We all learned about vitamin C deficiency in school. It's the infamous scurvy! Those pirates on the ship were totally losing it and no one knew why, but thanks to the wonders of scientists in the early part of the century, we figured it out and they all lived happily ever after.
The problem is, vitamin C deficiency doesn't always have to mean scurvy. You don't have to lose your teeth or die of simple infection to claim deficiency. The borderline and depleted cases have chronic implications for your health, too. And what's worse is that those go unseen and dismissed as getting older or just having a bad month.
When it comes to sugar cravings, you can find plenty of theories on the internet. And I actually promote a few of them, too. So I'm not writing this article to claim that other reasonable theories are wrong. Rather, I want to draw your attention to an overlooked reason that might explain some things.
Why would sugar cravings be associated with low vitamin C? Keeping it simple here, think of cell receptors. They are similar to keypads for garage door locks. You enter in the code, and your door opens. Receptors tend to only work with specific codes for specific substances. Sometimes, they take a few specific codes. Sometimes, they are only supposed to take one code, but they happen to be easily tricked by a look alike. This is similar to the issue between iodine and radiation for our thyroids.
When it comes to sugar (glucose) and vitamin C, they both are regulated by the same receptor. The GLUT-1 receptor opens in response to glucose and vitamin C, allowing them to pass through the gate so to speak. But, see, GLUT-1 likes to let glucose in first, and more of it. This slows down vitamin C, which could cause a downward spiral.
And that's not the only way the body can spin slowly out of balance when it comes to sugar and vitamin C. Researchers have closely studied how vitamin C interacts with serum lipids (aka cholesterol levels) and glucose levels. They've learned that vitamin C helps to bring these two levels into balance again. The big picture here is that things such as type 2 diabetes and metabolic syndromes tend to be downward spirals. The body pumps out insulin, develops resistance, can't control glucose levels, pumps out more insulin, resistance increases, liver and gallbladder start to pass out from the effort, and weight gain slowly continues, and so on and so forth.
What that means over on our side will help bring this together: Let's say you're experiencing some mild sugar issues. Maybe you're stressed out at work. Maybe you had a family tragedy. Maybe years of childbearing and lactation (both glucose based processes) have you tilted a little out of balance. You reach for sugar. For energy, for satiation. You begin to realize it's turning into a vicious cycle and a bit of an addiction. You eat more refined sugars, carby, starchy, processed foods. You need that quick energy. As you continue to do this, your glucose levels slowly spin out of balance, insulin resistance develops, and your organs start to get mighty tired.
At the same time...this means your vitamin C levels are being depleted! You're increasing your glucose levels, and keeping them high. That clogs the GLUT-1 receptors. And it slows down the hexose monophophate (HMP) shunt, leading to a weaker immune response. And meanwhile, you are already under chronic stress and your body is feeling inflamed and out of balance, so it needs maximum immune system efficiency!
You might be experiencing borderline deficiency or otherwise have low vitamin C stores if you show any of these symptoms:
- Tiredness and weakness.
- Muscle and joint pains.
- Easy bruising.
- Spots that look like tiny, red-blue bruises on your skin.
- Dry skin.
- Splitting hair.
- Swelling and discoloration of your gums.
- Sudden and unexpected bleeding from your gums.
- Poor healing of wounds.
- Problems fighting infections.
- Bleeding into joints, causing severe joint pains.
- Changes in your bones.
- Tooth loss.
- Weight loss.
That's something I want to emphasize here. I am on the side of eating a healthy, fresh diet as a default. The thing is, when you've experienced a trauma, or slowly brought the body out of balance with depleted nutrition, a default diet is usually not going to repair the damage. It's a healthy choice nonetheless, but you do need to look at targeted, high quality supplementation in the face of an actual issue. I can't dispense medical advice, and recommend working with a care provider who can develop a unique plan for you. I just wanted to highlight that eating vitamin C rich fruits a couple times a day is not going to address an issue that's been spinning out of balance in your body for months or even years.
This study here helps to underscore what I'm saying. The researchers gave 500mg and 1000mg of vitamin C to their participants. They concluded that 500mg showed no change. Whereas 1000mg did show change. To put that into perspective, one of the highest, easily available foods in vitamin C is the bell pepper. It has 90-95mg of vitamin C in one pepper. So you'd have to eat roughly 10 peppers daily to reach the level necessary to show beneficial change in this study! (Which might or might not be a great goal for you...I'm just providing perspective here.)
