Vitamin C, also known as ascorbic acid, is a water-soluble vitamin. It gets dissolved in water and is transported to various tissues of the body but does not get stored, due to which it must be taken daily through supplements or food. Even before it was discovered in 1932, health experts recognized a connection between the consumption of citrus fruits and lowered risk of scurvy, a disease that killed more than two million sailors between 1500 and 1800.
Vitamin C plays a major role in healing and boosting immune function, and is also a powerful antioxidant that can neutralize free oxygen species. Our body needs this vitamin to synthesize collagen, a fibrous protein present in the connective tissue that is weaved throughout the major organ systems in our body namely immune, nervous, blood, bone, cartilage, and others. It also helps in the synthesis of various chemical messengers and hormones utilized by the brain and nerves.
Signs of Vitamin C Deficiency
A deficiency of vitamin C is rarely observed in developed countries; however, it may occur in case of a limited diet that provides less than 10 mg daily for at least a month or longer. In developed countries, people who are at the greatest risk of developing vitamin C deficiency are those who eat a diet restricted in fruits and vegetables.
Following is a list of the most common signs of vitamin C deficiency:
- The hallmark disease of severe vitamin C deficiency is scurvy. Its symptoms result from the loss of collagen that weakens the connective tissues. Its symptoms include:
- Skin spots caused by bruising and bleeding of broken blood vessels
- Bleeding and swelling of gums, which can lead to loss of teeth if left untreated
- Hair loss
- Delayed healing of wounds
- Iron-deficiency anemia
Health Benefits of Vitamin C
Could Stimulate Collagen Synthesis
According to the National Institutes of Health, the human body depends on vitamin C for the synthesis of collagen, which is the major component of connective tissues all around the body. Collagen is one of the most abundant proteins found in the body, which is essential for skin health and function. According to a study published in September 2015 in Clinical, Cosmetic, and Investigational Dermatology, topical application of vitamin C to the skin could result in increased collagen production which can give the skin a youthful glow. Increased collagen formation also means that vitamin C can also help accelerate the process of wound healing.
The stabilization of collagen by vitamin C is critical to the formation of our body’s connective tissue framework, which includes the skin. tendons, ligaments, bones, cartilage, and blood vessels. The final stages of collagen synthesis depend on vitamin C, with this vitamin acting as an electron donor in the hydroxylation of procollagen prolyl and lysyl residues. A study revealed that vitamin C deficiency disrupts the process of collagen maturation, which causes impaired integrity of the walls of blood vessels, leading to cerebral damage and hemorrhage in mice.
Could Promote Healthy Brain Function
Vitamin C is also believed to play a role in the production of neurotransmitters and cognitive function. Neurotransmitters are chemical agents responsible for sending messages from the nervous system to the other parts of the body. Higher levels of vitamin C in the body can be associated with increased cognitive function. A systematic review published in September 2017 suggested that subjects with higher levels of vitamin C were more cognitively intact as compared to those with lower levels of Vitamin C.
Studies also suggest that the brain retains vitamin C at the expense of other vital organs in case of a chronic state of deficiency. It can also uphold vitamin C concentrations around 100-fold higher than the other organs such as kidney and liver and kidney.
Vitamin C regulates several important functions in the brain, such as eliminating reactive oxygen species, angiogenesis (the formation of new blood vessels), and neuromodulation. Vitamin C is responsible for modulating the three most important neurotransmitter systems of the brain, namely glutamatergic, cholinergic, and catecholaminergic.
Vitamin C promotes the healthy development of neurons through maturation, myelin (the insulating layer present around neurons) formation, and differentiation. It also helps maintain the integrity and function of various processes in the vascular system, which indirectly supports normal brain function.
Vitamin C also protects the brain from neuronal damage. It triggers the expression of brain-derived-neurotrophic-factor (BDNF), which contributes to the defense mechanisms of the brain.
Could Help Boost Immune Function
Vitamin C can help boost the functions of immune cells that keep us healthy. A study revealed that vitamin C can help reduce the severity and duration of the common cold. It was even found to reduce the incidence of colds when the body was under extreme physical stress.
According to a study, it reduced the severity and duration of respiratory illnesses in male swimmers, however, similar results weren’t observed in women. Moreover, supplementation with vitamin C increased the clearance rate of H. pylori bacteria in 30% of the patients who received the supplement in addition to the standard therapy.
Could Promote Healthy Skin
Research suggests that vitamin C could play a vital role in the maintenance of healthy skin. When topically applied to the skin, Vitamin C is highly effective for skin rejuvenation, as it promotes collagen synthesis within the deeper layers of skin with little to no side effects.
Topical application of vitamin C can somewhat rectify the structural damage in the skin which is associated with the aging process (wrinkles, brown spots, etc.). Regular use of topical vitamin C also serves as an effective short-term treatment for post-inflammatory hyperpigmentation and melasma.
Could Help Prevent Age-Related Cognitive Decline
Chronically low levels of vitamin C in humans are associated with neurodegenerative diseases. A higher intake of Vitamin C has been linked with improved cognitive function in the aged. Levels of vitamin C were found to be drastically low in elderly people suffering from different types of dementia.
Supplementing with vitamin C was linked with a lower incidence of Alzheimer’s disease in the elderly. However, if you are older and worried about the health of your brain, then it is strictly advised that you consult your physician before supplementing with vitamin C.
A Powerful Antioxidant
Vitamin C is a potent antioxidant that can strengthen our body’s natural defense mechanisms. Antioxidants are chemicals that boost immune function, and they do so by protecting our cells from harmful molecules known as free radicals.
Studies hypothesize that consuming adequate amounts of vitamin C can increase our blood antioxidant levels by up to 30%. This can help the body’s natural defenses and support a healthy inflammatory response.
Could Promote Cardiovascular Health
Cardiovascular disorders are one of the leading causes of death and disability around the globe. Several factors increase the risk of heart disease, such as high levels of triglyceride or LDL (bad) cholesterol, and low levels of HDL (good) cholesterol, along with high blood pressure. Research suggests that supplementing with Vitamin C could help reduce these risk factors.
Regular consumption of vitamin C could help reduce the risk of developing cardiovascular diseases.