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Vitamin C: More than immune health

Most people are familiar with the importance of vitamin C (ascorbic acid) for immune health, thanks in part to Linus Pauling, two-time Nobel winner.

However, not many people can name the other vital functions of vitamin C or what the best food sources are (hint: it’s not oranges!).

The Roles of Vitamin C: While vitamin C is fundamental to a proper functioning immune system, it’s actions go beyond just immune health. The highest concentration of vitamin C is located in the adrenal glands.(1,2) This makes sense when you consider that vitamin C is essential to neurotransmitter (epinephrine and norepinephrine) and steroid production in the adrenal glands.(2,3,4) These are the neurotransmitters that are released, particularly during times of stress. Chronic stress places an increased demand on the adrenal glands to produce these neurotransmitters, and if you are not consuming adequate amounts of vitamin C, then your adrenals cannot function properly. This can be a contributor to what is commonly called “adrenal fatigue”, but is better classified as Hypothalamus-Pituitary-Adrenal axis dysregulation” (HPA-Axis) since more than just the adrenal glands are involved in energy production and metabolism.

More importantly, vitamin C is required to create collagen which is a protein that makes up connective tissue. Connective tissue makes up a large portion of your muscles, tendons, ligaments, and is what provides the structure and stability of all the blood vessels and organs of your body. In addition, new research is discovering that connective tissue plays a vital role in cellular communication!

Sources: The top 5 food sources of vitamin C are papaya (med.~ 168mg), bell peppers (1 cup ~ 117mg), broccoli (1 cup ~ 101mg), brussels sprouts (1 cup ~ 96mg), and strawberries (1 cup ~ 84mg).(5) One of the better sources of Vitamin C, besides through the consumption of real whole foods, is from a whole-food complex supplement. There are a number of quality whole-food supplements out there and you can find my favorites here.

Why Supplement?: Why might you want to supplement with vitamin C? Ideally, we would get all our nutrients, vitamins, and minerals from the food and drink we consume. Due to modern farming practices, increased levels of unmanaged stress, medications, and bombardment from our polluted, toxic environment, our need for vitamin C increases and, therefore, may not be adequately provided by our diet. When we are ill, on medications, and/or dealing with chronic health conditions, it is prudent to consider supplementing with extra vitamin C to support our body’s increased requirement.

Although some doctors, researchers, and manufacturers consider the isolated molecule “ascorbic acid” as being the same as vitamin C, the role of vitamin C involves more than just ascorbic acid – the antioxidant component. It requires many other cofactors and molecules, such as bioflavonoids like quercetin, to function optimally in your body. This is just one example of the synergistic relationship between nutrients and phytochemicals found in whole foods and there are hundreds still yet to be discovered.

The vitamin C you get from eating a kiwi is not the same as the isolated ascorbic acid you get from a supplement bottle. Since there are thousands of phytochemicals and compounds in plants, vegetables, and fruits, to take out one component and hold it up as a single necessity for health is preposterous.

How much?: Eat real, whole vegetables and fruits for your vitamin C complex of nutrients and support yourself when necessary with a whole-food based supplement like the ones I recommend above. When taking these types of whole-food complex supplements, your dosage does not need to be the same as if you were taking isolated, chemically purified ascorbic acid. Because your body treats it as food, you will be able to take the supplement on an empty stomach without fear of stomach/intestinal upset as can be the case with ascorbic acid.

Under times of increased stress, illness, as well as for general health, evaluate how you are doing with the basic determinates of health – sleep, movement/exercise, nutrition, mental/emotional health – then consider supplementing with 400-800mg of a whole-food complex vitamin C, not only for immune health, but for the ongoing health of your connective tissues and organs.

Until next time…live a Life in Balance!

- Dr. Healey


1. Patak P, Willenberg H, Bornstein S. Vitamin C is an important cofactor for both adrenal cortex and adrenal medulla. Endocr Res. 2004;30(4):871-875.

2. Kitabchi AE. Ascorbic Acid in Steroidogenesis. Nature. 1967;(215):1385-1386. doi:10.1038/2151385a0.

3. Padayatty SJ, Doppman JL, Chang R, Wang Y, Gill J, Papanicolaou DA. Human adrenal glands secrete vitamin C in response to adrenocorticotrophic hormone 1 Ϫ 5. 2007;(4).

4. Li Y, Schellhorn HE, Szent-gyorgyi A. New Developments and Novel Therapeutic Perspectives for Vitamin C 1, 2. 2007;(July):2171-2184.

5. World’s Healthiest Foods. Vitamin C. Accessed May 5, 2017 from

The George Mateljan Foundation

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