Your guide to EYKTK about Vitamin C - from what it is, to why it's so essential for your health
image Beetlejuice / Warner Bros
words Sophie Williams
Vitamin C really is a game-changer. From battling complexion concerns to keeping cells healthy, it’s a non-negotiable (and multi-faceted) nutrient that your body needs to thrive and survive.
On a surface level, you’ll probably recognise vitty C the most from your younger years. We guarantee there’s not one single person who wasn’t dosed up on orange juice, oranges, and probably the whole citrus fruit family by their parents when they were ill as a kid. While of course vitamin C having healing properties isn’t a myth - it’s why over-the-counter common cold medications are so high in the stuff - humans don’t actually produce it, which is why, according to this 2016 study, it’s “an essential dietary component.”
Dr Ruchira Karundasa, a GP and doctor who’s been in the game for two decades is also keen to stress the importance of consuming regular amounts. “Vitamin C is a powerful antioxidant that helps to maintain blood vessels, skin, cartilage, bones, and the healing of wounds,” he explains.
“It also helps to guard the body against free radicals, which are molecules that the body produces when it breaks down food or is exposed to X-rays, tobacco smoke, or sun radiation."
So while you’re preparing next week’s meal plans, or re-evaluating your lifestyle to boost your daily dose of the water-soluble antioxidant, here’s your lowdown on vitamin C. It’ll definitely come in handy.
Vitamin C benefits
Vitamin C is incredibly talented, and it can benefit your body in a number of different ways. (Note that you can’t just rely solely on vitamins to keep you healthy - popping loads of vitamin C supplements to try and counteract poor lifestyle habits like smoking and/or drinking excessively is not recommended. Instead, swap out the unhealthy bits for more positive behaviours like exercising and sleeping well to really make the most of your vitamin intake.)
As well as acting as a natural antioxidant and helping to maintain bone and cartilage, here’re some other health advantages:
It boosts immunity
We already mentioned how vitamin C can help you out when you’re sick, but here’s why it’s so good at boosting immunity.
Firstly, it stimulates white blood cell production, which helps to protect the body against infection. The vitamin also increases the function of the cells, while protecting them from harmful molecules like the free radicals Dr Karundasa mentioned earlier.
Thirdly, vitamin C plays a major part in the skin’s defence system. We’re going to zoom in on how it’s beneficial for the skin a little later, but in terms of immunity, it acts as an antioxidant to strengthen its barriers.
It helps to prevent iron deficiency
Iron is another nutrient that helps the body function in a variety of ways, including transporting oxygen and making red blood cells.
Taking vitamin C supplements, or eating foods high in it can improve iron absorption from the diet. The vitamin will help to convert poorly absorbed iron into nutrients that are easier for the body to absorb.
Being deficient is more common for those who follow a plant-based diet, as non-meat sources of iron can be particularly difficult to take in.
It can work wonders on the skin
Topical vitamin C is extremely popular amongst dermatologists, and when used consistently as part of your skincare routine, it can have beneficial effects in a number of areas. This includes preventing sun damage, slowing down skin ageing, improving wrinkle appearances, reducing dark spots and clearing acne.
In terms of ageing, a 2017 study titled "The Roles of Vitamin C in Skin Health" found that using a vitamin C formulation daily for at least three months improved wrinkles on the face and neck, plus improved the overall appearance and texture of the skin.
It can improve your mood
Vitamin C gives cells a helping hand when it comes to communicating with each other. This contributes to the synthesis of adrenaline and non-adrenaline - the hormones that help to regulate mood and concentration abilities.
A 2020 BMC Psychiatry study even found that when someone is severely deficient in vitamin C, it can lead to depression and cognitive impairment.
There are far more benefits where that came from, too. From reducing fatigue and tiredness to helping to create vitamin E to supporting gum and teeth health, vitamin C is truly an all-rounder.
Vitamin C deficiency
According to Dr Karundasa, “if you stop taking vitamin C for 4 to 12 weeks, your body's store of the vitamin will be depleted.”
This means that a lack of the antioxidant can have detrimental effects on your mental and physical health - both internally and externally.
“Symptoms of this deficiency include fatigue, irritability, low mood, bleeding gums, bruising easily, slow healing wounds and in the worst cases, scurvy,” Dr Karundasa adds.
As well as these unpleasant ailments, a lacking in vitamin C can have a major effect on the skin, too. From being dry and damaged to rough and bumpy due to limited collagen production, the skin will appear less plump and youthful the more deficient the body becomes.
Vitamin C sources
You can incorporate vitamin C into your diet and life in a variety of ways. Whether it’s in the food you eat, the supplements you take or even via vitamin injections, it’s important that your intake is a healthy amount.
“Citrus fruits such as oranges, kiwi, lemon, and grapefruit are well-known sources of Vitamin C,” says Dr Karundasa. “Cruciferous vegetables such as broccoli, Brussels sprouts, cabbage, and cauliflower also help keep your Vitamin C levels high.”
There’s also a type of algae called chlorella that he recommends as a great source of vitamin C. Growing in fresh water and helping to aid the body in absorbing iron, chlorella can be consumed in numerous ways. While some prefer detox teas or powder that can be added to water, yoghurts or smoothies, others opt for supplements that are taken in doses throughout the day.
Like we said before, vitamin C can also be introduced topically, and there are plenty of dermatologist-approved serums and oils that can benefit the body.
How long does it take to recover from vitamin C deficiency?
While a vitamin C deficiency can take its toll on you mentally and physically, when treated, it doesn’t take long for the symptoms to clear up. In fact, most people feel better within two days and have made a full recovery by the two-week mark.
To treat it, all you really need to do is add some vitamin C to your diet. That means the fresh fruits and veggies we mentioned before, plus supplements, which your GP may recommend - usually something called ascorbic acid.
How much vitamin C should I take per day?
“Adults aged 19-64 should have 40mg of Vitamin C a day,” says Dr Karundasa. You should be able to achieve this amount through a healthy diet, so it’s worth checking in with the foods you eat and adjusting any items that don’t serve you.
And if you want to doubly make sure your body is vitamin C friendly, adding supplements to your daily routine won’t hurt. Just make sure you take the recommended dose suggested by your GP or the manufacturer. (And make sure that what you’re taking is legit, but that’s a given.)
Love your body
However you decide to consume vitamin C, it’s essential for a healthy lifestyle. Fact.