Vitamin C: Perform Hard, Feel Good & Stay Healthy

Vitamin C Pills and PowdersVitamin C (ascorbic acid) is one of the most researched, talked about and supplemented nutrients since it was first discovered in the 1930s. Its roles in the body are so numerous that we could write a thesis about it.

Here are the main functions that vitamin C is required for:

  • Metabolism of macronutrients.
  • Growth of bones, teeth, gums, ligaments and blood vessels.
  • Formation of collagen, connective tissues and organs.
  • Proliferation of different cells including immune cells.

Talk about an essential nutrient, right?

We’ve narrowed down the main ways that vitamin C can help to boost your health, performance, and wellbeing.

[ Jump to the Top 5 Vitamin C Supplements ]

Vitamin C benefits

Vitamin C – The Powerhouse Antioxidant

Vitamin C is the most abundant antioxidant in the human body. As a water-soluble nutrient, it exerts antioxidant effects in aqueous water-y environments like the blood and inside cells. As a bonus, vitamin C also regenerates antioxidants like vitamin E that act in lipid environments such as cell membranes, cholesterol carriers (e.g. LDLs) and the brain [1].

Antioxidants & Free Radicals 101

Free radicals are molecules or ions with unstable chemical bonds. This makes them highly volatile and reactive with very strong charges. They freely react with the nearest molecule to steal its outermost or weakest electron. This can cause a free radical cascade as the molecule it stole from becomes a free radical itself and so on, eventually leading to serious damage at the DNA, cellular, and even tissue levels. Multiple cascades contribute to oxidative stress.

If free radicals are left unchecked, oxidative stress can cause damage to tissues and organs, dysregulation of the immune system, and result in widespread inflammation.

Oxidative stress has been linked to hundreds of diseases including arthritis, depression, IBS, Alzheimer’s disease and chronic fatigue. Antioxidants like vitamin C “quench” or destroy free radicals by neutralizing their charge. They’re kind of like fire fighters – they run into free radical cascade to stop it from spreading and can significantly reduce oxidative stress.

Other antioxidants can “recycle” or “regenerate” vitamin C after it has performed antioxidant actions. Glutathione, NADPH (a metabolic form of vitamin B3), and bioflavonoids are the major regenerators of vitamin C.

The top 5 molecules for recycling vitamin C are:

  1. Glutathione
  2. NADPH (a metabolic form of vitamin B3)
  3. Quercetin
  4. Rutin
  5. Catechins [2]

NOTE: If you are taking vitamin C to reduce inflammation and boost your antioxidant levels, choose a supplement that also contains bioflavonoids.

Vitamin C & Sports Performance

Vitamin C is essential for the synthesis and accumulation of collagen to give tensile strength to damaged tissue. Combined with its potent antioxidant and anti-inflammatory action, vitamin C is a key nutrient for sports recovery.

  • In 2017, a small study of eight participants showed that taking gelatin enriched with vitamin C improved collagen synthesis following 6-minute bursts of jump-rope activity [3].
  • A four-week randomized study in 2013 showed that a low dose (250mg) of vitamin C per day lowered biomarkers of oxidative stress, tissue injury and muscle damage [4]. The effects were heightened when combined with 400IU of vitamin E per day.

Sports performance is also a key target for vitamin C supplementation.

Iron, the key carrier of oxygen throughout the body, requires vitamin C for its absorption and metabolism. Ascorbic acid protects the body against iron’s oxidative state and boosts its assimilation into red blood cells. For male athletes, cortisol:testosterone ratios may be improved with vitamin C supplementation which can boost strength, endurance and anabolic processes.

  • Did you know that musculoskeletal pain is a symptom of vitamin C deficiency? A recent study also linked low levels of vitamin C to spinal pain, and supplementation is being investigated as a natural painkiller! [5].

There is one caveat here – some studies show that because vitamin C is such an effective antioxidant, it may protect the body against physical stress too well during exercise training [6]. This means that muscles and cardiovascular toning may not make appropriate adaptations to compensate for the stress – i.e. by growing stronger and improving oxygen usage.

In the available studies, doses over 1,000mg of vitamin C per day negatively impacted endurance [6]. Vitamin C supplementation might still be highly beneficial for certain athletes and sports people, particularly when recovering from injury or illness – speak to a nutritionist for personalized advice.

Vitamin C for Immune Support

We know there’s no cure to the common cold, but regularly taking vitamin C may be one of the best ways to prevent getting a serious infection in the first place and speed up recovery time. There are a few reasons why vitamin C is such a potent immune booster:

  • Vitamin C reduces excess cortisol levels. Cortisol dampens the immune response. By lowering levels of this stress hormone, vitamin C effectively lifts immune function back to its normal level.
  • Vitamin C supports immune cells.
  • Vitamin C destroys histamine.
  • Vitamin C inhibits viral replication. Vitamin C is an essential factor in anti-viral immune responses and has been shown to reduce the replication of Epstein Barr virus [7].

