As the colder months approach, the commonly heard advice is to increase the intake of vitamin C. Because, it is said, that vitamin C prevents colds and strengthens the defenses. Is this statement true? As we will see, only in part. In addition, vitamin C contributes to the well-being of parts of the body, such as the skin and brain, that we are not used to associating with the action of this vitamin. So, let's try to understand all the properties of vitamin C based, as always, on scientific studies.
Vitamin C, benefits and properties for the body and mood
Vitamin C is a water-soluble vitamin that cannot be synthesized by the body but must be obtained through the diet (Padayatty et al, Oral Dis, 2016). This vitamin participates in numerous physiological processes, such as the transformation of cholesterol into bile acids for subsequent elimination from the body, thus helping to lower cholesterol levels, the activation of folic acid and the conversion of tryptophan into serotonin, which is a neurotransmitter associated with good mood and reduced anxiety (Chambial et al, Indian J Clin Biochem, 2013).
The anti-inflammatory, anti-aging and immunomodulating properties of vitamin C
Vitamin C is characterized by antioxidant, anti-inflammatory and immunomodulating properties. Indeed, this vitamin protects and strengthens the body in case of viral infections, such as colds and flu, although its real effectiveness is still debated. There is no evidence of the ability of vitamin C to prevent infection but its ability to reduce the time and severity of viral infection already contracted has been demonstrated (Chambial et al, Indian J Clin Biochem, 2013). Not only that, vitamin C stimulates the action of NK cells, responsible for the recognition and elimination of viruses and cancer, and avoids the excessive activation of the immune system in case of external threat by preventing tissue damage (Chambial et al, Indian J Clin Biochem, 2013). In addition, vitamin C mainly protects the respiratory tract, since its deficiency exposes you to a greater risk of incurring respiratory infections such as pneumonia (Holford et al, Nutrients, 2020). Vitamin C is also a powerful anti-aging, protects cells from oxidative stress and prolongs their life cycle (Mumtaz et al, Mol Biol Rep, 2021).
Iron absorption, skin and brain, other properties of vitamin C
Do not forget that vitamin C promotes the absorption of non-heme iron, for example that contained in legumes (Chambial et al, Indian J Clin Biochem, 2013). In fact, it is sufficient to sprinkle the legumes with lemon juice or consume a fruit rich in vitamin C such as kiwi after a plate of legumes to improve iron absorption. Then, it was observed that vitamin C also has an influence on cognitive function. In the event of its deficiency, in fact, poor concentration and fatigue are observed, while its integration improves cognitive performance and attention (Sim et al, Eur J Nutr, 2021). Finally, vitamin C also acts on the skin. Indeed, vitamin C is able to stimulate collagen production and promotes wound healing processes (Chambial et al, Indian J Clin Biochem, 2013).
Because sometimes we need it more…
Sometimes, some habits or conditions lead to an increased need for vitamin C by the body. For example, living in polluted cities requires a higher intake of vitamin C, as well as stress, trauma, infections, fever, overweight and obesity, cigarette smoking, that increase the levels of free radicals and thus the need for vitamin C. Some medicines cause a reduced availability of vitamin C such as antibiotics and painkillers (Chambial et al, Indian J Clin Biochem, 2013).
Vitamin C, how to take it
Vitamin C, once taken, does not remain in the body for long. That's why it should be taken every day and, even better, several times a day. The recommended intake of vitamin C in adults is 90 mg per day for men and 75 mg per day for women. However, as mentioned sometimes some conditions require a higher intake. Vitamin C can be taken in the form of supplements, but in this case it is best to take them in the morning and avoid the evening hours, as high doses of vitamin C could alter the night's rest. Vitamin C is also contained in some foods, such as oranges, lemons and clementines, but also berries, strawberries and kiwis. The recommendation is to always prefer whole fruits, not purchased already cut, perhaps in the form of fruit salad, as contact with the air causes a loss of vitamin C. Among vegetables, the main sources of vitamin C are green and red peppers, tomatoes, broccoli and brussels sprouts (Chambial et al, Indian J Clin Biochem, 2013).
In this way it is possible to regenerate vitamin C
Lipoic acid is a substance that participates in the regeneration cycle of oxidized vitamins E and C, that is, no longer usable by the body, making them active again (Moura et al, Curr Top Med Chem, 2015). Foods that contain lipoic acid are broccoli, tomatoes, Brussels sprouts and brown rice (Salehi et al, Biomolecules, 2019).