Vitamin C is a vital nutrient for human health and survival. It is well known that the human body does not produce this nutrient, and that it must be obtained from food sources and dietary supplements. Yet, a clinically significant deficiency of vitamin C is the fourth leading nutrient deficiency in the United States.
Recently, because of its immune modulating properties, vitamin C has gained a renewed importance in the COVID-19 pandemic. Although not approved as a treatment for COVID-19, intravenous vitamin C was one of the first options successfully used in hospitals in New York, China, Italy, and other locations at the peak of the pandemic. A review of 18 clinical trials covering more than 2000 patients analyzed the effect of vitamin C on intensive care unit (ICU) stay. The authors stated that in at least 6 of those clinical trials, even oral vitamin C doses of 1 to 3 grams per day were enough to reduce ICU stays by 8.6 percent.
The antioxidant properties of vitamin C are critical during the period of oxidative stress that occurs while fighting an infection. This has been especially important in COVID-19 patients during stages of sepsis and multi-organ failure. As an effective antioxidant and immune booster, vitamin C increases the mobility and efficacy of white blood cells (neutrophils, or the ‘police cells’ of the body) and promotes the destruction of viruses and bacteria. It also stimulates the activity of lymphocytes (another type of white blood cell) and increases the production of antibodies. Additionally, vitamin C supports collagen connective tissue formation, builds the extracellular matrix (the ‘glue’ that binds the body’s cells together), and prevents tissue destruction when infection becomes widespread in the body. It is also important for faster wound healing and the prevention of many other chronic conditions.
Moreover, vitamin C is a cofactor for several enzymatic reactions. It participates in the biological recycling of vitamin E, glutathione, and many other cell protective molecules. When taken with calcium, it increases calcium absorption. Vitamin C also neutralizes toxins in the body and protects cells from harmful substances, including the side effects of many drugs.
Vitamin C supplements come in several forms. These include ascorbic acid, calcium ascorbate, and magnesium ascorbate. However, the majority of vitamin C supplements on the market contain only a single form, usually ascorbic acid. Ascorbic acid is a water-soluble compound and is excreted through the urine. Unless frequently replenished, it is difficult to obtain the benefits of vitamin C from ascorbic acid alone.
Mineral salts of ascorbic acid, such as calcium ascorbate and magnesium ascorbate, are easily absorbed and well metabolized by the body’s cells. Combining vitamin C with calcium or magnesium in this way neutralizes the acidic effect of ascorbic acid and contributes to a ‘buffering’ effect, thus making it gentler on the stomach lining.
There is a misconception that calcium ascorbate can increase the likelihood of kidney stones. However, the majority of kidney stones are made of calcium oxalate, which is present in foods such as soda, coffee, chocolate, spinach, and beets. Inadequate water intake is one of the major contributors to kidney stone formation. Several clinical studies have not been able to establish any strong correlation between supplemental vitamin C and increased kidney stones.
Another unique form of vitamin C is ascorbyl palmitate, a fat-soluble form of the nutrient. This form is better absorbed by the cells than ascorbic acid alone. Cell membranes enriched with ascorbyl palmitate are more resistant to oxidative damage, which means they are better protected against diseases and aging. Ascorbyl palmitate is also an effective antioxidant.
One of the advantages of taking a nutritional supplement containing ascorbyl palmitate is that this form of vitamin C can reach areas of the body that water-soluble forms cannot. Moreover, its effects last for longer. A well-balanced vitamin C or multi-nutrient supplement should contain at least 25 percent of its vitamin C in the fat-soluble ascorbyl palmitate form. However, most vitamin C supplements on the market contain little or no ascorbyl palmitate. Optimum supplementation with a synergistically formulated vitamin C supplement can make all the difference in protecting your health!