Who knew vitamin C could fend off heart disease, cancer, memory loss, and wrinkles? Here’s how to make it work for you.
Remember when vitamin C was hailed as the best, and maybe only, cold remedy? Then it became the Rodney Dangerfield of vitamins: It didn’t get any respect. The nutrient’s glory days of curing scurvy-riddled sailors via juicy citrus fruit seemed to be the only thing keeping its reputation afloat, particularly after a massive research review found C to be virtually useless for fighting colds. But don’t believe it. The truth is that scientists have taken a fresh look at C— and have found lots of new ways it can help you stay healthy and look and feel younger. Here’s the latest on what C can really do for you.
You can’t pick up a beauty product these days without the label touting its antioxidants. There’s a good reason: Antioxidants—like vitamin C—help turn back the clock. An October 2007 study published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition found that people who ate foods rich in vitamin C had fewer wrinkles and less age-related dry skin than those whose diets contained only small amounts of the vitamin. C helps form collagen, which smooths fine lines and wrinkles, according to Patricia Farris, MD, clinical assistant professor of dermatology at Tulane University in New Orleans.
The key seems to be C’s ability to fight free radicals, a by-product of cell metabolism in your body. Free radicals are thought to attack proteins, fats, and DNA—and break down collagen. C also seems to guard against ultraviolet rays from the sun, which can lead to freckles and a mottled complexion. “Vitamin C does some repair and firming on the skin,” Farris says.
What to do now: Use a topical vitamin C treatment daily after you wash your face and before you slather on moisturizer or sunscreen so it penetrates the skin. Farris recommends LaRoche-PosayActiveC facial moisturizer or SkinCeuticals C E Ferulic topical antioxidant treatment.
Protect your heart
Experts continue to argue about whether antioxidants like vitamin C can prevent heart disease. But some of the evidence is highly persuasive. When Finnish researchers looked at studies involving nearly 300,000 people over 10 years, they found that taking more than 700 milligrams of C supplements daily reduced the risk of cardiovascular disease by 25 percent. And a recent study from Harvard Uni- versity researchers hints that women who take a combo of 500 milligrams of vitamin C daily and 600 IU of vitamin E (another antioxidant) can cut their risk of stroke by 30 percent. It’s possible that people who take vitamin supplements simply have healthier lifestyles than those who don’t, which could explain this finding. It’s also possible, experts say, that C enhances the functioning of endothelial cells (which line the inside of all blood vessels), slowing artery clogging and lowering blood pressure.
What to do now: Eat a lot of fruits and vegetables, which are full of vitamin C as well as other healthy nutrients, and consider taking C and E supplements. Experts say there are essentially no risks, but first check with your doctor.
Keep cancer at bay
A diet full of vitamin C-rich fruits and vegetables isn’t just good for your heart, it may also lower your risks of bladder, esophagus, stomach, and lung cancers. Even though more research is needed to find out which compounds in fruits and veggies do the trick, researchers say the association is strong. Someday, C may also be used to treat cancer. High levels of C given intravenously seem to be toxic to cancer cells (studies on vitamin C taken orally showed no effect on cancerous cells). Intravenous C appears to trigger the formation of hydrogen peroxide, which kills some cancer cells while leaving healthy cells unharmed, says lead study author Mark Levine, MD, chief of the molecular and clinical nutrition section and senior staff physician at the National Institutes of Health. Levine says doctors at the University of Kansas Medical School and Jefferson Medical College in Philadelphia are trying this therapy on cancer patients.
What to do now: “Strive for five or more fruits and vegetables daily, in a rainbow of colors,” Levine says. “It’s where the most benefit is.
Can C fight off a cold?
There’s proof that it works.
The recent review of research that pooh-poohed vitamin C for colds isn’t the last word. Some researchers argue that the dosage used in many of the studies reviewed by the Cochrane Collaboration was too low (500 milligrams), and that because you lose a lot of C when you urinate, you need repeated dosing to knock out a cold.
“Taking C early on can help reduce the severity of colds, but it’s not clear why,” says Mary L. Hardy, MD, medical director of the Simms/ Mann—University of California, Los Angeles, Center for Integrative Oncology. She recommends taking 500 mg twice a day at the first sign of a cold and continuing for five to seven days. In fact, studies show that among people who are under physical stress (marathon runners, skiers, and those living in very cold climates) 1,000 mg of C daily cuts the incidence of colds in half.