Studies are conflicted when it comes to the best method for fighting a cold with vitamin C. Some say that mega-doses help to reduce acute symptoms, but the general consensus is that regularly taking vitamin C doses of ~1g per day may reduce the frequency of infections and the severity of symptoms when you do get a cold or flu.

Vitamin C also has a role in other areas of immunity, beyond colds & flus. Increased intake of vitamin C is associated with a decreased risk of HIV developing into AIDS, and may prevent some cancers – taking 80mg – 200mg per day has been shown to have a protective effect against cancers of the mouth, pharynx, esophagus, stomach, lung, breast and colon.

Vitamin C for Stress & Mood

Vitamin C gets burned up quickly when the body and mind are under stress.

The adrenal glands contain the most vitamin C of all tissues in the body – they hold a concentration that is 100x higher than what is found in blood plasma. This is because the adrenals use a lot of vitamin C. It is required for the synthesis of adrenal hormones such as aldosterone, adrenaline and cortisol. It’s also used to regulate how much of these hormones are produced.

When the body is under stress, adrenaline spikes to give us a “rush” – our eyes focus, our our heart pounds, we’re ready to run and get out of a scary situation. Once we’re relatively safe, cortisol is released to mop up the effects of the adrenaline rush. Cortisol suppresses the immune system and adjusts the metabolism, blood pressure and sleep cycles. Normally this is a short-term adjustment, but after serious traumatic events or long-term underlying stress, the adrenal glands can become exhausted – aka adrenal fatigue.

During adrenal fatigue, the adrenal stress hormones are released in abnormal amounts at irregular times, resulting in immune dysregulation and frequent infections, extreme fatigue, insomnia, weight gain, appetite changes, and mood issues like irritability, anxiety and depression. Supplying to adrenals with vitamin C can help to strengthen them and rectify the balance. Plus, it supports the other body systems that are under stress too – immune function, appetite, and energy.

  • A 2015 study investigated the effects of vitamin C supplementation on stress and anxiety levels in students. The double-blind, randomized, placebo-controlled trial found that 500mg of vitamin C per day significantly reduced anxiety levels and mean heart rate, while placebo did not [8].
  • A dose of 1000mg per day of vitamin C relieved stress and anxiety in type-2 diabetic patients in a 2013 study [9].

Vitamin C is a key cofactor in the production and release of serotonin, and its antioxidant actions help to combat oxidative stress that has been linked to the onset of depression.

  • A 2015 study showed that low levels of vitamin C were associated with biomarkers of depression, including oxidative stress [10], and a 2014 study showed a connection between low vitamin C and symptoms of depression after illness [11].
  • Increased vitamin C intake has been linked to improved mood [12] [13] and – as a bonus – increased frequency of sexual intimacy.

How to Take Vitamin C Supplements

Vitamin C is one of the cheapest and easiest supplements to manufacture, which means that the marketplace is overwhelmed with choice. Tablets, capsules, powers and topical treatments are available in multiple forms of ascorbic acid, calcium ascorbate, magnesium ascorbate, and so on.

Here are a few tips to finding a good vitamin C supplement:

  • Powders are generally absorbed better than tablets.
  • Bioflavonoids improve the antioxidant action of vitamin C.
  • The body can only absorb up to ~750mg of vitamin C at a time but 500mg is considered a standard dose. Taking small doses throughout the day is more effective than one big 1,000mg dose.
  • Ascorbic acid is straight up vitamin C but it can cause gastrointestinal discomfort in some people with sensitive stomachs or digestive issues. Buffered supplements can help reduce these symptoms by reducing the acidity of vitamin C and slowing down its absorption.

Best Vitamin C Supplements

Best 5 Vitamin C Supplements

#5 Viva Naturals Premium Vitamin C with Bioflavanoids and Rose Hips (1000mg, 250 capsules)

Premium Vitamin C
Viva Naturals have combined 1,000mg of ascorbic acid with 25mg each of rose hip fruit powder and citrus bioflavonoids derived from fruit peel – these two additional ingredients help to boost the bioavailability of vitamin C. The bioflavonoids recycle ascorbic acid while the rose hips are a natural source of vitamin C and other cofactors.

