Vitamin C: Myth vs. Reality

Vitamin C: Myth vs. Reality

I have been seeing some disconcerting misinformation presented on social media around vitamin C, specifically vitamin C in the form of ascorbic acid.

But before we dive into all of that, let’s make sure we’re on the same page about vitamin C’s function and importance, particularly as it pertains to those trying to conceive, pregnant, or breastfeeding.

 What does vitamin C do, exactly?

Great question! vitamin C is one of those nutrients we have heard about since we were kids (often in the same breath as “eat your fruits and vegetables”), but most of us aren’t quite sure why it is necessary for the body to function. 

Vitamin C is an important antioxidant and co-factor for both mom and baby. It helps mitigate oxidative stress and supports your body’s free radical defenses.* Free radicals are molecules produced when, for example, your body breaks down food or is exposed to toxins common in everyday life (1).

(Before you get nervous, yes, we are all exposed to toxins like pollution, plastics, pesticides, etc., but there are many ways to incorporate simple lifestyle changes to reduce exposure. That’ll make vitamin C’s giant job a little easier!)

Additionally, vitamin C is involved in a large swath of metabolic processes in the body. It plays a role in healing wounds and infections, and is needed to make collagen, a fibrous protein in connective tissue that supports nerves, immunity, bones, cartilage, and even blood.* In fact, collagen is crucial for the structural integrity of the placenta (2).  As if that job wasn’t important enough, vitamin C also helps make several hormones and chemical messengers used between the brain and nerves (3), and maximizes the antioxidant benefits of vitamin E by regenerating it from its oxidized form (4).* It also improves the absorption of nonheme iron.* If you remember from my iron article, non-heme iron is the type of iron found in plant foods and is generally less bioavailable than heme iron, which is found in animal foods. Timing eating foods high in vitamin C along with iron-rich plant based foods can help boost how efficiently your body absorbs that iron (5), which is especially great news for vegetarians* So, as you can see, vitamin C has got its work cut out for it!

Like many vitamins, I always advocate for looking for them first in foods. But…

While it can be possible to meet your vitamin C through diet, erring on the side of more - not less - is best when it comes to this incredibly helpful nutrient, especially while trying to conceive, pregnant, or breastfeeding*. In these cases, it would be an extreme challenge to get too much, even with supplementation and a vitamin c-rich diet.

3 reasons vitamin C is a crucial component in your fertility & prenatal supplements

  1. It can be depleted during periods of stress.* It is found in the adrenal glands and is released in response to stress, so focus on higher intake whenever you are going through a particularly tough period.
  2. It supports collagen synthesis, which is something that we need to produce more of in pregnancy and then postpartum due to the tissue remodeling necessary to support your growing uterus, repair the hole left by your placenta, and remodel your breast tissue for breastfeeding (6).* In men, it supports healthy sperm count, motility, and overall sperm integrity, so it’s important for both men and women to be thinking about vitamin C!
  3. It’s important for fetal brain development, especially the development of the hippocampus, or the memory center.* Recent research shows that newborns have higher vitamin C concentrations (measured in cord plasma at birth) than their mothers, which suggests that it’s critical for their development, so it’s important for you to have enough vitamin C intake since low maternal vitamin C status could lead to low levels in your newborn (7).*

You mentioned controversy. What’s that about?

Right. Back to that! 

The controversies all revolve around sourcing and production practices.

SOURCE: Natural vs. Synthetic

Like most nutrients, vitamin C, or ascorbic acid, can be found in nature or created synthetically in a lab. If you’re wondering which is better as a rule of thumb, I’m afraid that answer is not super simple: check out my thoughts on natural vs. synthetic supplements to learn why. But in the case of FullWell Prenatal and our men’s Vitality + Virility supplement, the choice regarding the form of vitamin C that I wanted to use was simple. I went with an ultra premium synthetic version of ascorbic acid.

Why didn’t I use whole food vitamin C in FullWell Prenatal and Vitality + Virility, you ask? 

Think about it. All things being equal, the sheer volume of whole food material I would have to implement would be enormous, easily increasing the number of capsules by 1-2 per day, which seems a big ask for mamas-to-be considering our current dosage is 8 per day. Even when broken up into smaller doses throughout the day like we recommend, I recognize that 8 capsules is not for the faint of heart! 

Another reason I opted to skip a whole food source of vitamin C was that it would significantly increase the cost, and for no reason: ascorbic acid has been shown repeatedly to have the same bioavailability as whole food based sources of vitamin C (7). One of my main focuses when I founded FullWell was to make the highest quality fertility care available and accessible to as many people as possible. I am uninterested in driving up the cost of our products unless there is a science-backed, medically sound reason that will benefit our consumers.

PRODUCTION PROCESS: Perplexing rumors and snowballing myths across the supplement industry as a whole 

There is some odd controversy on the consumer end that revolves around how synthetic vitamin C, or ascorbic acid, is produced and incorporated into supplements. Frankly, at least from where I stand considering how we produce FullWell Prenatal and Vitality + Virility, it’s the product of misinformation and emotional reactions coming together, growing bigger and bigger and veering further and further away from the truth. There are two major concerns we’ve heard from our customers: the fear of ascorbic acid coming from corn, and the fear/panic of ascorbic acid coming from mold. 

(Yes, ew. Mold. I know. Keep reading. Spoiler: you have nothing to fear/panic about.)

