Truth About Vitamin C Supplements
It was very intriguing to me when about twenty years ago I found the information according to which famous scientist and double Noble Prize winner – Linus Pauling (who lived over 90 years: 1901-1994) had a daily custom of drinking about 12,000mg (12gr) of vitamin C in the form of Ascorbic Acid dissolved in orange juice! So I thought that being a genius he had to have a good reason for doing that. Well, here is the list of the key benefits vitamin C imposes on our organism: It strengthens our immune system and helps to maintain its normal function during and after intense physical exercise, Increases iron absorption; As an antioxidant it protects cells against oxidative stress and reduces tiredness; It is important for normal collagen formation and for the proper function of blood vessels, bones, cartilage, gums, skin and teeth; It helps to control metabolism; Helps to improve functioning of the nervous system.
Vitamin C is required to regenerate vitamin E and is essential in producing the most potent free-radical protector Glutathione. It can effectively lower homocysteine and bad cholesterol LDL levels while raising the good cholesterol HDL concentrations in the middle aged-to-elderly healthy individuals.
Researching the available information on this subject I’ve noticed that there are many articles on vitamin C but majority of them are not based on true scientific information and tend to mislead readers concerning bioavailability and quality of different types and sources of vitamin C. At the end of this article I included a few links to very interesting and reliable sources of information concerning vitamin C.
First of all, there is no doubt that the best source of vitamin C are fresh raw fruits and vegetables, simply because they are not processed and because vitamin C in those foods is empowered by and combined with many other antioxidants, factors, nutrients, and phytochemicals which, like vitamin C, are also very beneficial.
Unfortunately, there are many so called “natural” vitamin C supplements, based on acerola fruit and other naturally high in vitamin C sources, which are advertised as more effective than Ascorbic acid. The truth however is that not much vitamin C is probably left in those formulas once the acerola, camu camu, cherry or other vitamin C rich foods leave their natural environment, are processed, exposed to different sources of oxidation and stored for a long time.
In addition, there are numerous studies which demonstrated that with regards to bioavailability there is no difference between natural vitamin C found in food and Ascorbic Acid. The difference is found only in additional ingredients such as bioflavonoids, phytochemicals, nutrients and different factors which accompany vitamin C when we consume fresh fruits and other high in this vitamin foods.
The problem, however, is that for the most of the time we do not have access to fresh fruits and those we usually consume are imported from other countries or even continents, often picked unripe, and stored for a long time. Their vitamin C content, therefore, can’t be high. For this reason it is a very good idea to have at least a thousand mg of a good quality vitamin C in the form of L-ascorbic acid with a meal to make sure we have enough of this very important antioxidant.
Ascorbic Acid is also better than the so called “natural” vitamin C supplements, not only because there is no difference with regards to absorption but because natural vitamin C supplements are too low in vitamin C.
According to some reliable sources in many cases the true benefits of vitamin C in the form of supplement can be seen only if we take over 500mg a day. For example, the excellent and based on true science book “Ascorbate: The Science of Vitamin C” by Dr. Steve Hickey & Dr. Hilary Roberts points to at least 30 studies according to which the positive and beneficial effect of vitamin C can be seen only when doses of over 500mg are used. Another excellent book on vitamin C is “Primal Panacea” by Thomas, E. Levy MD, and can help you to understand the truth about vitamin C based on thousands of studies associated with it.
Therefore, taking into consideration the mentioned above information, the natural vitamin C supplements and formulas seem to make sense only when they are combined with higher doses of at least 1000mg of Ascorbic acid.
Some websites also spread the idea that vitamin C supplements (Ascorbic acid) are not really effective without addition of the natural citrus bioflavonoids but also this argument doesn’t appear to be based on true since as there are many studies that don’t seem to support this idea (see links below). It might be only reasonable to assume that vitamin C trying to neutralise free radicals in our body might be at risk of becoming a radical itself, as some suggest. Bioflavonoids, however, being antioxidants, may assist the efforts of vitamin C and reduce its oxidation rates.
In our body also glutathione, regarded as the king of all antioxidants, is able to convert the radical vitamin C back into its antioxidant form. For this reason it is very good idea to take vitamin C supplements with fresh fruits and vegetables as they are best sources of glutathione. In addition, we also need to take care of our liver (by taking Chlorella and Milk Thistle) to help it in its efforts to make own glutathione as it will empower vitamin C to work more effectively.
There are also many unsustained by honest science theories about bioavailability of vitamin C and its effects. Careful analysis of the reliable scientific data, however, lead to the conclusion that there is no significant difference between bioavailability between Ascorbic acid and natural vitamin C found in food (which in our body is converted to Ascorbic acid anyway). Here is the quote from the conclusions of a 2013 scientific paper dealing with this subject: “Overall, a majority of animal studies have shown no differences in the comparative bioavailability of synthetic versus food-derived vitamin C, or vitamin C in the presence of isolated bioflavonoids. Also, all bioavailability studies in humans have shown no differences between synthetic and natural vitamin C. Although synthetic and food-derived vitamin C appear to be equally bioavailable in humans, ingesting vitamin C as part of a whole food is considered preferable because of the concomitant consumption of numerous other macro- and micronutrients and phytochemicals, which will confer additional health benefits.”
