Many of us who like to supplement our diets now and again with vitamins and minerals may be tempted to reach for whatever is on special or clearance in our local store of choice.
Especially for something as simple as, say, vitamin C. This immune booster also helps support the healthy growth and repair of tissues, as well as strengthening bones, teeth and cartilage. It also serves as an antioxidant, simply meaning it helps protect your cells from attack by toxins.
Many reports suggest synthetic forms of vitamin C, which are often cheaper, are as good as natural ones.
And why-oh-why would you want to take more than the recommended daily allowance of vitamin C, or any other vitamin.
Well, like most things, picking a vitamin C that meets your needs is not as straightforward as it may first appear. In the words of Dr Weil: “Vitamins and supplements are much like anything else – you generally get what you pay for.”
Synthetic Vs Natural
Let’s start with synthetic or natural. The mainstream argument goes that natural and synthetic vitamin C, or L-ascorbic acid, are “chemically identical, and there are no known differences in their biological activity.”
However, promoters of natural health counter that synthetic vitamins may be cheaper and more stable, for a longer shelf life, but the dense tablets they facilitate typically feature fillers and binders.
These synthetic vitamins, they point out, are also not as bioavailable, absorbable, or usable; are not recognizable to your body; are hard on your kidneys; and can be treated as toxins. They also regularly include artificial colors.
So on balance, if it is within your budget, because the really good ones are more expensive, there are benefits to going natural with vitamin C. Your body is familiar with the form, knows how best to utilize it, and is not getting artificial colors, binders or cements.
Daily Value or More
Now, there are also many claims that you should never take more than the Daily Value (DV) of a vitamin or mineral. The Mayo Clinic, for example, recommends choosing vitamin supplements with 100% of the DV, with the exception of calcium, as the tablet would be too big to swallow.
Again, natural health proponents take a different view here.
They note that studies show that your body will absorb around 10% of a vitamin supplement, versus 77% to 93% when the vitamins are absorbed through a fresh plant source — which everyone agrees is the best source!
Minerals fare worse – your body may absorb somewhere between 1% and 5%. But, from such plants as raw broccoli, your body can absorb between 63% and 78% of its minerals.
Why this problem with absorption? Well, vitamins and minerals in plants are attached to protein molecules. And these molecules tell your body you are eating food and what it sees is not simply another chemical.
Supplemental vitamins, on the other hand, are in a basic form that your body cannot distinguish from other chemicals. This, by the way, is why you have to take them with food, unless the label says differently. As your body digests these vitamins, only small percentages, with the help of enzymes, attach to protein molecules in your food.
On a side note, away from vitamin C, for higher mineral supplement absorption, try a ‘chelate’ or ‘chelated’ form. Chelated minerals are attached to protein molecules before being added to the supplement and can increase absorption by anywhere between 400% and 800%.
But back to vitamins. It really is worth doing a bit of research for each vitamin. And as far as vitamin C goes, there is not much downside to taking more than the recommended daily allowance to boost the level you absorb.
Back to the Mayo Clinic, it notes that the recommended DV 65 to 90 milligrams (mg) a day, with an upper limit of 2,000mg.
But is says too much dietary vitamin C is unlikely to be harmful but that megadoses may cause such symptoms as diarrhea, nausea, insomnia or kidney stones.
What format to take?
So, you decide to go natural and take more than the recommended DV. The next question may be what format suits you. We really can be overwhelmed by the option: capsules, tablets, powders, chewables, gummies, and liquids.
Let’s run through these options. In general, liquid is ready for your body to use, but it usually tastes like cough syrup. And honestly, it is probably best suited to people who have difficulty swallowing tablets.
The most common form, tablets — both coated, to slow down the dissolving process, and uncoated – – are often made by using organic or inorganic ‘cement’ to squeeze them into shape.
And then there are powdered vitamins, available in either capsules or bulk containers.
Capsules are basically loosely packed gelatin containers that rapidly dissolve. And as they are not compressed, you may need to take more than one to get the same have to take two of these to equal one tablet.
Plain powder forms typically come as either bicarbonate or fully reacted. Vitamin C bicarbonate powder becomes a fizzy, effervescent drink when mixed with water. And fully reacted vitamin C powder, or calcium ascorbate, is a lower acidic powder that does not fizz and may be gentler on your stomach if you are sensitive to citric acid.
Why so many formats? Well, WebMd suggests it’s again down to absorption and whether you have trouble swallowing pills. It says: “Liquids tend to be absorbed quicker, while coated pills are slower because the coating prevents absorption in the stomach.
“If you have trouble swallowing pills, you may find a gel-coated capsule or liquid easier to swallow.”
So the format you pick is really down to personal preference — whether you want to consume binders or gelatin with your vitamin and how much you want to absorb.
One final Tip
A final tip if you are considering a number of products and have some concerns about quality.
Check for the USP (United States Pharmacopoeia) or BP (British Pharmacopoeia) designation on the label.
This guarantees that the vitamins are of high quality and are easily dissolved during digestion.
Designated vitamins will have the USP or BP initials next to them.
You should know, however, that the Food & Drug Administration (FDA) plays no role in regulating dietary supplements.
So, resist the temptation to reach for the cheapest vitamin C on special and spend a bit of time thinking through what is right for you. Like most things, it really is worth it.
And when you’re ready to do some shopping, check out our vitamin C products!