Vitamin C: The instant health benefits of adding the citrusy goodness to your diet


Vitamin C is the feel-good vitamin in your body

Feeling like a million bucks today? There is a particular vitamin you need to thank for your overall health, and most importantly freedom from sickness—Vitamin C or ascorbic acid. It also affects your will to work, causing you to lose initiative and feel lethargic otherwise. A water-soluble vitamin, it is found in abundance in citrus fruits such as oranges, lemons, etc.

The need for vitamin C

Vitamin C is not one of those vitamins that can be synthesized by human beings within their bodies. But this is not so for animals. Quite a few animals can still synthesize vitamin C in their bodies. However, for human beings, it has to be obtained from their diet. And if you are not getting enough of it, then it could be a real problem.

The deficiency of vitamin C could lead to the disease scurvy, which can be fatal. It generally used to affect sailors in the past as their diet used to be restricted to seafood, which is not rich in vitamin C. James Lind, probably in the first ever clinical trial, showed that scurvy could be prevented by eating enough citrus fruits. Yet this simple recommendation was not followed for a long time, which in turn continued to lead to the death of many, many sailors at sea. Today, there are supplements too available and juices fortified with vitamin C as well, should you choose them.

Who really needs more vitamin C?

You will need excess of vitamin C if you follow a poor diet, if you are a heavy smoker or drinker, or if you have kidney disease and are undergoing dialysis. This is because in some cases a lot of vitamin C is lost in the urine and in others the formation of free radicals needs to be neutralized. The antioxidant nature of vitamin C helps in the second case.

This means that smokers would need an additional 35 milligrams of vitamin C every day to overcome the deficit caused by the formation of free radicals. Thankfully, you can always take a little more of vitamin C since it is a water-soluble vitamin and is excreted from your body in the urine.

The only problem is that vitamin C in excess can cause acidity in the stomach. This is the case when the intake exceeds 2000 mg. It is, however, possible to obtain non-acidic, buffered versions of vitamin C. These can be taken safely, even if your stomach is sensitive.

Symptoms of a vitamin C deficiency

One of the main diseases caused by the deficiency of vitamin C is scurvy. Unfortunately, however, there is no accurate fixed plasma concentration of vitamin C below which scurvy affects the individual. This is because most of the studies earlier used methods that yielded inaccurate results and in many cases led to an overestimation of vitamin C. In addition, it was not possible to deplete subjects of vitamin C, especially to very low levels, as it could prove fatal.

However, some modern estimates note that an average of 1500 mg of vitamin C is present in the body of a healthy individual. Hypothetically, scurvy is thought to occur when this level falls below 300 mg.

The symptoms of a vitamin C deficiency are:

  • Slow healing of wounds
  • Bleeding in your gums
  • Pain in your joints
  • Dry or wrinkled skin
  • Feeling tired or cranky
  • Loss of vision

Only 10 to 20% of all adults get the recommended nine servings of fruits and vegetables daily. This means that 80-90% of all adults are deficient in vitamin C.

The concept of oxidative stress

The possible reason for increased cognitive impairment with lower ascorbic acid levels is due to a corresponding increase in oxidative stress. Free radicals are oxygen-containing molecules that have an unpaired electron and are formed during the processes of metabolism in the body. These unpaired electrons are always looking for an electron to pair with. So these free radicals become chemically very active. They steal electrons from the DNA, lipids, and proteins, and in the process cause damage to them.

Benefits of vitamin C

Prevents cognitive decline

Oxidative stress is a common observation in those with Alzheimer’s disease. Dementia, with its most prevalent form Alzheimer’s disease, is associated with age-related loss of memory and other cognitive functions affecting daily life. One of those studies in 1996, less than 27 mg of vitamin C intake was associated with nearly twice the odds of cognitive impairment.

In another study, there were lower levels of plasma AA (ascorbic acid) in those with Alzheimer’s disease as compared to non-impaired elders. These studies show a direct correlation between lower AA levels and Alzheimer’s disease. This might mean that supplementation with vitamin C could help fight cognitive decline. Unfortunately, there need to be further studies before we can validate the benefits of such supplementation for cognitive function.

Reduces the risk of cardiac dysfunction post cardiac surgery

Post-cardiac surgery, the patient suffers from vasodilation, a dilation of blood vessels that reduces the blood pressure. The blood pressure also drops due to systemic vascular resistance (the total resistance offered by the circulatory system to blood flow) reducing.

