Vitamin C, also commonly referred to as ascorbic acid, is a water-soluble vitamin that is found naturally occurring in fresh fruits and vegetables. It is considered to be an essential nutrient as the body is unable to manufacture it itself and yet it plays a vital role in a vast array of biological processes; from its well-known ability to prevent scurvy to its immune-boosting and anti-oxidant properties.
Vitamin C is an increasingly popular choice of supplement, either in over-the-counter tablets, superfood powders, or topical applications like vitamin C enriched skin serums.
What are the actions of Vitamin C in the body?
Though perhaps most widely known for its potential to reduce the severity and duration of the common cold by boosting immune function, Vitamin C plays a key role in a diverse array of other biological functions.
One of the most important functions of Vitamin C is its role in the synthesis of key compounds and proteins, like collagen, that makes up and repair connective tissue throughout the body and strengthen the structure of tendons, ligaments and blood vessels.
Vitamin C also helps accelerate wound healing and repair cartilage and bone (which is an important consideration in the event of surgery, invasive cosmetic procedures, or a sport’s injury). It also protects and strengthens teeth and gums, and is effective against gingivitis.
Another significant property of Vit C is its ability to act as a powerful antioxidant and free radical scavenger. By preventing oxidative damage to DNA, proteins and fats, Vit C can dramatically reduce the risk of inflammation in the body and, by extension, lower the risk of chronic diseases including cardiovascular disease, advanced macular degeneration, and possibly even cancer.
It is also instrumental for blood and organ cleansing, and supports liver pathways, strengthens the adrenal glands (improving stress tolerance) and helps restore the central nervous system. It is a potent natural anti-histamine too.
It has also been found to act to preserve the activity of other vitamins in the body, such as Vitamin A and E which are both important for skin health and rejuvenation. It has also been found to enhance the absorption of iron in the body, thereby protecting against iron-deficiency anemia. It is also a vital cofactor in removing toxic metals from the body and the harmful effects they might have on health and wellbeing.
What are the specific benefits of Vitamin C to skin health?
Vitamin C’s ability to stimulate collagen synthesis and repair tissue damage contributes to its powerful anti-ageing properties. It improves skin elasticity and firmness, leading to a reduction in the appearance of wrinkles. It improves moisture levels thereby improving skin surface texture by increasing its smoothness and giving a more youthful appearance.
Its antioxidant capabilities protect against pigmentation damage from UV exposure and environmental pollutants, helping to even out skin tone and give a more radiant complexion. Exposure to the Sun speeds up the production of melanin (the pigment which gives skin its colour) and overproduction of melanin can result in dark spots. Vit C’s ability to inhibit the function of the enzyme (tyrosinase) involved in this step means it can protect against sunspots, age spots, and even scarring from conditions like acne.
Further to these beneficial effects, it has a toning and healing action on the capillaries just below the skin surface, which helps to diminish any redness due to enlarged capillaries and calming inflammation in conditions in conditions such as rosacea.
Overall, Vitamin C promotes a more youthful-looking and glowing complexion!
What are the best sources of Vitamin C?
Though animals can synthesise Vitamin C themselves, the human body is unable to manufacture or store it (due to a mutation).
It is, therefore, necessary to meet the body’s many varied requirements for this essential nutrient through diet and/or supplementation.
The amount of Vit C a person needs depends on age, weight, gender and lifestyle factors (such as smoking, drinking and stress). Older people, pregnant women, lactating women, smokers, drinkers, those having a stressful lifestyle, a poor diet (high in fast food, processed foods like white bread, sugary cereals, sweets, and lacking in fresh fruit or vegetables), and people with chronic illnesses, all require a higher intake of Vit C.
Vitamin C can be found in varying concentrations in all fresh fruits and vegetables; even some organ meats such as liver and kidney are a good source of it.
The fruits with the highest concentrations of VC include citrus fruits such as oranges and lemons, kiwis, papayas, strawberries, blueberries, blackberries, raspberries, cranberries, mango, pineapple, melon, and watermelon. Many so-called ‘superfoods’ are also excellent sources of VC including acai berries, Camu Camu berries, aronia (e.g. juice), noni (e.g. juice), goji berries (dried and juice).
The vegetables with the highest concentrations of Vitamin C include celery, spinach and other leafy greens, cruciferous vegetables (such as broccoli, cauliflower, Brussels sprouts), tomatoes, green and red peppers, white potatoes, sweet potatoes, butternut squash and pumpkin. Although vegetables tend to have a lower concentration than fruit by weight, juicing is an effective way to increase the dose-per-serving.
Although meeting one’s daily recommended amount of Vit C can be ensured by including a high intake of fruit and vegetables in one’s daily diet, supplements can help in filling in nutritional gaps especially in times of stress when sources are more rapidly depleted by the body.
Common forms of supplements are Ester-C (powder and tablets), Ascorbic Acid/Sodium Ascorbate (powder and tablets), Liposomal Vitamin C (in oil suspensions for greater bioavailability and thus absorption), and high-dose IV infusions. In Ayurveda, where whole food sources are preferentially used, the amla berry is prized for its healing benefits and these are thought to be associated with its high Vitamin C content.
Vitamin C as Topical Applications
Due to the above-mentioned many varied beneficial actions of Vitamin C on skin health and complexion, it has become increasingly popular and in demand in lotions, creams toners, serums and masks. Particularly stubborn skin concerns benefit from products containing higher concentrations of Vit C, and when combined with other antioxidants it can result in a powerhouse cocktail for addressing whatever skin ailment presenting. Rose petals and Rosehips are a great example of ingredients both very rich in Vi C and in many other antioxidants too, explaining their ubiquity and popularity in skincare products. But even on its own, and at low concentrations Vit C is incredibly powerful and effective at soothing, toning, healing, moisturising and protecting the skin, resulting in a brighter and more youthful appearance in both men and women alike.
Note: As vitamin C is sensitive to light, heat and air, and the method of preparation and consumption choosing seasonal, local and organic, freeze-dried/frozen and not overcooking food, ensures a higher vitamin content. Similarly, when buying Vitamin C-enriched skin care products, it is best to buy those that are packaged in opaque containers with air-restrictive pumps so the active ingredients don’t oxidise and break down from the exposure to air and light.
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