Can vitamin C supplements boost mood, memory, intelligence and brain function?

Many fruit and veg are high in vitamin C“It’s smart to take vitamin C, and it may make you even smarter.” That’s the advice from Jean Carper, author of Your Miracle Brain. She outlines studies showing that vitamin C supplements can improve IQ, memory and other mental functions, especially in people with low levels of vitamin C. This isn’t surprising considering vitamin C is involved in making neurotransmitters – chemicals that affect our mind and mood.

Our bodies can’t make nor store vitamin C, so we must receive it every day through food and drinks and, if necessary, supplements. Getting the right amount of vitamin C is vital for good health because – as with all nutrients – having too much or too little can cause health problems.

Many people are at risk of having low levels of vitamin C, including smokers, people who eat few fruits and veggies, and women on the birth control pill. Are you receiving enough vitamin C for good health?

What is vitamin C used for in the body?
What evidence is there that vitamin C helps improve our mind and mood?
How much vitamin C should we receive daily?
What foods are high in vitamin C?
What destroys or reduces the effectiveness of vitamin C?
What are some food preparation, storage and cooking tips to preserve vitamin C?
What are the symptoms of vitamin C deficiency?
Can taking high amounts of vitamin C cause side effects?
Who is most at risk of vitamin C deficiency?
Who should avoid taking a vitamin C supplement?
Concluding comments

What is vitamin C used for in the body?

Vitamin C has many uses in the body, including:

  • brain and nerve function – vitamin C is involved in making the neurotransmitters noradrenaline and serotonin, which affect mood
  • helping protect us against many health problems, including age-related macular degeneration, asthma, cancer, the common cold, heart disease, high blood pressure and osteoarthritis
  • an antioxidant – antioxidants protect our bodies’ cells (including brain cells) from damage
  • helping absorb iron
  • supporting a healthy immune system, so help us fight diseases
  • muscle function
  • helping make collagen (connective tissue)
  • growth and repair of the body’s tissues
  • wound healing
  • repairing and maintaining bones, gums and teeth
  • a natural antihistamine (prevents the release of the chemical histamine in the body)

What evidence is there that vitamin C helps improve our mind and mood?

In a recent study, patients in Montreal’s Jewish General Hospital were randomly given either vitamin C or vitamin D supplements for seven to ten days. The patients given vitamin C quickly improved in mood, but the patients given vitamin D did not. The results were published in the journal Nutrition in August 2010.

Jean Carper wrote a chapter on the benefits of vitamin C for the brain in her book Your Miracle Brain. She says many studies show how higher amounts of vitamin C in the bloodstream can boost brain function at all ages and protect against age-related brain degeneration, including Alzheimer’s disease and strokes. Carper claims: “If you have a stroke, you may suffer less damage if your blood contains high amounts of vitamin C. That’s a clue scientists have picked up from hibernating animals”.

Below is a summary of some studies Carper describes that show vitamin C might help brain function.

In 1960 researchers from Texas Woman’s University in Texas gave 236 school children and 115 university students IQ tests. They also tested the vitamin C levels and classified the students as high or low. Generally students with the highest vitamin C levels had higher IQ scores by five to ten points.

The students were then given orange juice, high in vitamin C, at school for six months. After this time the students with originally high vitamin C levels improved very little in IQ scores. The IQ of the students with low vitamin C levels, however, increased by about four points, plus: “IQ scores generally rose along with blood vitamin C concentrations”, says Carper.

Researchers at the University of Sydney in Australia studied 117 elderly people. The study found that those who took vitamin C supplements were 40% less likely to have severe brain function problems compared to those who didn’t take vitamin C. This was true regardless of education level. When supplement takers also ate a high vitamin C diet, the chance of mental decline dropped to 32%.

A Swiss study of people aged 65 to 94 showed that those with the highest blood levels of vitamin C did better on memory tests than those with low levels.

How much vitamin C should we receive daily?

Countries and organizations differ regarding how much vitamin C they recommend we should each receive every day. Here are some recommendations for adults:

  • The World Health Organization: 45 milligrams (mg) per day
  • The United Kingdom’s Food Standards Agency (FSA): 40 mg per day
  • The United States and Health Canada 2007: both recommend 90 mg per day for males, and 75 mg per day for females

People who need more vitamin C include:

  • smokers
  • pregnant woman
  • breastfeeding women
  • people who drink high amounts of alcohol
  • people who are stressed for long periods of time

Talk to a relevant health professional about how much vitamin C is best for you, if you feel the need.

