Is your vitamin C real vitamin C? Time to find out!

Many take vitamin C supplements during the autumn and winter, in order to prevent a cold or flu. And whilst vitamin C does indeed contribute to healthy immunity, unfortunately most vitamin C supplements are made from ascorbic acid – a chemical vitamin C that can cause digestive problems and may even impair your immune system.

Real vitamin C

In this blog you’ll discover why it’s best to always opt for a natural form of vitamin C.

This article covers:

Is my vitamin C a real vitamin C or a chemical vitamin C?
How is “Vitamin C” (or rather, ascorbic acid) manufactured in the laboratory?
Is ascorbic acid readily digestible?
What are the benefits of vitamin C?
How much vitamin C should I take per day? And is more beneficial?
What type of vitamin C should I take?

Is my vitamin C a real Vitamin C or a chemical vitamin C?

These days you can choose from a large selection of vitamin C products in supermarkets and chemists, including vitamin C tablets, vitamin C powders and vitamin C lozenges, with or without added sugars and flavourings. Yet, most of the vitamin C supplements available in the UK are virtually the same. In fact, the vast majority of them are made from ascorbic acid (officially known as L-ascorbic acid), a non-natural substance that’s manufactured from corn syrup using a chemical process.

The majority of vitamin C supplements are made from ascorbic acid, a non-natural substance that’s manufactured from corn syrup using a chemical process

How is “Vitamin C” (or rather, ascorbic acid) manufactured in the laboratory?

Because ascorbic acid appears so similar to natural vitamin C, government agencies around the world decided that it could simply be referred to as vitamin C. That’s why ascorbic acid supplements are called vitamin C supplements, and why processed supermarket products, such as fruit juices, are permitted to state that they have been fortified with vitamin C, even though they only actually contain ascorbic acid. Ascorbic acid is, however, definitely not same as natural vitamin C. It is neither a vegetable nor a fruit, and cannot be grown on a farm. Indeed, ascorbic acid is manufactured in the laboratory and is thus an artificial form of vitamin C.

You might think that taking a vitamin C supplement is good for your health, but you’re actually consuming a chemical substance. Ascorbic acid is made from refined corn syrup that has undergone a special process known by chemists as the Reichstein process.

The process steps in the manufacture of ascorbic acid are as follows:

  1. Starch hydrolysis: the application of heat and enzymes is used to reduce corn syrup to a simple sugar known as D-glucose
  2. Hydrogenation: The D-glucose is converted into D-sorbitol
  3. Fermentation: The D-sorbitol is converted into L-sorbose
  4. Acetonation: Acetone is used to couple the L-Sorbose to an acid at low temperatures
  5. Oxidation: The resulting substance is then oxidised with the help of a catalyst, making it made more acidic, and then washed and dried, creating L-gluconic acid
  6. Hydrolysis: The L-gluconic acid is next treated with hydrochloric acid, to create crude ascorbic acid
  7. Recrystallization: This crude ascorbic acid is finally filtered, purified and ground into a fine powder from which tablets, lozenges, or powders are made
The majority of vitamin C supplements are made from ascorbic acid, a non-natural substance that’s manufactured from corn syrup using a chemical process

Ascorbic acid is thus made in the laboratory using a variety of substances, including hydrochloric acid and acetone. However, manufacturers may still call ascorbic acid vitamin C. You might wonder why they choose to make chemical vitamin C rather than use natural vitamin C instead. There are several reasons for this – firstly, heat destroys the beneficial properties of natural vitamin C. These days fruit juices and other processed products are typically pasteurised or sterilised to extend their shelf life and thus cannot be enriched with natural vitamin C. The second reason, of course, is cost – vitamin C extracted from fruit and vegetables is far more expensive than ascorbic acid manufactured on a large scale in the laboratory.

Is ascorbic acid readily digestible?

There has been considerable scientific research into the effects of ascorbic acid in recent decades, which concluded that artificially produced L-ascorbic boasts the same absorbability levels and beneficial properties as L-ascorbic acid (vitamin C) from fresh fruit (Mangels et al.,1993 [1]). There is also another type of ascorbic acid, known as D-ascorbic acid. This is a reduced form of L-ascorbic acid that due to its lower absorbability and diminished beneficial properties, is almost never added to vitamin C supplements, not even to low cost vitamin C supplements.