Vasopressor treatment is necessary to overcome vasodilation. But vasopressor treatment leads to oxidative stress, endothelial dysfunction (damage to the inner lining of the arterial walls leading to atherosclerosis), and myocardial fibrosis. Myocardial fibrosis involves the formation of collagenous scars in the muscular tissue of the heart.

Ascorbic acid in the body helps reduce oxidative stress, improves the endothelial function, and reduces myocardial damage. This has been proven by studies. In addition, AA also helps improve the effect of vasopressor treatment by reducing the levels of nitric oxide. This nitric oxide is responsible for the activation of guanylate cyclase, an enzyme that counteracts the effects of vasopressor treatment. Vitamin C administration post cardiac surgery might also help with cases of arrhythmia, or irregular heartbeat rhythms.

Helps reduce the duration and severity of common colds

The common cold is a common infection characterized by symptoms like a runny nose, sore throat, and cough, with or without fever. It was observed in one of the earliest clinical studies on the subject that the administration of vitamin C helped reduce the duration of the common cold by half the number of days.

Regular supplementation of vitamin C helps not only reduces the duration of the common cold but also reduces the severity of the symptoms. In such cases, the most significant difference was observed with >2 mg/day supplementations.

Helps reduce the duration and severity of pneumonia

Pneumonia is a disease in which the air sacs of the lungs get inflamed with pus. It happens because of infection by bacteria, viruses, or fungi. This inflammation of the air sacs in the lungs causes difficulties in breathing, which is a characteristic symptom of pneumonia.

In an important study conducted, there was an 80% lower incidence of pneumonia among those administered vitamin C as compared to the placebo group. In another study among military recruits, the administration of vitamin C shortened the hospital stay from 12 days to 9 days in those with pneumonia.

Helps improve skin health

Vitamin C is present in the skin in quite high concentrations and there is probably a high need for this vitamin in the epidermis, the topmost layer of the skin. Vitamin C deficiency in diseases like scurvy is characterized by fragility of the skin, delay in wound healing, and bleeding gums. The antioxidant vitamins such as vitamin C and vitamin E, along with selenium also probably help protect against UV-induced damage.

In addition to this, it also reduces melanogenesis, reducing the excess melanin that is formed in the skin. This property of vitamin C could help treat hyperpigmentation. According to another study, there was increased collagen (a protein used in skin regeneration) formation resulting from the intake of vitamin C. This could potentially lead to the reduction of wrinkles.

Vitamin C supplementation also helps in the synthesis of barrier lipids and therefore reduces the roughness and dryness of the skin. In a study on rats, improved wound healing was also observed with vitamin C supplementation. There were no reported benefits resulting from the topical application of vitamin C.

Helps improve your mood

There seems to be a link between vitamin C and a person’s mood. People who have vitamin C deficiency are often found to be moody and lacking initiative. A study of hospitalized patients, who had lower than normal levels of vitamin C, found that their mood improved after vitamin C supplementation.

A study conducted among high school students found that the administration of vitamin C helped lower the levels of anxiety among the students. In addition, these students did not have a pre-existing vitamin C deficiency. This proves its efficacy even in those without a deficiency of vitamin C.

Side effects of vitamin C intake

The recommended daily intake of vitamin C is between 65 mg and 90 mg. For adults, the maximum daily dose possible is 2000 mg. When the dose is increased beyond 2000 mg, especially in the case when the supplements are acidic, the side effects observed are:

  • Nausea
  • Diarrhea
  • Headache
  • Vomiting
  • Abdominal Cramps
  • Heartburn

However, the side effects of vitamin C overdose are generally very rare.

How much of vitamin C do you need?

In most of the studies conducted on the benefits of vitamin C, the intake of vitamin C was over the recommended value of 2000 mg/day (> 2g/day). In some cases, it was even 3g/day over an extended period. No side effects from vitamin C use were observed in those studies. This does not mean that such a high dose of vitamin C is recommended for anyone on a daily basis. The recommended daily intake of vitamin C is only 65 to 90 mg/day. This is supposed to keep any kind of sickness arising from a deficiency at bay. Adding more vitamin C-rich fruits and vegetables to your diet is always a healthy and wise option.

If you need to take supplements to increase your supplementation of vitamin C beyond that, it is advised that you consult a doctor. A doctor would have the best idea of how much vitamin C you would need to take to keep yourself healthy. You might even want to take a multivitamin. However, consult a doctor before you take any such supplements. Until then add a healthy quantity of citrus fruits to your daily diet and some veggies like spinach to ensure your vitamin C levels are healthy. And remember to smile to show off those healthy gums!

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