Vitamin C: Supplements Or Whole Foods?
All of us want to eat healthier, and we know that vitamins – including vitamin C, vital to so many important bodily functions – are crucial to maintaining overall good health.
Is it better to get your vitamins from supplements, or by eating vitamin-rich foods? Or, is there no difference at all?
The Science of Vitamin C
The benefits of vitamin C are well established – in fact, we cannot maintain healthy bodies without it. Vitamin C, also known as ascorbic acid, is vital to human health, but we cannot store it in our bodies or produce it ourselves. That means we need to eat it in one form or another.
It is used by the human body in many ways.
• It is a building block for veins and arteries, cartilage, muscle, and collagen.
• The body uses vitamin C to help heal damaged tissues.
• It helps your body absorb and store crucial iron.
Without enough vitamin C (vitamin C deficiency) it can lead a health condition called scurvy with severe symptoms:
• Bleeding gums;
• Poor healing from bruises and wounds.
Supplements vs. Foods
The theory behind taking vitamin and other nutrient supplements such as minerals and amino acids is sound. Along with what you consume in your diet, it should increase your overall intake of those nutrients, and the benefits you get from them should likewise increase. It’s such a persuasive argument that about 75 percent of Americans, by a recent survey, take dietary supplements in one form or another, and that’s up 10 percent in just 10 years. It’s estimated that about 12 percent of the American population takes vitamin C supplements.
As the evidence comes in, however, that simple premise has been put to the test – and as it turns out, in some cases, the opposite is even true.
A 2018 study by Canadian researchers published in the Journal of the American College of Cardiology analyzed the results from a number of studies that focused on the incidence of cardiovascular disease and death from any cause, as it related to the intake of supplements vs. fresh fruits and vegetables.
• There was no effect on either the risk of cardiovascular disease, or death by any cause, associated with using multivitamin, vitamins C, D, β-carotene, calcium, and selenium supplements.
• There was an inverse relationship noted between consuming citrus fruits as whole foods with the risk of cardiovascular disease, or death by any cause – eat more, less risk.
• There was actually an increased risk of both associated with antioxidant or niacin supplements.
• The exception to the rule for supplements emerged as folic acid, and B-vitamin complexes containing folic acid. Increased intake of these correlated with a decrease of cardiovascular disease, and strokes in particular.
The Bottom Line: Get Your Vitamin C From The Foods You Eat
Fang Fang Zhang, Ph.D., an associate professor at the Friedman School of Nutrition Science and Policy, was one of the researchers in a 2019 study that compared dietary supplement use and nutrient intake in American adults. In the paper, he states, “some studies have found associations between excess nutrient intake and adverse outcomes, including increased risk of certain cancers.”
“Our results support the idea that, while supplement use contributes to an increased level of total nutrient intake, there are beneficial associations with nutrients from foods that aren’t seen with supplements.”