Vitamin C for Health and Weight Loss

by Marixie Ann Obsioma, MT, undergrad MD on November 6, 2020
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Vitamin C has been widely regarded as essential to everyone’s nutrition for years now, especially sailors who were the victims of scurvy and a host of other diseases linked to the lack of fruit and vegetables that were available to them.

Ascorbic acid, or vitamin C, is one of the most important water soluble vitamins. It is essential for collagen, carnitine and neurotransmitters biosynthesis. Most plants and animals synthesize ascorbic acid for their own requirement. However, apes and humans cannot synthesize ascorbic acid due to lack of an enzyme named gulonolactone oxidase.

For this reason, we need to ensure that our diets are packed with vitamin C and, luckily, many fruits and vegetables contain adequate amounts of vitamin C so getting it is easy. The recommended RDA of vitamin C is 75-90mg, however, experts now suggest that in order to get the best health benefits from vitamin C you would need to consume 500mg daily, which makes a case for vitamin C supplementation.

How Can You Benefit From Taking Vitamin C?

Vitamin C is A Strong Antioxidant

Antioxidants act to protect the cells and limit the damage by stabilizing and mopping up free radicals. So Vitamin C, Vitamin E and Beta Carotene could help keep the body younger and protect it against serious life threatening conditions.

Studies show that consuming more vitamin C can increase your blood antioxidant levels by up to 30%. This helps the body’s natural defenses fight inflammation (1).

In relation to exercise, where oxidative stress and free radicals are prevalent due to the intense nature of it and its effect on the body, exercise-induced oxidative stress is highest for people with lower vitamin C levels. We can then surmise that if you are currently training and engaging in intense daily workouts that you should supplement with vitamin C to prevent the deleterious effects of free radicals.

It Helps Manage Blood Pressure 

Approximately one-third of American adults have high blood pressure (2).

High blood pressure puts you at risk of heart disease, the leading cause of death globally (3).

Studies have shown that vitamin C may help lower blood pressure in both those with and without high blood pressure.

An animal study found that taking a vitamin C supplement helped relax the blood vessels that carry blood from the heart, which helped reduce blood pressure levels (4).

Moreover, an analysis of 29 human studies found that taking a vitamin C supplement reduced systolic blood pressure (the upper value) by 3.8 mmHg and diastolic blood pressure (the lower value) by 1.5 mmHg, on average, in healthy adults.

In adults with high blood pressure, vitamin C supplements reduced systolic blood pressure by 4.9 mmHg and diastolic blood pressure by 1.7 mmHg, on average (5).

While these results are promising, it’s not clear whether the effects on blood pressure are long term. Moreover, people with high blood pressure should not rely on vitamin C alone for treatment.

Vitamin C Lowers Risk of Heart Disease

Heart disease is the leading cause of death worldwide.

Many factors increase the risk of heart disease, including high blood pressure, high triglyceride or LDL (bad) cholesterol levels, and low levels of HDL (good) cholesterol.

Vitamin C may help reduce these risk factors, which may reduce heart disease risk.

For example, an analysis of 9 studies with a combined 293,172 participants found that after 10 years, people who took at least 700 mg of vitamin C daily had a 25% lower risk of heart disease than those who did not take a vitamin C supplement (6).

Interestingly, another analysis of 15 studies found that consuming vitamin C from foods, not supplements, was linked to a lower risk of heart disease.

However, scientists were unsure whether people who consumed vitamin-C-rich foods also followed a healthier lifestyle than people who took a supplement. Thus, it remains unclear whether the differences were due to vitamin C or other aspects of their diet (7).

Another analysis of 13 studies looked at the effects of taking at least 500 mg of vitamin C daily on risk factors for heart disease, such as blood cholesterol and triglyceride levels.

The analysis found that taking a vitamin C supplement significantly reduced LDL (bad) cholesterol by approximately 7.9 mg/dL and blood triglycerides by 20.1 mg/dL (8).

In short, it seems that taking or consuming at least 500 mg of vitamin C daily may reduce the risk of heart disease. However, if you already consume a vitamin-C-rich diet, then supplements may not provide additional heart health benefits.

