Once upon a time, people took a multivitamin and called it a day. Now, supplements are complex, trendy, and exotic—think adaptogenic mushroom coffee, herbs borrowed from Chinese medicine like Panax Ginseng, herbs borrowed from Ayurveda like ashwagandha, and supplements for biohacking the brain, the heart, lifespan, even your sex life. But sometimes, it’s good to look back at the old stand-bys and re-appreciate their low cost, easy availability, and most importantly, their profound health benefits. When it comes to old-school supplements, my favorite is, and always has been, good old vitamin C. A few decades ago (before anybody even know what an adaptogen was), vitamin C was trendy, thanks to a brilliant chemist named Linus Pauling. We’ve long known that vitamin C is necessary to prevent scurvy, but Pauling captured the world’s attention, vitamin C got a lot more interesting. Pauling has been called the greatest chemist of the 20th century. He discovered many important scientific concepts having to do with molecular genetics and quantum chemistry. Later in his life, after almost dying from kidney disease, Pauling got interested in how nutrition affected both disease and health. Then he got interested in vitamin C. In 1970, Pauling published a best-selling book called Vitamin C and the Common Cold, and vitamin C became the new star vitamin. His research led him to recommend taking high doses of vitamin C for heart disease and atherosclerosis. These practices were and still are controversial and some claimed his results could not be replicated, but Pauling countered that the replication studies were too short. He founded the Linus Pauling Institute of Science and Medicine, and it still exists today. Pauling made a lot of claims about vitamin C that have turned out to be true, and we’ve learned even more about this important antioxidant vitamin in the years since he first brought the world’s attention to it. If you aren’t taking vitamin C, or at least getting plenty through your diet (citrus fruits, red peppers, strawberries, broccoli, Brussels sprouts, and potatoes are all good sources), consider what this vitamin can do for you. Because it is water-soluble and your body can’t make it, you have to consume it, preferably throughout the day. Vitamin C doesn’t last long in your system so it’s good to keep it incoming. Here are some of its most potent and well-studied benefits.
Shorter, Less Severe Colds
While many studies have debunked the notion that vitamin C can prevent the common cold, it has been well demonstrated that vitamin C can shorten the length of a cold and reduce the severity of cold symptoms. I’m not completely convinced that it doesn’t have at least some preventive effect, however. I recommend taking 1000 mg of vitamin C every day, especially during cold season. That way, even if you do catch a cold, you’ll already have vitamin C in your system to keep the symptoms to a minimum. Further studies looking at the effect of vitamin C on immunity in particular show that vitamin C can influence immune function, both by affecting the production of immune-related compounds like cytokines and prostaglandins, and by protecting the linings of blood vessels as well as the skin from over-reactive immune responses.
Better Heart Health
Multiple studies have shown that people with vitamin C deficiencies can have significantly elevated cholesterol, and that taking vitamin C can reduce atherosclerosis (hardening of the arteries) as well as total cholesterol, LDL (“bad”) cholesterol, and triglycerides, while increasing HDL (“good”) cholesterol. These are all measures of heart disease risk, so we can extrapolate that vitamin C improves heart health, but some studies have also shown this directly, linking vitamin C supplementation with a lower risk of death from coronary heart disease and stroke, especially in older people, who are more likely to be deficient in vitamin C. Vitamin C has also been shown to prevent endothelial dysfunction, which means it can prevent damage to the lining of heart and blood vessels. It does this in two ways: by inhibiting inflammation through its antioxidant properties, and by encouraging the production of collagen, strengthening the vessel lining. All these actions can keep your heart in better shape.
Vitamin C has been linked to a reduced risk of diabetes, especially when it comes from fruits and vegetables. This may be because people with diabetes—both those dependent and not dependent in insulin—had significantly lower vitamin C levels than average. Because of its antioxidant properties, we know vitamin C reduces oxidative stress, especially when combined with vitamin E. This can also reduce the risk of diabetes complications related to circulation problems, like nerve damage to feet and eyes.
Younger Looking Skin
Skin naturally contains vitamin C in high concentrations. This stimulates the production of collagen and protects the skin against sun damage through its antioxidant action, so it’s only natural people would think to put it in serums and other skin-care products, for topical use. But does that work? After all, some of the main symptoms of scurvy, the disease caused by a lack of vitamin C, include fragile skin, bleeding gyms, and wounds that won’t heal. Vitamin C and the skin are a power couple. Although the body probably doesn’t absorb much vitamin C from topical applications into the bloodstream, topical vitamin C, such as in vitamin C serums, has been shown to neutralize the oxidative stress caused by environmental pollutants and ultraviolet radiation on the skin’s surface. Studies have shown benefits from topical vitamin C for sunburn, sun damage/aging, hyperpigmentation (such as age spots), wrinkle formation, sagging skin, roughness, scar formation, inflammation, and skin lesions, by increasing the formation of collagen and elastin, increasing the integrity of the skin’s barrier, reducing inflammation and swelling, increasing moisture in the skin, and decreasing the excessive production of pigment that can lead to age spots and other skin discoloration. The effectiveness of vitamin C for skin protection seems to be enhanced when combined with vitamin E. Since vitamin C is water-soluble and vitamin E is fat-soluble, the two seem to work well together to protect skin in multiple ways. Meanwhile, there is plenty we know vitamin C can do, so why not start taking it today? It’s inexpensive, easy to absorb, and if you take 200 to 300 mg with each meal (bonus: vitamin C helps you absorb iron better), you can do a lot to protect all parts of your system, from the surface of your skin to the insides of your arteries, from the damaging effects of modern life.
www.famousscientists.org/linus-pauling/ https://www.nhs.uk/conditions/vitamins-and-minerals/vitamin-c/ https://dx.doi.org/10.1007%2Fs12291-013-0375-3 https://doi.org/10.1016/0009-2797(74)90019-2 https://dx.doi.org/10.3390%2Fnu9080866