Chemical ascorbic acid can have a potentially serious affect on your intestinal flora, resulting in digestive problems and a weakened immune system

A difference in absorbability levels or beneficial properties is therefore not a reason for avoiding chemical ascorbic acid. The main case for taking natural vitamin C supplements is that chemical ascorbic acid has a potentially serious effect on your intestinal flora, and can lead to digestive problems and even a weakened immune system… the very opposite of what natural vitamin C does for your body! Indeed, a study conducted by Alan Meyer, an Australian expert on microbes, revealed that the good bacteria in organic fermented apple juice was destroyed after the addition of ascorbic acid (Morrison, 2001) [2]. Ascorbic acid is commonly used by the food industry as a preservative and in Europe is also known as the E number, E300. As it kills bacteria, adding ascorbic acid to food products prolongs their shelf life. Meyer discovered that ascorbic acid was unable to distinguish between good and bad bacteria, which led him to conclude that ascorbic acid likely kills the good bacteria that lives in your digestive tract as well. It must be stressed that this is only one isolated study, and although ascorbic acid may have killed the bacteria in the fermented juice, it has not yet been proven that it does the same to our intestinal flora. It is important, however, to be aware that ascorbic acid might have a negative effect on your intestinal flora. And whilst further research is required to confirm this definitively, many choose to avoid ascorbic acid in the meantime. Ascorbic acid may additionally trigger stomach complaints – some find that their stomach lining simply cannot cope with its high acidic content; another valid reason for avoiding chemical vitamin C supplements.

What are the benefits of vitamin C?

Although ascorbic acid may not be as healthy as you believed, real vitamin C does offer a considerable number of health benefits. In fact, vitamin C is an antioxidant that your body requires in order to be able to repair and renew itself, and is thus essential for your health and wellbeing.

Vitamin C is an antioxidant that your body requires to repair and renew itself and is thus essential for your health and wellbeing

Over the decades, numerous studies have highlighted the many benefits of vitamin C. These include:

  • Vitamin C strengthens the immune system, reduces damage to cells and prevents infection: it is an extremely important water-soluble antioxidant that protects bodily proteins and fats from free radical damage caused by infections and intensive exercise. In addition, vitamin C can help to increase the longevity of immune cells by reducing oxidative stress and inflammation-related cellular damage (including Gleeson et al., 2005 [3]; Furumoto et al., 1995 [4], Hemilä et al., 2004[5])
  • Vitamin C protects against cardiovascular disease: endothelial dysfunction (impaired vascular function) is an early symptom of atherosclerosis, which is accompanied by minor inflammation. Various studies indicate that vitamin C promotes healthy endothelial function and keeps arteries supple, which contributes to the prevention of arteriosclerosis (including Tousoulis et al., 2005 [6]; Varadharaj et al., 2006 [7]). In addition, more than 92 studies have found that vitamin C reduces the risk of heart attacks by up to 80% (Feher et al., 2006 [8]) and limits damage to the heart muscles after a heart attack (Morel et al., 2003 [9]).
  • Vitamin C aids in the healing of cancer: those suffering from cancer who are administered a vitamin C infusion rapidly feel better and there are signs that the healing process is enhanced by vitamin C (Padayatti et al., 2006 [10]).
  • Vitamin C can prevent osteoporosis: scientific research has demonstrated that women who take vitamin C supplements up until their thirty-fifth birthday have less risk of osteoporosis after the menopause (Katsuyama et al., 2005 [11])
  • Vitamin C helps to relieve asthma: asthma sufferers often have a vitamin C deficiency. Studies show that taking vitamin C supplements can prevent severe asthma attacks (Shidfar et al., 2005 [12]).
  • Vitamin C protects against kidney damage: Scientists have discovered that vitamin C can help to prevent kidney damage and minimise further harm to kidneys that have already been damaged. Diabetics with kidney problems particularly benefit from taking vitamin C supplements (McCarty, 2006 [13]).

How much vitamin C should I take per day? And is more beneficial?

According to the NHS, adults require 40 mg of vitamin C per day. This means that one orange and one serving of vegetables will deliver your recommended vitamin C intake. However, many doctors advise taking 200 milligrams of vitamin C per day. Indeed, the elderly, women who are breastfeeding and smokers in particular, may benefit from taking up to 500 milligrams per day.

Some still believe that extremely high doses of vitamin C can help to prevent disease. These beliefs are often based on studies by the famous American Nobel Prize winner, Prof. Dr. Linus Pauling, who claimed some thirty years ago that taking high doses of vitamin C has a healing effect and demonstrably boosts immunity.

In 1970 he published his book ”Vitamin C and the Common Cold” [14], in which he recommended taking 3000 milligrams of vitamin C a day, in order to prevent colds – that’s more than 70 times the amount recommended by the NHS! Although his book became an instant bestseller, other scientists were sceptical. They had been unable to prove that vitamin C helped to prevent colds and decided to redo their trials using the daily dose of vitamin C recommended by Pauling. Even then they found no difference in those patients who received high doses of vitamin C and those who had been given a placebo. There is therefore no evidence that a higher dose of vitamin C has any added benefits. Pauling’s subsequent claims that high doses of vitamin C help to prevent cancer have also never been proven.

