March 22, 2020 at 07:04PM
When most people talk about vitamin C, they often think about easing colds. But as an essential micronutrient, vitamin C can do so much more for your overall health. Moreover, humans are some of the few mammals who can’t make our own vitamin C, so it’s critical to get enough through diet and supplements. Here, learn about the science-backed benefits of this powerhouse nutrient:
1. Vitamin C helps manage the effects of oxidative stress.*
Oxidative stress happens when your body produces too many free radicals. It’s also the bane of every skin care fanatic’s existence, thanks to its damaging effect on skin cells and barrier function. Oxidative stress also reduces moisture and collagen fibers in the skin, contributing to fine lines and premature skin aging.
Luckily, as a potent antioxidant, vitamin C can lend a hand.* (Antioxidants are molecules that combat oxidative stress by neutralizing free radicals.) According to Keira Barr, M.D., dual board-certified dermatologist, vitamin C protects your skin from free radical exposure (like UV rays and air pollution).* This pumps the brakes on many types of skin woes, including sun damage, hyperpigmentation, and wrinkles.*
For optimal skin benefits, Barr suggests supplementing with vitamin C and applying it topically. This ensures that there is enough vitamin C biologically available and active in and on the skin.* “Including vitamin C in your morning routine will help fend off damage from environmental exposures during the day,” she notes. “[Applying] it at night will help support skin rejuvenation in the evening.”*
2. It promotes your natural collagen production.*
Collagen is essential for strong and supple skin. It also gives structure to other connective tissues, including blood vessels and tendons. But as we get older, our body’s usual formation of collagen decreases, leading to thin skin and slow wound healing.
To reduce this age-related process, be sure to get enough vitamin C.* “Vitamin C is a key cofactor in the synthesis of collagen and elastin, [which helps] give your skin that plump and youthful appearance,” says Barr.* The nutrient also protects the collagen you already have by working against collagen-degrading enzymes.*
3. It supports your immune system.*
“Vitamin C plays a large role in supporting immune function,” notes Joanna Foley, R.D., CLT, founder of a private holistic health coaching practice.* On a cellular level, vitamin C neutralizes pathogens and helps immune cells do their job properly, she says.* For example, it promotes multiplication of lymphocytes—a type of white blood cell—in order to fight an infection.* Vitamin C also helps neutrophils, another type of white blood cell, “eat” and destroy disease-causing microbes.*
The antioxidative properties of vitamin C protect the immune system, too.* Prolonged oxidative stress, after all, is associated with a variety of chronic conditions. It also stimulates inflammation, which simply fuels oxidative stress and induces a vicious cycle. Getting enough vitamin C, along with other antioxidants, is key to maintaining a strong immune system.*
4. It promotes healthy cognitive function.*
When it comes to brain health, nutrients like omega-3 fatty acids and vitamin K frequently steal the show. But did you know vitamin C can help, too? Once again, this is due to its antioxidative superpowers. “Free radicals can cause damage to all parts of the body, including the brain and mind,” explains Foley. However, as an antioxidant, vitamin C can help combat them and help support your body against cognitive decline.*
Vitamin C is important for healthy nerve cells as well.* “It supports the myelin sheath that protects [neurons], allowing for quicker impulse transmissions and quicker signals,” says Amy Shapiro, M.S., R.D., CDN. Interestingly, proper formation of the myelin sheath is linked to vitamin-C-dependent collagen production, proving how synergistic our bodies truly are.*
5. It could help manage high blood pressure.*
Taking vitamin C supplements may help naturally manage high blood pressure.* It promotes the body’s production of a molecule called nitric oxide. This molecule is a powerful vasodilator, which means it dilates—or opens—blood vessels. (In fact, this is how some traditional blood pressure drugs work. They release nitric oxide to relax the blood vessels or help tissues produce it.)
But wait—there’s more. Vitamin C acts as a diuretic, “causing the kidneys to remove more sodium and water from the body,” says Foley. This “helps relax blood vessel walls and lower blood pressure.” It can also maintain or restore flexibility in artery cell walls, which decreases plaque formation and improves blood flow, she adds.*
Use caution if you have low blood pressure, though. Due to the hypotensive effects of vitamin C, it’s best to check with your doctor first.
6. It might support iron absorption.*
Iron absorption is a fickle, complex process. It depends on many factors, including the form of iron and your existing iron stores. It’s also influenced by your intake of vitamin C, which plays a role in iron absorption.* According to Shapiro, it turns non-heme iron—which is found in plants—into a more absorbable form. (The nutrient does this by supporting the solubility of iron in the small intestine).* This is important because non-heme iron isn’t as bioavailable as heme iron in animals.
The nutrient “can also help reverse the inhibiting effect of other substances that delay iron absorption, such as phytates in certain foods,” adds Foley.* So, for best results, Shapiro recommends consuming iron and vitamin C at the same meal.
What else should you know:
Overall, taking vitamin C supplements or a supplement with vitamin C is generally considered safe. Patients with a history of kidney stones should take caution, as taking too much vitamin C can increase oxalates and worsen or increase kidney stones.
And be mindful of how you store the supplements. “Vitamin C is photolabile, which means it needs to be stored in a darker-colored bottle and out of direct sunlight,” says Barr. This will ensure that you “reap the benefits and maintain the potency of your product.”
The bottom line:
There’s a reason vitamin C gets so much praise for its plethora of health benefits: It really is a do-it-all vitamin, supporting in skin, immune, and cognitive function.* Ideally you’re getting vitamin C from food, yet it can be hard to get enough in the diet to reap all of [its] benefits,” notes Foley. So, if you think vitamin C supplements have a place in your wellness routine, talk to your doctor to determine the right dose and frequency.