Vitamin C more or less started the whole current wave of alternative health more than 50 years ago when Linus Pauling, a Nobel Prize winner, first told the world this vitamin could treat the common cold – and cancer, too.
That was many moons ago. It’s easy to forget about vitamin C when looking for a brain supplement. Everyone knows about it (or so people think), and surely all of us are taking enough already.
What could possibly be new about this well-known nutrient? Quite a lot, it turns out.
Evidence of vitamin C’s importance to the brain can be seen in the fact that brain cells latch onto vitamin C like their lives depend it – and they do! That’s why the concentration of vitamin C in the brain’s neurons is 200 times higher than the concentration of vitamin C in your blood.1
Researchers believe that if you’re missing out on vitamin C, then oxidative stress – an excess of free radicals — makes you much more liable to fall victim to Alzheimer’s disease and other neurodegenerative conditions. As the number of free radicals grows, oxidative stress can kill neurons or make them malfunction.
Aging Brains More Likely to Lose Their C
Getting vitamin C to the brain is no simple task. While most animals can make their own vitamin C, our bodies can’t. We humans have to eat it in food – or take supplements – and then vitamin C has to be taken out of the digestive tract and sent into the brain and other organs.
Part of the process of getting this nutrient to brain cells involves molecular carriers that transport vitamin C into the cerebrospinal fluid that flows into the brain. Another route works with transporters that carry vitamin C in the blood and move it to the blood-brain barrier where it is escorted into brain tissue.
The blood-brain barrier is supposed to be a one-way street for vitamin C, meant to keep most vitamin C from leaving the brain once it gets in. But researchers believe that as we age, the barrier’s ability to retain the vitamin in brain tissue starts to falter, allowing the vitamin to seep out and the brain’s levels of vitamin C to drop.
Don’t Wait Till You’ve Got Dementia to Up Your C
While vitamin C is crucial for keeping the fats in neurons and brain cell membranes from being oxidized, using vitamin C to fight conditions like Alzheimer’s disease is not a straightforward process. When researchers have given vitamin C to people who already have Alzheimer’s disease, they haven’t found any benefit.
But when they look at people who consume vitamin C as they age – before memory problems have started – they have uncovered evidence that it may be a preventive that lowers the risk for Alzheimer’s.
For example, a six-year study in the Netherlands looked at the brain health of more than 5,000 people over the age of 55. The researchers found that folks who consumed vitamin C supplements (as well as vitamin E), ran a much lower risk of developing Alzheimer’s disease during the research.
In this study, the protective benefit of vitamin C supplements was particularly effective for the people who were smokers.2
The research into vitamin C’s brain health benefits makes it clear – the sooner you start eating plenty of fruits and vegetables and taking vitamin C supplements, the better off your memory will be. A study at Vanderbilt University concludes – “There is overwhelming evidence that a lifetime of good nutrition, thus avoiding sub-clinical deficiency in vitamin C and other antioxidants, is necessary to restrict the accumulation of damage.”3
So don’t wait. Put vitamin C to work for your brain today.