Vitamin C is a strong antioxidant that is responsible for many important functions in the body.
- Acts as an essential co-factor in the synthesis of collagen (an important component of connective tissue), carnitine (a nutrient responsible for metabolism of fats) and hormones such dopamine, adrenaline and norepinephrine.
- Helps the body absorb iron
- Boosts immune functions
- Plays an important role in wound healing and tissue repair
With so many critical functions, it is only natural that the shortage of vitamin C results in all kinds of signs and symptoms throughout the body.
What causes Vitamin C deficiency?
Humans lack an enzyme they need to make their own vitamin C. That’s why you need to get this essential micro-nutrient either through food or supplements. What’s more, your body can’t store excess Vitamin C, which means you need a daily supply of vitamin C to prevent deficiency.
Eating healthy servings of fresh fruits and vegetables is usually the best way to get your daily dose of vitamin C. But the increasing trend of consuming readymade, processed food that lacks any real nutrition is reducing our chance of getting that much needed daily serving of Vitamin C through food alone. And added to this, cooking also significantly reduces the vitamin C content in the meals we eat.
Overall, factors that put some people at an increased risk of vitamin C deficiency include:
- Poor dietary habits
- Drugs and/or alcoholism
- Health conditions such as Crohn’s disease and ulcerative colitis.
- Pregnant and breast-feeding women
- Exposure to pollutants and toxins
Signs of vitamin C deficiency
- Dry, rough skin
- Small, hard bumps
- Easy bruising
- Fatigue and shortness of breath
- Bent or corkscrew shaped hair on the body
- Spoon shaped nails
- Wounds that don’t heal fast
- Muscle and joint pain
- Weak bones
- Gum disease (swollen, bleeding gums)
- Weak immunity
- Loss of teeth
- Depression, irritability and mood disorders
- Unexpected and spontaneous bleeding
Severe vitamin C deficiency and Scurvy
Persistent and severe deficiency of vitamin C can lead to a condition called scurvy. Most of the symptoms mentioned above are observed in people with scurvy. In the absence of vitamin C, your body is not able to make any collagen, the main structural protein present in the connective tissue of your bones, skin, ligaments, tendons, muscles and even your blood vessels. Collagen is mostly known for its role in making your skin healthy, supple and elastic.
When the body is not able to make any new collagen, tissues start to fall apart. Vitamin C deficiency also negatively impacts how the body repairs damaged tissue and heals wounds. This leads to typical symptoms of scurvy such as bleeding gums, poor wound healing, rough skin and sudden bleeding.
Scurvy can be fatal.
What can a lack of vitamin C do to your body?
Keeping in mind the diverse role it plays in the body, it is obvious that a shortage of vitamin C is associated with all kinds of health conditions, including heart disease, high blood pressure, atherosclerosis, scurvy, iron deficiency anemia and even cancer.
- Vitamin C deficiency and anemia: You need vitamin C to absorb iron much more effectively. Vitamin C also plays an important role in the production of red blood cells. In addition, chronically low levels of vitamin C increases the risk of bleeding, which again works as a contributing factor.
- Vitamin C and heart health: Vitamin C works through multiple mechanisms to maintain your cardiovascular health:
- The connective tissue of your arteries is made of collagen. Since vitamin C is required for collagen synthesis and repair, its lack thereof can cause impaired collagen production. This leads to loss of structural integrity in the blood vessels and consequently plaque formation in the arteries. Studies show that chronic vitamin C deficiency in the body is an independent risk factor for atherosclerosis development.  In a nutshell, you need healthy doses of vitamin C to keep your blood vessels and endothelium healthy and resilient to plaque formation.
- Vitamin C prevents oxidation of LDL cholesterol particles. LDL oxidation and its retention in the vessel walls play an important role in the development of atherosclerosis.
- Vitamin C is also known to lower the risk of atrial fibrillation (irregular heart beat) after heart surgery.   This is due to the vitamin’s antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties. And oxidative stress and inflammation have been associated with the development of atrial fibrillation after cardiac surgery. As this study concluded “Vitamin C can decrease the length of hospital stay, drainage volume in the ICU and in the first 24 postoperative hours, intubation time and some complications in patients after cardiac surgery; perhaps by decreasing inflammatory factors.” 
- Vitamin C and bone health: It is common knowledge that you need calcium and vitamin D3 for healthy bones. Well, you also need vitamin C to make high density bones. Healthy collagen is required for proper mineralization of the bone, and collagen synthesis takes a hit in the absence of vitamin C. In addition, evidence suggests that vitamin C supplements may be effective in cutting down the risk of fractures in older adults, especially among postmenopausal women. 
