We live in an age of prevention is the best medicine. Supplementation of dietary products is an everyday occurrence and most of us pop in a few pills every now and then. In the age of fast-paced living, it is not always easy to reach your RDI (Recommended Daily Intake) of every vitamin and mineral, so reaching for that pill every now and then surely makes sense? In this article, learn more about vitamin C supplements, our body needs and its health implications.
Disclaimer: For the purposes of this article, it should be noted that the information on this page has not been peer reviewed and as such, does not take precedence over your healthcare providers’ advice. If you are taking any medicine especially blood thinners like warfarin or have a disease that abnormally increases the iron in your body, we advise discussing this with your physician first.
About vitamin C supplements
First of all, what does the science tell us? Humans are unable to produce their own vitamin C and rely on dietary sources. Also, vitamin C is an antioxidant and a water-soluble vitamin, which means the excess in the body is removed though urine.
Vitamin C deficiency is associated with anemia, infections, bleeding gums, scurvy, poor wound healing and atherosclerotic plaques. According to the British Dietetic Association, a diet without vitamin C can start showing the effects of the deficiency in as little as one month. And for the correction of this deficiency, vitamin C is can be consumed either through diet or with dietary supplements.
How much vitamin C do I need every day?
The National Health Service (NHS) from the UK guidelines, recommends 40 mg a day for adults aged 19 to 64. Taking large amounts (more than 1000 mg in a day) may cause side effects such as gastrointestinal problems that is likely to stop once the supplement has been discontinued. Despite its water-soluble status, there have been reports of high doses of vitamin C causing kidney damage and kidney stones. But the reported intake levels in those cases are usually much higher.
The NHS does recommend using fruits and vegetables as natural sources wherever possible, in leu of supplements. Some evidence suggests that individuals who smoke may even require higher daily levels of vitamin C on a daily basis. Similarly the bio-availability (absorption) of the vitamin may be impaired among those who regularly consume alcohol or during fever, viral illnesses, with the usage of antibiotics, pain killers and stress.
Does it even help to take daily supplements?
Short term clinical trials suggested a decrease in blood pressure, but the effects were seen over the duration of 8 weeks. Longer term studies among 77,673 participants have shown a small decrease in overall mortality.
On the other hand, a Cochrane article suggests a possible increase in mortality when using antioxidant supplements in general. This includes beta‐carotene, vitamin A, vitamin C, vitamin E, and selenium. The same research paper, while assessing vitamin C in particular, found no significant effect on mortality in 29 different clinical trials.
Vitamin C and cancer has also been often debated upon; a review article published in 2015 found no evidence of decreased risk in 62,619 participants.
What about when I get sick?
Vitamin C has long since been talked about, with regards to its immune boosting effects. Taking daily vitamin C prophylactically may modestly decrease the duration and severity of the common cold. No sufficient evidence is available yet to recommend taking higher doses to boost immunity during the illness period.
There was some interest recently in the medical field about administering an intravenous form of vitamin C to patients in sepsis, which is a serious form of infection that has a high mortality rate. Vitamin C was considered as a possible adjunct because of its action on decreasing inflammation and supporting hemodynamic stability. Early results have so far not been impressive; hence it remains to be in some clinical trials and not a part of routine practice.
As a pharmacist, here is what I recommend: milder deficiencies can be corrected by dietary means. However, in cases where it is difficult to achieve this from diet alone, we can optimize RDI through supplements. But overall, an increased persistent consumption of fresh fruits and vegetables should be encouraged for everyone.
Some dietary sources of vitamin C
For dietary sources, here are some of our top favorites. Citrus fruits, green peppers, red peppers, kiwi, strawberries, tomatoes, broccoli, brussels sprouts, turnip, Indian gooseberry and other leafy vegetables.
Take home message
For most people, a healthy diet provides an adequate amount of vitamin C. If you do decide to take a vitamin C supplement, make sure it falls within the recommended dietary intake levels.
I hope you enjoyed reading this article. We will be sharing more health and wellness topics in the future. To help you navigate through other topics previously shared on the blog, click here for all our skincare archives, and here for fragrance posts. To read about the topical use of vitamin C, click here.