Vitamin C is an essential nutrient for many reasons. Also known as ascorbic acid, Vitamin C is water-soluble, so it can’t be stored in large amounts by the body. You’ve got to ingest it daily. Vitamin C is crucial for skin, bones, ligaments, tendons, teeth, eyes, and blood vessels. In this article, we’ll discuss all of some of the top 14 benefits of this incredible vitamin.
You may have heard of vitamin C as a cold remedy or as something to take to “boost your immune system,” but it actually has benefits far beyond just immune system support.
Did you know vitamin C plays a key role in supporting hormone function and thyroid health? It’s also great for your cardiovascular system and can even help keep your skin looking youthful.
Let’s explore all the ways vitamin C is important for health. In this article we'll cover:
- Benefits of vitamin C for immunity
- How vitamin C supports your hormones
- Vitamin C for adrenal health and anxiety
- Top food sources of vitamin C
- Different supplement forms
- Dosages that have been shown to be beneficial in the research
1. Vitamin C For The Immune System
As you’re likely aware, vitamin C is a critical component in keeping your immune system in tip-top shape. Many studies have shown its efficacy in cases of bacteria and viral infection, including lung inflammation caused by the flu and pneumonia.
It’s thought that vitamin C’s immune supporting benefits come from its ability to help produce white blood cells — the body’s defenders against infection.
And levels of the vitamin are low in patients who have severe infections like tuberculosis, further indicating a relationship between vitamin C levels and the immune system.
Does Vitamin C “Boost” Your Immune System?
Vitamin C is important for protecting immune cells. Your immune cells, lymphocytes specifically, produce reactive oxygen species (ROS), which are great in defending against foreign invaders, but can also damage the immune cells themselves. Because vitamin C is an antioxidant, it provides protection for these important cells. These lymphocytes will actual increase the levels of vitamin C they have in order to protect themselves, which is one reason why the body may require increased levels of vitamin C.
In addition, vitamin C supports your immune system in producing white blood cells and helping these cells (specifically lymphocytes, neutrophils, and phagocytes) function at their best.
But while it is an essential nutrient for a healthy functioning immune system, it does not “boost” immune activity. Rather, it supports your immune system’s defenses against viruses, bacteria and other invaders. And it also protects your immune cells.
Can Vitamin C Prevent or Cure the Common Cold?
Sadly, there just isn’t a cure for the common cold. And as great as vitamin C is, it won’t prevent you from catching it either.
In a Cochrane Review that looked at 29 studies with a total of 11,306 participants, it was concluded that at the dose of 200 mg or more of vitamin C, there was no reduction in the risk of contracting the common cold.
However, it was also found that regular supplementation with vitamin had a “consistent effect in reducing the duration of common cold symptoms, which is based on 31 study comparisons with 9745 common cold episodes.”
- In adults, supplementing with 200 mg/day was found to reduce the duration of colds by 8% and in children by 14%.
- In children, vitamin C at a dose of 1,000-2,000 mg/day shortened colds by 18% and also reduced the severity.
This review concluded that:
Nevertheless, given the consistent effect of vitamin C on the duration and severity of colds in the regular supplementation studies, and the low cost and safety, it may be worthwhile for common cold patients to test on an individual basis whether therapeutic vitamin C is beneficial for them.
In therapeutic trials at doses of 1-8 g/ day, there were no significant effects of beginning vitamin C supplementation once there was an onset of cold symptoms.
The takeaway here is that consistent daily supplementation has a more significant effect than taking vitamin C at the onset of cold symptoms. Keep reading because we’ll be covering food sources and supplements for vitamin C.
2. Vitamin C For Better Progesterone Levels
Progesterone is a hormone made following ovulation. It’s benefits range from supporting a healthy mood, better sleep, keeping anxiety in check, making periods easier, and improved brain function.
In one randomized control trial it was found that women who supplemented with vitamin C had increased progesterone levels compared to the placebo group.
3. Vitamin C For Fertility and Pregnancy
Vitamin C has long been touted for its ability to increase fertility. Researchers believe that ascorbic acid is important in many parts of the reproductive process. This is likely because it plays a vital role in hormone production, helps make collagen, and protects cells from free radicals.
