Vitamin C and Bariatric Surgery

Ascorbic acid, or vitamin C, is essential to our health. This is a water-soluble vitamin naturally present in some foods. While many animals can synthesize vitamin C in their body, humans cannot make their own. This means we must get it all from our food. Vitamin C is necessary for the body to synthesize collagen, a connective tissue used in wound healing. It also helps heal wounds and maintain healthy bones, teeth, and skin. This vitamin is a powerful antioxidant that fights free radicals in the body, possibly preventing or delaying specific diseases, such as cancer, arthritis, and heart disease. Antioxidants also help fight early signs of aging.

Vitamin C is also well-known for its importance in keeping our immune system healthy, supporting many functions in our cells for a healthy immune response. Vitamin C’s antioxidant power also decreases inflammation and boosts immunity. Some studies even suggest that a high intake of vitamin C may decrease the length and severity of a cold and its symptoms, though this has not been definitively proven. Further, it also enhances the production of white blood cells and reduces cell death of other immune-related cells. Vitamin C supports antibody production and helps make cells more absorbent to some antibiotics, which helps the body fight off infection.

Many foods contain varying amounts of vitamin C. Fruits and vegetables are among the best sources. While many people assume that oranges and other citrus fruits have the highest vitamin C, foods such as bell peppers, strawberries, tomatoes, green leafy vegetables, and white potatoes are also excellent sources. One cup of strawberries contains nearly double the vitamin C of a medium orange.

The recommended dietary allowance, or RDA for vitamin C, is 90mg for men and 75mg for women. For reference, 1 cup of chopped broccoli contains about 80mg. Since so many foods are packed with this vitamin, deficiency is rare in developed countries, with about 7% of adults affected. Signs of deficiency include dry and bumpy skin, easy bruising, slow-healing wounds, weak bones, and bleeding gums. Severe vitamin C deficiency is called scurvy, which affects primarily underdeveloped countries. Luckily this deficiency is easily treated, but to be safe, most health professionals recommend eating one serving of vitamin C-rich food per day.

Vitamin C and Colds

Since Vitamin C is vital to our immune system, many assume that high intakes of this vitamin (whether from food or a supplement) may cure a cold or other related diseases. While research shows how vital this vitamin is to our immune system, research does not show high vitamin C intake as a viable treatment option, especially if a person is already sick. Some studies show that it helps symptoms improve earlier, but this is mainly in people with a generally healthy diet, including lots of vitamin C – rich foods. Most health professionals agree that as with many other dietary supplements, our bodies metabolize vitamin C best when consumed in food. This is especially true when people eat a healthy diet for an extended period, not just when they feel that they might be getting sick.

Many companies advertise products that may cure or prevent disease. However, there is no solid body of evidence that supports these claims. Since vitamin C is water soluble, most of the “extra” vitamin C not used by the body is excreted in the urine. Many of the positive effects people notice after taking one of these supplements are thought to be related to the placebo effect. While excess vitamin C may not be harmful, especially if they are only taken occasionally, some researchers believe it may give us a false sense of safety and cause us to be less vigilant in keeping away from germs (washing hands, avoiding touching the face, etc.).

Vitamin C and Bariatric Patients

Vitamin C is essential after bariatric surgery. Vitamin C is critical for wound healing immediately after surgery and is useful for iron absorption in the small intestine. Vitamin C also converts folic acid, a B vitamin, into an active form. Since bariatric surgery reduces your ability to eat as much food, it’s essential to ensure your body utilizes all its nutrients most efficiently.

Since iron deficiency is relatively common after bariatric surgery (especially without proper supplementation), eating plenty of high-vitamin C foods can help prevent iron stores from depleting. For example, eating an orange while taking an iron supplement may be beneficial. Many studies show that eating more vitamin C can raise iron levels in those who suffer from a deficiency.

Not everyone who undergoes bariatric surgery needs a vitamin C supplement. As with any supplement, it’s best to discuss your needs with your doctor and dietitian. A vitamin C deficiency is typically found during routine lab tests after bariatric surgery, though this is rare, especially because you will be taking a daily multivitamin.

Eating a well-balanced diet is the best way to ensure you meet your needs for vitamin C and other essential nutrients. Eating at least three servings of fruits and veggies per day, choosing lean proteins and healthy fats, and prioritizing physical activity are all ways to ensure you stay healthy before and after surgery.

Chloe Seddon is a registered dietitian nutritionist who holds a Master’s Degree in health promotion from the University of Connecticut. She specializes in nutritional counseling, with a focus on a non-dieting approach to maintain healthy weight and goal-oriented lifestyle changes for long term success. She teaches intuitive eating and easy meal preparation to help clients sort through the myriad of nutritional misinformation to focus on having a balanced and happy relationship with food. She counsels clients with a range of issues, including chronic disease management, sports nutrition, disordered eating and weight loss. Chloe currently works as a nutritional counselor and educator providing group and individual consulting. She believes that balancing food, eating and exercise should be enjoyable and healthful.

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