As Australia’s premier resource for news and information on cosmetic enhancement, Costhetics is always on the lookout for evidence-based data related to healthy beauty.

On a recent New Zealand jaunt, Costhetics met with colleagues who shared a trove of information about Vitamin C and its effect on humans, animals, and just about everything else on the planet.

Here are some of the highlights…

History: How Vitamin C Got Its Name

Vitamin C is a small carbohydrate molecule with a ginormous impact on good health. Why do we call it Vitamin C? Excellent question, Watson. In the 1920’s, it was discovered that the life-threatening condition known as scurvy could be prevented by vitamin-packed fruits and veggies.

Scientists could not identify which specific nutritional element (vitamin) was the key and simply gave it the designation “C” on their list of unknowns. Vitamin “C” was ultimately named ascorbic acid because the translation of ascorbic is “anti-scurvy.”

Quokkas Don’t Get Scurvy

Kangaroos don’t get scurvy. Neither do wombats, pussycats, or bats. We do. Researchers studying The Genetics of Vitamin C Loss in Vertebrates found that humans are unable to naturally synthesise (create) our own Vitamin C. The vast majority of mammals produce this essential vitamin in the liver. How did humans miss out?

The culprit appears to be mutations in the L-gulono-y-lactone oxidase gene. Possibly mutated by viruses millions of years ago or perhaps altered by chance, the gene became defective and human beings needed to search outside themselves for a new source of Vitamin C. The place to look: the supermarket and the supplement aisle.

You Can’t Spell Good Health without the Holy “C”

If you think popping a couple of Vitamin C tabs when you have a cold is all the ascorbic acid your body needs, you’re on a fast track to medical problems including:

  • Anaemia
  • Gum disease
  • Bone loss
  • Joint pain

If that weren’t bad enough, when you don’t get enough ascorbic acid each and every day, your beauty suffers right along with your health. Vitamin C is a normal skin constituent found at high levels in both the dermis and epidermis. Without it,

  • Collagen synthesis is disrupted
  • The skin barrier is degraded, leading to water loss and dry skin
  • The risk of photo-damage is elevated
  • Skin is more susceptible to free radical damage
  • Skin ages prematurely

Lifestyles of the Rich & Vitamin C Deficient

Not everyone develops a Vitamin C deficiency, of course. Anorexia, severe mental illness, and dialysis put individuals at a higher risk, along with other factors including:

  • Age
  • Trauma
  • Environment
  • Time of Year
  • Body chemistry
  • Weight
  • Drugs

More commonly, though, a lack of ascorbic acid in the majority of sufferers can be traced to these three lifestyle factors:

  • Poor diet
  • Smoking
  • Excess alcohol

Vitamin C, So Close & You Never Knew

Australians are a lucky lot. When we need Vitamin C, we need only look to our farmers for mouth-watering fruits…

  • Black currents
  • Guava
  • Citrus
  • Kiwi

…and veggies

  • Broccoli
  • Sprouts

Despite our easy, tasty access to ascorbic acid, scurvy may be running amok in Australia just as it did in the 18th Century. The reason is crystal clear. Statistics from the AIHW show

  • As many as 93% of Australians do not eat enough veggies

“It takes only one or two servings of fruits or vegetables, depending on the type and size, to give you the vitamin C you need,” a Melbourne dietician told The New Daily for the article Doctors Fear Australians’ Poor Diets are Reviving Scurvy. “It’s really easy and taking a supplement should be the last resort.”

Supplements can be tricky to navigate. For example, people who have problems digesting acidic substances may find that pure ascorbic acid supplements are irritating. For them, mineral-based supplements can be the winning answer. Available in powder and capsule form, sodium ascorbate formulation combines Vitamin C with sodium. Calcium ascorbate is also available. Both are easier on sensitive stomachs.

If you have other vitamin deficiencies, you can look for C supplements that contain zinc, magnesium, or manganese. Some products promote their formulations as intensifying the effect of Vitamin C. Little proof exists, however, to support that claim.

Can You OD on Vitamin C?

How much Vitamin C is enough? 2020 recommendations from the Harvard School of Public Health put the ideal daily dosage of Vitamin C at 90mgs. Pregnancy significantly increases a woman’s need for Vitamin C, and mothers who are breastfeeding need the most ascorbic acid of all.

Can you get too much of a good thing? Yes. To begin with, mega-dosing is a waste of money pure and simple. Your intestines can only handle so much Vitamin C at one time and researchers have found that absorption is reduced by 50% if you take more than 1000mgs per day. (You literally p*ss your money away as any extra C will be excreted in urine.)

At very high concentrations, Vitamin C does a switcheroo and acts like a tissue-damaging free radical instead of an antioxidant, creating the precise problems you may be trying to prevent. If you stress your body with too much ascorbic acid, you’re courting disaster. An intake of greater than 3000mgs daily has been linked to:

  • Increase in kidney stones
  • Increased risk for gout
  • Excess iron in the blood

Even a little too much Vitamin C can cause problems. If your intake is a bit too high, your body will let you know with signals such as:

  • Stomach cramps
  • Diarrhoea
  • Nausea
  • Vomiting
  • Flushing
  • Insomnia
  • Fatigue

Despite the dosage level, ascorbic acid can:

  • Interact negatively with treatments such as chemotherapy
  • Cause problems with medications used in hormone therapy
  • Cause adverse drug reactions when combined with statins, and protease inhibitors
  • Disrupt how much aluminium is absorbed from certain medications

If you have recently started a supplement regimen and experience any of these symptoms, you should stop taking your supplement and speak to a healthcare professional. In fact, Costhetics recommends that you see your doctor before you start a Vitamin C supplement.

“C” you soon!

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