Vitamin C is a staple in most people’s supplement stash, and for good reason. This antioxidant nutrient is famous for supporting many parts of the body. In fact, the highest amount of Vitamin C is found within our white blood cells, our eyes, the adrenals, and in the brain. Vitamin C plays an important role supporting collagen production for the skin and our stress response. But, with so many types of Vitamin C available, it can get a bit confusing. So, let’s take a closer look at Vitamin C.
What is Vitamin C?
Vitamin C is a complex molecule when found in nature. It is composed of a range of phytonutrients including ascorbic acid and bioflavonoids. In supplements, we often take Vitamin C as sodium ascorbate, calcium ascorbate, or ascorbic acid. Vitamin C is a water-soluble nutrient which means it dissolves in water. When a nutrient is water-soluble, we need to consume it in our diet regularly because it is only stored in the body for a couple of days. Along with Vitamin C, the B complex vitamins are also water soluble.
Unfortunately, humans don’t make Vitamin C inside our bodies like many other animals do, so we need to consume it within our diet. It’s an essential nutrient and without it, we can develop deficiency which ultimately ends with scurvy, but can impair the body along the way.
How much do we need?
Researchers at Otago University found that eating two kiwifruit each day offers approximately 200mg of Vitamin C and is an ideal way to consume Vitamin C. Their research has shown that in general, people reach saturation of vitamin C in the body after consuming about 200mg, because the body is very good at recycling vitamin C. However, when we aren’t living in an ideal balance, or if we have extra nutritional needs, a good dose of vitamin C from a supplement is a useful alternative and there are a variety of ways to take it depending on your lifestyle and dose requirements.
The Recommended Daily Intake (RDI) for Vitamin C for New Zealanders is about 45mg for adults, 55mg for pregnant women, and 35mg for children. It’s important to note that the RDI is based on the minimum amount a person needs to avoid a deficiency, rather than the amount needed for optimal health, so the RDI shouldn’t be thought of as a goal amount. If you are under stress, have impaired digestion, don’t eat a lot of fresh foods, have a health condition, or if you smoke, then it’s quite possible your Vitamin C requirement is a whole lot more than the RDI! An orange has just over the RDI of Vitamin C with about 53mg.
If you’re heading into winter and want to support your body’s response to ills and chills for fewer days off work and school, aim for about 1000mg per day in divided doses.
What are the benefits of Vitamin C?
Vitamin C has many functions in the body:
- It supports normal healing and repair in the body because it is involved in the production of collagen and fibrin. Collagen and fibrin form our connective tissue and support joint health and wound healing.
- As an antioxidant it supports the body when it is exposed to free radicals which contribute to aging and chronic illness.
- It supports a robust immune response and our ability to bounce back quickly after ills and chills.
- It supports a healthy heart and blood vessels as an antioxidant, supporting healthy cholesterol levels.
- Along with beta-carotene, zinc, and Vitamin E, Vitamin C supports healthy macula in the eyes and good vision as we age.
- It supports healthy levels of stress hormones in the blood. Interestingly, our adrenal glands secrete Vitamin C to re-balance the body when we are under stress.
How can you tell if you're low in Vitamin C?
We’ve all heard of scurvy, and thankfully it’s relatively uncommon in developed countries, but unfortunately it does still occur in some groups where fresh foods aren’t consumed often. However, there are many signs that the body gives before it reaches scurvy. Some other signs to look out for include:
- Easy bruising
- Wounds that take a long time to heal
- Nosebleeds and bleeding gums
- Bright red spots around the hair follicles
Food sources of Vitamin C
There are excellent sources of Vitamin C in nature, and Mother Nature gives us a helping hand as many of them fruit just as we need them most, heading into winter. Here are some of the best sources of Vitamin C and their approximate Vitamin C values:
- Capsicum 240mg per fruit
- Blackcurrants 190 mg per cup
- Gold Kiwi 90mg – 100mg per fruit
- Broccoli 90mg - 100mg per cup
- Orange 70mg – 80mg per fruit
- Feijoa 30mg – 40mg per fruit
The different types of vitamin C
Liposomal, Ester-C, Ascorbic acid...? It’s confusing, right? Understanding the best form of Vitamin C for you is important. The good news is that thanks to the wisdom of nature, our bodies uptake Vitamin C easily (likely because we can’t produce it ourselves), so no matter which form, you will absorb Vitamin C from both food sources and supplement sources. The differences then lie in how fast it saturates your cells, and how it makes you feel. Let’s dive in.
Arguably the most bioavailable form of Vitamin C with a large fan club of people who swear by it during ills and chills. A liposome is sphere shaped vessel with phospholipid layers. In the centre of the sphere is the nutrient, in this case, Vitamin C. Liposomes are absorbed though the lining of the digestive tract and the lymphatic system, enabling the nutrients to go to the cells and tissues faster. Even better, the phospholipid case of the liposome is good for us too. The benefits of liposomes have been studied and are also used to deliver some medicines. In terms of Vitamin C, liposomal form tends to saturate the cells faster, and blood levels stay higher than regular ascorbic acid.
Ester-C / Esterified C
Famous in the early 2000s for being the champion form of Vitamin C, Ester-C is a patented form of Vitamin C that didn’t cause the stomach sensitivity that came with ascorbic acid and had improved bioavailability as well. The lack of acidity comes from the ascorbic acid being buffered to calcium and sodium which are more alkaline than just ascorbic acid. Although “Ester-C” products are a patented manufacturing process, there are similar esterified products available.
The OG of Vitamin C supplements. Ascorbic acid has been available for many years and is used because the body will uptake it successfully. If you don’t tend to tolerate citrus or other acidic foods, you may also experience discomfort using this on its own without a mineral buffer. But if you can tolerate it, it’s the most affordable option. It’s often used in supplements along with the more expensive buffered forms to balance out the cost while still offering an effective product.
With or without bioflavonoids?
As mentioned earlier, Vitamin C is a much more complex molecule than just ascorbic acid when it is found in nature. Bioflavonoids are usually found in all the same foods that you’ll find Vitamin C, for example, the pith in oranges and mandarins is a source of hesperidin, one bioflavonoid in the bioflavonoid family. If you’re eating a varied diet with plenty of fresh fruit and vegetables, you might be able to leave the extra bioflavonoids, but they can be helpful to support the immune response. For example, quercetin can be excellent support for the body’s response to allergens. Others like rutin and hesperidin support healthy circulation and the health of vessels.
Bioflavonoids are all known as antioxidants as well, so are useful at supporting the body from oxidative stress.