For many of us, taking a vitamin C supplement is an important part of our strategy for staying healthy during cold and flu season. Even Dr. Anthony Fauci, the director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, recommended taking C supplements and said he takes them himself to support healthy immune function.
There’s lots of scientific research behind this recommendation, and the many health benefits of vitamin C are well documented. Plus, the nutrient does much more than support a healthy immune system (to learn more check out What You Should Know About Vitamin C).
What might be more confusing than if you should take a C supplement, though, is figuring out which vitamin C supplement to take? After all, the variety of vitamin C products can be dizzying, and it can make choosing a high-quality, effective C supplement a daunting task.
Some Different Types of Vitamin C supplements include:
⦁ Synthetic Ascorbic Acid
⦁ Mineral Ascorbates
⦁ Ascorbic Acid with Bioflavonoids
⦁ Liposomal Vitamin C
⦁ Whole-Food Vitamin C
Let’s break down what each of these types are so you can make an educated decision the next time you need to purchase this essential nutrient.
Synthetic Ascorbic Acid
Vitamin C, also called ascorbic acid, was discovered in 1912, isolated in 1928, and first synthesized in 1933. By the 1960s, China was mass producing the synthetic version of this vitamin, and the vast majority of vitamin C supplements you’ll find in the marketplace are of this cheap, chemically-made form.
Often synthetic ascorbic acid is derived from genetically modified corn and processed with a host of chemicals such as acetone (yes – just like nail polish remover). Not only that, as it says in its name, ascorbic acid is acidic, and people with sensitive stomachs often don’t tolerate this form of the nutrient.
Although synthetic ascorbic acid is chemically identical to naturally occurring vitamin C, there are significant differences that set them apart. More on that in a moment.
Mineral salts of ascorbic acid, such as sodium ascorbate, calcium ascorbate, potassium ascorbate, or magnesium ascorbate, are supplements that bond synthetic ascorbic acid to a mineral.
These mineral ascorbates are less acidic, and are therefore considered “buffered.” Because of this, mineral ascorbates are often recommended to people who experience an upset stomach from plain, synthetic ascorbic acid.
Ascorbic Acid with Bioflavonoids
Bioflavonoids, or flavonoids, are natural compounds found in plants. Most vitamin C-rich fruits and vegetables are full of these beneficial compounds. Since they are antioxidants, just like vitamin C, they are thought to improve the efficacy of the supplement.
Unfortunately, the majority of vitamin C supplements with bioflavonoids are simply synthetic ascorbic acid with some flavonoids sprinkled in. They are often marketed as “natural.” However, when a vitamin is marked “natural,” it only has to include 10% of actual natural plant-derived ingredients. The other 90% can be synthetic — as is often the case with these types of supplements.
Liposomal Vitamin C
Liposomal vitamin C is yet another form of this essential nutrient that mixes synthetic ascorbic acid or a mineral ascorbate with a vegetable oil. The idea is that the fat helps in the absorption of the ascorbic acid.
Whole-Food Vitamin C
All of the C supplements above are made with synthetic ascorbic acid as their base ingredient. Only whole-food vitamin C supplements are derived strictly from plants. In the case of Pure Radiance C®, vitamin C is derived from 11 of the most vitamin C-rich fruits and berries that nature has to offer, including organic camu camu, acerola cherries, and rose hips. This yields a 100% natural vitamin C, free of GMO corn or synthetic ascorbic acid.
Why is this important? Because whole foods contain so much more than just ascorbic acid. Natural ascorbic acid is always connected to a multitude of other compounds wherever it is found in nature. Many of the health benefits we associate with vitamin C come from not only ascorbic acid but also from the synergistic interaction of numerous phytonutrients including bioflavonoids, polyphenols, catechins, anthocyanins, rutin, and enzymes.
Synergy of the Whole
Several studies on the antioxidant activity and protective effects of synthetic ascorbic acid versus foods rich in vitamin C are in favor of food sources. In a famous 2007 study in the British Journal of Nutrition, researchers looked at the effects on oxidative stress of synthetic vitamin C (150 mg) and blood orange juice (containing 150 mg of vitamin C). A statistically significant increase in resistance to oxidative damage was measured in test subjects who ingested the blood orange juice. Since vitamin C in fruits is delivered in a matrix of food compounds, the authors propose that such compounds may act synergistically with vitamin C to confer the protective benefit.
How Can You Tell If a Supplement Is from Whole Foods?
Sadly, many dietary supplement companies practice deceptive marketing tactics by labeling vitamins as “natural” when they are anything but. So, an important question must be asked: how can you tell organic vitamin C from the synthetic forms? Answer: you have to carefully read the labels!