Beyond citrus: How vitamin C keeps you healthy Vitamin C is one of the most essential vitamins that your body needs, and it is responsible for regulating several different processes. It isn’t just responsible for keeping you free of the common cold! Vitamin C is a water-soluble compound, and it’s found in several different foods. While it’s obviously more commonly found in citrus fruits like oranges, you’ll also find vitamin C in other types of fruit and vegetables, like strawberries, kiwis, bell peppers and kale. Your body can’t produce vitamin C, but you should be able to get all the vitamin C you need from your diet. The NHS recommends that adults between 19-64 years of age need to consume 40mg(1) of vitamin C daily to stay healthy. As with anything, too much of a good thing is bad for you, and taking too much vitamin C (over 1000mg per day) can lead to problems such as stomach pain, diarrhoea and flatulence. However, if you’re having trouble getting all your vitamin C from your diet, there’s no harm in taking supplements to help boost your diet. Here are some of the impressive benefits of vitamin C, and why you want to make sure you’ve got enough of this vital compound in your diet.
It can help reduce the risk of chronic diseases
Vitamin C (or Ascorbic Acid) along with beta-carotene and vitamin E is one of three powerful antioxidant (2) vitamins. Antioxidants are compounds that are known to help prevent or slow down the damage done to the body and its cells by free radicals. These are unstable molecules that the body produces in response to environmental pressure. When free radicals build up, they can put the body into a state known as oxidative stress, which plays a role in the development of cancer, autoimmune, cardiovascular and neurodegenerative diseases, cataracts and arthritis. Making sure that your body has enough vitamin C helps to counteract the damaging effects of free radicals in the body by keeping your antioxidant levels high, preventing the development of the above diseases and preventing cell ageing.
It keeps your blood pressure in check
The number of people in the UK with high blood pressure is shockingly high, with some estimates putting the number at 4 million people in total, and 1.3 million of those people are adults under the age of 65.(4) Even more significantly, high blood pressure is often referred to as the silent killer, as many people are completely unaware of the fact that they are suffering from high blood pressure, as it doesn’t have any symptoms. Untreated high blood pressure levels significantly increase your risk of heart attack and strokes. However, it is relatively simple to treat and can often be done with simple changes in lifestyle and diet, and a meta-analysis of studies (5) show that higher levels of vitamin C can have a positive effect on blood pressure levels.
Helps to combat iron deficiency
Iron has several functions and is important in maintaining your overall health. One of the more well-known uses for it is for making red blood cells, which help to transport oxygen all around the body. Vitamin C has been shown to help the body absorb iron more easily, and it is particularly good at assisting the absorption of iron from sources that the body is usually poor at getting it from, like plants.(6) Vitamin C is therefore especially important for iron absorption if your diet is plant-based, as dietary iron traditionally comes from more meat-based sources, including red meats like beef. But even if you’re not on a plant-based diet, vitamin C has been shown to help increase your body’s iron uptake, with one study showing that taking 100mg of vitamin C with food or a meal increases iron uptake by 67%.(7)
Vitamin C and the immune system
Perhaps the most well-known effect of vitamin C on the body is the immune system, and while there’s no evidence that vitamin C prevents the common cold as is so often claimed, it can mitigate the worst effects of one when contracted. In fact, studies suggest that vitamin C supplementation can reduce the severity and duration of the common cold by 8% in adults and 14% in children.(8) Additionally, vitamin C is a compound shown to be extremely important in how the immune system operates as it helps to encourage the production of white blood cells (known as lymphocytes and phagocytes).(9) These cells are crucial in the defence of the body and the immune system. Both combat infections and pathogens, but lymphocytes target and attack specific pathogens (like a specific response to tetanus) and phagocytes have a more blanket response to anything in the body perceived as a threat. As these cells are frontline defences against dangerous pathogens in the body, it stands to reason that anything that helps to aid in the production of these cells is incredibly important.