Our lifestyles have been shaped by the fast-paced world that we live in and many of us place a great emphasis on convenience. This need for speed has also filtered into the world of wellness, where fast and quick health solutions are often sought in the form of supplements and vitamins.
Why You Need Vitamin COne of the most sought-after vitamins is Vitamin C - used to support a healthy immune system. Humans, unlike most animals, are unable to synthesize vitamin C endogenously. Therefore, it is an essential dietary component.
Most of us are well aware that the best sources of Vitamin C come from fruits such as guava, citrus fruits, red peppers, and other vegetables. However, it is not uncommon to find both children and adults regularly consuming Vitamin C supplements.
Indeed, Vitamin C is one of the building blocks for a healthy immune system and will aid you greatly. Provided you are actually consuming a Vitamin C complex and not a synthetic vitamin.
What Is Synthetic Vitamin C, Anyway?A synthetic vitamin is manmade and does not occur in nature. Natural Vitamin C, however, is found in whole foods. The majority of Vitamin C supplements found on the shelves use ascorbic acid and most people equate this with Vitamin C. However, they are not one and the same!
Ascorbic acid is in fact an isolate of natural Vitamin C. The Vitamin C complex, as it exists in nature, includes many other compounds such as rutin, bioflavonoids, Factor K, Factor J, Factor P, tyrosinase, ascorbinogen, and other mineral co-factors.
All these compounds work synergistically to provide the body with the building blocks that it needs. Much like a bicycle without its wheels, ascorbic acid on its own does not provide the health benefits of a natural Vitamin C complex.
Does It Matter If I Go For Natural Or Synthetic Vitamin C?
Several studies support that natural and synthetic vitamin C are chemically identical, but how your body responds to them can differ.
According to one study (Am J Clin Nutr 2008), high doses of synthetic Vitamin C are shown to be detrimental to health. Adults taking 1000mg of ascorbic acid daily displayed significantly hampered endurance capacity. Specifically by weakening the mitochondria of the cell. It also had significant adverse effects on the antioxidant system (a key immune regulator).
This high dose of synthetic Vitamin C is commonly found in Vitamin C supplements and consumed by the unsuspecting public seeking support for their immune systems. While research support that larger doses of synthetic Vitamin C can have negative effects, no studies have shown any harm when consuming the recommended dose per day.
Another study published in Nature in 1998, found in a six-week study of 30 healthy men and women that a daily 500-milligram supplement of synthetic vitamin C had pro-oxidant as well as antioxidant effects on the genetic material DNA. The researchers found that at the 500-milligram level, vitamin C promoted genetic damage by free radicals to a part of the DNA that had not previously been measured in studies of the vitamin’s oxidative properties.
While these numbers aren't significant, other studies also indicate that consuming synthetic Vitamin C can have its downsides.
Other Potential Differences Between Synthetic vs. Natural Vitamin C
Dr. Victor Herbert, professor of medicine at the Mount Sinai School of Medicine in New York, has shown that vitamin C supplements promote the generation of free radicals from iron in the body. Dr. Herbert said “Unlike the vitamin C naturally presented in foods like orange juice, vitamin C as a supplement is not an antioxidant. It’s a redox agent — an antioxidant in some circumstances and a pro-oxidant in others.”
In food, ascorbic acid prevents oxidation of the Vitamin C complex and is found in much lower quantities than you would find in a supplement. Vitamin C deficiency can lead to scurvy – a disease characterized by fatigue, joint pain, and bleeding of the gums amongst other symptoms. It was discovered that eating citrus fruits and potatoes cured the disease. However, when ascorbic acid was used on patients with scurvy, the same results were not seen.
‘Whole food vitamin C as found in potatoes, onions, and citrus fruits is able to quickly cure any case of scurvy. By contrast, the fractionated chemical ascorbic acid has been shown to be insufficient in resolving a scurvy condition, simply because it does not act as a nutrient (Lancet 1842)’.
Whole Vitamin C complex is necessary for the growth, development, and repair of all body tissues. It is also involved in the formation of collagen, absorption of iron, wound healing, the maintenance of cartilage, bones, and teeth, and aids the body’s ability to fight infections. Vitamin C is also a powerful antioxidant that can protect against damage caused by harmful free radicals.
Make Sure You Know What You're ConsumingIt is unclear how well synthetic nutrients are absorbed and used in the body and more research is still needed in this area.
The next time you purchase a Vitamin C supplement, take a proper look at the ingredients list. Truly natural Vitamin C supplements are made from freeze-dried real food. The nutrients they contain are natural doses without added synthetics.
Do bear in mind that nature is the best healer and if you’re not too pushed for time, fresh fruit is second to none when it comes to topping up on Vitamin C!
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Gomez-Cabrera MC, Domenech E, Romagnoli M, Arduini A, Borras C, Pallardo FV, Sastre J, Viña J. Oral administration of vitamin C decreases muscle mitochondrial biogenesis and hampers training-induced adaptations in endurance performance. Am J Clin Nutr. 2008 Jan;87(1):142-9. doi: 10.1093/ajcn/87.1.142. PMID: 18175748.
Podmore, I., Griffiths, H., Herbert, K. et al. Vitamin C exhibits pro-oxidant properties. Nature 392, 559 (1998). https://doi.org/10.1038/33308
Somer, Elizabeth — “Vitamin C: A Lesson in Keeping An Open Mind” The Nutrition Report. Lancet . 1842