Vitamins and minerals are much more important for health and performance than macronutrients like carbs and protein. Yet they are usually completely overlooked by fitness enthusiasts. Everybody talks about carbs, and we’ve all been asked how much protein we eat. But rarely does anyone ask “where do you get your zinc?” or “how much vitamin C do you get per day?”
This is a huge error in our opinion.
If you want to maximize your health, extend your lifespan, and stay as fit and functional as possible into well into old age, then overlooking vitamins and minerals is a big mistake.
And of all the vitamins, none are quite as important for health and longevity as Vitamin C.
What Does Vitamin C Do?
Vitamin C has lots of different functions in the human body. It is necessary for the carrying out of several vital bodily functions.
Vitamin C is an essential nutrient. It is necessary for the process of tissue repair, the formation of certain neurotransmitters, the function of certain enzymes, and it plays a major role in the regulation of the immune system (alongside the gut microbiome). These bodily processes are necessary for life. They aren’t just preferable; if you can’t synthesize certain enzymes or if your white blood cells aren’t working, then you will eventually DIE.
Severe Vitamin C deficiency causes the disease Scurvy, which is essentially just the name given to the symptoms of having too little vitamin C! The symptoms of Scurvy include shortness of breath, bleeding gums, bone pain, lethargy, malaise, loss of teeth, and poor wound healing. Eventually, if left untreated (by the administration of Vitamin C), Scurvy progresses to convulsions and ultimately, death.
So when we say that Vitamin C is important, WE MEAN IT!
It is called an essential nutrient for a reason – it’s not optional!
Vitamin C is needed for the body to carry out essential functions.
But it isn’t just a case of ensuring the bare minimum gets done – you don’t just need to make sure you have sufficient Vitamin C to survive the day. If you care about optimizing your health and longevity, then you really want to be taking full advantage of Vitamin C’s power by getting a lot of the stuff.
Having relatively low Vitamin C levels has been associated with poor performance in a number of areas.
For example, studies have shown that cognitive impairment (of various kinds) is correlated with lower plasma levels of Vitamin C.
In at least one study, researchers found that Alzheimer’s patients had lower levels of Vitamin C in their blood than the general population. Now, the researchers also found that Alzheimer’s patients had lower levels of folate and B12 in their blood. They also never insinuated that Vitamin C is some kind of safeguard against Alzheimer’s. But the correlation is real, and we think it is probably quite meaningful.
It’s also been repeatedly demonstrated that low levels of Vitamin C cause a poorly functioning immune system.
A fascinating paper published in 2006 summed up Vitamin C’s role as an immune system-booster very well: “These trials document that adequate intakes of vitamin C and zinc ameliorate symptoms and shorten the duration of respiratory tract infections including the common cold. Furthermore, vitamin C and zinc reduce the incidence and improve the outcome of pneumonia, malaria, and diarrhea infections, especially in children in developing countries.”
What’s more, the relationships mentioned above seem to be direct and proportional. That is, the more severe the deficiency, the more severe the cognitive impairment, and the higher the vitamin C levels, the more robust the immune system seems to be.
We think this is an area that needs to be studied a lot more. We can’t yet say with certainty how much of an effect Vitamin C has, or what an ideal level would be. But clearly Vitamin C intake affects different, major aspects of performance.