Vitamin C is one of the most useful nutrients in the human body. Fortunately, it’s also one of the most abundant. You can find vitamin C in various food products, including plant- and animal-derived products. The vitamin is also available in certain supplements and fortified foods.
Because it’s such an essential nutrient, a deficiency in vitamin C can lead to certain health and developmental issues. That’s why it’s imperative to ensure you receive your recommended dietary allowance (RDA) of vitamin C.
This article delves deep into the role of vitamin C in the body and what a deficiency of the same means.
What Is Vitamin C?
Vitamin C is a water-soluble vitamin abundant in citrus fruits and other plant-based food products. The vitamin is also known as ascorbic acid or ascorbate.
As already indicated, high strength vitamin C can also be found in natural food products and dietary supplements. It’s also prevalent in certain topical and cosmetic products.
Major Benefits of Vitamin C
Reducing Hair Loss
Hair and skin are virtually inseparable. So, the mere fact that vitamin C possesses incredible benefits for the skin makes it potentially useful in promoting hair quality too. We’ve already highlighted the role vitamin C plays in producing collagen and managing melanin. More collagen in the body translates to richer, fuller hair while regulating melanin production prevents hair hyperpigmentation.
Vitamin C may also play a direct role in reducing hair loss. That’s due to its ability to aid the absorption of iron, a mineral necessary for hair growth. What’s more, vitamin C can reduce specific markers of premature aging. These include signs in the hair, such as graying and baldness.
It doesn’t matter whether your scalp is as bald as a naked mole rat’s body or as full and luscious as a lion’s mane. Supplementing with vitamin C-rich hair products may make a difference in stimulating hair growth and reducing hair loss.
Supporting Gut Function
Many studies associate vitamin C with an improvement in gut barrier function.
The gut barrier refers to a semipermeable structure that promotes the uptake of essential nutrients and immune-boosting products while restricting the absorption of potentially pathogenic molecules like bacteria. It’s also known as the intestinal barrier.
Research particularly cites vitamin C for its ability to suppress the absorption of endotoxin lipopolysaccharides (LPS). The vitamin can also synergize with dietary fiber to nourish the gut microbiome.
Gut microbiomes are beneficial microorganisms, mainly bacteria, which inhabit the alimentary canal. Keeping these organisms nourished is a proactive way of guarding against specific digestive and metabolic disorders, such as leaky gut and inflammatory bowel disease (IBD).
However, consuming too much vitamin C may prove more harmful than beneficial to your gut. Common side effects include nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, bloating, abdominal cramps, and heartburn.
Aiding Collagen Production
Stimulating collagen production is one of the critical roles of vitamin C in the body. Collagen is a naturally-occurring substance that accounts for up to 30% of the body’s protein mass. It provides structural support and strength to the skin, bones, muscles, and connective tissues.
The body synthesizes most of its collagen from the foods that we eat. However, this protein tends to deplete over time. And that’s when it becomes necessary to supplement with vitamin C. Numerous studies have shown that vitamin C can boost collagen production via a process known as collagen synthesis.
In fact, the whole process of collagen synthesis requires vitamin C. That’s because the vitamin serves as a cofactor for two major enzymes involved in collagen synthesis. These include prolyl hydroxylase, which stabilizes the collagen molecule, and lysyl hydroxylase which enhances collagen’s structural strength.
Water is an essential nutrient required by all living organisms. It’s involved in virtually all physiological processes in the body. Therefore, any nutrient that promotes water retention is a welcome addition to the diet.
Certain studies associate vitamin C with higher skin hydration levels. For instance, this 2022 review of preexisting studies indicates that magnesium ascorbyl phosphate, a common vitamin C derivative in skin care products, possesses incredible rehydrating effects. The compound is particularly cited for promoting water retention by reducing transepidermal water loss (TEWL).
Based on this and many previous reviews, it’s apparent that the best way to take advantage of vitamin C’s hydrating properties is to administer it topically. So, now may be the best time to start interrogating the ingredients in your cosmetic products to ensure they contain decent amounts of ascorbic acid.
Revitalizing the Skin
Not only does vitamin C promote water retention. It can also revitalize pale or dull skin. And there’s plenty of research to back these claims up. When consumed, vitamin C helps regulate melanin production. Melanin is the substance that gives the skin, hair, and eyes their distinctive pigmentation.
Low melanin levels can lead to certain genetic and developmental disorders, including albinism, sun damage, and vision degeneration. However, excess melanin is equally harmful, as it can cause hyperpigmentation and dark spots under the skin. By controlling melanin production, ascorbate helps counteract the adverse effects of too much of this pigment. This results in youthful, glowing skin.
NOTE: It’s best to consult your nutritionist before supplementing with vitamin C to manage hyperpigmentation. You’ll also need to establish that the dark spots result from excess melanin and are not caused by an underlying medical condition.
Common Signs of Vitamin C Deficiency
A deficiency of vitamin C in the body can produce a range of health and developmental complications. Examples include;
- Rough, bumpy skin
- Dry, damaged skin
- Unexplained hair loss
- Corkscrew-shaped hair
- Bright-red hair follicles
- Spoon-shaped fingernails with reddish lines and spots
- Easy bruising
- Bleeding gums
- Tooth loss
- Slow wound healing
- Frequent sunburn and other forms of sun damage
- Sore, tender joints
- Weak bones
- Inexplicable fatigue
- Chronic inappetence
- Unexplained weight loss
- Mood swings
- High blood pressure
- High susceptibility to diseases
Where Can You Find Vitamin C?
Vitamin C is abundant in citrus fruits, such as oranges and lemons. Other common natural sources of vitamin C include;
- Berries, such as strawberries, blackberries, and cranberries
- Nuts, such as cashew nuts, macadamia nuts, and groundnuts
- Cruciferous vegetables, such as broccoli, kale, and cauliflower
- Animal products, such as eggs, liver, and fish roe
The significance of vitamin C in the body cannot be overemphasized. Being one of the most abundant vitamins, cases of deficiency are rare. However, remember that certain metabolic disorders may affect how your body uptakes vitamin C. In this case, you’d need to get examined and have the underlying condition treated even as you ramp up your vitamin C intake.