There are few vitamins that can boost health as much as vitamin C. It can have a huge impact on everything from cognitive health to immune function, and even plays a role in maintaining connective tissue. Vitamin C plays such a large part in the chemistry of the body, it is on the World Health Organization's List of Essential Medicines.
One of the lesser known facts about vitamin C is the role it plays in the brain. The concentration of vitamin C in the brain is far greater than anywhere else in the body. In fact, the brain retains its levels of the vitamin even when the rest of body has run out. This is because vitamin C is an antioxidant that the brain uses to counteract the free radicals that are created when we think, feel, and act. Free radicals are unpaired electrons that seek out other electrons so they can become a pair. This causes damage to cells, proteins and DNA.
The brain also uses vitamin C to convert dopamine to serotonin, the ‘happy chemical’. Serotonin is a neurotransmitter that sends signals between nerve cells and regulates their intensity. It is also thought to play a key role in the central nervous system, gastrointestinal (GI) tract and general functioning of the body.
Vitamin C is used to make the myelin sheath that protects nerve impulses in the brain. It is also used to make collagen, which provides blood vessel integrity and helps to support cognitive capacity, especially as we get older.
Vitamin C also supports the nervous system via the adrenal glands, where it helps to produce the adrenal hormones. When we are in a stressful situation, vitamin C is quickly used up when it produces cortisol and other stress-response hormones. Unfortunately, if there is not enough vitamin C available, the adrenal glands ‘panic’ and release even more cortisol. This can increase anxiety, negatively affect blood sugar levels and increase blood pressure. Chronically high cortisol levels can impair cognitive performance, decrease muscle tissue and suppress thyroid function—all of which can stress the adrenal glands even more.
A healthy vitamin C intake not only makes it easier for the body to cope with stress, it also helps the immune system. This study done in Switzerland found that taking vitamin C helps to reduce the symptoms and reduce the duration of respiratory infections, such as colds, bronchitis or sinusitis. Also, it can also help with recovery (and lessen the occurrence of) other conditions like pneumonia and malaria.
Vitamin C can also help the body to protect against injury from free radicals. When free radicals build up in the body they contribute to the development of health conditions such as heart disease, diabetes and arthritis.
One study found that the risk of developing heart disease was lower in people who took at least 700 milligrams of vitamin C each day, than for people who didn’t take the supplement.
And a study from 2008 showed that taking 500 milligrams of vitamin C every day greatly reduced triglycerides and LDL cholesterol, two major contributors to heart disease.
Vitamin C also improves iron absorption. Iron is a mineral that is vital to our health: it is a component of the hemoglobin found in the red blood cells which helps to supply cells throughout the body with oxygen. An iron deficiency can lead to anemia, a condition characterized by symptoms such as weakness, shortness of breath and dizziness.
A study carried out in 1995 found that vitamin C improved the anemia in dialysis patients who received transfusions, and their anemia worsened again after vitamin C supplementation was stopped.
The body also uses vitamin C to make collagen. Collagen is the main component of blood vessel walls, skin, and connective tissue. Because vitamin C is so important to collagen formation, a severe lack of vitamin C in the body results in scurvy—a debilitating disease that was a major health problem among sailors during the age of discovery. The sailors on these long voyages were consuming preserved foods that contained very little nutrition, for months at a time. Our bodies don’t store vitamin C or make it so daily intake is essential.
It isn’t always possible for people to get their 5+ of fruits and veggies every day, so we’ve included vitamin C in all our Internal Cosmetics. In fact, 1 scoop of Bellē or Beaū contains the equivalent of 15 oranges.
Check out how vitamin C looks when viewed through a microscope: