What's the deal with Vitamin C ?
Updated: Oct 14, 2022
I’m sure many of us have memories of gulping down orange juice whenever we got sick. Or smiling with delight at the alleged vitamin C content of Tango. If you had the childhood I did, you will also have nightmares about being force fed spoonfuls of orange flavoured cod liver oil. Yuck! So what’s the crack with vitamin C? Is it the magically cure for all maladies our grandma’s think it is? Or just an old wives tale?
What we do know about vitamin C, government name ascorbic acid, is that 1) it is an antioxidant which reduces damage to cells caused by oxidants 2) it is a co-factor for several enzymes allowing them to function. Vitamin C is essential to collagen production – the stuff that keeps skin, hair, and gums looking healthy and we know that if we don’t have enough vitamin C we can end up with an illness called scurvy. It also protects skin from UV-inducedphotodamage from sun exposure.
When we get sick, the bugs in our system lead to an increased level of oxidants in the body. This can be due to the bugs themselves or from our white blood cells using oxidants to kill the bug.
You may have seen photos of people hooked up to IV bags with vitamin C, particularly during the COVID-19 pandemic. While current evidence suggests that there is no harm in doing this, it is yet to be seen if there is any actual benefit.
Is vitamin C actually effective for common colds? Studies show that vitamin C taken as a preventer in the general population didn’t actually stop people from getting colds but it can reduce the amount of time the cold lasts for and, in some people, reduce the severity (Hemilaand Chalker, 2013). Where vitamin C really shines is with those who exercise heavily like marathon runners. Studies show that the vitamin C reduces the chance of getting a cold by half!
In more recent studies, there is evidence that vitamin C also helps with keeping your blood vessels healthy which results in better blood pressure. Several studies have also showed that vitamin C supplements can help with stress-related illnesses such as anxiety and depression(Moritz et al, 2020). Vitamin C supplements improved mood indicating a possible antidepressant effect particularly when used with other treatments.
Where can we get vitamin C? Well, 90% of our vitamin C comes from eating fruit and vegetables. Citrus fruits like kiwi, mango, oranges, pineapple and vegetables like tomatoes, peppers and broccoli are rich in vitamin C. Some dried herbs also contain vitamin C. Have a look at the table below and see if any of your favourites are on the vitamin C list. Please note this list is not exhaustive! Vitamin C degrades with preparation and cooking though so the best way is a loaded salad or smoothie.
Foods Rich in Vitamin C
Ackee Kiwano Papaya Guava Lychee Amla Baobab Matoke West Indian cherry (acerola) African star apple
Cabbage Potato Sweet potato Pumpkin Cauliflower Kale Brussel sprouts
Coriander Thyme Cloves Saffron Chili Basil Anise seeds Cardamom Bay leaves Sage Moringa
The current recommended dietary allowance (RDA) for vitamin C is 75mg for women and 90mg for men (Food and Nutrition Board, 2000b). Many countries follow this guide or in some cases set it slightly higher.
Looking to making healthier choices? Hoffi can help! The moringa, baobab, and date powder contained in Hoffi powder are great sources of vitamin C.
Hemilä H, Chalker E. Vitamin C for preventing and treating the common cold. Cochrane Database Syst Rev. 2013 Jan 31;2013(1):CD000980. doi: 10.1002/14651858.CD000980.pub4. PMID: 23440782; PMCID: PMC8078152.
Hemilä H. Vitamin C and Infections. Nutrients. 2017 Mar 29;9(4):339. doi: 10.3390/nu9040339. PMID: 28353648; PMCID: PMC5409678.
Institute of Medicine (US) Panel on Dietary Antioxidants and Related Compounds. Dietary Reference Intakes for Vitamin C, Vitamin E, Selenium, and Carotenoids. Washington (DC): National Academies Press (US); 2000. FOOD AND NUTRITION BOARD. Available from: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK225466/
Lykkesfeldt J, Michels AJ, Frei B. Vitamin C. Adv Nutr. 2014 Jan 1;5(1):16-8. doi: 10.3945/an.113.005157. PMID: 24425716; PMCID: PMC3884093.
Moritz B, Schmitz AE, Rodrigues ALS, Dafre AL, Cunha MP. The role of vitamin C in stress-related disorders. J Nutr Biochem. 2020 Nov;85:108459. doi: 10.1016/j.jnutbio.2020.108459. Epub 2020 Jul 3. PMID: 32745879.
Padayatty SJ, Levine M. Vitamin C: the known and the unknown and Goldilocks. Oral Dis. 2016 Sep;22(6):463-93. doi: 10.1111/odi.12446. Epub 2016 Apr 14. PMID: 26808119; PMCID: PMC4959991.
Pullar JM, Carr AC, Vissers MCM. The Roles of Vitamin C in Skin Health. Nutrients. 2017 Aug 12;9(8):866. doi: 10.3390/nu9080866. PMID: 28805671; PMCID: PMC5579659.