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PSA: Vitamin C Supplements Can Cause These Surprising Side Effects

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Whether taken orally for its immune health benefits or applied via a serum to promote glowing skin, vitamin C seems to always be trending–and for good reason!*

Vitamin C plays key roles in immune, cognitive, cardiovascular, and skin health, as well as iron absorption and collagen synthesis.* But since the body can’t produce it spontaneously, we have to seek C out in food sources, and many people do a less-than-stellar job at meeting their daily needs: Almost half of American adults have a vitamin C gap in their diet, and an estimated 108 million of us have insufficient vitamin C levels, per blood tests. (That’s 42% of the U.S. adult population!)

Vitamin C sources: diet and supplementation.

While you can get varying amounts of vitamin C from fruits and vegetables (e.g., oranges, bell peppers, cruciferous vegetables, and kiwis), statistics demonstrate getting the essential vitamin from diet alone is not a foolproof strategy since 46% of U.S. adults are failing to consume just 60 to 75 milligrams of the water-soluble micronutrient daily (i.e., less than baseline daily requirements).

To guarantee you’re getting enough of the key vitamin and to leverage its full array of health benefits, a daily vitamin C supplement (preferably one that delivers an effective dose of vitamin C in a highly bioavailable form) is an effective solution.*

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Potential short-term side effects.

Vitamin C supplements are widely recommended and generally well-tolerated, but, as with any supplement, first- time users may be wary of side effects. We consulted the experts to get the lowdown on what to expect.

Chest indigestion.

Chest indigestion is one of the most common side effect observed by Alexander Michels, Ph.D., clinical research coordinator at Oregon State University’s Linus Pauling Institute. “This is usually because people are consuming the acidic form of vitamin C–ascorbic acid–and their stomach can’t handle the extra acid.”

Digestive side effects.

Side effects like gas, bloating, gastrointestinal discomfort, and changes in regularity may occur at very high doses of vitamin C. According to Michels, this is most common beyond 2,000 milligrams–which, for reference, is equivalent to approximately 40 small oranges and twice the dose of most high-potency supplements.

General GI concerns, struggling to sleep deeply, and flushed skin are other potential side effects, says Christyna Johnson, M.S., L.D., RDN, registered dietitian and host of the Intuitive Eating for the Culture podcast. But even then, Michels reassures that, “For many people, these side effects are mild and transient.”

Skin care side effects.

As for skin care, Michels warns that some products with vitamin C may cause mild irritation–especially if you go out in the sun right after applying them. Since vitamin C supplements can provide similar skin health benefits to topical products, you can always get your dose orally to sidestep bothersome concerns.

Each body is different, and there’s no dose that can definitively guarantee side effects for everyone. Michels says that even at the highest doses (again, above 2,000 milligrams), side effects often dissipate after a week as the body adjusts.

Johnson also notes that GI concerns typically resolves once the vitamin C has been properly absorbed into the system.

Taking a vitamin C supplement with water can help aid absorption and minimize the mild side effects that may come when unabsorbed leftovers need to be disposed of (i.e., via urine). To further optimize absorption, consider a highly bioavailable form of vitamin C –such as PureWay-C(TM), a vitamin C-lipid-bioflavonoid complex featured in mbg’s vitamin C potency+. If side effects persist, it’s always smart to consult a health care provider.

“This vegan formula provides an ultra-potent 1,000 mg dose of vitamin C with built-in absorption technology“*

Ella Davar, R.D., CDN
Longevity Dietitian

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Positive long-term side effects of vitamin C.

Vitamin C may be best known as a first line of defense when you’re feeling under the weather, but it plays a number of critical functions and provides a slew of whole-body benefits.*

“Once you have taken enough vitamin C that you are no longer at risk of deficiency, the remainder goes to antioxidant protection,”* Michels says. This manifests in supporting the immune, cardiovascular, and central nervous systems by delivering anti-inflammatory actions, as well as, in Michels’ words, “protecting you from free radicals that we encounter in our daily lives.”*

Here are some specific health benefits you can expect when maintaining sufficient vitamin C status:

Provides immune support.

Arguably its most famous benefit, vitamin C is well-known as an avid supporter of both innate and adaptive immunity–i.e., the immunity we’re born with and the immune response that’s triggered when unwanted microorganisms enter the body.*

Vitamin C not only plays a role in the production of white blood cells, but also stimulates the creation of antibodies and helps T cells reach maturity.*

Researchers studying the link between immunity and vitamin C believe that leukocytes (the umbrella term for white blood cells that help the body fight infection–like T cells) may use vitamin C to protect themselves from oxidative stress.*

As mbg’s VP of scientific affairs Ashley Jordan Ferira, Ph.D., RDN, has previously explained, “You can’t even create the immune cells to fight for you without vitamin C.”*

Promotes skin health.

