We all think we know about vitamin C, right? We know we need to eat a bit of fresh fruit occasionally and if we get a cold that's what we should take for a couple of days but otherwise it's nothing we need to worry about too much.
Well it turns out there's a lot more to it than that and we should all be taking vitamin C a lot more seriously and a lot more regularly. Especially if you’re prone to feeling tired and run down.
You might remember learning at school about the sailors in the 18th century who were given limes to prevent scurvy. That's how vitamin C was originally recognised as something important for health. And here’s an interesting fact. Almost all other animals on the planet can make their own vitamin C, but for some reason humans, plus a few other species, lost that ability somewhere in the dim and distant evolutionary past because of a rogue genetic mutation. So that’s why we need to get it from what we eat and drink.
Do I need to take vitamin C?
Let’s look at what vitamin C actually does for us.
We know that vitamin C is an antioxidant - which means that it helps protect our cells from damage. But did you know it also:
controls our absorption of iron,
regulates how much collagen we can produce, keeping bones, skin and joints firm
helps make many of our hormones, especially those involved in stress,
determines how well many genes can function,
protects us against toxins,
strengthens our cardiovascular system, supporting us against heart disease,
props up the immune system by acting against viruses and bacteria, and crucially for those feeling fatigued,
works constantly to keep our energy levels up.
Phew. That's a lot for a small vitamin.
For many of these processes, vitamin C acts as something called a co-factor. This means that the enzymes that perform all these functions in the body need vitamin C to make them work. When we’re talking about energy levels specifically, vitamin C is needed to activate the enzymes that lead to energy production in our cells’ mitochondria. Without enough vitamin C, everything just slows down and we start to feel sluggish.
And as we’ve just pointed out, vitamin C is needed for several different processes, including the production of the stress hormones adrenalin and cortisol. This is really important to remember. When we’re stressed, vitamin C will be re-directed from other areas in the body to help manufacture the potentially life saving adrenaline and cortisol. Which means it’s no longer available for anything else.
When animals that produce their own vitamin C are put under stress, they can increase their production of vitamin C by up to 1,300 percent to help them cope. Do you ever think about reaching for a bag full of oranges when you’re stressed? Most probably not. But we’ve probably all experienced that feeling of exhaustion after we’ve been through a stressful situation and who recognises that holiday cold or illness that usually occurs after we’ve been working really hard for a few months and finally take a break?
How much vitamin C should you have in a day? And can't we get it all just from food?
The short answer is that we don't really know how much we need exactly and it will change day to day depending on what's going on in your life. Remember I mentioned that most animals can produce their own vitamin C a while back? Well how about this for comparison. A typical 70 kg goat will produce over 13,000 mg a day. That's right. A day.
In terms of foods containing vitamin C, we're obviously thinking about colourful, fresh vegetables, herbs, spices and fruits which will ideally have been picked from a local organic garden to be eaten immediately when the nutrient content is highest. Or if you're like the rest of us, you can do your best to eat as fresh and as varied as possible. Don’t forget frozen fruits and vegetables either. Flash-freezing processes mean they can often have a higher vitamin and mineral content than fresh produce that has been stored and shipped halfway around the world. But it’s obviously a compromise and that’s why I ask all my clients to add a great vitamin C supplement to their daily regime.
Luckily, we can absorb vitamin C fairly easily in the digestive tract (depending on what form of vitamin C it is), BUT here’s another really important kicker. Humans can’t store vitamin C well. At all. Which means it’s crucial to have regular, daily top-ups to keep all those important processes ticking over. And there are several things that can hinder absorption such as smoking, alcohol, pollution, stress, certain medications (including the contraceptive Pill) and wait for it...fried, processed and sugary foods (goodbye doughnuts!)
It’s no wonder that some recent global comparisons found a very large percentage of people deficient in vitamin C (up to 74% in some countries). Worryingly, Arizona State University conducted a survey not long ago and discovered some 3,000 students had vitamin C levels so low that they exhibited signs of scurvy. That’s not something you expect in 2022.
I bet you’re worried you’re deficient now, aren’t you? Symptoms of vitamin C deficiency include frequent colds and infections; lack of energy and feeling tired; bruising easily or taking a long time to heal any wounds; bleeding or tender gums when you brush your teeth; nose bleeds and red pimples on the skin.
Be ready to increase the supplementation at the first sign of an infection, tiredness, or stress. It's hard to overdose on vitamin C as when your body can't store it, it will excrete it out. So there's no point in taking a huge amount at once. If you feel you need more vitamin C for any reason you should take a couple of 1,000 mg doses every few hours. The worst reaction you may have if you really overdo it is a bit of diarrhoea. Vitamin C Zooki makes it really easy to add to your water bottle and sip throughout the day as well.
Why does my pee turn orange when I take vitamin C? Does that mean I don’t need that much?
No, it doesn’t. It just means that your body wasn’t able to absorb that dose because of the type of vitamin C you have taken. Most vitamin C supplements require an active transport system to take them through the gut wall. Our ability to do that is limited and after we’ve filled all the transporters, any remaining vitamin C will be excreted in the urine. However, vitamin C wrapped in lipids has a much greater absorption because it bypasses the body's normal transport mechanisms and doesn’t need those transporters.
Do children need as much Vitamin C?
Children won’t need as much as adults on a daily basis but can benefit from increasing their levels from a young age. I usually tell my clients that if their babies or toddlers are going to a creche or nursery, then it may help to add up to a quarter of a Vitamin C Zooki sachet to their food or drink to help protect them from catching infections. You can increase the dosage as they get older until they have a full sachet from about the age of 8 years. Putting a sachet in their school lunch box may also help keep their energy levels from flagging in the afternoon.
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