The health benefits of vitamin C in combatting the common cold, improving the immune system, preventing scurvy, strokes, and even preventing and fighting some cancers have been touted for decades. But, vitamin C’s least known and most powerful function may be in preventing and treating depression and anxiety.
VITAMIN C DEFICIENCY CAUSES DEPRESSION AND CRAVINGS FOR SUGAR
A deficiency in vitamin C, also called ascorbic acid, can cause neurological damage and the addition of vitamin C to the diet can improve or reverse symptoms of anxiety, depression and bipolar disorder.
A recent study at the Vanderbilt University Medical Center, Department of Neuroscience in Nashville, Tennessee and published in the Journal of Neurochemistry deprived mice of vitamin C. The deprivation caused depressive and submissive behaviors as well as an increased preference for sugar. More importantly, there were decreases in dopamine and serotonin in the brain. Low levels of dopamine and serotonin are linked to high levels of anxiety and depression in humans as well as mice.
VITAMIN C WORKS AS WELL AS PROZAC FOR STRESS-RELATED DEPRESSION IN MICE
Another interesting study with mice was recently conducted in Brazil and published in the Journal of Psychiatric Research. The mice were subjected to “chronic unpredictable stress” (CUS) for 2 weeks. This CUS produced depressive behaviors and changes in brain chemistry. During the second week of the study, half of the mice were treated with fluoxetine (Prozac) and half were treated with vitamin C. The results were as powerful with the vitamin C as with the fluoxetine. In other words, the vitamin C reversed the detrimental effects and helped the mice cope with the ongoing stress as well as the Prozac did. The researchers concluded, “These findings indicate a rapid and robust effect of ascorbic acid in reversing behavioral and biochemical alterations induced by CUS in mice, suggesting that vitamin C may be an alternative approach for the management of depressive symptoms.” That’s some pretty strong evidence for the powerful effect of vitamin C on depression – and it gets even better:
CHILDREN’S DEPRESSION IMPROVES MORE WHEN TREATED WITH VITAMIN C AND PROZAC THAN WITH PROZAC ALONE
Researchers at the Global Neuroscience Initiative Foundation in Los Angeles, California studied the effects of fluoxetine (Prozac) alone and in combination with vitamin C in depressed children. Their results showed a significantly more positive effect in the group treated with both fluoxetine and vitamin C as compared to the group given fluoxetine and a placebo. The results suggest that vitamin C may increase the effectiveness of treatment with Prozac in depressed children.
DEPRESSED ADULTS ALSO BENEFIT FROM VITAMIN C
Eighty psychiatric patients at a private hospital in India, 40 suffering from depression and 40 suffering from anxiety, were found to have much lower levels of vitamins A, C, and E than a healthy population. Half of each group was given 600 mg/day of vitamin A, 1000 mg/day of vitamin C, and 800 mg/day of vitamin E in addition to their regular anti-depressant or antianxiety medication. After 6 weeks of treatment with vitamins A, C, and E, a significant reduction in both depression and anxiety was observed in those treated with the vitamins than in those treated with medication alone. It’s hard to say in a study that combines nutrients whether the improvement was due to one or more of the vitamins but in another study done with rats in New Zealand, groups of stressed rats were treated with vitamin C and vitamin E separately and one group was treated with both vitamins C and E together. There were no significant differences between the groups. Vitamins C and E were effective in reducing anxiety whether given separately or together.
In a 1981 double-blind study, both manic and depressed patients were significantly better following a single 3000 mg dose of vitamin C than following a placebo. Likewise, a 2002 German study found an increase in sexual intercourse and decrease in depression in 42 young adults given 3000 mg of vitamin C per day for 14 days.
VITAMIN C IS ABUNDANT IN FRUITS AND VEGETABLES
Processed food and junk food do not contain appreciable amounts of vitamin C because vitamin C is a delicate substance that is destroyed by heat and air. Meat and dairy products also contain no vitamin C. A diet rich in fresh fruits and vegetables will supply adequate amounts of vitamin C.
Sources of vitamin C:
- Citrus fruits like oranges, grapefruits, and tangerines
- Dark leafy greens (kale, mustard greens, spinach, beet greens, turnip greens, Swiss chard, rainbow chard, collard greens, watercress, dandelion greens, purslane)
- Broccoli, cauliflower, brussels sprouts
- Bell peppers (yellow bell peppers provide the most vitamin C and green bell peppers provide the least)
- Red and green hot chili peppers
- Red cabbage
- Tomatoes and tomato juice
Keep in mind that vitamin C is destroyed by heat and air. So, for optimum vitamin C benefit, foods should be eaten raw, or minimally cooked, and as soon as possible after cutting or juicing. Orange juice, for instance, will lose more vitamin C the longer it is exposed to the air after being separated from the orange. Foods cooked quickly by steaming or sautéing will retain higher levels of vitamin C than those cooked at high temperatures for longer periods of time. Also, when cooked in water, as in boiling vegetables or cooking in soups or stews, the vitamin C will leach out into the cooking water and diminish with high heat and long cooking times.