What foods are high in vitamin C?

Good sources of vitamin C include:

    Peppers (capsicums) are a great source of vitamin C

  • parsley
  • cherries, including acerola cherries and juice
  • peppers (capsicums – red, yellow and green)
  • guavas
  • currants
  • kale (raw)
  • spinach (raw)
  • kiwifruit
  • papaya (pawpaw)
  • broccoli (raw)
  • blackcurrants
  • citrus fruit and their juice, such as oranges, lemons, tangerines, mandarins and grapefruit
  • cantaloupes (rockmelons)
  • pineapples
  • berries, such as strawberries, raspberries, blueberries and cranberries
  • mangos
  • Brussels sprouts
  • tomatoes

What destroys or reduces the effectiveness of vitamin C?

Vitamin C is destroyed or reduced in effectiveness by:

  • light
  • heat
  • cooking, so cook fruit and veg for as little time as possible or eat them raw. Up to 100% of vitamin C can be lost during cooking.
  • oxygen, so exposure to air
  • cigarettes
  • antibiotics
  • aspirin
  • cortisone
  • drinking high amounts of alcohol
  • baking powder (bicarb soda)
  • cast iron cookware
  • copper cookware
  • high fever

What are some food preparation, storage and cooking tips to conserve vitamin C?

  • Eat fruit and veg raw or lightly cooked.
  • Cut fruit, veg and parsley shortly before eating them. Cutting them up increases their exposure to air, which can, in time, destroy vitamin C.
  • Reuse the water you cook veggies in by adding it to soups, stock and sauces. Veggie water contains vitamins and minerals, so throwing it out is a waste.
  • Shorten cooking time by cooking veggies in small amounts of water.
  • Don’t keep fruit and veg standing at room temperature for long periods of time.
  • Don’t keep fruit and veg in light or air for long. Store them in airtight containers where appropriate.
  • Don’t soak veggies.
  • Don’t use baking powder (bicarb soda) when cooking veggies; it destroys vitamin C.
  • Don’t cook fruit and veg in copper or cast iron cookware. Use stainless steel instead.

What are the symptoms of vitamin C deficiency?

As with other vitamin deficiencies, symptoms of lack of vitamin C can range from mild to severe. This depends on, for example, how low vitamin C levels are in the body and how long the person has been low in vitamin C. Severe vitamin C deficiency is called scurvy.

Signs and symptoms of too little vitamin C include:

  • bruising easily
  • slow wound healing
  • dry skin, hair and/or mucous membranes
  • more frequent infections
  • anemia (lack of red blood cells)
  • weak muscles
  • general weakness
  • aches and pains
  • feeling too tired
  • bleeding, such as internally and/or from the nose, gums and scars
  • gingivitis (inflamed gums)
  • weak tooth enamel
  • ulcers
  • swollen and painful joints
  • weight gain because of slow metabolism

Can taking high amounts of vitamin C cause side effects?

Vitamin C has low toxicity, but taking very high doses of vitamin C (megadoses) might cause health problems, such as:

  • anemia, by interfering with a protein needed to make red blood cells
  • an increase in toxic metal absorption, such as mercury
  • blood clotting
  • diarrhea
  • flushed face
  • headaches
  • increased urination
  • indigestion
  • iron poisoning in people taking iron tablets, because vitamin C increases iron absorption
  • kidney and bladder stones
  • nausea
  • rebound scurvy after stopping megadoses of vitamin C
  • stomach cramps
  • vitamin B12 deficiency
  • vomiting

Megadoses of vitamin C can cause a change in the action of some drugs, such as antidepressants, aspirin, the birth control pill and warfarin.

High doses of vitamin C can also interfere with lab tests for blood glucose (so make a person appear to have diabetes), uric acid, cholesterol, hidden blood in the stool, and blood in the urine.

Who is most at risk of vitamin C deficiency?

People most at risk of being low in vitamin C include:

  • those who eat few fruits and vegetables
  • those with little knowledge of vitamin C combined with poor cooking and eating habits – people in this category often have vitamin C deficiency
  • those who drink a lot of alcohol
  • women on the birth control pill
  • those taking high doses of aspirin
  • cigarette smokers
  • newborn infants of mothers who have taken large doses of vitamin C can adapt to the high level of vitamin C in the uterus, so can suffer from scurvy after birth
  • young children fed only cow’s milk for a long period of time
  • elderly people in institutions
  • those in famine

Who should avoid taking a vitamin C supplement?

