Vitamin C has long been considered one of the best, healthiest vitamins you can get. Part of this stems from Linus Pauling, who pushed a narrative about megadoses of vitamin C as a cold remedy, which turns out to have been more or less entirely false. Still, it's part of our popular culture even today, 60 years later, which is why we all reach for the orange juice when we feel a little under the weather.
We're not here today to talk about the health benefits, or lack thereof, of vitamin C. Instead, we're going to focus on one part of beauty that we all find ourselves facing to some degree, eventually. That aspect is hair loss.
Hair loss is both emotionally devastating and detrimental to self-image. Some people face it gracefully, but many more scramble to find anything they can do to stem the tide of balding, thinning hair. While hair loss is, ultimately, not a harmful condition, it can still be a blow to self-esteem and certainly hampers people who rely on their image.
There are many different nutrients, chemicals, and bodily processes that affect hair growth and hair loss, and many of them work differently in men and women. You may have seen the idea that vitamin C treatments can help. Do they really work? Let's find out together.
All About Vitamin C
Vitamin C is an antioxidant and a critical nutrient your body needs to survive. Also known as ascorbate or ascorbic acid, it's an essential nutrient, which means your body doesn't synthesize it; you need to get it from the food you eat and from supplements you take.
How does the body use vitamin C?
- Wound healing and tissue repair. Vitamin C is a critical component in the synthesis of collagen, which is the protein used as a "scaffold" to repair wounds and heal damage.
- Production of neurotransmitters. Your body and your brain talk to one another via chemicals that transmit signals. It uses vitamin C to create and transmit these chemicals.
- Immune function. Your body uses vitamin C to create and manage immune system cells, including white blood cells. A deficiency in vitamin C can lead to a weaker immune system.
- Antioxidant benefits. Vitamin C is an antioxidant and thus can help clear free radicals from your body, reducing the risk of diseases like cancer.
- Cognitive benefits. Some studies have indicated that vitamin C might play a role in brain health and could help reduce the chances of Alzheimer's and dementia.
- Prevention of scurvy. Scurvy is a vitamin C deficiency and leads to all manner of health issues. Fortunately, it's exceedingly rare in modern society; it was only really a problem for sailors centuries ago.
The trick is, all of these benefits come from a reasonable normal amount of vitamin C. The old recommendations to take 1,000-2,000 mg of vitamin C every day turns out to be bad information. Whether pushed intentionally, or as an unintentional assumption, is unknown.
What is a normal amount of vitamin C? A lot less than you might think. As it turns out, your body can't really use more than 200 mg per day. Different national health agencies around the world have set different daily recommendations. These range from 40 mg per day according to the National Institute of Nutrition in Hyderabad, India, all the way up to 110 mg per day, according to the European Food Safety Authority. A far cry from 1,000+!
Luckily, there aren't really side effects to taking too much vitamin C in a day, as long as the amount you take is relatively reasonable. That is, evidence points to amounts under 2,000 mg per day being excessive, but not harming you. Your body simply takes the excess it can't use and ferries it away through urine. Taking more than 3,000 mg per day can lead to digestive issues like cramps, indigestion, and diarrhea, but 2,000 and under is generally considered safe, if unnecessary.
With all that vitamin C can do, what does it not do? You may have heard a few of these myths and not realized that they're just that: myths.
- Vitamin C can't cure the common cold or prevent infection.
- Vitamin C cannot treat cancer, though it may play a role in minimizing the risk of developing it in the first place.
- Vitamin C does not treat heart disease or cardiovascular disease, though it may help strengthen blood vessels.
- Vitamin C does not show any benefits for preventing or treating COVID-19 infections.
Linus Pauling might be responsible for a lot of the myths about vitamin C, but even the modern-day Linus Pauling Institute, dedicated to studying health and health maintenance, published studies saying anything over 200 mg per day is unnecessary.
What About Vitamin C for Hair?
One thing you may have noticed is that there's no mention of hair up above. Nothing in the benefits and nothing in the myths. So, where does hair fall on the spectrum?
Vitamin C might be able to help prevent or even reverse hair loss, operating through several different mechanisms.
Vitamin C helps your body produce collagen.
Collagen as a protein is used in a huge array of different ways throughout the body. It's a critical component in everything from your bones to your skin and everything in between. A collagen disorder or deficiency can be extremely detrimental to your overall health, and low-level collagen problems can cause cascading symptoms that can be difficult to track to a single source.
Vitamin C is a core component in the biological reaction that turns amino acids into collagen.
The trick is, your hair isn't made up of collagen; it's made up of keratin. Keratin is also a protein, but it's a different kind of protein, made in a different way. So, what does collagen have to do with it? As it turns out, both collagen and keratin are made up of some of the same amino acids, which vitamin C encourages your body to produce and store.
