Vitamin C and COVID: You’re Probably Doing It Wrong
Here’s what’s happening 9 months into this pandemic: Everybody and their mother is looking for Vitamin C for immune health.
I’ve made my position clear a few times now. In case you’ve missed it, let me recap… While I could definitely make a boatload of money promoting this profitable supplement for no good reason, I don’t believe there is any clinical justification for Vitamin C supplementation, especially with COVID.
Despite this, it’s a “vital” part of everyone’s COVID cocktail.
Regular readers know that I raised the white flag in defeat. I threw up (in more ways than one) my “COVID Compromise” with my article, Immune Health: Take this, Not That.
In it, I briefly mentioned how I’d prefer Vitamin C to be added to a regimen. Today, we’ll dive in a bit deeper.
Vitamin C Isn’t Really Helping
We all tell ourselves we use Vitamin C for our immune health. Are we keeping it real when we say that? I don’t think so. I think what “immune health” actually means to all of us is that we take Vitamin C so we get sick less, or if we do get sick, we get over it quickly.
Immune health and preventing colds or flu are two very different things!
We can wish Vitamin C could help us all day, but study after study has shown that Vitamin C does NOT reduce the occurrence, severity, or duration of colds or flu.
To be fair, that’s true in nearly everyone except for folks who are in EXTREME temperatures doing EXTREME activities. Those Fargo marathon runners need to take diarrhea-inducing levels of Vitamin C to have reasonable benefit.
I certainly can’t drive a marathon-length without wanting to take a nap AND our toilet paper supply is questionable, so I don’t believe the Vitamin C advice should apply to us mere mortals.
We have plenty of science-backed supplement advice for preventing colds. For that reason alone, Vitamin C worship should end and the supplement should be left in the dust.
Vitamin C supplementation is overblown, especially during COVID. None of the trials have panned out, and any use of it in hospitals typically falls in line with its usual use: “why not, it won’t hurt."
Let’s be real. The benefit of Vitamin C on our immune health is modest at best. Much like Vitamin D and immune health, it’s not that EXTRA vitamin intake will make us stronger, it’s that deficiency will make us weaker and more susceptible to infection.
...And It’s Not For A Lack of Trying…
This ever-persistent myth in supplement land about Vitamin C’s benefits has caused an industry to turn upside-down coming up with ways to sell you a newer, shinier Vitamin C.
Think about it: mega doses, added rose hips or other gimmicks, fat-soluble C, powders, IV infusions, capsules, gummies––OPTIONS GALORE!
Bickering about the best Vitamin C is like arguing about the Jets vs the Bills for best football team. They’re both just terrible.
Like it or not, Tom Brady is the GOAT. The Tom Brady of Vitamin C is a diet rich in Vitamin C foods.
The denial is strong (on both Tom and dietary Vitamin C). It feels like we’ll go out of our way to avoid the reality: Vitamin C-rich foods will have far more benefit on our immune and cardiovascular health than any Vitamin C supplement would.
Why? Because it’s not about the Vitamin C.
Bioflavonoids: Don’t Let the C Stand Alone
I’d be a big silly dumb-dumb if I didn’t say Vitamin C is important. I think I have already, but I’ll say it again! Of course it is! It’s a powerful antioxidant that has a role in the normal functioning of many important parts of the immune system.
We have to beat this into our heads, though: the benefits of Vitamin C come from food, not supplements. It’s as if we need cult deprogramming from decades of misinformation and propaganda. Sounds like politics in 2020!
Vitamin-C rich foods have two important things your supplement doesn’t have:
- Low doses of Vitamin C (normally way less than 200mg)
- Other non-Vitamin C healthy stuff
Vitamin C supplements, as I’ve ranted about before, aren’t very natural. What would we normally call something that is chemically synthesized, supplied primarily by a foreign country (China), and dosed at 5-10x the naturally occurring amount? You or I both would say it sounds like a medicine, or as wellness industry folks say, “pharmaceutical drug.”
Vitamin-C rich foods don’t have one single compound doing all the heavy lifting. These foods have a smorgasbord of healthy compounds, all of which contribute directly or indirectly to cardiovascular and immune health.
One of the groups of non-Vitamin C healthy stuff are called bioflavonoids. These are the colorful parts of plants that are useful in attracting pollinators. Common bioflavonoids are quercetin, hesperidin, diosmin, and rutin.