Vitamin C is available in many forms. The most common one is Ascorbic acid (hydrogen ascorbate). But there are many non-acidic (alkaline) forms, called “mineral ascorbates”. Among the most popular ones are: Calcium Ascorbate, Magnesium Ascorbate, Sodium Ascorbate or Potassium Ascorbate. As you can see all of these forms are ascorbates, and it is really the ascorbate part of each molecule that is responsible for having activity of vitamin C. The ascorbate fraction attaches to other ions forming different compounds but the effect and bioavailability of ascorbate carried by those ions is similar.
What seems to be more important is what type of Ascorbate is used in combination with the above mentioned different ions. There are two main types of Ascorbic acid (Ascorbate), one is L-ascorbic acid (or L-ascorbate) and the other is D-ascorbic acid (or D-ascorbate).
L-ascorbic acid can be both synthetic and food-derived (extracted from plants). The "L" points to the vitamin’s "left-handed" shape of its molecule, indicating the same form as it is found in nature. For this reason L-ascorbic acid is regarded as the active or true vitamin C. Even if it is synthetic and not extracted from plant sources it is exactly the same biologically active form of vitamin C.
Apart from the L-ascorbic acid there is also D-ascorbic acid (or D-ascorbate) which is not found in nature and therefore can be only synthetic. It less effective and bioavailable than the L form. D-ascorbate is not only an inactive form of vitamin C but is also regarded as an irritant.
According to the Vitamin C Foundation website, "Vitamin C comes in different shapes in three-dimensional space. The different shapes of the ascorbate fraction have the same atoms, but the atoms are arranged differently, much like the right hand is the same but different than the left hand. Linus Pauling explained that there are exactly four different shapes of the ascorbate ion, and they are L-ascorbate, D-ascorbate, LD-ascorbate and DL-ascorbate. And also thanks to Linus Pauling we know that only the L-ascorbate shape has vitamin C activity, i.e. only the L- shape can cure the vitamin C deficiency disease scurvy."
L-ascorbate is either synthetic or extracted from plants and you can buy it in concentrated form as a vitamin C supplement. In plants the same L-ascorbate is present in much lower concentrations. Acerola, amla, cherries, camu camu, sea buckthorn berries, rose hips, or yellow peppers and some other plant foods are regarded as the highest natural sources of this vitamin C. Although in those foods the amount of L-ascorbate is much lower yet unlike supplements those plant sources contain also other very beneficial antioxidants and phytochemicals.
Anyway, either way of taking L-ascorbate is good and recommended to prevent vitamin C deficiency. Unfortunately, it is not always easy to find vitamin C supplements that would contain only pure L-ascorbate without the inferior D-ascorbate. Manufacturers can lawfully label their vitamin C as “ascorbic acid” without disclosing whether it contains pure L form or both of them. In reality it is usually a combination of L-ascorbate and D-ascorbate as the D form makes the vitamin C production cheaper and easier.
Accoding to my research excellent quality vitamin C in the form of L-ascorbic acid is distributed, for instance, by HealthAid. I received confirmation that the vitamin C found in the supplements offered by HealthAid is in the form of pure L-ascorbic acid >.
Another popular form of vitamin C is Ester-C which contains calcium ascorbate and small amounts of dehydroascorbic acid (oxidized ascorbic acid), calcium threonate and trace levels of lyxonate and xylonate. Manufacturers of Ester-C maintain that according to one study the threonate and other ingredients of Ester-C are capable of increasing its bioavailability. The study, however, doesn’t seem to be very convincing as it has not been published in a peer-reviewed journal. In addition, according to another study Ester-C didn’t show any superiority over supplements containing regular L-ascorbic acid.
According to studies cited by “The Journal of Applied Nutrition,” there is also a notion that although high doses of Ascorbic acid can kill bad bacteria, yet at the same time it may also reduce the number of the beneficial ones. But, again, it shouldn’t be a problems as vitamin C seems to have this “blind” antibiotic effect only when taken in very high doses of 65 mg per kilogram of body weight. It means that in order to experience this negative effect we would have to take between 4,000 and 6,000 mg of Ascorbic Acid a day depending on our body weight. Apart from that, even if you decide to use mega doses of vitamin C for a season you can always take it with a good probiotic formulas such as UltraProbio or ColiProbio to counteract the possible antibiotic effect.
Some sources advice to not take high doses of vitamin C within 3 hours of taking chlorella because vitamin C is supposed to loosen the binding of the heavy metals (mercury, lead, etc.) held by chlorella. As a result these toxins may be reabsorbed by the body instead of being eliminated with chlorella. Although I haven’t found any scientific proof behind this idea, yet in case it turns to be true, just as a precaution, try to take chlorella and vitamin C supplements at different times of the day (make at least 3 hour difference).
It is also beneficial to know that even though orange juice is a good source of vitamin C, yet I would avoid it as fruit juices are known to have high glycaemic index. Only lemon and grapefruit juices have low glycaemic index and are safe to drink (even for diabetics). Nevertheless, it is still healthier to consume whole fruits due to the higher content of bioflavonoids and other nutrients.
Try also to find organic fruits and eat them with the white part of the skin (much higher in bioflavonoids). Also remember that once peeled, citrus fruit start oxidizing and quickly lose a significant portion of their anti-oxidative power.
Any information or product suggested on this website is not intended to diagnose, treat, cure or prevent any medical condition. Never disregard medical advice or delay in seeking it because of something you have read on this website. Consult your primary healthcare physician before using any supplements or making any changes to your regime.
Written by Slawomir Gromadzki, MPH
SOURCES WITH REFERENCES