C is for Collagen

C is for Collagen

By Andrea Bartels CNP NNCP RNT
Registered Nutritional Therapist

24 Feb 2021

C is for Collagen

Take Vitamin C. This nutrient is important for much more than a healthy immune system. It's actually needed for the synthesis of collagen---a protein that forms our bones, muscles, cartilage, skin, blood vessels, teeth, gums, and more. Let's explore the relationship between vitamin C and collagen more closely.

Vitamin C and Skin Health

Vitamin C can be found in both the dermis and epidermis-the deeper and superficial layers of the skin, respectively-with the majority of it in the epidermis. Although vitamin C does not possess sunscreen or sun-blocking abilities, it protects the skin from UV damage through its antioxidant properties.

There are a lot of 'anti-aging' cosmetic products on the market that have incorporated vitamin C in the interest of supporting collagen synthesis. While topically applied vitamin C can penetrate into the epidermis and dermis, this is dependent on pH and stability-and is more effective after disruption to the surface of the skin (such as by microdermabrasion). In contrast, oral supplementation of vitamin C increases levels of this vitamin in the skin, as it is delivered there by the bloodstream. It makes more sense, then to take vitamin C orally.

Vitamin C and Joint Health

The joints are composed of cartilage and synovial fluid---both which are critical for flexibility general movement of the joints. When the joints become damaged by wear and tear, injury or auto-immune processes, the cartilage deteriorates and the synovial fluid leaks out. The resulting arthritis creates inflammation, pain and swelling as the protective, lubricating cushion between bones is lost. This creates three opportunities for vitamin C. For one, it supports healthy immune processes and may reduce an excessive immune response, and second, it neutralizes the free radicals involved in joint destruction. Third, vitamin C is key to the collagen production and repair process. Consider this: in a study of patients with arthritis of 5 or more joints, the researchers found those with the lowest vitamin C consumption had a three-fold greater risk of developing polyarthritis than those with the highest intake.

Vitamin C and Oral Health

Did you know that one of the first signs of vitamin C deficiency is bleeding gums? Ask any dentist or oral hygienist and they will tell you that this nutrient is particularly important to your teeth and gum tissue. We have been told that the vitamin C deficiency-disease, scurvy is unheard of in modern times, however, gingivitis (mild gum disease) and periodontal disease (more advanced gum disease) affect 90 percent of the world's population. The tiny blood vessels that nourish gum tissue and teeth depend on adequate vitamin C for their integrity. Without this nutrient, their walls become weakened and prone to leakage, and tissues become vulnerable to infection.

Consider this 2019 systematic review of 716 peer-reviewed articles on the subject of periodontal disease and vitamin C which found that vitamin C contributes to a reduced risk of periodontal disease. Specifically, the patients with a lower dietary intake or lower blood levels of vitamin C had more advanced periodontal disease. However, it's interesting to note that interventions that utilized vitamin C supplementation reduced bleeding of the gums in those with gingivitis, but not in those who already had periodontitis. Consider that periodontitis is an advanced form of gum disease. Who has this condition? Elderly individuals tend to have a higher incidence, which may be compounded by the fact that having fewer teeth (or false teeth) make it more difficult to chew raw fruits and vegetables-which are the only reliable food source of vitamin C.

Vitamin C and Cardiovascular Health

We know that vitamin C protects the blood vessels of the gums, and the same goes for the larger blood vessels such as arteries and veins. In fact, Linus Pauling won a Nobel Prize for his studies of vitamin C on cardiovascular health, suggesting that vitamin C insufficiency may be a risk factor for atherosclerosis and stroke. This may be because the interior lining of the arteries in contact with flowing blood can become rough and sticky without adequate vitamin C---allowing for the deposition of oxidized LDL (a cholesterol-carrying protein). Meanwhile, it has long been thought that oxidized cholesterol is a risk factor in coronary artery disease. Since vitamin C is also an antioxidant, it has an affinity for reducing artery-damaging oxidative stress, not to mention its collagen building, vessel-strengthening attributes.

