Vitamin C may not be as effective in fighting colds as once thought, but this vital nutrient can do wonders for the skin.
Vitamin C, also known as ascorbic acid, is a powerful nutrient and antioxidant necessary for the growth and repair of tissues throughout the body. It helps the body produce collagen — an important protein used to make skin, bones, cartilage, tendons, ligaments and blood vessels — and it helps heal wounds, form scar tissue, and repair and maintain teeth and bones.
Collagen, a fibrous protein found in skin and connective tissue that aids the growth of cells and gives skin its strength and firmness, naturally decreases with age, leading to loose, weak and dry skin.
Vitamin C stimulates the production of new collagen, thus helping the skin maintain its elasticity and flexibility.
In fact, an American Journal of Clinical Nutrition study of 4,025 women ages 40 to 74 found that those with high vitamin C intakes experienced a lower likelihood of wrinkles, fine lines and dry skin.
Vitamin C is also a highly effective antioxidant that protects cells from free radical damage.
Free radicals, unstable molecules that damage the structure of healthy cells, contribute to the aging process and the development of such health conditions as cancer, heart disease, Alzheimer’s disease and arthritis. Although the body creates some free radicals during normal metabolic processes, most are caused by such environmental factors as pollution, radiation, sun exposure, cigarette smoke and herbicide.
Here’s how it works: When a molecule — the building block of every cell in our bodies — splits in such a way that leaves it with one unpaired electron, it becomes unstable and tries to recapture the electron by stealing it from another molecule. That attacked molecule then becomes an unstable free radical itself, setting off a chain reaction.
Antioxidants — essential nutrients that include vitamins C, D and E, beta-carotene and selenium — protect the skin from damage by stabilizing those free radicals. But if antioxidants are unavailable to stop these attacks or if too many free radicals are produced, cell damage can occur, leading to a multitude of chronic diseases and prematurely aged skin.
Vitamin C not only neutralizes free radicals, but also regenerates other antioxidants, such as vitamin E. In fact, a 2006 study by the Linus Pauling Institute in Oregon found that vitamin C concentrations restored depleted vitamin E levels in cigarette smokers.
And in 2009, researchers at the University of Leicester in England and the Institute of Molecular and Cellular Biology in Portugal found that ascorbic acid 2-phosphate, a derivative of vitamin C, can both heal wounds and reverse DNA damage caused by free radicals.
Sources of Vitamin C
The human body is unable to make vitamin C on its own, and because it is water-soluble, the body can’t store it. So, once the body absorbs what it needs, excess amounts are discharged through the urine. That means you need a continuous supply of vitamin C in your diet. The best sources are raw or lightly cooked fruits and vegetables.
- acerola cherries
- black currants
- citrus fruits, such as orange and grapefruit
- strawberries, raspberries, blueberries, cranberries
- bell peppers, yellow, red and green
- brussel sprouts
- leafy greens, including kale, mustard greens, turnip greens, chard, spinach and watercress
- potatoes, sweet and white
- winter squash