It Boosts Your Immune System

We’ve already heard of how vitamin C prevents curable diseases such as scurvy and how it combats a variety of diseases. As a result, it boosts your immunity and has been found to stave off illnesses such as colds and flu.

Studies show that vitamin C is essential to stimulate the immune system by increasing the strength and protection of the organism (9). Due to its role in reducing inflammation, it is essentially for immunity and general health. 

Finally, vitamin C protects the immune system, reduces the severity of allergic reactions and helps to fight off infections (10). If you want to stay fit and healthy then adding more vitamin C to your diet should be a priority.

Vitamin C Helps Maintain Healthy Skin and Hair

If you want clearer skin and stronger hair then vitamin C plays a major role in making sure this becomes a reality. Vitamin C helps build the protein collagen and coupled with the aforementioned absorption of iron you’ll not only have healthier skin and hair but you’ll maintain it.

Today, collagen is a bit of a buzzword but rather avoid supplementation and consume collagen-rich foods such as berries and foods high in omega-3 such as avocados and salmon. Alongside your vitamin C diet you’ll ensure your natural beauty forever.

It Decreases Blood Uric Acid Levels and Prevent Gout Attacks

Gout is a type of arthritis that affects approximately 4% of American adults (11).

It’s incredibly painful and involves inflammation of the joints, especially those of the big toes. People with gout experience swelling and sudden, severe attacks of pain (12).

Gout symptoms appear when there is too much uric acid in the blood. Uric acid is a waste product produced by the body. At high levels, it may crystallize and deposit in the joints.

Interestingly, several studies have shown that vitamin C may help reduce uric acid in the blood and, as a result, protect against gout attacks.

For example, a study including 1,387 men found that those who consumed the most vitamin C had significantly lower blood levels of uric acid than those who consumed the least (13).

Another study followed 46,994 healthy men over 20 years to determine whether vitamin C intake was linked to developing gout. It found that people who took a vitamin C supplement had a 44% lower gout risk (14).

Additionally, an analysis of 13 studies found that taking a vitamin C supplement over 30 days significantly reduced blood uric acid, compared with a placebo (15).

While there appears to be a strong link between vitamin C intake and uric acid levels, more studies on the effects of vitamin C on gout are needed.

Vitamin C is Good for Physical and Mental Health

All-in-all, vitamin C is an essential micronutrient that doesn’t have a good reputation by accident. Alongside how it improves your ability to heal wounds and reduce inflammation inside and outside your body, as well as giving you a great look, it has also been marginally viewed as a vitamin that gives you more energy and boosts your mental health.

Although hard to really nail down, people with higher levels of vitamin C have been observed to be less likely to suffer from depression and fatigue (16). Whether this is due to all the other aforementioned benefits is hard to say, but more importantly you should just increase the amount of vitamin C-rich foods you eat and see for yourself, you won’t be disappointed!

It Prevents Iron Deficiency

Iron is an important nutrient that has a variety of functions in the body. It’s essential for making red blood cells and transporting oxygen throughout the body.

Vitamin C supplements can help improve the absorption of iron from the diet. Vitamin C assists in converting iron that is poorly absorbed, such as plant-based sources of iron, into a form that is easier to absorb (17).

This is especially useful for people on a meat-free diet, as meat is a major source of iron.

In fact, simply consuming 100 mg of vitamin C may improve iron absorption by 67% (18).

As a result, vitamin C may help reduce the risk of anemia among people prone to iron deficiency.

In one study, 65 children with mild iron deficiency anemia were given a vitamin C supplement. Researchers found that the supplement alone helped control their anemia (19).

If you have low iron levels, consuming more vitamin-C-rich foods or taking a vitamin C supplement may help improve your blood iron levels.