Studies show that vitamin C impacts follicle integrity, and even helps to restore follicular reserves and aging ovaries in mice. Human studies also suggest a correlation between vitamin C levels and follicular fluid levels, making vitamin C an ideal supplement for anyone trying to increase the health of their eggs.
4. Vitamin C for Stress and Anxiety
Vitamin C is required for making catecholamines, otherwise known as stress hormones. In fact, your adrenal glands are one of the organs with the highest concentrations of vitamin C and leverage this vitamin to do their job. This is why we include vitamin C in our Adrenal Support formulation.
In times of stress, your adrenal glands increase production of catecholamines. Because of this, they are using more vitamin C, which is why some people benefit from increased intake during times of chronic stress.
When it comes to anxiety, there have been small studies pointing to the benefits of vitamin C. In a small double-blind, randomized, placebo-controlled trial studying the effects of 500 mg daily vitamin C supplementation on anxiety in students it was found that the students supplementing with vitamin C had lower levels of anxiety compared to students in the placebo group.
5. Vitamin C For Endometriosis
Endometriosis occurs when endometrial-like implants grow outside of the uterus. This tissue isn’t exactly the same as the normal lining of the uterus, but can still respond to hormone changes that accompany a normal menstrual cycle. This can be an extremely painful condition for women who suffer from it.
In one study, chronic pain from endometriosis was reduced in 43% of study participants after treatment with vitamin C and E, suggesting that these antioxidants may reduce pain and inflammation. Furthermore, in animal studies, intravenous vitamin C treatment showed promise as treatment for endometriosis as well.
I go in depth into other treatment strategies for endometriosis in this article.
6. Vitamin C For Heavy Periods
Vitamin C supports the integrity of blood vessels. Fragile capillaries are believed to be involved in some cases of heavy periods or menorrhagia. Capillaries are small blood vessels found throughout the body.
Vitamin C and bioflavonoids (a group of antioxidants) also have an anti-inflammatory effect, which may also reduce heavy bleeding.
In one small study, 89% of women experienced a reduction in heavy flow after supplementing with vitamin C and bioflavonoids. The hypothesis is that it’s anti-inflammatory effect, plus its ability to strengthen capillary walls reduces the menstrual bleeding. Since it also helps with the absorption of iron, vitamin C also assists women who have struggled with iron deficiency due to the blood loss.
The doses that have been used in studies are actually quite low when it comes to heavy bleeding. It appears around 600 mg daily is the lowest dose to show benefits.
7. Vitamin C and Birth Control
If you're currently on the oral contraceptive pill, then you should know that these can deplete your body of vitamins and nutrients. In addition to vitamin C, the pill has been shown to deplete B vitamins, vitamin E, and zinc, magnesium, and selenium. Pay close attention to your nutrition and fill in with a multivitamin or prenatal.
Does Vitamin C Cause Miscarriage?
If you’ve ever heard a rumor that taking massive amounts of vitamin C will terminate a pregnancy, please dismiss this information as just that, rumor. There’s no evidence to support this claim, and it’s definitely not an effective birth control option.
If you are in need of contraception, check out my contraception guide (which also includes non-hormonal options) or if you’re in an emergency situation, please read my article on the morning after pill.
If you’re considering vitamin C in pregnancy, typically what you find in a prenatal is a safe dose. If you’re considering increasing your dose, please speak with your doctor.
Read more about what to look for in a prenatal here.
8. Vitamin C As A Natural Antihistamine
In addition to supporting the immune system, vitamin C also acts as a natural antihistamine, which is great news for anyone who suffers from allergies.
Histamines are inflammatory compounds that are a normal part of immune response but when they overreact in certain instances, they can cause an allergic reaction. Vitamin C can help temper that allergic response of seasonal allergies, but understand it is not a treatment for severe allergic reactions, so call your doctor or seek immediate medical care if this is what you’re experiencing.
Histamines can also play a role in PMS. Histamine in your body, while part of the normal female cycle, can create issues, causing anxiety, migraines, and period pain. Taking vitamin C regularly might help with PMS symptoms that are a result of inflammation caused by histamines.