Another buzzworthy benefit of vitamin C is brighter, more youthful-looking skin.* Because the body requires vitamin C to produce collagen–the structural protein that makes up skin and connective tissue–getting enough vitamin C can help enhance skin elasticity (think bouncy, firm skin).*

But the skin benefits don’t stop there. In a 2015 study published by Clinical, Cosmetic and Investigational Dermatology, researchers found that topical vitamin C increased collagen production and made skin brighter in healthy female participants.*

According to a 2017 Nutrients scientific review, consuming vitamin C via both food and supplements has been associated with improved skin elasticity and texture, less wrinkling, and enhanced protection from unwanted effects of UV light.* Interestingly, researchers found that topical vitamin C products also demonstrate photoprotective properties against UV light, but noted that ingesting vitamin C may be more effective.*

Supports bone and joint health.

Collagen gets a lot of buzz for its skin benefits, but it plays an equally critical role in bone and joint health, supporting everything from joint mobility to musculoskeletal integrity.* Because vitamin C is a necessary prerequisite to collagen synthesis, getting optimal levels of vitamin C is essential to comprehensively support musculoskeletal health.*

In a 2020 study from The Journal of Nutrition, researchers found higher vitamin C intake among older adults was associated with greater muscle mass, especially in women.* Given the overwhelming scientific evidence that vitamin C levels decrease as we age, achieving sufficient vitamin C status becomes increasingly important later in life to promote whole-body health and longevity.*

Aids in iron absorption.

For those who avoid animal products (especially red meat), vitamin C can play a crucial role in ensuring adequate iron absorption.*

While iron is found in plant-based sources like broccoli and spinach, plants only contain non-heme iron, which is more difficult to absorb than heme iron–the kind found solely in animal sources. Luckily, vitamin C can convert non-heme iron into a more absorbable form and seriously enhance its bioavailability, Johnson says.*

Dosing: How much vitamin C is too much?

Since nearly half of U.S. adults fail to get enough vitamin C daily, it’s unlikely that the average person will overdo it on vitamin C.

According to the National Academies, the recommended daily intake of vitamin C is 75 milligrams for women and 90 milligrams for men, or about 1.5 oranges.

However, Michels says a daily minimum of at least 200 milligrams is needed to maximize blood concentrations of vitamin C. He recommends 400 milligrams daily, though evidence suggests that even higher doses can help bolster vitamin C status and promote optimal cardiovascular benefits.*

When it comes to safety, those taking high-dose vitamin C supplements shouldn’t worry–up to 2,000 milligrams of vitamin C daily is considered safe. Beyond that, the side effects listed above may occur, but are generally mild and short lived, Michels says.

That’s because vitamin C is water soluble, meaning it’s transported through the bloodstream and doesn’t need another mechanism to move around, like a fat-soluble vitamin does. Thanks to vitamin C’s water solubility, “the body can easily remove any excess through the kidneys,” Michels explains.

Vitamin C interactions.

For the average person, the most notable interaction to look out for with vitamin C is its ability to weaken the effects of certain over-the-counter medications. Michels says that vitamin C can increase excretion of certain products into the urine, which quickens the rate at which it leaves the body and shortens the amount of time you feel its effects.

Additionally, people with certain health concerns should take extra care with higher-dose vitamin C supplements:

Individuals with renal health concerns should talk to their health care provider before adding a vitamin C supplement to their regimen, since, according to Michels, ascorbic acid can break down into oxalate (too much of which can affect kidney function).

Those taking blood-thinning medications should also speak with their health care provider before taking a new vitamin C supplement, since it may alter its effects.

Those with very high levels of iron may also want to exercise caution, since vitamin C can increase the amount of iron the body absorbs.

The takeaway.

While vitamin C plays a number of critical roles in the body and provides a slew of musculoskeletal, skin, and immune health benefits, most people don’t get enough.* Premium vitamin C supplements are a convenient and effective way to achieve and maintain sufficiency.*

Because vitamin C is a water-soluble vitamin, any excess is flushed out with urine. And while side effects may occur at very high doses, they’re likely to be mild. Of course, it’s always smart to check with your health care provider when introducing supplements to your daily routine, or experiencing any unwanted side effects.

If you’re looking for a high-quality vitamin C supplement, check out mbg’s vitamin C potency+ or peruse our list of best vitamin C supplements on the market.*

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vitamin C potency+

vitamin C potency+

1,000 mg of vitamin C with superior absorption & citrus bioflavonoid technology*

vitamin C potency+

vitamin C potency+

1,000 mg of vitamin C with superior absorption & citrus bioflavonoid technology*

? ? ? ? ?

? ? ? ? ?

(30)

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