Dr Libby: 5 lesser known benefits of taking vitamin C

Stir-frying vegetables instead of boiling them will retain more vitamin C.
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Stir-frying vegetables instead of boiling them will retain more vitamin C.

Many people tell me they take a vitamin C supplement as part of their winter wellness regime, to help ward off illness during the colder months.

Vitamin C is well known for its bolstering effect on the immune system, so I love to boost my vitamin C intake whenever I'm travelling, too.

But this superstar nutrient has many other functions that are critical to how we look, feel and function on a daily basis.

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It's a nutrient that we must consume daily, and consuming additional amounts above what is needed to prevent a deficiency is associated with health benefits.

Just in case you needed more reasons to love vitamin C, here are five of its lesser-known functions in the body:

ADRENAL HEALTH

The adrenal glands love vitamin C! The adrenals produce our stress hormones (adrenalin and cortisol) as well as some of our sex hormones, so adrenal function – for which vitamin C is essential – is inextricably linked to how we feel.

Vitamin C is used up when stress hormones are produced, so requirements may be increased during periods of stress (which unfortunately seems to be more often than not, these days). Chronic stress can also impact immune function and vitamin C is wonderfully supportive for this.

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EFFICIENT FAT BURNING

Vitamin C is involved in the production of carnitine, a compound that is essential for transporting fatty acids into the mitochondria, the energy factories of each cell (think of each mitochondria as a mouse running on a wheel), so that they can be used for energy.

Really think about this – fat is a slow burning fuel, so if you want to avoid an energy rollercoaster you want this process to be functioning optimally.

MAINTAINING THE BODY'S STRUCTURE

Vitamin C is required for the production of collagen, a structural protein in bones, tendons, cartilage and skin. While many people have heard about the importance of collagen in the skin from a beauty perspective, its other roles seem to be less appreciated.

Healthy bones and tendons are critical to our ability to move with ease and therefore for maintaining our body's functionality, and this has a huge impact on quality of life. Vitamin C is also essential for wound healing.

IMPROVES IRON ABSORPTION

Iron absorption from plant-based foods is enhanced in the presence of vitamin C. This is important considering that iron deficiency is the most common nutritional deficiency in the world.

The presence of 75 milligrams of vitamin C can increase the amount of plant-based iron absorbed by around 300 per cent, or even more if the person is iron deficient. Include vitamin C rich vegetables with your meals. Brassica family vegetables such as broccoli, cauliflower, brussels sprouts and kale are good sources.

REDUCED RISK OF CHRONIC DISEASES

Vitamin C is a powerful antioxidant that reduces damage and inflammation in the body, helping to protect you from degenerative diseases. There is evidence that eating plenty of fruit and vegetables (which tend to be rich sources of vitamin C) as well as adequate vitamin C levels are associated with reduced risk of cardiovascular disease and some cancers. 

Great food sources of vitamin C include broccoli, capsicum, kiwifruit and citrus fruits, however it's important to know that preparation and cooking methods can influence the vitamin C content of these foods. Vitamin C is sensitive to heat and is water-soluble so it can be lost in water. Lightly steaming or stir-frying vegetables instead of boiling them will retain more vitamin C.

Dr Libby is a nutritional biochemist, best-selling author and speaker. The advice contained in this column is not intended to be a substitute for direct, personalised advice from a health professional. See drlibby.com

 - Stuff

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