TheDrugSafety.com says people with the following health problems should not take vitamin C supplements:

  • diabetes
  • increased iron absorption (such as people with the health problem hemochromatosis)
  • kidney disease or kidney failure
  • leukemia
  • polycythemia (an increase in the blood’s total cell mass)
  • thalassemia (hereditary anemia)
  • thrombosis

Vitamin C supplements can also cause problems in people with sickle cell anemia, G-6PD deficiency, kidney stones, or gout, says TheDrugSafety.com.

If you suffer from one or more of the above health problems and have symptoms of vitamin C deficiency, see a relevant health professional to find out if you lack vitamin C and need to take a supplement.

Some brands of vitamin C contain artificial yellow color and/or artificial sweetener. Don’t take vitamin C supplements with these additives, if you have a food reaction to one or both them.

Concluding comments

Vitamin C appears to help boost mood and mental function, and help protect us from some diseases.

There are many groups at high risk of low levels of vitamin C and these people, especially, need to ensure they get enough vitamin C for good health and well-being.

Vitamin C is sensitive – it can be destroyed by many things – so we must be careful how we store, prepare and cook our food so we retain as much of this essential vitamin as we can.

Aim for balance in how much vitamin C we receive because, as with all nutrients, having too much or too little can cause health problems.

written by Nyomi Graef

References:
Brody, JE, 1984, Personal Health; Vitamin Therapy: Toxic Side Effects of Massive Doese [sic], The New York Times,
http://www.nytimes.com/1984/03/14/garden/personal-health-vitamin-therapy-toxic-side-effects-of-massive-doese.html?pagewanted=all

Carper, J, 2000, Your Miracle Brain, New York, USA: HarperCollins

Carter, W, 2005, Home Doctor: Know Your Body & Look After It, Dingley, Australia: Hinkler Books

Gitig, D, 2010, Vitamin C Improves the Mood of Acutely Hospitalized Patients, Highlight Health,
http://www.highlighthealth.com/diet-and-nutrition/vitamin-c-improves-the-mood-of-acutely-hospitalized-patients/

Holford, P, 1992, Optimum Nutrition, London, UK: ION Press

Insel, PM et al., 1994, Core Concepts in Health, Brief Seventh Edition, Mountain View, USA: Mayfield Publishing Company

McKeith, G, 2004, You Are What You Eat, Melbourne, Australia: Penguin Books

Somerville, R (Ed.), 1997, The Alternative Advisor, Virginia, USA: Time-Life

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http://whqlibdoc.who.int/publications/2004/9241546123_chap7.pdf

Vitamin C and Bioflavonoids, 2010, TheDrugSafety.com,
http://thedrugsafety.com/herbs/vitamin-c-and-bioflavonoids/

Vitamin C (Ascorbic acid), 2010, MedlinePlus,
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Wahlqvist, ML, (Ed.), 1988, Food and Nutrition in Australia (3rd ed.), Melbourne, Australia: Thomas Nelson

Winter Griffith, H, 1995, The Vitamin Fact File, London, UK: Diamond Books

Zhang, M et al., 2011, Vitamin C provision improves mood in acutely hospitalized patients, Nutrition, Vol. 27, Iss. 5, 530-533,
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6 Responses to “Can vitamin C supplements boost mood, memory, intelligence and brain function?”

  1. Mark says:

    AWESOME ARTICLE,THANK YOU,GOD BLESS,MARK.

  2. giselle says:

    Why does birth control lower vitamin C in women who use it?

  3. Nyomi says:

    Hi Giselle,

    Thanks for your comment. To answer your question, according to the University of Maryland Medical Center (UMMC): “Vitamin C can cause a rise in estrogen levels when taken with these drugs [these drugs being the birth control pill and hormone replacement therapy]. Oral estrogens can also decrease the effects of vitamin C in the body.”

    Read this and more in the UMMC’s article about ascorbic acid at http://umm.edu/health/medical/altmed/supplement/vitamin-c-ascorbic-acid, if you’re interested.

    Information under the heading titled “Vitamin C” in the following Livestrong.com article might also be useful: http://www.livestrong.com/article/517273-does-taking-vitamins-affect-birth-control/

    Kind regards,
    Nyomi

  4. Nicole Whd says:

    Amazing article. Very informative and interesting.

  5. Nyomi says:

    Thanks very much Nicole. I’m glad you like my article.

    Best wishes,
    Nyomi

  6. Vid Grosek says:

    Thank you for this article, I have written similar things on this subjects, since I am strugling with anemia and everything.
    This are my favorite Iron rich food recipes

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