- Vitamin C and immunity: Vitamin C improves immune functions, and this perhaps is the most well-known health benefit offered by vitamin C. It reduces the severity and duration of the colds.
Vitamin C works as an antibiotic by increasing the production and activity of white blood cells. Low levels of the vitamin results in poor immunity and higher susceptibility to infections. In addition, your body tends to utilize more vitamin C during infections, which further depletes vitamin C from the body.
This study reports that “supplementation with vitamin C appears to be able to both prevent and treat respiratory and systemic infections”. It further suggests that “treatment of established infections requires significantly higher (gram) doses of the vitamin to compensate for the increased inflammatory response and metabolic demand.” 
- Vitamin C and radiation damage: Vitamin C protects the DNA against the damage caused by ionizing radiation, thus lowering the overall cancer risk in exposed individuals. 
- Vitamin C and skin: Again, due to its critical role as a cofactor in collagen production and also as an antioxidant, vitamin C is an extremely beneficial nutrient for your skin.  Vitamin C is known to provide effective protection against sun damage and may help reduce the severity of sunburns, prevent the formation of premature wrinkles and pigmentation issues caused by UV rays. It is also required for healthy wound healing.
- Vitamin C and eyes: Healthy intake of vitamin C has been associated with reduced risk of cataracts.   It protects the inner tissues of the eye from oxidative damage that can cause cloudiness in the lens, leading to blurred vison and even vision loss. Oxidative damage in the lens is one of the main causes of age-related eye problems including cataracts, glaucoma and macular degeneration.
How can you improve your vitamin C levels?
Most fruits and vegetables are a good source of vitamin C. A well-balanced diet comprising of fresh, whole foods is usually sufficient to attain healthy levels to prevent scurvy. You can also take high quality vitamin C supplements if you are looking to achieve levels that you need to prevent chronic diseases such as heart attack and chronic infections, and deal with exposure to environmental toxins and radiation.
Best Vitamin C Supplements?
Vitamin C supplements are mostly consumed in the form of powder or tablets, which are not very efficiently absorbed by the body. When taken orally, most nutrients and drugs are destroyed during the process of digestion. This results in poor bioavailability and poor absorption. In addition, vitamin C is a water-soluble substance and it is easily excreted in the urine when consumed orally. High doses of vitamin C are also known to cause side effects such as abdominal bloating and cramps, and diarrhoea.
So what is the solution to this dilemma?
Liposomal vitamin C supplements are a great way of boosting your vitamin C levels. Liposomal technology protects the nutrients from the harsh acidic environment in the digestive tract, making vitamin C more available to cells and tissues. This improves bioavailability and absorption rate and also prevents symptoms of gastrointestinal upset.
- Cha et al. Hypoascorbemia induces atherosclerosis and vascular deposition of lipoprotein(a) in transgenic mice. Am J Cardiovasc Dis. 2015
- Harri Hemilä, Timo Suonsyrjä. Vitamin C for preventing atrial fibrillation in high risk patients: a systematic review and meta-analysis. BMC Cardiovascular Disorders. 2017.
- AS Tahhan et al. Association between oxidative stress and atrial fibrillation. Heart Rhythm. 2017.
- Sadeghpour et al. Impact of Vitamin C Supplementation on Post-Cardiac Surgery ICU and Hospital Length of Stay. Anesth Pain Med. 2015.
- Kim et al. Favorable effect of dietary vitamin C on bone mineral density in postmenopausal women (KNHANES IV, 2009): discrepancies regarding skeletal sites, age, and vitamin D status. Osteoporos Int. 2015
- Carr et al. Vitamin C and Immune Function. Nutrients. 2017
- Yanagisawa A. Orthomolecular approaches against radiation exposure. Presentation Orthomolecular Medicine Today Conference. Toronto 2011 http://www.doctoryourself.com/Radiation_VitC.pptx.pdf )
- Pullar et al. The Roles of Vitamin C in Skin Health. Nutrients 2017
- Ekaterina Yonova-Doing, Zoe A. Forkin, Pirro G. Hysi, Katie M. Williams, Tim D. Spector, Clare E. Gilbert, Christopher J. Hammond. Genetic and Dietary Factors Influencing the Progression of Nuclear Cataract. Ophthalmology. 2016.
- Increased vitamin C in the diet could help protect against cataracts. Science Daily. 2016