How FullWell physically sources and produces vitamin C

The ascorbic acid we use is not produced from genetically modified corn. I can see how this would be cause for concern as many consumers avoid corn for a whole host of reasons. The confusion likely comes from the 2-step fermentation process used to create ascorbic acid. That process begins with glucose, or sugar, used in raw material form. This glucose can come from any sugar-bearing plant, like corn, wheat, etc., so I understand the desire to be extra cautious, especially for those with food allergies or sensitivities. 

We use this 2-step fermentation process, however, the end product that goes into FullWell contains no corn at all. We verify this through 1) testing of the raw ingredient we use and 2) testing the finished product.

As far as the mold theory goes, there is no ascorbic acid that we are aware of that is fermented from black mold, and certainly not the ascorbic acid that we use! But I have a hunch as to the origins of this valid concern.

Aside from the 2-step fermentation process, there are newly developing fermentation processes within the industry, including one that utilizes wild strains of fungal microbes, like Aspergillus niger, to produce ascorbic acid. This is the controversial “mold” that most people reference on the internet and on social media. Since the current process of creating ascorbic acid (that 2-step fermentation process) is more energy intensive, researchers are trying to find ways to create a single step fermentation process. Putting agricultural waste to work (like citrus peels that are tossed out during the process of creating juice) is one method. In this process, A. niger strains are converted to L-galactonic acid which can then be converted to L-ascorbic acid. Why this method? L-Galactonic acid is an expensive chemical to produce on its own, so using citrus peels that would otherwise go to waste could theoretically be cheaper for ascorbic acid production overall (9). However, to reiterate, this is not FullWell’s manufacturing process. This is a new technology that I will need to see many more studies and more information on before I could even possibly consider it. Also… this is why it’s so important to have 3rd party testing be part of our routine, and we are proud to set some of the highest standards for quality in the supplement industry. 

Our process involves fermenting sorbitol using strains of microbiota that are able to convert sorbitol efficiently into vitamin C. These are safe and not present in the finished product. While I hate to sound like a broken record, we know this for a fact because we independently test and then 3rd party test every lot for harmful microorganisms, including molds. We would never release a product that didn’t pass with flying colors. In fact, I literally threw out the entire first run of prenatal when I started FullWell because it didn’t meet my standards. Of course I lost time and money, but I couldn’t imagine putting anything on your shelf that wasn’t 110% pure quality. That’s the FullWell way.

When it comes to FullWell’s supplements, you can always put your trust behind them. I personally oversee every aspect of formulation and production, and have the support of an outstanding team whose main goal is to get you the tools, resources, education, and support you need to nourish you and your baby.

*The information provided on this website is provided for educational purposes only and should not be treated as medical advice. FullWell makes no guarantees regarding the information provided or how products may work for any individual. If you suffer from a health condition, you should consult your health care practitioner for medical advice and before introducing any new products into your health care regimen. For more information please read out terms and conditions.

REFERENCES

  1. Vitamin C. The Mayo Clinic. Website. Accessed Mar 2022. https://www.mayoclinic.org/drugs-supplements-vitamin-c/art-20363932#:~:text=Vitamin%20C%20is%20an%20antioxidant,disease%2C%20cancer%20and%20other%20diseases.
  2. ​​Hirayama H. Biochemical studies on collagen in human placenta--relation of collagen to the construction and function of human placenta. Nihon Sanka Fujinka Gakkai Zasshi. 1983 Dec;35(12):2395-403. PMID: 6686603.
  3. Institute of Medicine (US) Panel on Dietary Antioxidants and Related Compounds. Dietary Reference Intakes for Vitamin C, Vitamin E, Selenium, and Carotenoids. Website. Published 2000. Accessed Mar 2022. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK225480/.
  4. Oregon State University, Linus Pauling Institute Micronutrient Information Center. Vitamin C. Website. Accessed Mar 2022. https://lpi.oregonstate.edu/mic/vitamins/vitamin-C.
  5. Harvard University, TH Chan School of Public Health. The Nutrition Source: Vitamin C. Website. Accessed Mar 2022. https://www.hsph.harvard.edu/nutritionsource/vitamin-c/.
  6. National Institutes of Health Office of Dietary Supplements. Vitamin C Fact Sheet for Health Professionals. Website. Accessed Mar 2022. https://ods.od.nih.gov/factsheets/VitaminC-HealthProfessional/.
  7. Coker, Sharna J. Smith-Díaz, Carlos C. Dyson, Rebecca M. Vissers, Margreet CM. Berry, Mary J. The Epigenetic Role of Vitamin C in Neurodevelopment. National Center for Biotechnology Information. Website. Published Jan 2022. Accessed Mar 2022.
  8. Carr, Anitra C. Vissers, Margreet C. M. Synthetic or Food-Derived Vitamin C—Are They Equally Bioavailable? US National Library of Medicine National Institutes of Health. Website. Published Nov 2013. Accessed Mar 2022. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3847730/.
  9. Kuivanen, Joosu. Dantas, Hugo. Mojzita, Dominik. Mallmann, Edgar. Biz, Alessandra. Krieger, Nadia. Mitchell, David. Richard, Peter. Conversion of orange peel to L-galactonic acid in a consolidated process using engineered strains of Aspergillus niger. Springer Open. Published Mar 2014. Accessed Mar 2022. https://amb-express.springeropen.com/articles/10.1186/s13568-014-0033-z.