Best Vitamin C Supplements
This past year has made most of us more aware of our immune systems than we ever were before, and vitamin C is one of the nutrients that we associate most with immune function. Vitamin C offers many benefits beyond protecting us from getting sick, and people take vitamin C supplements for a variety of reasons.
How does it work in the body?
Vitamin C is known as an essential nutrient, meaning that our bodies cannot manufacture it and we need to consume it from external sources. In addition to keeping our cells generally healthy, it helps to maintain different types of tissue, such as cardiovascular and bone tissue, and it speeds the process of wound healing by assisting with the production of collagen. It also acts as an antioxidant in the body, protecting us against free radical damage. It improves our absorption of iron, another essential nutrient, from plant foods like fruits and vegetables.
Conditions Treated with Vitamin C
The most obvious condition treated or cured with the use of vitamin C is a vitamin C deficiency. Acute vitamin C deficiency, also called scurvy, can cause anemia, exhaustion, pain and swelling throughout the body, and, eventually, death. It occurs after one to three months of insufficient vitamin C intake. Scurvy is commonly associated with sailors in the 15th and 16th century. This is because it was difficult to have vitamin C-rich foods, like fruit, on long sea voyages. It was eventually discovered that citrus fruits and juices could treat scurvy, and later, that vitamin C was the missing nutrient from sailors’ diets. Scurvy patients treated with oral or injectable vitamin C see improvements within 24 hours and are typically cured within three months. This means that, fortunately, death from scurvy is very rare in the modern day.
Conditions Prevented with Vitamin C
Vitamin C is theorized to be useful in prevention of many conditions and illnesses, although the supporting evidence for some is stronger in others. For example, increased vitamin C intake has been shown to reduce the likelihood of contracting the common cold in people exposed to extreme environments or extreme physical activity, the elderly, and smokers, but this same effect is not seen in the general population.
Taking vitamin C supplements may reduce the severity of a common cold in the general population, but only when taken before the onset of symptoms. Research has been and is still being conducted into whether vitamin C is a useful supplement for cancer prevention. Many studies have found that higher vitamin C intake is associated with a lower risk of many types of cancer, and people with cancer tend to have lower levels of vitamin C in their plasma than others.
Vitamin C can be found in many different forms, which may be absorbed differently by the body and have somewhat different effects.
- L-ascorbic acid - This is the most common form of vitamin C, and it may be naturally occurring or synthetic when used as a supplement. There is no difference in the effects and absorption of natural vs synthetic ascorbic acid.
- Sodium ascorbate - This is a mineral form of vitamin C that, unsurprisingly, contains large amounts of sodium. If high doses of vitamin C are needed, this could be a dangerous choice, as it will result in high sodium consumption.
- Calcium ascorbate - This form of vitamin C is about 10% calcium by weight. The calcium is absorbed fairly well, which could be a beneficial thing as long as daily calcium intake doesn’t exceed the recommended upper limit.
- Vitamin C with bioflavonoids - Bioflavonoids are a type of compound commonly found in fruits that are high in vitamin C. It is theorized, therefore, that the presence of bioflavonoids increases the bioavailability of vitamin C, but study results are mixed.
- Ester-C - This is a patented formulation of vitamin C which contains other compounds intended to increase the absorption of the vitamin C. It is worth noting that the study which supports the claim of improved bioavailability was conducted by the manufacturer and has not been confirmed by third parties.
You may want to choose a type of vitamin C supplement according to your other nutritional needs, and of course, according to your physician’s recommendations. You can take a look at our list of the top vitamin C supplements to find a highly rated product that uses the form of vitamin C you want to try.
Fresh plant-based foods, especially fruits and vegetables, are the best food sources of vitamin C. Some of the highest vitamin C foods in the American diet include:
- Citrus fruits;
- Tomatoes and tomato juice;
- Red and green peppers.
Benefits of Vitamin C
We often think of vitamin C as being beneficial for short-term illness like the common cold, but it can also help with chronic conditions. The boost it gives the immune system and its anti-inflammatory properties can relieve many long-term symptoms.
In animal and human studies, vitamin C has been found to reduce the risk and incidence of high blood pressure by relaxing blood vessels. However, these studies do not indicate whether the effects of vitamin C on blood pressure are short- or long-term, so caution should be taken when individuals with high blood pressure look to this supplement as part of their treatment.
Some current studies also indicate that vitamin C can reduce the risk of heart disease. Vitamin C was found to reduce the risk of heart disease regardless of whether it was consumed through the diet or as a supplement, indicating that the results were likely from the vitamin C and not just the healthy diet that people who eat large amounts of vitamin C tend to follow.
Vitamin C is very safe, and even at high doses it does not tend to have very serious side effects. The most commonly reported side effects of high vitamin C intake are nausea, diarrhea, and other digestive symptoms. This is normally caused by vitamin C that is not absorbed in the digestive tract, so forms of vitamin C with better absorption may cause fewer digestive problems. High vitamin C intake could potentially increase the risk or incidence of kidney stones, especially in individuals with a history of kidney stones.
Precautions and Warnings
Vitamin C is likely safe in low to moderate doses in pregnant and breastfeeding women, but high doses during pregnancy could cause health problems for the baby. People with cancer should only take vitamin C as directed by a physician, as the relationship between vitamin C and cancer cells is not fully understood.
Vitamin C can cause a breakup of red blood cells in people with a metabolic deficiency called G6PD deficiency. People with this condition should avoid unnecessarily high intake of vitamin C. The risk or incidence of kidney stones can be increased by excessive vitamin C intake.
People with a history of kidney stones should not consume more vitamin C than necessary. People who use alcohol or tobacco products are at a higher risk for vitamin C deficiency. Vitamin C intake or supplement dose may need to be increased for people who use these substances.
How long do I take vitamin C?
The length of time you need to take vitamin C depends on what conditions you are treating and what health benefits you hope to see. People taking vitamin C to correct a deficiency should be able to stop taking it after one to three months; your physician will tell you how long you should take the supplement for the severity of your deficiency.
If you take vitamin C to reduce the likelihood or severity of minor illnesses when you expect to be exposed to things like the common cold, you should take them for a short period. For instance, if you will be exposed to extreme weather conditions and want to prepare for an increased risk of illness, you should only take it around the time of your exposure.
Many medications have a risk for moderate interaction with vitamin C supplements. This means that the two can be taken in combination, but they should be taken at different times, ideally several hours apart, to reduce negative effects. Aluminum, which is present in most antacids, and estrogens, which are found in oral contraceptives and other medications, can have their effectiveness reduced when taken at the same time as vitamin C.
HIV/AIDS medications may not stay in or be absorbed by the body as well if taken in combination with high doses of vitamin C. Chemotherapy drugs may be reduced in effectiveness when taken with vitamin C. This has not been confirmed by much research, but since the connection is not understood, people undergoing chemotherapy treatment should not take vitamin C supplements unless instructed to do so by their doctor.
Vitamin C may decrease the effectiveness of some medications that lower cholesterol, so caution should be taken when combining these medications.
Vitamin C is an essential part of the human diet, offering everything from immune system boosting to prevention of cardiovascular problems. It has low toxicity and is safe to take, even at high doses, although it should not be taken at doses above the recommended upper limit or in greater doses than recommended by a physician. Discuss the appropriate type, dose, and timing of a vitamin C supplement with your doctor, and then take a look at our favorite vitamin C supplements to choose a quality option that suits your needs.
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