Supplementing your healthy diet and exercise program with vitamin C has shown to be beneficial to your overall wellness.

Over 50 percent of the U.S. population takes a dietary supplement to support wellness, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Thats roughly a 10 percent increase from the 1980s. The numbers are encouraging, and I look forward to seeing the statistics improve as more research shows the benefits of vitamins and minerals, particularly vitamin C.

Along with a healthy diet and regular exercise, supplementing with vitamin C can be an important part of supporting total health. The vitamin plays several key roles in the body, but its biggest benefit is as an antioxidant. Well look at the specific benefits of vitamin C in a moment; first, I’ll define what free radicals are and how antioxidants combat the damage done by free radicals.

Free radicals and antioxidants: The basics

The process of how free radicals harm the body and antioxidants counteract that damage is long and complex. But here are the basics, as they relate to vitamin C:

  • Lifestyle choices like smoking, a sedentary lifestyle, stress and poor diet choices can contribute to whats known as oxidation in the body. The process of oxidation is similar to the means by which iron rusts or butter goes rancid.
  • Oxidation creates free radicals, which are unstable molecules or atoms that move through the body, trying to find other molecules to help stabilize them.
  • As free radicals try to bond with stable molecules or atoms, they create more unstable molecules and atoms. The body’s struggle to maintain health by controlling these free radicals is known as oxidative stress; when uncontrolled, this stress causes damage to the body.
  • Antioxidants, made naturally in the body and found in a variety of sources that includes vitamin C, are exactly what the name implies: anti-oxidants. They counteract oxidation by binding to the free radicals and stabilizing rogue molecules or atoms.

Antioxidants help slow or stop damage from happening at the cellular level. And since the human body is made up of individual cells, keeping them healthy is critical to maintaining total health. When your cells are healthy, your entire body is healthy.

“C” the benefits

All nutrients benefit the body in different ways, and vitamin C has a long list of health-supportive benefits. From providing immune support to promoting eye health and more, it really acts as a super vitamin. Here are a few of the benefits:

Immune support

Vitamin C is best known for its cold-fighting properties, and several studies have shown that regularly taking the nutrient can help shorten the duration of colds. The vitamin is especially helpful for people who are under short-term physical stress, such as endurance athletes. A 2013 Cochrane Review found that marathoners, skiers and other athletes who took supplemental vitamin C reduced their risk of catching the common cold by 50 percent. Even if you’re not an endurance athlete, supplementing with vitamin C is a great way to provide immune support.

Allergy support

A study in the World Allergy Organization Journal explains that vitamin C may [reduce] inflammation and allergic responses. The study found that vitamin E, vitamin C and cod liver oil have a significant impact on allergic rhinitis.

Healing

Vitamin C is important to the formation of collagen, an element of skin tissue. When wounds or burns occur, collagen plays a critical role in healing, including helping close the wound. The vitamin also functions as an antioxidant in the skin that combats free radicals in the tissues. A scientific review in Dermatologic Surgery found that skin products containing vitamin C may support healthy aging, including collagen formation and protection from UVA and UVB rays.

Eye health

Vitamin C acts as an antioxidant in the eye, helping counteract the impact of oxidative stress on the lens that results from exposure to sunlight. According to the National Institutes of Health, an antioxidant combination including vitamin C may slow the progression of age-related macular degeneration (AMD), which is the leading cause of vision loss in adults 50 and older.

Respiratory health

People with asthma and allergies should make sure they’re getting an adequate amount of vitamin C, since the nutrients antioxidant effect in the lungs and airways supports respiratory health. Research in the scientific journal Thorax found that consumption of vitamin C-rich fresh fruit may even reduce wheezing in children.

Heart health

Just as vitamin C has antioxidant benefits in other parts of the body the skin, eyes and lungs, among others it also helps protect against oxidation in the heart and cardiovascular system. Researchers at the University of California, Berkeley found that supplementing with vitamin C may reduce C-reactive protein (CRP) in the body, which is a central biomarker of inflammation that has been shown to be a powerful predictor of heart disease and diabetes. Vitamin C also supports healthy cholesterol and blood pressure levels.

Additional benefits

New research on vitamin C is being conducted all the time. Studies have already shown positive implications for the nutrient in supporting diabetes and blood glucose levels, the immune system during cancer treatment, and digestive health, among other benefits.

It’s best to get vitamin C through a healthy diet of fresh, whole foods. For adults over 19, the recommended daily intake is 75mg for women and 90mg for men; taking over 2,000mg a day is not recommended, as it can cause stomach issues. If you’re falling short of these numbers, a supplement may be a good option. As always, talk to your health care provider to put together a supplementation regimen tailored to your specific needs.

10 sources of vitamin C

Looking to up your intake of vitamin C?
Try these 10 foods:

  1. Mango
  2. Red and green peppers
  3. Strawberries
  4. Leafy greens, including kale and spinach
  5. Certain enriched cereals
  6. Sweet potatoes
  7. Cantaloupe
  8. Pineapple
  9. Tomatoes
  10. Kiwi

Dr. Andrew Myers, an expert in nutrition and preventive medicine and the co-author of Health Is Wealth: 10 Power Nutrients That Increase Your Odds of Living to 100 and Health Is Wealth: Performance Nutrition. Visit healthiswealth.net for more information.