Vitamin C: An Unsung Hero of Nutrition

I’ve learned a lot about nutrition and wellness during my studies over the past three years. Given that I have an autoimmune disease, it’s no big surprise that a large part of my focus has been on the immune system and ways to strengthen and support it through nutrition, supplements, and lifestyle. There are loads of nutrients that we can use to support our immune system, but there is one that continues to float to the top:

Vitamin C!

For as long as I can remember, I’ve always associated vitamin C with staying healthy. How many times did we hear our moms telling us to eat our fruit (specifically oranges) or drink orange juice when we had a cold? I carried that on with my own kids throughout the years, but until starting down this nutrition path, it was mostly just because it was the “norm”. The more I learned about the immune system and ways to keep it working in tip-top shape, the more I realize how much vitamin C is an unsung hero when it comes to staying healthy and also how little most folks know about its importance in the body.

It’s not just another vitamin!

Vitamin C is a completely underappreciated nutrient, the reason for which many researchers believe to be because it’s quite inexpensive and not as “sexy” as more expensive medications (enter “eye-roll” here). It’s a cofactor for many enzymatic processes in the body (that means it helps to make the processes actually happen) and also a powerful antioxidant. Antioxidants protect cells and tissue from damage caused by free radicals, by helping to mitigate and neutralize the harmful effects of free radicals on the body. Without getting too technical, free radicals result from normal metabolic processes in the body, like digestion, and also when we’re exposed to toxins and chemicals, like cigarette smoke or fumes.. We can’t avoid them, but their damaging effects can lead to disease, so it’s super important we neutralize those puppies! And then there is what our moms have been telling us for years…vitamin C can help keep us healthy and also shorten the severity and duration of an illness when we do catch something. Some exciting news I’ve been hearing over the past few weeks is that early research is showing promising results regarding vitamin C and coronovirus – when used as part of a treatment, it appears to be helping patients heal! Somewhat less exciting, but no less important, vitamin C can also help to support other conditions, including anxiety, asthma and allergies, cardiovascular disease, cataracts, the common cold, diabetes, and detoxification in the liver…because it’s an antioxidant powerhouse.

Increase your vitamin C intake!

Vitamin C is an essential vitamin which means we have to get it from our food and supplements because we can’t make it in the body (although, other mammals can…weird, huh??) .We can get good amounts of vitamin C in many foods such as kiwi, bell peppers, strawberries, broccoli and of course, oranges, but current growing practices and transit times make it difficult to rely solely on food for reaching maintenance levels (let alone therapeutic levels). To add to what we can attain from food, we can easily (and inexpensively) increase vitamin C levels in the body with a quality supplement. I recommend supplementing with vitamin C to all of my clients because the amount we get from food is so variable and it’s so important for optimal health. It’s a water soluble vitamin, so it only stays in the body for approximately four hours, so we need to keep replenishing throughout the day. Another reason I always recommend supplementation is because stress depletes vitamin C…and there isn’t a single person who doesn’t experience stress, even our kids. In my opinion, vitamin C supplementation is a no-brainer.

What to look for?

As soon as you go looking for a vitamin C product, you’re going to see that there are many to choose from. Vitamin C supplements contain different forms and nutrients – you may have to try a few to find what works best for your body and your also for your family. With respect to forms, these are the main ones:

  • Ascorbic Acid – this is the most common form of vitamin C, available in chewables, capsules, liquid and powder. They can be natural or synthetic, but both are chemically identical and offer no difference in absorption or bioavailability. This form may be irritating to the stomach in higher doses.
  • Buffered Vitamin C – this form is combined with buffering minerals (sodium, magnesium, calcium, or potassium) to make the nutrient better absorbed and tends to easier on the stomach, so might be a better option for someone with a sensitive digestive system.
  • Vitamin C with bioflavonoids (this is what my family typically uses) – this vitamin C supplement also includes bioflavonoids, such as quercetin, rutin, hesperdin, and/or rose hips. Bioflavonoids are plant compounds that also act as antioxidants. They enhance both the effects and absorption of vitamin C.
  • Liposomal Vitamin C – this is the most absorbable form of vitamin C. Made of the same material as cell membranes, it facilitates faster and more effective delivery of the vitamin. This basically means you’re retaining more and excreting less of what you’re taking. 
In our house, we use a chewable tablet with bioflavonoids daily (it’s on the counter and we toss back a couple with meals and/or snacks. In the winter, or when we know different viruses are going around (a.k.a coronavirus), we add in a liposomal vitamin C for extra immune support and protection. The rule of thumb for vitamin C doses is that you can take to “bowel tolerance” – increase amounts gradually until you start to notice loose stools. Therapeutic doses of vitamin C are much higher than the RDA, but are generally considered to be safe…that said, it’s important to check with your healthcare provider before starting new supplements, especially if you take any other medications. 
As with all supplements, if you’re out looking for a vitamin C supplement, please be sure to read the ingredient label. You want to avoid anything that has a color as an ingredient (a “color” is not an actual nutrient and SHOULD NOT BE ADDED TO ANY SUPPLEMENT!…huge pet peeve of mine). We tend to think of vitamin C as being orange, but that’s not the case, so please don’t buy an orange-colored supplement. Also look for one that is free of gluten, whey, dairy, soy, artificial flavours, and preservatives – and that goes for any supplement you buy.

In my opinion, vitamin C is one of the most important nutrients for optimal health – it truly is an unsung hero. It plays in integral part in so many functions in the body and provides so much protection. We swear by it in our house for helping us to stay healthy and avoid much of the normal things people tend to catch throughout the winter. And given the promise it’s showing as a part of the treatment for coronavirus right now, it just further convinces me of its benefits. It’s not a miracle drug that will keep you from catching coronavirus, but it may very well help your body fight it if you do.

With so many things going on right now that we have no control over, why not focus on controlling what you can. Support your immune system by increasing your intake of vitamin C-rich foods, but also add a vitamin C supplement. It’s a safe, easy, and inexpensive way to help ensure your body is better equipped to fight illness if and when it hits…what more could you ask for?