Stressed? Why Vitamin C is Your BFF

I (naively) never used to pay much attention to Vitamin C supplementation. It’s commonly found in plant foods — lemons, cabbage, and berries are all good sources — and I figured by consuming a wide range of fruit and vegetables throughout the day I’d be consuming enough. While I (predictably) encourage the consumption of a whole foods diet rich in these foods, supplementation can be helpful and is necessary in many instances, particularly during periods of chronic stress.

Historically, Vitamin C recommendations have centred around the prevention of scurvy rather than optimal bodily requirements, which is why the RDA of Vitamin C remains at a paltry 60mg per day. Most health experts now recommend somewhere in the vicinity of 1, 000 – 10, 000mg spread across the day (Vitamin C is water-soluble) and to bowel tolerance, sourced from a combination of food and supplements when appropriate. Over the course of the past few months, after much research into the vitamin and its beneficial effects on cortisol — a hormone released by the adrenal glands during stress — my perspective on Vitamin C supplementation has really evolved. Today I’d like to share some of this information with you to help you to understand the role this valuable vitamin and antioxidant plays within the body and how it can help you to improve your energy levels both in everyday life and post-workout. 

Before we delve into some of the science, I’d like to clarify what I mean by stress, a term, at least to my mind, that is often narrowly defined. You can experience work-related stress, of course — looming deadlines, long hours, and massive workloads — but stress can also be caused by the use of conventional cosmetics, hygiene products, and cleaning products; stimulant use/abuse (caffeine, sugar, alcohol, cigarettes, drugs, and even your job if you use it as such); emotional stress (the death of a loved one, a job loss, relationship issues); toxins such as lead and mercury; trauma; important life events; and environmental pollutants, which include herbicides and pesticides. Lifestyle factors, like staying up too late (past 11pm), watching violent films or television shows, over-exercising, and dehydration are also experienced as stressful. We encounter so much stress during the course of our modern lives! Stress is unavoidable, but it is important to remain conscious of what we call chemical load or toxic load, which essentially refers to the cumulative effects of stress (and stressors) on the body. It really is all about finding your balance and using a combination of diet, lifestyle, and supplement protocols to make this happen. 

Most of the Vitamin C in our bodies is concentrated in the adrenal glands, which rest on top of our kidneys and are responsible for producing several hormones (cortisol, adrenaline, noradrenaline, aldosterone, testosterone, DHEA, estrogen, and progesterone.)  These glands are super sensitive to stress. Those who experience powerful bouts of chronic stress can experience symptoms such as fatigue, insomnia or restless sleep (waking up between the hours of 2am-4am especially); digestive upset/poor digestion; irritability; anxiety; depression; worsened PMS symptoms; irregular or absent periods; headaches and migraines; symptoms of menopause; heart disease; dizziness upon standing; low blood pressure or high blood pressure; and thyroid dysfunction. Typically people under chronic stress are or become night owls, since they often feel exhausted all day and experience a second wind in the evening (“tired but wired”), which can prevent them from falling or staying asleep.Sound familiar?

This is where our pal, Vitamin C, enters the scene:

  • Clear out cortisol pronto Toronto. Vitamin C is amazing in that it’s been shown to help our bodies to quickly clear cortisol from the bloodstream, super important for all of us and especially for those with type II diabetes or metabolic issues. This is seen primarily in levels around 1, 000mg.
  • Become bulletproof. In this article published in Psychology Today, those with high levels of Vitamin Cappear more resilient to mental and physical stress and bounce back faster than those with low Vitamin C counts.
  • Oh, and about high blood pressure… This study subjected participants to stressful situations and found that cortisol and high blood pressure were higher in those who did notsupplement.
  • Decreases in blood sugar, triglycerides, LDL cholesterol, and insulin levels. This study looked at 84 individuals with type II diabetes and found that those who supplemented with 1, 000mg of Vitamin C experienced a significant decrease in blood sugar, triglycerides, LDL cholesterol, and insulin levels (500mg did not produce significant changes.)
  • Reduce post-workout fatigue. This study found that supplementing 500mg post-workout can reduce fatigue associated with physical exertion.
  • Eat protein and fat with your meals and snacks. Vitamin C and glucose share similar chemical structures and compete for absorption (glucose typically wins out.) To increase Vitamin C absorption, be sure to reduce the overall glycemic load of your meals by consuming protein (and fat) with each one. It’s also helpful to monitor total carbohydrate intake and to choose root vegetables such as sweet potatoes, rutabaga, winter squash, and plantain and whole grains like quinoa, millet, and rice over processed sources such as breads, crackers, and pastas.
  • Some ideas to get you started. Start your day with a smoothie filled with fruit and vegetables, enjoy a big salad for lunch, snack on berries and other fresh fruit/veg (I’m loving watermelon right now) throughout the day, and serve broccoli and some sauerkraut with your dinner. Adding lemon to your water is another great option.

How Do I Detect Deficiency?

Inadequate intake and stress are the principal causes of deficiency. Some possible signs of Vitamin C deficiency include bleeding gums, chronic urinary tract infections, abnormal nose bleeds, slow wound healing, general feelings of weakness, shortness of breath, skin that’s easily bruised, excessive hair loss (more than what’s typical for you, though this can be a sign of other deficiencies such as iron and B-vitamins), and aching bones and joints. Also, if you’ve been under a lot of stress and you’re just tired as all get-out regardless of how much you sleep, you could probably benefit from adding more Vitamin C to your diet. Those on prescription drugs and those who smoke would also benefit from supplementation. Those who suffer from hemachromatosis (iron overload) should not supplement as Vitamin C assists with iron absorption.

How Do I Choose a High-Quality Supplement?

Buffered forms of Vitamin C (where other minerals like calcium and magnesium are added) are often encouraged because non-buffered ascorbic acid can bother the stomach. I also like to look for one that is corn-free, since the corn used in supplements is often genetically modified and/or can bother those who are sensitive to it.

Sarah Berneche

Sarah Berneche, 14 Denison Square, Toronto, ON, M5T 1K8