As an added bonus, if you take both vitamin C and collagen supplements, you'll double up the effects of each on your hair.
Vitamin C helps regulate the production of androgens.
Androgens are the "sex hormones" your body produces. You know the culprits: estrogen and testosterone, primarily. These hormones are responsible for a huge array of effects on the body, and those effects can involve secondary sexual characteristics. One of those characteristics is hair, which is why men and women have different types, placements, and rates of hair growth in general.
"Hair loss is directly affected by the circulating androgens – sex hormones – in the blood. Having high levels of the male hormone Dihydrotestosterone (DHT) immensely increases hair loss. DHT binds to the papilla cells of the skin – cells that are responsible for the transportation of nutrients to the hair follicles. When bonded with DHT, the papilla cells can't provide nutrition to the hair follicles, slowing down hair production and regrowth. Sufficient Vitamin C reduces the formation of DHT, which brings on great improvement in hair growth." - Nutrafol.
To be specific, DHT activates a protein in the body known as DKK-1, which is the protein primarily responsible for male pattern baldness.
Vitamin C helps regulate the production and use of androgens throughout the body. Less androgen, more tightly controlled, means less chance of the runaway effects of those androgens, like balding. Also, note that while DHT is testosterone and is generally a "male" hormone, it shows up in both sexes and is equally important for both men and women to control.
Vitamin C prevents damage caused by free radicals.
Free radicals are charged, ionized particles that travel throughout your body. They're on the hunt for additional electrons to stabilize themselves, and so they bond with other molecules they find. This happens inside the body as well as outside, in chemistry and physics, all the time. Typically, free radicals are oxygen molecules.
The problem here is that whatever molecule the free radical bonds with is essentially pulled apart. The free radical wants that electron more than the molecule holding it, and having that electron torn away does damage to the molecule. This holds true whether it's a random bit of chemical floating in the air or whether it's part of a strand of your DNA.
The trouble is, free radicals destroy what they touch, and cause what is known as oxidative stress. Oxidative stress is the accumulated stress of oxygen radicals on the body, and it's responsible for everything from aging and wrinkles to hair loss and cancer.
Antioxidants are essentially molecules that have a bunch of extra electrons they're ready and willing to give up. By flooding your body with antioxidants, free radicals are vastly more likely to bond with them instead of with molecules that are more important to your body.
Vitamin C is a powerful antioxidant. In fact, a huge percentage of the time, when you see a food that is "high in antioxidants," that means it has a lot of vitamin C in it, often in the form of ascorbic acid or a salt like sodium ascorbate, usually used as a preservative as well as a vitamin.
Vitamin C helps your body absorb iron.
Part of healthy hair is the mineral iron. Your body needs iron – that's right, the same stuff used in metals – for a wide range of purposes. Iron is a critical part of your blood and your immune system.
"Androgenetic alopecia (AGA), telogen effluvium (TE) are two common types of hair loss. Studies show that supplementing the diet with low levels of vitamin D can improve symptoms of these diseases. If a patient with AGA or TE has low iron levels (more commonly seen in females), supplementation is also recommended. These iron-deficient patients should also ensure their vitamin C intake is appropriate." – A Study.
Several of the possible causes of hair loss are related to iron deficiency. Not getting enough iron in your diet can lead to all manner of complications, and hair loss is one of them. Anemia and lethargy are two others, so if you're experiencing several of these symptoms, consider an iron supplement.
Where does vitamin C come into play? Well, your body needs to use chemical reactions to actually utilize the iron in your system properly. Those reactions are themselves powered by vitamin C. Essentially, vitamin C bonds with iron and creates a derivative chemical, which is more easily used by the body.
Using Vitamins to Treat Hair Loss
Vitamins can play a lot of different roles throughout the body, and hair loss is just one of the many, many different things they can treat.
Vitamin C alone isn't going to make or break hair loss. What it might do, however, is help reduce hair loss when taken along with other ingredients. What other ingredients are relevant?
- Vitamin A, which is broadly known as the most important vitamin for hair. Vitamin A must be kept in balance, though; too little can cause hair loss, but too much can also cause hair loss.
- Vitamin B7, also known as Biotin or vitamin H, is also critical for hair health.
- Vitamin D. The sunlight vitamin is well known for causing hair loss when deficient, so you need to make sure you're always getting enough.
The best way to use vitamin C to keep your hair healthy is to take it in conjunction with other vitamins, all carefully balanced. That's why we sell a vitamin C booster designed to do just that. Our booster contains vitamin C, as well as other useful nutrients like B1, B2, B3, B6, B9, B12, Calcium, Sodium, and Potassium.
All of this combines to make this particular supplement a powerful health booster. You can think of it like a more balanced and slightly more limited multivitamin, designed to help you with healing, immune health, hair loss, and a variety of other effects. Give it a try, and if you do, please let us know how it works for you in the comments section!