Vitamin C: Myth vs. Reality


Vitamin C is a crucial component in your fertility journey.
It supports collagen synthesis and is essential for fetal brain development.
It also improves the absorption of non-heme iron, which is critical during pregnancy when the body requires more iron for mom and baby.
Vitamin C: Myth vs. Reality

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

But before we dive into all that, let’s ensure we’re on the same page about vitamin C’s function and importance, particularly concerning 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 sure why the body must function. 

Vitamin C is an important antioxidant and co-factor for mom and baby. It helps reduce oxidative stress and supports your body’s free radicals. Oxidative stress is an imbalance of free radicals and antioxidants in the body.

Unfortunately, given our modern environments, it is almost impossible to avoid all oxidative stress (1). So, while we can’t wholly avoid it, it’s essential to address sources of oxidative stress in every aspect of your life to help restore this balance, especially if fertility is your current focus. 

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!

You see, vitamin C is involved in a large swath of body processes. 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 blood (2).* In fact, collagen is crucial for the structural integrity of the placenta (3).  As if that job wasn’t important enough, vitamin C also helps make several hormones and chemical messengers used between the brain and nerves and maximizes the antioxidant benefits of vitamin E by regenerating it from its oxidized form (45).* 

As a food-first dietitian, I will always advocate that you aim to get your vitamins and minerals through what you eat. But…

While it can be possible to meet your vitamin C needs through diet alone, eating more - not less - is best, especially while trying to conceive, pregnant, or breastfeeding.*  During pregnancy, you can overdue it with excessive doses of vitamin C, and would aim to keep it under 20000mg daily. Nevertheless, it’s important to keep in mind that vitamin C is water-soluble, and depending upon your needs, your body will only absorb what it needs and excrete the excess amounts through urine.

Four reasons vitamin C is a crucial component in your fertility journey

  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 we need to produce more of in pregnancy and 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 men and women need to think about vitamin C!
  3. It’s essential for fetal brain development, especially the hippocampus, or 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 (7).*
  4. It improves the absorption of nonheme iron, which is crucial during pregnancy when the body requires more iron for mom and baby. If you remember from my iron deep dive, non-heme iron is the iron found in plant foods and is generally less bioavailable than heme iron, which is found in animal foods. Additionally, timing the consumption of foods high in vitamin C alongside iron-rich plant-based foods can help boost how efficiently your body absorbs that iron (8). This is why we include vitamin C from acerola cherry in our Iron Bump formula—to help you get the most bang for your buck. It also counteracts the adverse effects of specific dietary substances like calcium, phosphate, tannins (from tea, coffee, and chocolate), and phytates (from grains and nuts) that can disrupt iron absorption. So, as you can see, vitamin C has got its work cut out for it!
Women's Prenatal
Men's Multivitamin
Iron Bump (coming soon)

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 our Women’s Prenatal and Men’s Multivitamin, the choice regarding the form of vitamin C that I wanted to use was straightforward. I went with an ultra-premium synthetic version of ascorbic acid. We chose a whole-food vitamin C source from acerola cherry for our Iron Bump because the amount needed for iron absorption is less than in our complementary prenatal and multivitamin.

Why didn’t I use whole food vitamin C in the Women’s  Prenatal and Men’s Multivitamin, you ask? 

Getting the evidence-based suggested amount in each capsule can be challenging with whole foods supplements. Vitamin C is an excellent example of this. Whole-food vitamin C sources can be problematic due to the massive amount of whole-food material you must include to achieve evidence-based doses of vitamin C. For our Women’s Prenatal, the serving size would increase by two capsules or more!

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

Several myths are circulating around how synthetic vitamin C from ascorbic acid is produced and incorporated into supplements. Frankly, from where I stand, considering how we make our Women’s Prenatal and Men’s Multivitamin, it’s the product of misinformation and emotional reactions coming together, growing bigger and bigger, and veering further and further away from the truth. We’ve heard three significant concerns from our customers: 

  1. The fear of ascorbic acid being derived from corn 
  2. The panic of ascorbic acid being derived from mold
  3. The incorrect notion that ascorbic acid depletes vitamin C

How FullWell physically sources and produces vitamin C

The ascorbic acid is not produced from genetically modified corn. This would cause concern, as many consumers avoid corn. The confusion comes from the 2-step fermentation process, which begins with glucose, or sugar, used in raw material form. This glucose can come from any sugar-bearing plant, so I understand the desire to be extra cautious, especially for those with food allergies or sensitivities to corn.

We do use this 2-step fermentation process. However, the end product that goes into FullWell contains no corn. We verify this by 1) testing 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 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 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 make a single-step fermentation process. One method is putting agricultural waste to work (like citrus peels tossed out while creating juice). 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, 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 information on before I could even consider using it. Also, this is why it’s so important to have 3rd party testing be part of our routine. 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 can 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 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. I 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 oversee every aspect of formulation and production and have the support of an outstanding team whose primary goal is to get you the tools, resources, education, and support you need to nourish you and your baby.”
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* The information 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 before introducing any new products into your health care regimen. For more information, please read our terms and conditions.