Vitamin C levels modulate anxiety and anorexia – study

Vitamin C, also known as ascorbic acid, is well-known for its ability to prevent cold – but it does more than that. A new study suggests that the vitamin also plays a role in modulating mental health problems, such as anxiety and anorexia.

Published in the journal Nutrition Research, the study looked into the effects of vitamin C on mental health. Researchers from Ochanomizu University and Tokyo Metropolitan Institute of Gerontology in Japan hypothesized that vitamin C levels help determine a person’s risk of anxiety, anorexia, and depression. To test their hypothesis, the Japanese researchers gave male and female mice either plain water or water that contained vitamin C.

The results showed that mice of both sexes that did not receive vitamin C lost weight. Mice that did not receive vitamin C also exhibited anxiety symptoms but the symptoms were more pronounced in female mice. After undergoing stressful behavioral tests, the mice that did not receive vitamin C lost their appetite. Female mice that did not receive vitamin C also displayed serious anorexia symptoms. On the other hand, vitamin C status did not affect depressive symptoms.

From these findings, the Japanese researchers concluded that vitamin C status is important for determining a person’s risk of anxiety and anorexia.

Other studies on vitamin C and mental health

Other studies also found a link between vitamin C and mental health. Vitamin C deficiency could cause neurological damage while adding vitamin C to the diet could improve or reverse symptoms of anxiety and depression.

Vitamin C, anxiety, and depression

One study, published in the Journal of Neurochemistry and conducted by researchers from Vanderbilt University Medical Center, deprived mice of vitamin C. As mice became deficient in the vitamin, they started to exhibit depressive and submissive behaviors. The vitamin C-deprived mice also craved sugar and had lower levels of dopamine and serotonin in the brain – symptoms associated with high levels of anxiety and depression in both humans and mice.

Vitamin C and stress-related depression

Another animal study published in the Journal of Psychiatric Research found that vitamin C was as effective as the antidepressant drug fluoxetine (Prozac) in managing depression symptoms. For two weeks, the researchers exposed mice to chronic unpredictable stress, which caused depressive behaviors and changes in their brain. On the second week, they treated the mice with either fluoxetine or vitamin C. Both treatments effectively helped the mice cope with stress and depression. The researchers reported that vitamin C may be a great alternative medicine for managing depression because Prozac and other antidepressant drugs cause harmful side effects. (Related: Prenatal exposure to SSRI antidepressants changes brain wiring, causes anxiety and depression in adults.)

Human studies also demonstrated the beneficial effect of vitamin C on depression. In one study, researchers gave both manic and depressed individuals a single dose of either 3,000 milligrams (mg) vitamin C or a placebo. They found that those who took the vitamin experienced significant improvements in their condition. Another study also showed similar results. When young adults consumed 3,000 mg of vitamin C every day for two weeks, they experienced a reduction in depression.

Vitamin C is a water-soluble vitamin found in many fruits and vegetables. Citrus fruits like oranges and grapefruits, as well as fruits like cantaloupes, guavas, kiwis, papayas, and strawberries are rich in vitamin C. Vegetables like broccoli, bell peppers, and dark leafy greens like beet greens, collard greens, kale, mustard greens, spinach, purslane, and watercress are also good sources. Because vitamin C is destroyed by heat and air, it is important to eat vitamin C-rich foods raw or minimally cooked.

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