"INTERPRETATION & CONCLUSION:
The next time you feel an urge to eat refined sugars or to reach for a quick fix, taking more vitamin C in that moment likely will not help. The relationship between sugar and vitamin C means the issue is indirect. And switching to a raw fruit or vegetable that is high in vitamin C but also high in fructose might not help much, either, although it's a great way to begin developing new habits. This is true for orange juice or other fruit juices, too. Despite the vitamin C content, they pump a lot of sugar into your body all at once when you might already be struggling with glucose balance.
A healthier approach to this downward spiral would be to start your day out with vitamin C. As you begin to replenish your stores, you might notice sugar cravings lessen. You might also feel more energy, clearer thinking, and better digestion. This is because vitamin C is super important for your adrenals. And so I've saved the best for last here.
Vitamin C is super important for adrenal function and health. When you realize this, you start to see why the lemon juice and salt trick helps people. It's often recommended that a person drink lemon juice and himalayan salt every morning when struggling with adrenal fatigue. Lemon juice = vitamin C! Your adrenals use up vitamin C when they secrete cortisol. The adrenal connection is a big topic, so I won't try to tack that onto this already long winded article. Instead, I encourage you to check out this writer. I looked at about 20 adrenal articles and found this one informative without being overwhelming or confusing. Check it out when you have time so you can continue to see all of the contributing factors to this situation.
Suffice to say, if you've been experiencing high levels of stress for a long time, your body might have burned through vitamin C stores. Which means the adrenals are struggling. And once your body gets low on vitamin C, it begins to recycle it desperately. This process requires using glutathione. Those of you who follow my writings on methylation health know why this is bad news. Glutathione is produced in the methyl cycle and stored in the liver to break down/convert/detox dozens of substances in the body. Low glutathione is a major health problem.
So as you start to look at all the different pieces here, you can see how the body experiences a slow, downward spiral that drags more and more parts of the system into the free fall. As each vitamin or mineral is depleted, the cofactors become involved. As one system fails, the back up goes online and then it begins to fail, too.
All of this is to point out a key principle that I hope you take to heart: When your body has been stressed, and you've been pushed to the max every day for many months and perhaps years now, and when your body demands that you feed it a fast fix of "junk food" or "bad sugar"...
You are not a bad person.
You are not suffering from poor self control.
You are not lazy, weak, or stupid.
In fact, your body is exhibiting an intense, carefully designed process to survive. It has operated under extreme conditions for a long time and it is still determined to do its absolute best for you, no matter what is depleted, no matter what is imbalanced. It is going to get up and keep going for another day. Your body is hard working, clever, and strong, beyond what you can imagine.
Stop beating yourself up, and start making small changes every day to give yourself the best chance at success. Start to make these changes not to continue to deprive your body even more, but to uplift, energize, and love your body all the more.
Wake up tomorrow and ditch all processed or sugary foods
Suck down tons of fructose-based fruits and fruit juices
Tell yourself you will be 100% sugar free from now on
Call yourself names or play the blame and shame game
Consider starting every day with a vitamin C and/or adrenal support
Slowly reduce or replace your quick fixes with small steps that work for you, such as replacing a candy or pastry with a raw, fresh fruit and a protein dip
Focus on increasing other food groups instead of trying to eliminate demonized foods
Meditate on how strong and complex your body is, and how much it has been working for you
Some non-medical-advicey supplement ideas...remember to always DYOR! (Do Your Own Research!) These are a couple products that I wouldn't mind taking myself, or have already tried. Don't overwhelm yourself trying to find the bestest. When starting out, take baby steps. Taking the first step is the best of all.
Natural Calm Plus
This product has a ton of magnesium, but rounds it out with cofactors including vitamin C. I've found a lot of depleted women and children respond positively to this product. This flavour also tastes good to anyone who generally likes soda. It does NOT have enough C in it to stand alone, but is still a great starter or addition.
This unassuming bottle is actually impressive. I tried this one myself. It contains a good starting dosage of vitamin C, and also supportive amounts of converted calcium, magnesium, zinc, chloride, sodium, and potassium. I liked this plus the additional magnesium of Natural Calm Plus so I mix them together for a soda-like drink.
Kirkland Vitamin C
It seems 99.9999% of my audience shops at Costco, so I wanted to include this one. It has a good starting dosage, it contains a blend of bioflavonoids to help uptake, and it's cheap. Only downside is that you have to grind this one up for kids or people who don't swallow horse pills.
This is a liposomal product, which is purported to be better absorbed. It tends to be a lot more expensive. Some people swear by it, others don't notice any difference. If your budget allows for it, you might find it worth trying.
As always, I don't make any money on product ideas and am not affiliated with any companies. You're always welcome to donate if you like my work, though!