It’s easy to remember that minerals (like magnesium), and herbal adaptogens (like ashwagandha) can be there for us when we’re having a particularly stressful time and need some supplemental support. Yet how many of us think about checking our Vitamin C intake when we’re stressed? It turns out that Vitamin C has a very important role in regulating stress which is one of its best-kept secrets.
Vitamin C (or ascorbic acid) is an essential, water-soluble vitamin and antioxidant which humans cannot synthesize. We’ve all heard that to avoid getting colds and flus we should keep up with our Vitamin C intake, but it has so many other roles in the body. Some of its essential biological roles include genetic, endocrine, gastrointestinal, brain, and metabolic functions, as well as supporting connective tissue through its involvement in collagen formation.
So how does Vitamin C help you when you’re stressed? It’s all about the adrenal glands with Vitamin C.
The Stress Process
The adrenaline hormones epinephrine (also known simply as adrenaline) and norepinephrine (also known as noradrenaline) are released by the adrenal glands and cause the “fight-or-flight” response that occurs when a stressor is perceived by the brain. Cortisol is a steroid which is synthesized within the adrenal glands which helps the body deal with stress, so large amounts of cortisol are released during times of stress. (1)(2)
This stress response serves us well when we have a physical threat, such as an altercation or to get away from a predator; but unfortunately, even though most of us do not hunt for our survival, the body and brain still work together as it did many millions of years ago.
Whether we have a more palatable modern threat, such as a public speech or interview, our bodies will still release the same stress hormones they would if we were fighting for our lives. Adrenaline and noradrenaline cause an increase in blood pressure, heart rate, increased breathing, and constriction of blood vessels. Prolonged exposure to stress can cause the body to be overloaded with stress hormones. (1)
Vitamin C in the Adrenal Glands
The adrenal glands have one of the highest concentrations of Vitamin C within the body. When we’re stressed and our bodies make cortisol, it first has to release a different hormone from the pituitary gland called ACTH. Each time the body makes ACTH, Vitamin C is lost from the adrenal glands. If you aren’t consuming enough Vitamin C to keep up with the demands the stress process is putting on your body, you will lose valuable Vitamin C stores. (3)
4 Ways Vitamin C is linked with Stress
#1 Vitamin C is released by the adrenal glands during the stress response
#2 Vitamin C is a cofactor needed to synthesize noradrenaline
#3 Vitamin C reduces oxidative stress because it is a powerful antioxidant
#4 Vitamin C may contribute to subjective feelings of wellbeing (4)
Vitamin C Superfruit: Acerola Cherry and Fruit-Source Vitamin C Supplements
A few years ago, I started supplementing with a fruit-source Vitamin C supplement which gets its Vitamin C from organic acerola cherries because it is a well-formulated product. I’ve since learned more about why acerola is an amazing source of Vitamin C. Talk to your doctor or nutritionist about whether supplementing is right for you.
Whether you take synthetic Vitamin C or fruit-based extracts of Vitamin C, the body absorbs them equally—but where fruit source Vitamin C shines is due to its other bioflavonoids and phytonutrients.
Acerola cherry contains 50-100 times more Vitamin C than oranges or lemons, making it one of the highest sources of the vitamin in any fruit around the world. It isn’t consumed as a fruit very often because it’s generally too tart and acidic. A study comparing acerola cherry juice versus synthetic ascorbic acid found that the Vitamin C in the acerola juice was better absorbed. (5)
In addition to its great bioavailability, acerola fruit also contains flavonoids, carotenoids, vitamins, phenolics, iron, calcium, and phosphorous.
1. “Adrenal Gland.” Wikipedia, Wikimedia Foundation, 25 Aug. 2020, en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Adrenal_gland.
2. “Cortisol.” doi:https://www.yourhormones.info/hormones/cortisol/.
3. Padayatty, Sebastian J, et al. “Human Adrenal Glands Secrete Vitamin C in Response to Adrenocorticotrophic Hormone.” OUP Academic, Oxford University Press, 1 July 2007, academic.oup.com/ajcn/article/86/1/145/4754391.
4. Moritz, Bettina, et al. “The Role of Vitamin C in Stress-Related Disorders.” The Journal of Nutritional Biochemistry, Elsevier, 3 July 2020, www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/abs/pii/S0955286320304915.
5. Prakash, Anand, and Revathy Baskaran. “Acerola, an untapped functional superfruit: a review on latest frontiers.” Journal of food science and technology vol. 55,9 (2018): 3373-3384. doi:10.1007/s13197-018-3309-5