What effect does vitamin C have on the body’s ability to heal from injuries? It’s a topic that has been the subject of much discussion in recent years.
A recent review paper published in Orthopaedic Journal of Sports Medicine was conducted by researchers at The Steadman Clinic and Steadman Philippon Research Institute in Colorado in 2018. Its focus is specific: Efficacy of Vitamin C Supplementation on Collagen Synthesis and Oxidative Stress After Musculoskeletal Injuries: A Systematic Review.
The review looked at the results of both animal and human clinical studies that focused on vitamin C supplementation after an injury to the musculoskeletal system. The studies looked at collagen synthesis, as well as the way the bones, ligaments, and tendons healed.
Vitamin C plays a key role in healing connective tissues, which depend on collagen.
- Vitamin C is an antioxidant, meaning it protects the healing process from fibrosis (thickening of the tissue, or scarring);
- As an antioxidant, it modulates inflammatory processes, and prevents cellular damage;
- It also promotes the production of collagen, a protein with a fibre-like structure that the body uses to make connective tissue (skin, tendons, ligaments, and more).
Once they had identified ten studies that met their criteria, they found some promising results for vitamin C supplementation, among them:
- Accelerated bone healing;
- Increase in collagen fibres;
- Short-term accelerated improvement in graft incorporation of the anterior cruciate ligament (ACL);
- Decreased levels of oxidative stress in animal studies.
Some of the effects seem to have levelled out in the long-term – in other words, it’s quicker healing, not more extensive than otherwise.
In some in vitro (laboratory) studies, vitamin C has provoked the production of cells that become bones as well as connective tissue.
A Key Finding
In one of the clinical trials which evaluated the recovery of muscle tissues after ACL reconstruction surgery, there was no significant difference between the control group, and the one that received vitamin C supplements.
However, the study did find that the baseline vitamin C of a subject’s blood serum was linked with “significant improvements” when it came to strength, “suggesting that long-term dietary habits may be more effective than short-term supplements.”
That means a diet rich in lemons, oranges, and other foods containing significant amounts of vitamin C is most likely a better bet when it comes to aiding the healing process than taking supplements after an injury has already occurred.
As the American researchers note, the data so far is limited, and some of it contradictory – but with no harmful effects observed in any of the studies, it’s both safe and wise to pursue it further.