The pursuit of optimal brain health is a priority for women of all ages. Ensuring a well-balanced diet with essential nutrients is crucial for supporting cognitive function. 

Last month, we highlighted the ‘sunshine vitamin’ – vitamin D. We explored the roles of vitamin D in cognitive function and neuroprotection, with a focus on the evidence linking this vitamin with future promise in the prevention and treatment of multiple sclerosis and other degenerative conditions. This month, we turn our focus to vitamin C. 

Also known as ascorbic acid, vitamin C is considered an ‘essential’ vitamin as it is not produced by the body. 

Instead, it must be obtained through diet or supplementation in order to meet our needs. Foods that are rich in vitamin C include citrus fruits like oranges, lemons, and grapefruits as well as berries and tomatoes. Vitamin C is essential for various bodily functions, including brain health through its role as an antioxidant. It seems that in recent years, the term ‘antioxidant’ has become a so-called buzz word. But why are antioxidants beneficial for the body and brain? 

Antioxidants like vitamin C are able to donate small, electrically charged particles to neutralize harmful molecules called free radicals. Free radicals are highly reactive molecules that can damage cells, protein and DNA through a process called oxidative stress – which is thought to contribute to cognitive decline and neurodegenerative diseases like Alzheimer’s disease (AD) and Parkinson’s. 

As an antioxidant, vitamin C can stabilize free radicals and prevent them from causing further damage and inflammation. 

While the physiology connecting oxidative stress and neurodegenerative diseases like AD is well documented, research is only just emerging about how nutritional supplementation and vitamin C might alter the course of the disease. 

One of the hallmarks of AD is the breakdown of the blood-brain barrier – an important cellular barrier that protects the integrity of the brain from pathogens or damage. In an article published in Cell Death & Disease in 2014, a team from Korea’s Seoul National University investigated whether the antioxidant effects of vitamin C could protect against damage to the blood-brain barrier and subsequent progression of AD. 

The team used a population of mice with a genetic mutation to create an animal model of AD and randomized the mice to receive either a low-dose or high-dose vitamin C supplement to their feeds. They found that mice who received a higher dose of vitamin C had less disruption in the blood brain barrier than those who received a lower dose. 

Subsequently, the high-dose group also had less protein plaque in the hippocampus region of their brains – the location of the brain associated with learning and memory. Although the animal model is not entirely akin to the human brain, these results suggest that vitamin C could offer protection against neurodegenerative disease in individuals who are at risk. 

In a randomized controlled trial (which is the highest level of scientific evidence!) another group from Seoul National University set out to determine the effects of vitamin C supplementation amongst otherwise healthy adults. Published in the European Journal of Nutrition in 2022, the team recruited over 200 adults who were found to have low vitamin C levels in their bloodwork. Participants were randomized to receive either a vitamin C supplement or placebo pill for one month. At both the start and the end of the study, participants completed a number of questionnaires to assess markers of mental vitality – including fatigue, attention, stress level, mood and motivation. 

In the study, they found that vitamin C supplementation increased participant scores of attention, energy, and work engagement as well as improved scores on tests of cognitive function.

The authors conclude that amongst otherwise healthy adults, supplementation of vitamin C can promote mental vitality – which is a key component of healthy psychological functioning and goal achievement! Overall, vitamin C plays a crucial role in our health: as an antioxidant, it is an important part of our brain’s defense mechanism against the harmful effects of inflammation. Emerging research indicates that it may help reduce the risk of chronic diseases associated with oxidative stress while also playing a role in mood regulation and energy levels. 

As we celebrate the start of spring, keep your eyes peeled for citrus fruits like grapefruits, oranges, tangerines and mandarins that are in season to reap benefits in flavor and function! 


Part 1: Vitamin A (to Zinc!)

Part 2: Vitamin B1 (Thiamine)

Part 3: Vitamin B2 (Riboflavin) 

Part 4: Vitamin B9 (Folic Acid)

Part 5: Vitamin B-12

Part 6: Vitamin D

Part 7: Vitamin C