Vitamin C Man?!

By Minji

  • Vitamin C, found both in food and supplements, is an antioxidant that plays a key role in making collagen
  • There’s a trend of mega-dosing on Vitamin C for supposed health and skin benefits
  • There can be side effects and risks too so something to carefully ponder based on your unique situation

One of the more interesting stories I’ve heard recently regarding nutrition and skincare came from one of my sisters in Seoul.  The headline was, “vitamin C man.”  Vitamin C man, as he was dubbed by the Korean media, is this incredibly youthful looking older Korean gentleman who attributes his supple skin to taking huge amounts of vitamin C supplements.  He doesn’t take the typical 1-2 pills a day.  He takes a handful – so more like 6-10 pills a day.    

I was intrigued.  I am one of those people who takes a vitamin C pill daily.  I’m not sure where this habit comes from exactly, but I have this general impression that vitamin C is good for energy levels and fighting off colds.  Also, since it’s one of the most beloved ingredients to apply on our skin, especially in serums, why not consume it as well, right?

My research revealed some interesting facts about vitamin C that I had been taking for granted.  First, Vitamin C is an antioxidant and also plays a key role in making collagen.  No wonder its popularity as a skincare ingredient.  In addition, vitamin C is water-soluble.  This means certain levels of vitamin C are easily absorbed but beyond that, it can’t be stored in your body – you’ll end up peeing out any excess.  So you need to replenish vitamin C regularly by eating foods rich in vitamin C or by taking supplements.  The general recommended dosage of vitamin C for women is 75 mg per day. For most people, a cup of strawberries (98 mg) or cooked broccoli (82 mg) would be all you need if you followed this standard.  For adults, the tolerable upper intake level (the highest daily intake likely to pose no risks) is 2,000 mg per day.    

The most interesting thing I found was this trend called “vitamin C mega-dosing.” Apparently, it isn’t just the Korean vitamin C man taking large amounts of vitamin C and claiming health benefits!  Proponents of vitamin C mega-dosing (including a Nobel prize winning chemist) say that taking 3000 mg+ of vitamin C, up to 20,000 mg per day even, can have positive health benefits, including radiant skin.  For the record, there doesn’t seem to be any conclusive proof of this.        

In general, high-doses of vitamin C has caused very few side effects in clinical trials (that’s why in some countries, there is no set upper limit for vitamin C). In some people though, high doses can cause symptoms such as diarrhea, nausea, heartburn, headache, and insomnia.  In particular, experts say people with chronic liver or kidney conditions, gout, or a history of calcium-oxalate kidney stones should take no more than 1,000 mg a day.

I asked Dr. Yoon about this trend and he said, “due to the fact that vitamin C is water-soluble and hence not all amounts you take in supplement form will be fully absorbed, if you’re trying to get the positive effects of vitamin C through consumption, you’ll have to take it in high doses for a long period of time to actually see sufficient results.” 

Personally, I don’t fit into any high-risk categories and I’ve never experienced side effects with vitamin C.  Upon closer observation of my vitamin C supplement bottle, I find that one capsule contains 1000 mg, which is already 1,667% of the recommended daily value.  The label also says, “higher intakes may be useful, as recommended by a nutritionally-informed physician.”  Interesting…it seems like this bottle was designed with the vitamin C mega-doser in mind.  Approximately 12 cents per 1000 mg pill, so upping my dosage by 1-2 pills wouldn’t strain my wallet too much.  But would it be worth it?  I’m still not sure but at the minimum, it’s interesting to think about!