9. Vitamin C And Iron
Vitamin C and iron are quite the dynamic duo. Vitamin C has been shown to help with the absorption of non-heme iron quite nicely. This is great news for anyone suffering from anemia. It’s also something to keep in mind if you’re experiencing heavy period blood flow. The amount of vitamin C ingested corresponds directly with the absorption levels of soluble iron.
I have a comprehensive article to help you if you’re struggling with iron deficiency anemia.
10. Vitamin C And Thyroid Health
Possibly because of its role in increasing iron absorption and it’s strength as an antioxidant, it appears that supplementation with vitamin C can help regulate T3, T4, and TSH levels in thyroid patients.
11. Vitamin C As A Powerful Antioxidant
Antioxidants protect you from free radicals, which are unstable molecules that are linked to disease and aging. Vitamin C is one of the most potent antioxidants, and can help increase the levels of antioxidants in your blood.
This in turn, helps prevent many chronic diseases. Antioxidants have been shown to fight heart disease, cancer, alzheimers, and help delay the physical effects of aging. In short, they’re super important for your health, and getting as many of them in your diet or through high quality supplementation is a really good idea.
12. Vitamin C For Heart Health
While we can’t completely attribute vitamin C intake to a healthier heart, it seems like increased intake of this vitamin may indicate better heart health.
In one study, participants took 700 mg of vitamin C in supplement form for 10 years. And the results indicated that they had a 25% lower chance of getting heart disease. In another review, it appeared that vitamin C supplementation reduced bad cholesterol and triglycerides.
Of course, it’s always possible that those with healthier habits like exercise and eating lots of fruits and veggies are more likely to take supplements, but it’s still a great case for upping the vitamin C wherever and whenever you can.
13. Vitamin C For Memory
It stands to reason then, that studies have shown that when vitamin C intake increases, levels of dementia and cognitive decline decreases. This appears to hold true whether vitamins are ingested in supplement or whole food form.
14. Vitamin C for Healthy Skin
When levels of vitamin C inside the body are low, we can start to see that reflected in the skin. People with vitamin C deficiency often have rough, dry or inflamed skin. We also know that vitamin C helps make collagen…so it only makes sense that beauty industry professionals decided applying vitamin C to our skin topically might have a benefit.
Turns out they were right — vitamin C serums are amazing natural skin boosters, evening out redness and helping to reduce the appearance of dark spots. In addition, it seems to help increase collagen production, which as any woman in her forties knows, helps decrease fine lines and wrinkles. It’s antioxidant benefits also appear to help protect the skin from sun damage.
What Kind Of Vitamin C Is Best?
Focus should be on obtaining vitamin C through your diet first. However, as noted in the research studies presented in this article, the benefits of vitamin C have been found through supplementation.
20 Whole Food Sources of Vitamin C
Vitamin C is found abundantly in whole foods, especially raw fruits and vegetables.
Vitamin C rich foods include:
- Bell peppers
- Brussels sprouts
- Hot peppers
- Mandarin oranges
Acerola cherries have a whopping 2,740% of the recommended daily intake of vitamin C. You may not be able to find them easily at the grocery store, but you can buy them powdered online.
Vitamin C Supplements
While there are many different available forms, the vast majority of studies examine ascorbic acid or sodium ascorbate, which is it’s sodium salt form. So when it comes to all the benefits you’ve read above, this is the form that was used.
There’s very little evidence that any one form is more effective or that it is better absorbed. We’ll review the different forms below, but it is important to understand this as a lot of claims are often made about vitamin C benefits via different forms.
This is the most common form of vitamin C that has been demonstrated to have benefit in clinical trials and scientific studies.
While this may be difficult on the digestive system for those with known ulcers or sensitive stomachs, this can be an effective way to supplement with vitamin C. Plus, it is one of the most cost effective versions.
But if you find this is difficult on your digestion, you may want to try taking it with food or opting for a buffered vitamin C version.
Buffered Vitamin C
Buffered vitamin C can be gentler on the digestive tract, but it may be absorbed slightly less. And when I say slightly, understand that it is not a huge absorption difference. If you tolerate it better than ascorbic acid then it is a better option for you.
Intravenous Vitamin C
Vitamin C that’s delivered through an IV directly into the bloodstream appears to be the most advantageous in circumstances where large amounts of vitamin C are needed quickly. It can also help you maintain a steady amount circulating in the blood.