Bioflavonoids are found in citrus, tea, blueberries, wine, and chocolate. In other words, foods considered rich in Vitamin C.
The interesting thing about bioflavonoids is that they DO have benefits when used independently in the body.
- Quercetin has mast cell stabilization properties and is a big part of our Allergy Support.
- Hesperidin and diosmin have an impact on inflammation and ‘blood flow,’ and are primary ingredients in our Vein Support
- They also have some impact on joint health and are a part of our Vital Joint Series Integrity
Bioflavonoids are such an important component of the health benefits of Vitamin C rich foods, why are they not a part of our supplements?
Bioflavonoids and Supplements: Buyer Be Aware
Bioflavonoids are, in fact, a part of many of the Vitamin C supplements people buy. As always, the product reality does NOT meet our expectations.
The industry will use a number of tricks to make you think you’re getting bioflavonoids when in reality you’re getting a whole lotta nuthin’.
Here’s how bioflavonoids in your supplements often fail you:
Peel and skin, not bioflavonoids
The bioflavonoids used in supplements typically come from the waste products of fruits: the skin or peels.
In supplement land, word games are used aggressively. The front of the bottle or a product’s marketing might mention bioflavonoids, but there are no biologically active components in there.
Instead, they list “500mg of lemon peel.” So, yes, you’re getting 500mg of lemon peel, but how much of that lemon peel actually has bioflavonoids in there?
Even our products list out “bioflavonoid complex” as the main ingredient. Within that complex, the first ingredient is lemon or some kind of funky orange, not any actual bioflavonoids!
I can sleep at night because I have access to the actual data and KNOW that our products contain suitable doses of a number of actual bioflavonoids. Without that transparency, how would YOU know?
One could argue that 500mg of lemon peel will usually yield enough bioflavonoids to matter. That’s true if you were to eat the fresh fruit. Your supplement is far from fresh.
Bioflavonoids used in supplements are often waste products of other food or supplement manufacturing. This means they’ve been processed to infinity and beyond. Blended, dehydrated, refined, milled, exposed to temperature extremes––the works!
How much of the bioflavonoids are actually active by the time you get the pill? The answer: probably not enough to matter.
Super low bioflavonoid doses
What the two above come down to is misrepresenting their products. They make consumers BELIEVE they’re getting active bioflavonoids in an amount that matters, but they are not.
The most evident under-dosing of bioflavonoids is with Vitamin C containing rose hips. These products contain a proverbial drop in the bucket of bioflavonoids in their overprocessed rose hip mix. I never recommend rose hip containing C, because even the “best” products are playing the same game. Despite this, it’s one of our top selling products.
There is rarely a suitable amount of bioflavonoids found in commercial Vitamin C supplements.
Dr. Neal’s Vitamin C Compromise
I say all that to get to this place: I know you want to use Vitamin C, but you’re probably doing it wrong.
You’re taking mega-dose C without consideration of the other components. Here’s how I’d rather you handle your Vitamin C quest:
- Lower the dose of C. No, more than 200mg isn’t going to make a difference.
- Ensure that Vitamin C is no longer your primary focus and seek out supplements that would contain all of the active constituents found in Vitamin C-rich foods.
If you want to increase your Vitamin C for immune health or any other reason, this is how you should prioritize:
1. Eat more Vitamin C foods
Citrus, tomatoes, kiwi, peppers, broccoli, strawberries, apples, and more. You know the drill.
2. Take a TRUE whole food Vitamin C supplement
Remember, these doses of C will be MUCH lower, if considered at all, but will have those other important compounds in there.
3. The compromise: Use a Vitamin C along with a healthy dose of bioflavonoids
If you’re set on the idea of using 500mg+ of Vitamin C but want a better experience, I recommend looking at these products that could help:
Ultimate Bio-C - 500mg of Vitamin C plus a significant dose of Bioflavonoids
4. If you can’t do any of the above, skip the Vitamin C all together
You will do far more for your immune health supplementing with Vitamin D, sleeping, eating well, and managing your stress. Adding high dose Vitamin C, especially without bioflavonoids, will have little impact on how often you catch anything, including COVID.
To properly supplement with Vitamin C, look to whole food options or Ultimate Bio-C. Tell those poorly made, unnecessary supplements to Vitamin C-Ya Later!
Just trying to keep it real...
Neal Smoller, PharmD
Owner, Pharmacist, Big Mouth