an illness caused by not getting enough vitamin C in your diet, and it’s extremely common among sailors. The illness causes weakness, brittle bones, bleeding gums, and even the loosening of teeth (known as avascular necrosis).
- It can decrease your risk for developing gum disease by eliminating bad bacteria from your mouth.
- Infections are decreased by using vitamin C supplements because it helps to kill off some of the bad bacteria that cause infections like strep throat and minor skin rashes that could be contracted from using antibiotics.
- It helps wounds heal faster by reducing inflammation in the body so that new tissue can grow to replace damaged tissue faster
You’ve probably seen vitamin C in the beauty aisle at your preferred drug store, so what exactly is it supposed to do for your skin? And how much of a difference can it make in your skin’s health and appearance, anyway?
As a vital part of skin care, vitamin C is an antioxidant that researchers say can help reduce discoloration and blotchiness. It also blocks free radicals from the body, which play a large part in the aging process. Benefits of Vitamin C also include protection against sun damage, reduction in wrinkles—especially fine lines around the eyes—and reduction in dryness. Because it helps promote collagen production, it can also help reduce scarring left behind by acne breakouts and other injuries or wounds. Additionally, Vitamin C may even help treat conditions such as eczema and psoriasis.
Bone and Joint Health
The connective tissues in your body, like collagen and gelatin, are made of protein. Vitamin C is important for developing and maintaining these proteins. A lack of vitamin C causes scurvy, an illness that damages the connective tissues. While scurvy is rare today, some people still develop the disease. This often happens because they aren’t getting enough vitamin C. People with a condition called Ehlers-Danlos syndrome also have this sort of damage to their connective tissue.
Vitamin C is essential for the absorption of iron from plant-based sources. Because vegetarian or vegan diets may be low in iron, it is important to consume iron with vitamin C for maximum absorption. Iron plays a crucial role in red blood cell production by forming part of hemoglobin and myoglobin, which are necessary for the regulation of oxygen in the body. Iron is also necessary for muscle function and cognitive development, so it’s very important to get enough iron through your diet.
There are a variety of ways vitamin C can help you manage the effects of stress. The most important role that this nutrient performs is preventing oxidative stress, which is when free radicals in your body have an unopposed effect on your cells, tissues, and organs. Free radicals are molecules that have a single unpaired electron and are highly unstable.
This doesn’t mean that you should use vitamin C supplements as a replacement for dealing with your stress in a more comprehensive way.
Vitamin C Deficiency
Vitamin C deficiency is a condition where your body doesn’t have enough vitamin C. Vitamin C is an essential nutrient that plays a role in many important bodily functions. The most severe consequence of vitamin C deficiency is scurvy, a condition marked by fatigue, joint pain and shortness of breath. Scurvy can be treated by eating foods with vitamin C, though it can cause serious long-term health problems if left untreated for too long.
The best way to avoid scurvy and other vitamin C deficiencies is to eat a balanced diet or take supplements. Vitamin C-rich foods include citrus fruits, red bell peppers and strawberries. Citrus fruits are high in citric acid, which helps prevent kidney stones from forming. If you think you may have a vitamin C deficiency talk to your doctor about whether to change your diet or take supplements.
Food Sources of Vitamin C
When your body doesn’t have enough vitamin C, it can cause symptoms like dry and splitting hair; gingivitis (inflammation of the gums) and bleeding gums; rough, dry, scaly skin; decreased wound-healing rate; easy bruising; nosebleeds; a weakened immune system, which increases the risk of infections. Since vitamin C is an antioxidant, lack of it will lead to your body being unable to fight off free radicals that can damage cells.
The best sources are fresh fruits and vegetables (list below). FDA food labels display both how much vitamin C a product contains and how much you need each day as part of a healthy diet. Foods such as fruit and vegetables lose some of their vitamin C content during storage. Processing and cooking also reduce the amount of vitamin C in these foods.
Fruits that provide at least 10% of the DV per reference amount (20% or more is high): papaya (127%), strawberries (91%), pineapple (91%), orange juice (90%), grapefruit juice (89%), cantaloupe (84%), mangoes (62%), kiwifruit (61%)
Vitamin C supplements are generally well tolerated. However, taking larger doses can cause some side effects, including:
Taking vitamin C is safe for most people, but it can cause digestive symptoms in some people. Vitamin C is considered a safe topical treatment while pregnant or breastfeeding, but you should still check with your doctor before taking any oral vitamin C supplements. Large amounts of vitamin C may also worsen kidney stones if you’re prone to them.
People who use certain medications may need to exercise caution when consuming foods high in vitamin C because it interacts with certain drugs. Some medications that interact with vitamin C include:
- Aspirin and nonsteroidal inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) like ibuprofen and naproxen
- Chemotherapy drugs such as doxorubicin and cyclophosphamide
- Diabetes drug metformin
- High blood pressure drug captopril
- Oral contraceptives that contain estrogen
Because of the risk of interactions between these medications and foods high in vitamin C, anyone taking them should check with their doctor before taking any supplemental forms of the nutrient.
In addition to increasing iron absorption, vitamin C also increases the absorption of non-heme iron, or plant-based iron, from foods like spinach and beans.
In addition to its benefits, vitamin C can interact with certain medications. While there are no known food interactions with vitamin C, it can interact with medications. The most common is aspirin (Bayer), which blocks the absorption of vitamin C. Vitamin C can also interact with medications that slow blood clotting (anticoagulants/blood thinners) including warfarin (Coumadin), clopidogrel (Plavix), and aspirin; acetaminophen; chemotherapeutic agents such as etoposide (VePesid); phenobarbital (Solfoton).