Vitamin C and Weight Loss 

If you have a weight problem and are looking to get fit, it’s crucial that you eat right. But eating right is not just about lowering the number of calories consumed. It is also important to get the right kind of nutrition and lose weight in a healthy and sustainable way. One of the biggest mistakes of those looking to lose weight is to focus on adjusting the amount of macronutrients consumed. People tend to forget that a number of micronutrients like essential vitamins and minerals can also have a major role to play in your weight loss journey. One such micronutrient that can go a long way in helping you lose weight is vitamin C, also known as ascorbic acid. We all know vitamin C as the vitamin present in citrus fruits and one that is the leading nutrient that can help in boosting immunity in the body. But the nutrient also plays a crucial role in facilitating weight-loss.

A deficiency of vitamin C may be hindering your weight loss. Additionally, vitamin C deficiency may lead to symptoms like bleeding gums as well as acne breakouts and other skin problems. Persistent lack of vitamin C is characterized by a disease called Scurvy, and some other signs of scurvy include easy bruising of the body and muscle and joint pains. So, now that you know just how important it is to consume vitamin C, let’s take a look at why exactly it is important to consume vitamin C, specifically for weight loss.

Vitamin C is a water-soluble nutrient that supplies antioxidants to the body and is important for eye health as well. But for those looking to lose weight, this nutrient is of special interest due to its role in the metabolism of fat molecules. It is no wonder then that people who are deficient in vitamin C or whose diet does not include optimal amounts of the vitamin have more fat accumulation around their bellies and larger waist circumference. 

A 2005 study, published in Journal of the American College of Nutrition, showed that vitamin C deficiency can slow down loss of fat mass and that those who have a higher vitamin C intake have lower body mass indices (BMI). The study’s authors concluded that increasing the intake of vitamin C may improve fat oxidation during even moderate-intensity workouts. It is, however, pertinent to mention here that consuming vitamin C is not a sure shot way to lose weight.

Best Dietary Sources of Vitamin C for Optimum Health and Weight Loss

While supplements are a good option, nothing beats natural and pure sources.

1. Lemons

Lemons were given to sailors during the 1700s to prevent scurvy. One whole raw lemon, including its peel, provides 83 mg of vitamin C, or 92% of the DV (44).

The vitamin C in lemon juice also acts as an antioxidant.

When fruits and vegetables are cut, the enzyme polyphenol oxidase is exposed to oxygen. This triggers oxidation and turns the food brown. Applying lemon juice to the exposed surfaces acts as a barrier, preventing the browning process.

2. Oranges

One medium-sized orange provides 70 mg of vitamin C, which is 78% of the DV. 

Widely eaten, oranges make up a significant portion of dietary vitamin C intake.

Other citrus fruits can also help you meet your vitamin C needs. For example, half a grapefruit contains 44 mg or 73% of the DV, a mandarin 24 mg or 39% of the DV and the juice of one lime 13 mg or 22% of the DV.

3. Papayas

One cup (145 grams) of papaya provides 87 mg of vitamin C, or 97% of the DV.

Vitamin C also aids memory and has potent anti-inflammatory effects in your brain (20).

In one study, 20 people with mild Alzheimer’s were given a concentrated papaya extract for six months. The results showed decreased inflammation and a 40% reduction in oxidative stress (21).

4. Lychees

One lychee provides nearly 7 mg of vitamin C, or 7.5% of the DV, while a one-cup serving provides 151%.

Lychees also contain omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids, which benefit your brain, heart and blood vessels.

Studies specifically on lychee are unavailable. Nonetheless, this fruit provides plenty of vitamin C, which is known for its role in collagen synthesis and blood vessel health (22).

An observational study in 196,000 people found that those with the highest vitamin C intakes had a 42% reduced risk of stroke. Each extra serving of fruits or vegetables lowered the risk by an additional 17% (22).

5. Guavas

This pink-fleshed tropical fruit is native to Mexico and South America.

A single guava contains 126 mg of vitamin C, or 140% of the DV. It’s particularly rich in the antioxidant lycopene.

A six-week study involving 45 young, healthy people found that eating 400 grams of peeled guava per day, or around 7 pieces of this fruit, significantly lowered their blood pressure and total cholesterol levels (23).

6. Chili Peppers

One green chili pepper contains 109 mg of vitamin C, or 121% of the DV. In comparison, one red chili pepper delivers 65 mg, or 72% of the DV.

