Heading out the door? Read this article on the new Outside+ app available now on iOS devices for members! Download the app.
It’s easy to take vitamin C for granted and underestimate its benefits. But that’s a bad idea, says Thomas Levy, MD, author of Curing the Incurable: Vitamin C, Infectious Diseases, and Toxins. “Vitamin C is your most vital antioxidant,” he says, and one that can improve “whatever ails you.”
In decades of practice and research, Levy has seen just about every annoying symptom improve with vitamin C supplementation, from difficulty getting out of bed in the morning to muscle aches to energy sags, minor joint pain, arthritis, and tension headaches. “I’m not saying that they all go away,” he says, “but they improve.” And some symptoms can, literally, disappear. Surprisingly, says Levy, “Studies have basically shown that vitamin C by itself will help reverse osteoporosis, but there’s no way you can possibly get enough vitamin C strictly through diet; you need supplementation.”
Studies have also shown that people with higher levels of vitamin C are less likely to suffer from heart disease, stroke, high blood pressure, bone fractures, cancer, loss of mental faculties in later years, cataracts, gout, type 2 diabetes, asthma attacks from exercise, lingering colds, and even early death.
Why It’s a Super Antioxidant
In a sense, vitamin C is twice as powerful as other antioxidants. If you recall science class, all molecules have electrons, but some of these are lost in the normal course of life—more so when we’re exposed to stress, toxins, or illness.
The technical term for loss of electrons is “oxidation.” On a molecular level, oxidation is somewhat analogous to a soldier being injured in battle, and it underlies all forms of disease, as well as the aging process.
Antioxidants donate electrons to injured molecules, balancing out oxidation and keeping us healthy, but vitamin C has a unique quality. While antioxidants generally donate one electron per molecule, vitamin C donates two.
“That gives it sort of a double impact,” says Levy. And, he adds, it’s made up of tiny molecules that are more easily absorbed than other antioxidants, wherever they’re needed in the human body.
How to Use Vitamin C
For optimum health, Levy recommends taking enough vitamin C to experience an improvement in symptoms, which likely means taking at least several grams (several thousand milligrams) of it daily. And we may need even more during times of stress, exposure to toxins, or illness.
If you take enough, Levy says, “Most of the time, it’s going to blunt most of the symptoms, and if you just have a little bit of disease or a little bit of a problem, you might feel completely normal with vitamin C; that would be a very individualized sort of thing.”
Getting diarrhea after taking vitamin C means that you’ve taken more than your body can absorb. Although the phenomenon can provide a healthy cleanse, it isn’t recommended as a routine. Split your daily dose into several smaller ones, take less per day, or take a “liposome” or “liposomal” form of the vitamin, which is much less likely to trigger diarrhea at high doses. Liquid liposome supplements can be mixed into drinks or yogurts.
If you’re skittish about taking large doses, start with a small amount, and gradually increase it. “There’s nothing wrong with starting low,” says Levy, “and going slow.”
Vitamin C FAQ
Can vitamin C boost energy?
It may. Research by the National Institutes of Health found that low levels of vitamin C correlated with fatigue.
Do other nutrients increase or block its absorption?
There is no real scientific evidence either way, but vitamin C, in general, is easily absorbed. However, says Levy, most people suffer from lack of magnesium and too much calcium, which increases oxidation and works against the antioxidant action of vitamin C. To solve the problem, he recommends taking magnesium supplements, as well as vitamin C, at any time of day, separately or together.
How much is safe to take for a cold?
Unless you have kidney disease, says Levy, there’s no need to be concerned about taking too much. He recommends taking a gram of vitamin C every hour or so, until you feel better. If you get diarrhea, take lower doses, take it less often, or take a liposomal form. Anyone with kidney disease should consult a knowledgeable practitioner before taking supplements.
How much vitamin C can you get from food?
It’s estimated that five daily servings of fruits and vegetables provide 200–250 mg.
Top 10 Food Sources of Vitamin C
- Papaya, medium 168 mg
- Bell peppers, 1 cup 117 mg
- Broccoli, 1 cup 101 mg
- Brussels sprouts, 1 cup 96 mg
- Strawberries, 1 cup 84 mg
- Pineapple, 1 cup 78 mg
- Orange, medium 69 mg
- Kiwi, 1-2 inches 63 mg
- Cantaloupe, 1 cup 58 mg
- Cauliflower, 1 cup 54 mg