What is vitamin C?
Vitamin C, also known as ascorbic acid, is a water-soluble vitamin and essential micronutrient. As humans, we cannot produce vitamin C in the body, so it must be obtained from dietary sources, primarily fruits and vegetables. Vitamin C is absorbed in the small intestine and high concentrations are stored in the brain, adrenal glands, pituitary gland, eyes, leukocytes (a type of white blood cell) and skin.
In the body, vitamin C supports immune health, acts as an antioxidant, and assists in collagen production. Vitamin C functions as a cofactor for enzymes involved in regulating gene transcription and producing certain neurotransmitters and hormones. In the immune system, vitamin C supports the function of the epithelial barrier, the cells that provide a physical barrier against pathogens. Vitamin C may enhance the function of various white blood cells, resulting in the destruction of microbes.
As an antioxidant, vitamin C can neutralise free radicals that may be caused by certain environmental factors, such as exposure to environmental pollutants and ultraviolet (UV) radiation. Vitamin C may further enhance antioxidant function in the body by regenerating (recycling and repairing) other antioxidants such as vitamin E. Vitamin C also enhances the absorption of iron.
Health benefits of vitamin C
Vitamin C has many important health benefits in the body but the main ones include:
1. Immune function
Vitamin C is known to support cellular functions of the innate and adaptive immune systems, and a deficiency in the vitamin may increase the risk of infections.
2. Cognitive health
Studies have consistently found lower vitamin C levels in individuals who are cognitively impaired when compared to healthy individuals. In the nervous system, vitamin C may be used to improve neurotransmission, a process involved in learning, memory, and movement.
3. Reproduction & growth
Vitamin C plays a key role in reproduction and the formation of a healthy human foetus. Both male sperm production and female egg quality require adequate amounts of vitamin A for optimal fertility.
4. Blood sugar management
Vitamin C supplementation may improve blood glucose (blood sugar) levels in individuals with diabetes.
5. Skin health
Vitamin C plays a variety of roles in supporting healthy skin, including promoting collagen formation and neutralizing damaging free radicals, particularly when used in combination with vitamin E.
6. Cardiovascular disease
Studies have shown that vitamin C deficiency is associated with a higher risk of cardiovascular disease (CVD) death. In individuals with low vitamin C levels, vitamin C supplementation may improve endothelial function and blood pressure levels, two indicators of cardiovascular health.
Signs & symptoms of vitamin C deficiency:
Vitamin C deficiency may result in a number of health symptoms and complications, such as impaired immune health and increased vulnerability to infections. A lack of vitamin C compromises the formation of collagen, which in turn impairs the integrity of collagen-containing structures in blood vessels, bones, mucous membranes, and skin.
Certain factors may increase the risk of vitamin C deficiency, including:
- Alcoholism or anorexia
- Being elderly
- Certain health conditions (e.g., malabsorption, certain forms of cancer, individuals with end-stage renal disease on chronic hemodialysis)
- Certain medications (e.g., aspirin, corticosteroids, indomethacin, oral contraceptives, tetracyclines)
- Infants fed boiled or evaporated milk
- Liver transplant
- Smoking and second-hand smoke
- Unvaried or restricted diets (e.g., due to food fads, food allergies)
Foods rich in vitamin C
Vitamin C is abundant in several fruit and vegetables, including:
- Brussels sprouts
- Rock melon
- Citrus fruits (e.g., orange, grapefruit)
- Tomatoes and tomato juice
If you’re trying to get more of this vitamin in your diet, it’s important to note that heat may destroy vitamin C. In order to preserve vitamin C, consider consuming your produce raw or steamed, as opposed to broiled, grilled, or roasted.
Vitamin C is a water-soluble vitamin that must be obtained from the diet or supplements.
It has been linked to many positive health benefits, such as boosting antioxidant levels, lowering blood pressure, enhancing iron absorption, boosting immunity, and reducing heart disease and dementia risk.
Vitamin C supplementation is a great way to boost your vitamin C intake if you struggle to get enough from your diet or you need higher amounts due to illness or inflammation. It’s important to talk to your practitioner before taking any riboflavin supplement.
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