Vitamin C and Bone Health

While calcium is the best known bone-essential nutrient, the skeleton-including the teeth-- actually depend on an array of micronutrients, including vitamin D and vitamin C. Contrary to popular belief, our bones are alive---they never stop remodeling themselves. After peak bone mass is reached around the age of 25, the cells responsible for maintenance of bone tissue become less active than those that break down bone, leading to a net bone density loss. The cement that holds the minerals in the bones is actually made of collagen-which by now, you may realize is a vitamin C - dependent protein.

In a study of 1196 vitamin-D-deficient, postmenopausal Korean women, researchers found that vitamin C intake was associated with higher bone mineral density, concluding that inadequate intake of the vitamin could increase osteoporosis. This suggests the important of vitamin C to post-menopausal women, who no longer have active, hormone-producing ovaries.

Why Not Just Take a Collagen Supplement?

It may sound like a sensible thing to do, but consider these drawbacks. Take a look at the cost of collagen supplements and then compare it to that of vitamin C. Plus, collagen supplements are obtained from bovine (cow) or fish skins, which is different from the collagen made by the human body. Also, most vegetarians are unwilling to use animal-derived ingredients. Then there's the assumption of good digestion and assimilation. Animal collagen that is consumed pre-formed actually gets partially broken down by the digestive process and requires reassembly in order to make use of it, and unfortunately, this process becomes less efficient with age.

In comparison, vitamin C requires no digestion since it is a micronutrient, and its natural acidity lends itself well to good absorption, even in older individuals. Plus, collagen synthesis is just one of over 3,000 different chemical reactions in everyday metabolism that depend on vitamin C. However, remember that unlike those of many animals, our bodies are not capable of manufacturing our own vitamin C.

So now that I've demonstrated that vitamin C is needed for much more than a healthy immune system, consider supplementation. Why? Because cooking and freezing food destroys the vitamin. Because it's water-soluble and needs regular daily replenishment to prevent deficiency disease. And, because aging reduces the effectiveness of our immune systems, digestive systems and our collagen synthesis. Sagging skin...joint pain...tooth loss...I'm sure you're as interested as I am in avoiding or delaying these.

Pure Lab Vitamin C comes in 1,000 milligram veggie capsules in both slow-release and regular formats. The slow-release format allows for more consistent blood levels of the vitamin, making it a great choice for those wishing to take fewer doses per day.

Remember: C is for collagen!


Deyhim F, Strong K, Deyhim N, Vandyousefi S, Stamatikos A, Faraji B. Vitamin C reverses bone loss in an osteopenic rat model of osteoporosis. Int J Vitam Nutr Res. 2018;88(1-2):58-64. doi:10.1024/0300-9831/a000486

Finck H, Hart AR, Jennings A, Welch AA. Is there a role for vitamin C in preventing osteoporosis and fractures? A review of the potential underlying mechanisms and current epidemiological evidence. Nutr Res Rev. 2014 Dec;27(2):268-83.

Joseph GB, McCulloch CE, Nevitt MC, et al. Associations between Vitamin C and D Intake and Cartilage Composition and Knee Joint Morphology over 4 years: Data from the Osteoarthritis Initiative. Arthritis Care Res (Hoboken). 2019.

Kim YA, Kim KM, Lim S, et al. Favorable effect of dietary vitamin C on bone mineral density in postmenopausal women (KNHANES IV, 2009): discrepancies regarding skeletal sites, age, and vitamin D status. Osteoporos Int. 2015;26(9):2329-2337.

Linus Pauling Institute Micronutrient Research Center. Vitamin C and Skin Health. Oregon State University.

Linus Pauling Institute Micronutrient Research Center. Endothelial Dysfunction. Oregon State University.

Pattison D, Silman A, Goodson N, et al. Vitamin C and the Risk of Developing Inflammatory Polyarthritis: Prospective Nested Case-Control Study. Ann Rheum Dis. 2004;63(7):843-847.

Ripani U, Manzarbeitia-Arroba P, Guijarro-Leo S, Urrutia-Grana J, De Masi-De Luca A. Vitamin C May Help to Reduce the Knee's Arthritic Symptoms. Outcomes Assessment of Nutriceutical Therapy. Med Arch. 2019 Jun;73(3):173-177.

Tada A, Miura H. The Relationship between Vitamin C and Periodontal Diseases: A Systematic Review. Int J Environ Res Public Health. 2019;16(14):2472. Published 2019 Jul 11. doi:10.3390/ijerph16142472

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