Do you know why Vitamin C is important?

We have learned a lot over the last few years about how certain supplements can benefit all of us regardless of what is going on around us from a health situation. One supplement that we are all familiar with and have learned a great deal about its importance in our health is Vitamin C. 

Vitamin C came into even greater favor during the COVID pandemic, but the question is why? 

The History of Vitamin C

I want to start by looking at the background of Vitamin C because it has some interesting history. One thing about Vitamin C that you may not know is that humans are one of the few animals that cannot produce our own Vitamin C. As a side note, the other animals that do not produce their own Vitamin C are guinea pigs, bats, and primates. We can only get Vitamin C in our diet which is why it is important to make sure we are taking responsibility for our health and eating correctly.

Vitamin C has been known to be beneficial for some time but it really came on the scene in 1970 when Linus Pauling, the only individual to have won 2 unshared Nobel Prizes (one in chemistry and one in peace) and what many consider the greatest American-born scientist ever, was convinced through studies that Vitamin C was a cure for heart disease, cancer, infections in children such as septic shock, remission of AIDS, and colds. 

He published two books “Vitamin C and the Common Cold” and “How to Live Longer and Feel Better.” He believed Vitamin C was important because it plays a key role in helping form healthy connective tissues, skin, and blood vessels. He went toe to toe with the medical establishment of his time which made a concerted effort to label him a quack. However, there have really not been definitive studies to refute his conclusions. 

There is one study cited most often, which was conducted by the Mayo Clinic, that suggests his claims were not true, however, the studies were not an apples-to-apples comparison. In Paulings’ study patients were treated for at least 12 months with both oral and intravenous doses of Vitamin C, while the Mayo study was orally only for a 2.5-month period. 

Unfortunately, this study led a lot of health practitioners to look down on the promise of Vitamin C and it seems to also have created a competing narrative regarding Vitamin C whether regarding cancer, heart disease, infections, or viruses.

Studies seem to walk a tight rope and suggest there is not a consistent benefit to taking Vitamin C but unfortunately it seems rare that the same doses and procedures are used when they research Vitamin C from study to study. One would think this would be a no brainer for some researchers to study an ingredient that is abundant and inexpensive that would be a cure at best or a benefit to individuals’ health at the least, however, the truth is there is no money to be found in studying Vitamin C. 

It is an ingredient that can’t be patented and would not have the same appeal as a novel therapy for cancer, heart disease, viruses or any other of the issues Vitamin C is thought to help.

I personally tend to put greater trust in those studies that have less financial incentive attached to it.  Since Pauling’s work there have been numerous studies on Vitamin C where it has shown to be helpful in polio, hepatitis, herpes, chickenpox, measles, mono, trichinosis, urethritis, arthritis, elevated cholesterol, glaucoma, burns, heatstroke, sunburn, and heavy metal poisonings to name a few.

Now that we have spent some time discussing the confusing history of Vitamin C, let’s get back to the question at hand, is there a good reason for folks to believe in Vitamin C? 

What We Know Today

This is what we know about Vitamin C today. Vitamin C is known in study after study to have an effect on our immune systems and has shown to have an effect on several different viral infections.

Studies have shown that individuals with viral infections have reduced amounts of ascorbate in their blood stream which translated means if you have low levels of Vitamin C then you have a greater chance of getting a viral infection.  Another study, out of Russia, showed 300mg/day of Vitamin C reduced hospital stays associated with the flu and seemed to protect patients from developing pneumonia. 

There is also some evidence to suggest that Vitamin C along with quercetin, a supplement derived from fruits and vegetables, would be beneficial in COVID-19, which has been supported by clinical use. 

Unfortunately, the data regarding Vitamin C and colds has not been as consistently favorable.  There are studies that suggest Vitamin C helped athletes (marathon runners and skiers) and soldiers reduce the chance of catching a cold.  

Other studies have suggested Vitamin C shortened the severity and length of a cold, however, there are also studies that have shown the opposite. This is one of the reasons why you hear so many different stories regarding Vitamin C. 

However, you should consider the fact that for the low cost to take Vitamin C, it is a great option to take. Interestingly, while there have been conflicting stories in regard to Vitamin C and the common cold it has been more positive in regard to COVID-19. 

Studies suggest this is since Vitamin C is considered an antiviral agent due to its increasing immunity and it increased survival rates among COVID-19 patients. Vitamin C is important in helping the body increase antiviral cytokines and decreasing the viral yield while reducing the potential for the excessive immune response called a “cytokine storm.”  

As you have heard, Vitamin C is a promising and necessary nutrient to maintain and elevate your health. While the jury is still out in several areas of health and Vitamin C, there is no doubt that it is a useful nutrient in helping to protect and maintain your health. For the minimal costs associated with taking it, it seems that the benefits far outweigh the risks of taking Vitamin C.