Alternative healers, as well as many mainstream doctors believe that taking extra vitamin C (up to 2,000 milligrams per day) can help to prevent and cure colds, cancer, heart disease, kidney and liver disorders, anaemia, gout and aging skin

Although the healing effects of high doses of vitamin C have never been proven, alternative healers and many mainstream doctors still believe that taking extra vitamin C (up to 2,000 milligrams per day) can help to prevent and cure colds, cancer, cardiovascular disease, kidney and liver disorders, anaemia, gout and aging skin. It was once said that if you take large amounts of vitamin C, the surplus is excreted via your urine. Whilst this is true, the vitamin C has nonetheless entered and been absorbed into your body.

Taking more than 2000 mg of vitamin C per day however is not recommended, as such extremely high doses can cause all manner of unpleasant side effects, including kidney stones, iron overload and diarrhoea. Those taking medication, who have had kidney stones or cancer, or who have blood disorders, sickle cell disease or diabetes should always consult their doctor prior to taking additional vitamin C.

What type of vitamin C should I take?

As chemical ascorbic acid may damage your intestinal flora, it’s best to opt for a natural vitamin C supplement, such as “Superfoodies Natural Vitamin C”. Superfoodies Natural Vitamin C is made from acerola berries and consists of up to 17% vitamin C. A fully certified organic product, it can be stirred directly into a glass of cold water or mixed into your favourite smoothie for delicious results.

References

[1] Mangels, A. R., et al. “The bioavailability to humans of ascorbic acid from oranges, orange juice and cooked broccoli is similar to that of synthetic ascorbic acid.” The Journal of nutrition 123.6 (1993): 1054-1061.
[2] Morrison, Douglas. How We Heal: Nutritional, Emotional, and Psychospiritual Fundamentals. North Atlantic Books, 2001.
[3] Davison G, Gleeson M. Influence of acute vitamin C and/or carbohydrate ingestion on hormonal, cytokine, and immune responses to prolonged exercise. Int J Sport Nutr Exerc Metab. 2005 Oct;15(5):465-79
[4] Furumoto K, Inoue E, Nagao N, Hiyama E, Miwa N. Age-dependent telomere shortening is slowed down by enrichment of intracellular vitamin C via suppression of oxidative stress. Life Sci. 1998; 63(11):935-48
[5] Hemilä, Harri. “Vitamin C supplementation and respiratory infections: a systematic review.” Military medicine 169.11 (2004): 920.
[6] Tousoulis, D., et al. “Effects of vitamin C on intracoronary L-arginine dependent coronary vasodilatation in patients with stable angina.” Heart 91.10 (2005): 1319-1323.
[7] Varadharaj, Saradhadevi, et al. “Vitamin C-induced activation of phospholipase D in lung microvascular endothelial cells: regulation by MAP kinases.” Cellular signalling 18.9 (2006): 1396-1407.
[8] Feher, J., and G. Lengyel. “[Nutrition and cardiovascular mortality].” Orvosi hetilap 147.32 (2006): 1491-1496.
[9] Morel, O., et al. “Protective effects of vitamin C on endothelium damage and platelet activation during myocardial infarction in patients with sustained generation of circulating microparticles.” Journal of Thrombosis and Haemostasis 1.1 (2003): 171-177.
[10] Padayatty, Sebastian J., et al. “Intravenously administered vitamin C as cancer therapy: three cases.” Canadian Medical Association Journal 174.7 (2006): 937-942.
[11] Katsuyama, H., S. Sunami, and M. Fukunaga. “[Influence of nutrients intake on bone turnover markers].” Clinical calcium 15.9 (2005): 1529-1534.
[12] Shidfar, F., et al. “Comparison of plasma and leukocyte vitamin C status between asthmatic and healthy subjects.” (2005).
[13] McCarty, Mark F. “Adjuvant strategies for prevention of glomerulosclerosis.” Medical hypotheses 67.6 (2006): 1277-1296.
[14] Pauling, Linus. “Vitamin C and the common cold.” Canadian Medical Association Journal 105.5 (1971): 448.

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4 Responses to “Is your vitamin C real vitamin C? Time to find out!”

  1. Very interisting article. This information change my mind about the vitamin C and now I will change my alimentation.

    November 17, 2016 at 11:50 pm Reply
  2. very good

    December 23, 2016 at 2:58 pm Reply
  3. Excellent file and very enlightening, now I know the benefits and types of vitamin C. And the type of vitamin that I should take.
    Thank you!!.

    October 23, 2017 at 10:38 pm Reply

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