It’s often used as a complementary cancer treatment, as it appears that cancer patients have lower levels of vitamin C, and it helps to offset some of the toxicity of chemotherapy treatment. Furthermore, since it’s an anti-inflammatory and antioxidant, it’s believed to have anti-cancer properties. In a couple of studies, intravenous vitamin C treatment increased survival time for those who were administered it versus those who weren’t.
However, I want to be clear that vitamin C should not be used in place of any recommendations from your doctor regarding cancer treatment and that you should consult your doctor before pursuing this therapy. It’s also important to understand that vitamin C alone is highly unlikely to prevent cancer. Cancer is cause is complex and vitamin C and antioxidant status is only one piece of this.
Liposomal Vitamin C
Liposomal, or lipospheric, vitamin C is a vitamin that has been combined with very small fat-like particles. The liposomes help deliver the nutrient they’re combined with quickly and effectively. Research suggests that liposomal vitamin C is slightly more effective at producing circulating levels of vitamin C than the plain version of the vitamin, but not as effective as when it’s introduced intravenously.
Making liposomal forms of vitamins is difficult, so quality matters. If you’re opting for this version, make sure you’re getting it from a company you trust.
While many people will claim that liposomal and IV vitamin C are the best versions for absorption, there’s not substantial evidence that there is a significant difference for the average person. As you read above, there are considerations for using these other forms and times where IV vitamin C may be beneficial.
How Much Vitamin C Should You Take?
The recommended daily allowances for vitamin C intake for adults are:
- 75 mg for females
- 85 mg for pregnant females
- 120 mg for breastfeeding women
- 90 mg for males
Keep in mind that these suggestions are likely not high enough to achieve optimal levels of vitamin C in the body. Therapeutic doses are generally recommended in the 600-1000 mg per day range.
Clinically, I’ve observed, as have many other clinicians experienced in nutritional therapy, that supplementation with much higher doses is more tolerable during an acute illness then may be otherwise. Remember, the studies on immunity have shown benefit with consistent daily supplementation and not initiation at onset of symptoms. But we also understand that during acute illness our vitamin C requirements can increase. Because we are animals that don’t make vitamin C, there is an argument to be made that we need to increase our intake when we’re sick to support our body.
How Much Vitamin C Is Too Much?
Since vitamin C can’t really be stored by the body, it’s hard to take too much of it. For the most part, your body will excrete any excess vitamin C it can’t use in your urine.
Higher doses of vitamin C may cause some gastrointestinal issues like nausea and diarrhea. This is why it is advised to take in divided doses. In times of illness, it has been observed that higher doses are more tolerable compared to when someone is not currently ill.
If you’ve ever heard, “take it until bowel tolerance” then what that means is to take vitamin C until you develop loose stools and then backing off to the dose that didn’t cause that issue.
Symptoms Of Vitamin C Deficiency
In today’s society, vitamin C deficiency is somewhat rare. Most people get enough from foods that are fortified with vitamins at the very least. However, some segments of the population are at greater risk for deficiency, like smokers, alcoholics and those with eating disorders. By some estimates, 13% of the population may actually struggle with lower levels of vitamin C. Vitamin C deficiency leads to a condition called scurvy. But I want to be clear, that optimal and deficient are two different things and the absence of scurvy doesn’t mean your levels of vitamin C are sufficient for your needs.
Some of the signs that vitamin C deficiency may be an issue include:
- Poor immunity
- Rough, dry skin
- Thin and brittle nails
- Bleeding gums
- Tooth loss
How To Incorporate More Vitamin C Into Your Life
Hopefully, after hearing all of the amazing benefits of vitamin C, you’re interested in optimizing your levels.
Load up on those on fruits and vegetables, and fill in the gaps with a high-quality multivitamin that includes at least 600 mg per day like my Women’s Twice Daily formula. You’ll also find vitamin C in my Prenatal Plus and Adrenal Support formulation.
And — if you’re looking for some killer inspiration on how to cook up those veggies into heart, brain, and hormone friendly meals that are also delicious, be sure to check out my completely free 7 day meal plan and recipe guide for tons of inspiration!
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