Each capsule contains 1,000mg of ascorbic acid plus whatever is found in the rose hip fruit powder – this is going to be beyond the maximum absorption dose of ~750mg for most people. It’s not dangerous to take 1,000mg at once – just remember you will only absorb ~750mg of this dose, so you would need to take these twice a day to reach an absorbed, therapeutic 1.5g daily dose.

Viva Naturals perform third-party testing on each batch of supplements, and this vitamin C is free from additives and artificial sweeteners or colours. This is a good choice if you’re looking for a simple, clean ascorbic acid with cofactors to boost antioxidant action.

NOTE: Be careful with high doses of this supplement if you have a sensitive stomach as the ascorbic acid is not buffered.

#4 Pure Synergy Pure Radiance C (4oz powder)

Radiance Vitamin C SupplementPure Synergy have produced a vitamin C supplement using 100% whole food ingredients – no synthetic ascorbic acid or bioflavonoids. Instead, they have blended powdered extracts of the world’s richest known natural sources of vitamin C – camu camu berries, acerola berries, rose hips fruits, amla berries, and more. The blend of these fruit extracts is said to deliver vitamin C in its natural state along with its naturally occurring bioflavonoid companions.

If you are looking for a concentrated dose of the most natural forms of vitamin C, this is it! Each ¼ teaspoon delivers ~120mg of vitamin C, so a full teaspoon will provide a good 480mg dose.

This is a great choice if you are sensitive to synthetic supplements or are looking to take a regular low dose. The powder tastes great – a little fruity and tart – and can be sprinkled over cereal or oats, combined in a smoothie, or taken in water. Because of its pleasant flavour, this is a great choice if you like to put vitamin C powder in your water bottle for the day to keep your levels up while you’re on the go.

#3 Thorne Research Buffered Vitamin C Powder (8.15oz / 231g)

Thorne Buffered Vitamin CThorne have combined ascorbic acid with buffering minerals calcium, magnesium and potassium. This is ideal for people with sensitive stomachs or compromised digestion. Some people prefer to mega-dose with vitamin C in its buffered form to prevent tissue saturation and tummy upsets. Because buffered C is slower to be absorbed, the effects can last longer, too – up to 16 hours after a large dose!

Each 5.5g dose (there’s a scoop included with the supplement) delivers 2.35g of ascorbic acid along with 350mg each of calcium and magnesium, and 99mg of potassium.

NOTE: Because of the additional minerals and the buffered slow release of this formula, avoid taking this within 4 hours of medications. Potassium may cause a serious interaction with potassium-sparing diuretic medications.

#2 LivOn Laboratories Lipo-Spheric Vitamin C (1000mg, 60 packets)

Lypo-Spheric Vitamin CLivOn laboratories have used liposomal encapsulation technology to improve the bioavailability of vitamin C. Nanoparticle sized water-soluble nutrients are surrounded by a vesicle with a phospholipid bi-layer. Translation: vitamin C is packaged in a form that greatly improves its absorption in the small intestine, meaning that you will probably get the full 1,000mg of vitamin C from these supplements. Once liposomal vitamin C is in the body, the phospholipid vesicle easily fuses to cell membranes to deliver the vitamin C where it’s most needed.

This is some sci-fi sounding stuff, but the future is now!

If you want to easily mega-dose with vitamin C, have a hard time absorbing other supplements, or have a condition where nutrients are quickly excreted (e.g. diarrhoea or vomiting), this Lipo-Spheric vitamin C may be a great choice for you.

* Note that this product contains a small amount of alcohol as a natural preservative so it may not be appropriate for everyone.

#1 RxHealthLabs Sustained Release C-Complex (1,000mg, 90 tablets)

Sustained Release Vitamin CView Sustained Release Vitamin C on Amazon

RxHealthLabs have created a vitamin C tablet that is packed with high-dose ascorbic acid and a well-designed blend of bioflavonoids and quercetin – key antioxidants to boost vitamin C’s function. This C-complex contains therapeutic doses of the bioflavonoids rutin, hesperidin and quercetin, all extracted from natural sources such as berries and citrus peel. They’ve also included natural sources of vitamin C and bioflavonoids – acerola fruit and rose hips make an appearance.

This supplement contains 1,000mg of ascorbic acid per tablet, which may be impossible for the body to absorb all at once. This is where the sustained release formula takes effect, reducing saturating the gut with vitamin C and increasing absorption across the day.

The blend of nutrients at therapeutic levels is hard to pass up. This supplement is great if you’re looking for an ascorbic acid supplement with excellent bioavailability and antioxidant action.

Further Reading:

About James Lyons

James Lyons (BHSc Nutritional Medicine) is a clinical nutritionist, medical writer, and educator. He specialises in plant-based nutrition and is passionate about improving public access to reliable and accurate health information.

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