Before downing a lot of prepackaged (with artificial colors and sweeteners) packets of Vitamin C, it is important to understand which forms of are most effective and how to safely consume it.
What is Vitamin C?
Vitamin C is a water soluble vitamin that is needed for many reactions within the body, but that humans are not capable of making internally (most other animals can manufacture Vitamin C in their livers). It is a complex substance found in many foods, especially brightly colored vegetables like bell peppers and citrus fruits, among others.
Since the human body does not manufacture or store it, it must be obtained regularly from diet. Though low level Vitamin C deficiency is common, severe deficiency (also known as Scurvy) is rare in modern times.
The most common form of Vitamin C found in supplements and added to food is Ascorbic Acid, which is an isolated synthetic form. Just as with folic acid and folate, the body can have difficulty using a synthetic form and at times it can be actually harmful.
Benefits of Vitamin C
In its natural form, Vitamin C is a potent water soluble antioxidant that the body uses in many ways, especially:
- Cellular health and support
- Production of glutathione, considered the master antioxidant
- Making collagen (keeps skin looking young)
- Supporting adrenal health
- Skin health
- Immune health
- Wound healing
- Much more
I first learned about these benefits in high school when I had to do a research paper on Dr. Linus Pauling, a Nobel Prize winning Chemist and Biochemist who is considered one of the fathers of Biochemistry.
He spent much of his career studying Vitamin C and even wrote a book about the importance of it. His work provided much of the current understanding of this important vitamin, but unfortunately, many forms of Vitamin C are now used interchangeably and considered the same when they aren’t.
Since up to a third of people are deficient in Vitamin C, it can be important to supplement, but the type of Vitamin C absolutely matters!
Types of Vitamin C
The most common form of Vitamin C in supplements and added to foods is synthetic Ascorbic Acid, but this isolated form that has potential for problems. Ascorbic acid was discovered in the 1930s, but after more research, the man who discovered it didn’t even recommend its use:
From Radiant Life:
In the 1930’s, Hungarian biochemist Dr. Albert Szent-Gyorgi searched for the elusive nutrient factor that prevented scurvy and thus, won the Nobel Prize in medicine for identifying vitamin C and its many health benefits. Although he successfully isolated the structure of the ascorbic acid molecule in his research, his studies clearly demonstrated the vastly superior benefits of consuming foods rich in natural vitamin C, rather than the synthetic version. For this reason, even though he was the discoverer of ascorbic acid, he did not recommend its use! In fact, Dr. Szent-Gyorgi affirmed repeatedly that the best results occurred when people consumed vitamin C in its natural form as present in whole foods.
Today, many scientific studies have demonstrated vitamin C’s important health-enhancing and antioxidant benefits. What many people may not know is that like Dr. Szent-Gyorgi’s research, much of this research has been conducted using foods high in vitamin C, not synthetic ascorbic acid supplements. This is a very significant distinction — since many scientists and healthcare providers now emphasize the importance of obtaining all our nutrients from whole nutrient sources such as found in Premier Vitamin C.
The widespread use of synthetic ascorbic acid may be the reason for the association of high vitamin C consumption and disease in recent research.
This article explains:
The Winter 2009 edition of Wise Traditions cites 3 studies which give pause about large doses of vitamin C. The first study (from the Jun 15, 2001 issue of Science) showed that “synthetic vitamin C may contribute to the formation of genotoxins that can lead to cancer”.
A second study presented to the American Heart Association showed a link between consumption of only 500mg of vitamin C per day and a greater propensity toward thickening of the arteries (Los Angeles Times, March 3, 2000).
Even more recently, athletes taking 1000mg of vitamin C per day showed reduced endurance capacity from interference with antioxidant enzymes (American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, Jan 2008). (source)
At the same time, there are studies showing that Vitamin C consumption in general can lower risk of heart disease and other diseases. (source) There is also much evidence showing benefits for adrenal and immune health.
So what is the difference? As this article explains:
Synthetic vitamin C, or ascorbic acid, is not found in nature. It does not grow naturally in plants or trees and cannot be grown on a farm. It can only be made in a lab. Contrary to popular belief, ascorbic acid and vitamin C are not the same thing. Ascorbic acid is not a complete vitamin, but really only the outer layer of the complete complex known as vitamin C. The complete complex of vitamin C as found in natural food sources is composed of these elements:
– Rutinbiofavonoids (vitamin P) factor K
– Factor Jfactor P Tyrosinase
– Ascorbinogen ascorbic acid
All of the above elements must be present in order for the body to absorb and benefit from the vitamin complex. Since synthetic ascorbic acid does not contain the full complex, your body must either gather the missing components from the body’s reservoir, or simply eliminate the ascorbic acid from the body through the urine without benefit to the body. (source)
While synthetic Ascorbic Acid has been shown to kill bacteria and microbes, it doesn’t discriminate between good and bad bacteria and some evidence suggests that it may be harmful to beneficial gut bacteria. It is also often synthesized from corn syrup, which is often genetically modified.
Sources of Vitamin C
Vitamin C is naturally found in many foods, and when possible, this is the best and safest way to consume it. As I’ve said before, you can’t out supplement a bad diet, so even if supplements are needed, diet must come first.
Vitamin C is found in many foods, especially raw vegetables and fruits like brightly colored bell peppers, Citrus fruits, Acerola Cherry, Broccoli, Cauliflower, and others.
Unfortunately, heating destroys much of the vitamin content in food, so unless a person is consuming a wide variety of raw brightly colored fruits and vegetables daily (which is difficult in the winter months), supplementation can sometimes be helpful. Studies have also shown that the nutrients in food (including Vitamin C) have declined over the last 50 years.
So the best option is to get Vitamin C from food and we should all consume enough brightly colored vegetables and fruits each day, but even with the best of diet, this can sometimes be difficult or not possible. In fact, Vitamin C is one of only five supplements that Chris Krsser recommends supplementing with since it can be so hard to obtain from food.
Thankfully, there are food sources that can be naturally preserved for supplemental Vitamin C including: Acerola, Camu Camu (highest vitamin C content of any plant in the world), various berries and others.
The Vitamin C I Take
I also make sure to consume enough brightly colored vegetables and greens for their Vitamin C content and for their many other benefits (that Dr. Terry Wahls explains in this podcast). Vitamin C also helps the absorption of Iron, so I also try to take Vitamin C with meals where I eat a real food source of Iron.
What do you think about Vitamin C? Do you take it or try to obtain it from food?