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Vitamin C power explained: what is the pleiotropic effect and how does it work

Updated: Feb 17, 2022

Have you ever heard of vitamin C and its beneficial properties? Vitamin C, also known as ascorbic acid, is a hydrophilic micronutrient essential for a panoply of biological functions. This vitamin is endowed with versatile homeostatic ability at the organ, tissue, and cellular levels, exhibiting pleiotropic activity. Let us deconstruct this concept.

Discovered in 1932, Vitamin C is a water-soluble vitamin that humans unable to synthesize endogenously. It is not well stored in the body’s tissues so it must be provided through the diet.

Under physiological conditions, it plays a key role in collagen, L-carnitine and neurotransmitters biosynthesis. Vitamin C is also involved on protein metabolism and is a cofactor for important mono and di-oxygenase enzymes. Vitamin C exhibits a strong antioxidant activity with anti-inflammatory and immune-supporting effects, and myriad of other positive actions. Pleiotropic effect is the ability of Vitamin C to produce more than one benefit at the same time.

Antioxidant activity

Ongoing research highlights antioxidant activity as one of the most potent benefits, by reducing the effects of free radicals, reducing reactive oxygen species production and regenerating antioxidants. This is especially important considering that it might prevent or delay the development of diseases in which oxidative stress plays an important role, namely cancer and cardiovascular diseases.

Immune system

The pleiotropic effect extends beyond the antioxidant activity, as anti-inflammatory, improving chemotaxis and supporting lymphocyte proliferation. Research unveils that this vitamin is involved in immunoglobulins synthesis, interferons production and in the suppression of the interleukin-18, a regulating factor in malignant tumors.

Another relevant point is that Vitamin C increases catecholamine sensitivity, improves microcirculation and wound healing and stimulates bile synthesis.

To take advantage of vitamin C pleiotropic activity one needs to know how much an optimum amount is needed to keep us healthy.

Recommended intake and sources

Intake recommendations, i.e., Recommended Dietary Allowance (RDA) for Vitamin C is 90 and 75 mg per day for men and women, respectively (adults 19 years and older). When considering pregnancy and lactation, the daily amount rises to 85 mg and 120 mg, respectively.

The best sources of Vitamin C are citrus fruits, red and green peppers, tomatoes, kiwifruit, among others. Did you know that vitamin C can be destroyed by heat and its amount is reduced after cooking? Well, the good news is that many of these fruits and vegetables are consumed raw. Keep in mind that is important to ingest five varied servings of fruits and vegetables per day. By eating an orange, one of the most popular fruits in the world, you can provide about 70 mg of vitamin C to your organism!


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