Vitamin C, is one of the most important vitamins in the human body, and humans are one of the few animals that doesn’t produce their own. This means it must be consumed from our diet or through supplementation. Vitamin C is water soluble so it isn’t stored in the body, which means ensuring we consume foods rich in vitamin C every day is vital to our overall health and wellbeing.
A diet without vitamin C can lead to a devastating disease known as scurvy. Signs and symptoms of scurvy date back to 1500 BC. Vitamin C is critical to convert the amino acids proline and lysine into collagen, this is what gives structure to your body through bones, skin, tendons, and ligaments. The breakdown of collagen causes the awful symptoms of scurvy.
Today, scurvy is easily preventable, however, certain factors can increase the need for more vitamin C, such as:
- chronic stress
- gastrointestinal disease
- pregnant and lactation
- illnesses and infections
In the western world, 10-15% of the adult population may have severe vitamin C deficiency, with the highest proportion in the elderly population.
Early sign of vitamin C deficiency includes:
- Cognitive impairment
- Bleeding gums
Healthy levels of vitamin C are needed for
- growth, development and repair of tissue in the body.
- antioxidant defence
- a strong immune system
- improved absorption of iron, and
- brain function
All fruits and vegetables contain some vitamin C. Fruits and vegetable with the highest source includes:
- Citrus fruits
- Cruciferous vegetables
- Leafy greens like spinach
- Sweet and white potatoes
- Winter squash
The most popular and well-known supplement containing vitamin C comes in the form of ascorbic acid. Both synthetic and food-derived ascorbic acid (vitamin C) are chemically identical, and have similar bioavailability.
Vitamin C in the brain
The brain is a huge consumer of vitamin C, and contains the highest concentration in the whole body. More specifically, vitamin C is concentrated in neurons. The brain is also very resistant to changes in vitamin C. Even though vitamin C levels may drop throughout the body, the brain has a recycling mechanism to keep levels intact. This is a direct reflection on how important and vital vitamin C is in the brain.
Vitamin C plays a role in several processes in the brain:
- Antioxidant defence
- Synthesis of neurotransmitters
- Biosynthesis of carnitine, collagen, and blood vessels
- Mood and cognition
What does vitamin C do in the brain?
Vitamin C is a nutrient with an important role in the function of the central nervous system.
It is well known that vitamin C's main role is as a co-factor in the antioxidant defence in cells. The brain is extremely susceptible to reactive oxygen species (ROS or free radicals). ROS is a result of normal energy production within a cell. To put this in simple terms, when a cell produces energy, an oxidant molecule is produced, aka ROS. Too much ROS causes cell damage. The cell has an antioxidant defence mechanism to protect itself. When the balance between oxidant and antioxidant is shifted towards oxidant, we now have oxidative stress. Oxidative stress has been linked to many conditions and diseases like cancer, hypertension, and neurological disorders.
Vitamin C is an integral part of the antioxidant defence system, by cleaning up the ROS created during normal cell metabolism. Basically, vitamin C blocks the harmful effects of ROS, helps prevent oxidative stress, and promotes neuroprotection.
Vitamin C isn’t done yet! It is also a co-factor in the synthesis of neurotransmitters, more specifically in the catecholamines: dopamine and norepinephrine. The creation of catecholamines is enhanced by vitamin C at 2 critical steps in the pathway.
- It helps maintain the activity of tyrosine hydroxylase by recycling one of its co-factors. This is the enzyme that converts the amino acid to L-dopa, before it becomes dopamine.
- Vitamin C directly contributes an electron to dopamine β-hydroxylase, which is the enzyme that converts dopamine into norepinephrine.
The proper synthesis of catecholamines depends on the amino acid tyrosine (Insert tyrosine blog) as well as co-factors like vitamin C. Proper balance of dopamine and norepinephrine in the brain is important for mood, and cognition.