Moreover, chili peppers are rich in capsaicin, the compound that is responsible for their hot taste. Capsaicin may also reduce pain and inflammation.

There is also evidence that approximately one tablespoon (10 grams) of red chili powder may help increase fat burning.

7. Parsley

Two tablespoons (8 grams) of fresh parsley contain 10 mg of vitamin C, providing 11% of the recommended DV.

Along with other leafy greens, parsley is a significant source of plant-based, non-heme iron.

Vitamin C increases the absorption of non-heme iron. This helps prevent and treat iron-deficiency anemia.

One two-month study gave people on a vegetarian diet 500 mg of vitamin C twice a day with their meals. At the end of the study, their iron levels had increased by 17%, hemoglobin by 8% and ferritin, which is the stored form of iron, by 12%.

8. Kale

Kale is a cruciferous vegetable.

One cup of chopped raw kale provides 80 mg of vitamin C, or 89% of the DV. It also supplies high quantities of vitamin K and the carotenoids lutein and zeaxanthin.

One cup of cooked kale provides 53 mg, or 59% of the DV for vitamin C.

While cooking this vegetable reduces its vitamin C content, one study found that boiling, frying or steaming leafy greens helps release more of their antioxidants. These potent antioxidants may help reduce chronic inflammatory diseases (24).

9. Broccoli

Broccoli is a cruciferous vegetable. One-half cup of cooked broccoli provides 51 mg of vitamin C, or 57% of the DV.

Numerous observational studies have shown a possible association between eating plenty of vitamin-C-rich cruciferous vegetables and lowered oxidative stress, improved immunity and a decreased risk of cancer and heart disease (25).

One randomized study gave 27 young men who were heavy smokers a 250-gram serving of steamed broccoli containing 146 mg of vitamin C every day. After ten days, their levels of the inflammatory marker C-reactive protein had decreased by 48% (26).

10. Brussels Sprouts

One-half cup of cooked Brussels sprouts provides 49 mg, or 54% of the DV for vitamin C.

Like most cruciferous vegetables, Brussels sprouts are also high in fiber, vitamin K, folate, vitamin A, manganese and potassium.

Both vitamins C and K are important for your bone health. In particular, vitamin C aids the formation of collagen, which is the fibros part your bones.

A large 2018 review found that a high dietary intake of vitamin C was associated with a 26% reduced risk of hip fractures and a 33% reduced risk of osteoporosis.

Key Takeaway 

Vitamin C can truly help improve your overall health and weight. However, you won’t get your ideal weight, even if you consume high amounts of vitamin C, if your overall caloric intake is higher than the number of calories you burn throughout the day. Eating vitamin C-rich, high-fiber fresh fruits and vegetables helps fill you up without the extra calories. To effectively shed about 2 pounds per week, the maximum recommended amount for long-term weight-loss success, eat 1,000 fewer calories than you burn off daily as suggested the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and don’t forget to exercise!

References:

(1) https://journals.humankinetics.com/view/journals/ijsnem/7/1/article-p1.xml

(2) https://www.cdc.gov/bloodpressure/facts.htm?CDC_AA_refVal=https%3A%2F%2Fwww.cdc.gov%2Fdhdsp%2Fdata_statistics%2Ffact_sheets%2Ffs_bloodpressure.htm

(3) https://www.who.int/en/news-room/fact-sheets/detail/cardiovascular-diseases-(cvds)

(4) https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/12564647/

(5) https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/22492364/

(6) https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/15585762/

(7) https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/18277182/

(8) https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/19674720/

(9) https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/24766384/

(10) https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3783921/

(11) https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/21800283/

(12) https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/21569453/

(13) https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/18464304/

(14) https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/19273781/

(15) https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/21671418/

(16) https://academic.oup.com/advances/article/5/1/16/4616647

(17) https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/20200263/

(18) https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/10799377/

(19) https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/1642785/

(20) https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/15666839/

(21) https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4405021/

(22) https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/18175738/

(23) https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5071920/

(24) https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/29043220/

(25) https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/23631258/

(26) https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/23992556/

 


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