Vitamin C, also known as ascorbic acid, is a vital water soluble vitamin, which the human body cannot manufacture and yet every single cell and tissue within our body requires this nutrient for healthy function and repair. We therefore have to ingest vitamin C through the foods that we consume including vegetables and fruits and by way of supplements. Most of us reach for this vitamin when we have colds or flu however its actions are very widespread.
Maintaining optimal levels of vitamin C is difficult since it is water soluble and hence is excreted out of the body within a very short space of time after ingesting it through food or by way of supplements. Some vitamin C is retained in our body within organs and blood. However, based on current research we simply do not have sufficient vitamin C intake in the first instance, which exposes us to illness. This inability to maintain optimal levels is recognised by scientists all over the world as a limiting factor to its potential benefit in protecting us from chronic health concerns. For years scientists have been looking at ways to boost the impact of vitamin C because of the benefits it provides to our bodies.
The benefits of vitamin C
We all appear to know that vitamin C is essential for optimal health. However, most of us underestimate the significant benefits, which include:
Studies indicate that low or insufficient intake of vitamin C is associated with an increased risk of cardiovascular disease. In fact, some studies indicate that vitamin C by way of supplementation offered more benefits than dietary intake. These studies demonstrated that supplementing 700mg per day displayed significant improvements in blood flow and blood pressure.
Vitamin C is essential for eight major enzymes systems on which we depend upon. Enzymes are protein molecules that are required for the body to function correctly. Without enzymes, we would not be able to breathe, drink, digest and even excrete.
Vitamin C may be of great benefit in the fight against cell mutation. Often referred to as the ultimate biological antioxidant, those with higher levels of vitamin C or high antioxidant levels in the bloodstream have been found to have decreased incidences of concerns associated with cell mutation.
Vitamin C is widely used to protect the body against colds and flu. Whilst the exact mechanism by which vitamin C works to support the immune system is not entirely known, studies do indicate that supplementing vitamin C can reduce the incidences and duration of colds.
Collagen is a connective tissue protein that is present throughout the body. It is involved with the function of blood vessels, tendons, ligaments and bones, as well as contributing to skin tone. Without collagen we would show the signs of ageing including wrinkles and our blood vessels would start to leak. Vitamin C contains a specific group of molecules that can be added to collagen changing its structure to make it stronger. Bones require collagen proteins to maintain their strength and for proper mineralisation. Since vitamin C contributes to collagen formation, it may be of great benefit in menopausal and post-menopausal women with bone loss.
Vitamin C is required for the manufacture of norepinephrine, a neurotransmitter that affects our mood and our ability to feel energised.
Low vitamin C levels are associated with soft gums, capillary weakness, skin haemorrhages, iron deficiencies and slow healing times. These are only some of the benefits and in actual fact vitamin C is involved in countless biochemical processes within our bodies.
What is the recommended daily amount of vitamin C?
The recommended daily intake set by the Food Standards Agency for vitamin C is 40mg per day. This amount is set in order to help prevent vitamin C deficiency symptoms in 95 percent of the population. In reality, this level is far below what people should be taking. It has been set to prevent the most common disease associated with vitamin C deficiency, scurvy, which occurs over a period of months. The recommended daily intake does not take into account the fact that many diseases are linked to vitamin C deficiency. It also does not take into account that physical trauma, smoking and many drugs, including aspirin and some birth control pills lower vitamin C levels. As a rough guide, one large orange will provide 50mg of vitamin C. Current findings suggest that we should be consuming anywhere between 700mg to 2000mg per day to help prevent illness, which equates roughly to 14-40 oranges a day! Generally, this is not achievable from food only and requires the additional use of supplements.
What are the best vitamin C supplements?
There are many challenges to the absorption and utilisation of vitamin C. Firstly, we know that humans cannot manufacture vitamin C. We also know that being water soluble, it is easily excreted, which means we have to constantly replenish this vitamin for optimal wellbeing. Our bodies work in an alkaline environment with the exception of the stomach, so acidic forms of vitamin C are usually ill-absorbed from the gut into the bloodstream. Using high doses of these forms of vitamin C, in order to prevent a deficiency in the blood, can result in diarrhoea and gastro-intestinal discomfort.
In response to this, many manufacturers produce buffered forms of vitamin C. This is basically vitamin C bonded to calcium or magnesium in order to prevent gastrointestinal concerns and to enhance absorption. These buffered forms are definitely absorbed in greater quantities, however their retention within the bodies is the same as the normal acidic forms of vitamin C.
There is a research-backed supplement called Fast-C by Life Extension. In two human studies, Fast C has been shown to be absorbed quickly and is retained longer than acidic forms of vitamin C. Fast-C contains vitamin C, as ascorbic acid, together with two botanical compounds, piperine and dihydroquercetin. It is these botanical compounds that play a vital role in the absorption and retention of vitamin C in the body.
Fast-C is the only vitamin C product that:
- Contains alkalising minerals that ensure the ascorbic acid is of a pH that does not affect the stomach.
- Contains an extract of black pepper which significantly accelerates vitamin C absorption so that peak levels in the bloodstream are reached rapidly.
- Contains dihydroquercetin, a grape leaf derived flavonoid that helps regenerate vitamin C to work again.
There is another vitamin C supplement which is gaining popularity due to the science behind it. Used for the delivery of certain drugs, liposomal encapsulation technology wraps the drug with phospholipid molecules which protect the drug against the stomach acid ensuring greater absorption into the bloodstream from the intestines. These phospholipids, because they are chemically similar to the structure of cell membranes, ensure that the drug is delivered directly into the cells. The same technology is used for vitamin C and the supplement is called Liposomal C.
Albert Szent-Gyorgi won the Nobel Prize in 1937 for his discovery of vitamin C. In his acceptance speech for the prize, he said, “the medical profession itself took a very narrow and very wrong view. Lack of ascorbic acid [vitamin C] caused scurvy, so if there was no scurvy there was no lack of ascorbic acid. Nothing could be clearer than this. The only trouble was that scurvy is not a first symptom of a lack but a final collapse, a pre-mortal syndrome and there is a very wide gap between scurvy and full health”.
Vitamin C’s levels in the blood are under tight control, making it difficult to achieve optimal levels, even with very large oral supplement doses. This tight control arises from three basic mechanisms: control of absorption, control of excretion, and control of vitamin C degradation in the tissues. Fast-C will rapidly elevate vitamin C levels in the blood and will ensure that these levels are kept in the body for longer periods of time helping to protect the body against numerous concerns associated with vitamin C deficiency.