There is some scientific evidence that vitamin C could protect neurons from excitotoxicity. Excitotoxicity is an overactivation of receptors for the excitatory neurotransmitter glutamate. During this process, neurons are damaged or killed. Excitotoxicity is involved in stroke, traumatic brain injuries and several neurodegenerative diseases. There are different theories on how vitamin C decreases excitotoxicity, but what is clear is that vitamin C has neuroprotective properties in the brain.
Vitamin C is a co-factor in the production of L-carnitine (Insert ALCAR blog), an amino acid that helps transport fatty acids into the mitochondria for energy production. L-carnitine is dynamically transformed into acetyl-L-carnitine and vice versa, depending on what the body needs. Acetyl-L-carnitine can easily cross the blood-brain barrier, and facilitate the production of the neurotransmitter acetylcholine as well as support healthy cerebral blood flow. Several animal studies have demonstrated that carnitine levels are directly affected by levels of vitamin C in the diet.
It is well-recognized that vitamin C is crucial for the formation of collagen. Collagen is the primary component in supportive tissues like cartilage, joint, bones etc. In people with scurvy, their body literally breaks down. What’s less known is how vitamin C is required for the production of collagen in the brain. Not only is collagen important for the architecture
of the brain, it’s critical for the formation of blood vessels, and maintaining their integrity. Normal vasculature is extremely important to support brain plasticity, an indicator of cognition and flexibility in learning in the future.
From what we know on vitamin C, it’s not surprising that this vitamin is crucial to cognitive performance. It is a co-factor for the production of several neurotransmitters such as dopamine and norepinephrine. These neurotransmitters are involved in cognition, learning, memory and mood.
In a 2019 cross-sectional study, researchers found a remarkable relationship between the concentration of vitamin C in blood and higher cognitive performance. Subjects with healthy levels of vitamin C, performed better on cognitive tasks involving attention, focus, working memory, and recognition than people with low concentrations of vitamin C.
A longitudinal study in midlife adults (approximately 50 years old), showed that a high proportion of the population (63%) had inadequate blood levels of vitamin C. Decreases in mood, cognitive function, and energy levels were symptoms observed with participants with lower vitamin C concentrations. This is not surprising given what we now know about vitamin C in the brain! Very few of the participants (7%) had optimal levels of vitamin C.
These studies suggest that the body needs more than the minimum amount of vitamin C to prevent scurvy, it needs much more to support a healthy brain, especially in the aging population.
Vitamin C and stress
It’s well supported that both emotional and physical stress can increase a person’s Vitamin C requirement. During times of stress, the adrenal glands (the little bean looking glands that sit on top of the kidneys), releases a variety of hormones to deal with the stress. Specific hormones include the catecholamines (epinephrine and norepinephrine), and cortisol. Prolonged stress takes a toll on the adrenal glands.
It is believed that vitamin C supports the adrenal glands and several studies show that a diet rich in vitamin C (or supplementation) can mitigate the harmful effects of elevated stress hormones while allowing a person to bounce back faster from a stressful event.
A randomized, double-blind, placebo-controlled study showed that participants who received vitamin C supplementation before a public speaking event experienced less stage fright, and recovered their cortisol levels faster than those without Vitamin C supplementation.
Vitamin C dose and side effects
Vitamin C as ascorbic acid supplementation has an overall low toxicity risk in healthy people. High levels of vitamin C (over 2g/day) has been linked to adverse effects such as cramping, nausea, and diarrhea. Ascorbic acid supplementation ranges from 0.5-1 gram/day with a maximal dose of 2 gram/day based on national health recommendations.
Vitamin C in MindGain
Collectively, it’s evident that vitamin C is important in brain health and suboptimal levels of this vitamin may have serious consequences on cognitive function and overall health.
MindGain uses ascorbic acid for these reasons:
- Protects cognitive function as you age
- Supports adrenal glands
- Promotes faster recovery following a stressful situation
- Co-factor for many biosynthesis of neurotransmitters, carnitine, and collagen
- Potent antioxidant
- Supports mental health
It is widely accepted that vitamin C is necessary for optimal health, but a great deal of the population has suboptimal levels of vitamin C. Your body doesn’t make vitamin C, so it is important to get enough vitamin C in your diet.