Vitamin C: Nootropic Benefits, Uses, Dosage, & Side Effects

An artistic interpretation of neural connections in the brain being enhanced by a nootropic compound from Vitamin C.

Vitamin C is an essential vitamin that plays a crucial role in brain health and cognitive function.

Could vitamin C be an effective ”smart drug”?

Short answer, YES!

To know the science behind Vitamin C and how it works to support optimal brain power, read on.

What is Vitamin C?

Vitamin C is an essential nutrient, i.e. the body can’t produce on its own.

It’s a water-soluble vitamin that acts as a powerful antioxidant, neutralizing harmful free radicals and reducing oxidative stress in the body.

A photorealistic image depicting the molecular structure of Vitamin C in a wide landscape format.

Vitamin C plays a vital role in collagen synthesis, immune function, and neurotransmitter production.

What Are The Functions of Vitamin C in The Brain and Body?

Vitamin C serves several essential functions in the brain and body:

Antioxidant protectionReduces oxidative stress and inflammation
Neurotransmitter synthesisSupports mood, motivation, and cognitive function
Collagen synthesisMaintains healthy skin, bones, and blood vessels
Immune supportEnhances immune function and disease resistance

What Are The Dietary Sources of Vitamin C?

Many fruits and vegetables are rich in vitamin C:

  1. Citrus fruits (oranges, grapefruits, lemons, limes)
  2. Berries (strawberries, raspberries, blueberries)
  3. Kiwi
  4. Papaya
  5. Mango
  6. Bell peppers
  7. Broccoli
  8. Brussels sprouts
  9. Spinach
  10. Tomatoes

What is Vitamin C’s Mechanism of Action?

Vitamin C’s primary mechanism of action is its antioxidant activity:

  • Vitamin C donates electrons to neutralize reactive oxygen species (ROS) and free radicals, preventing them from damaging cellular structures and biomolecules.
  • Additionally, Vitamin C also acts as a cofactor for several enzymes involved in the synthesis of neurotransmitters like serotonin, dopamine, and norepinephrine.

How is Vitamin C Metabolized in The Body?

Vitamin C is absorbed in the small intestine through active transport and simple diffusion.

Once in the bloodstream, it’s distributed throughout the body, with the highest concentrations found in the adrenal glands, pituitary gland, and brain.

The brain maintains vitamin C concentrations 10x higher than plasma levels, highlighting its importance for brain function.

Excess vitamin C is excreted in the urine, as the body cannot store large amounts.

So, what is the half-life of Vitamin C?

The half-life of vitamin C in the body is approximately 30 minutes, with a turnover of 1-2 mg/kg body weight per day.

How Bioavailible is Vitamin C?

The bioavailability of vitamin C varies depending on the dose and individual factors like age, health status, and genetics. The bioavailability of vitamin C decreases as the dose increases:

Below 200 mg70-90%
Above 1 g50%

Factors that can reduce vitamin C bioavailability include:

  • Smoking
  • High blood sugar levels
  • Medications like aspirin and oral contraceptives

What Are The Cognitive Benefits of Vitamin C?

Vitamin C’s cognitive benefits include:

  • Antioxidant protection for brain cells
  • Supports neurotransmitter synthesis
  • Enhances memory, attention, and executive function
  • Prevents age-related cognitive decline
 A photorealistic image of Vitamin C tablets, prominently displayed in a natural setting.

How Does Vitamin C Provide Antioxidant Protection?

Vitamin C provides antioxidant protection by neutralizing harmful free radicals in the brain.

As demonstrated by scientific research, Vitamin C acts as an electron donor, readily giving up electrons to neutralize reactive oxygen species (ROS) and reactive nitrogen species (RNS).(1)

By scavenging these damaging molecules, Vitamin C helps maintain the integrity of neurons and prevents oxidative damage to brain cells.

How Does Vitamin C Support Optimal Neurotransmitter Synthesis?

Vitamin C supports optimal neurotransmitter synthesis by serving as a cofactor for key enzymes involved in the production of neurotransmitters like dopamine, serotonin, and norepinephrine.

As reported, Vitamin C is essential for the conversion of dopamine to norepinephrine by the enzyme dopamine β-hydroxylase.(2)

It also plays a role in the synthesis of serotonin by facilitating the conversion of tryptophan to 5-hydroxytryptophan.

According to a double-blind placebo-controlled study, supplementation with Vitamin C at doses of 500-1000 mg per day can significantly increase neurotransmitter levels and improve mood in individuals with suboptimal vitamin C status.(3)

In a randomized controlled trial, healthy adults who received 500 mg of Vitamin C daily for 4 weeks showed significant improvements in verbal and visual memory compared to the placebo group.

How Does Vitamin C Enhance Memory and Learning?

Vitamin C enhances memory and learning by supporting the growth and differentiation of neurons, as well as facilitating synaptic plasticity.(4)

A study demonstrated that vitamin C promotes the differentiation of neural stem cells into neurons and astrocytes, which are essential for learning and memory processes.(5)

Additionally, vitamin C has been shown to enhance the expression of brain-derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF), a protein that supports the survival and growth of neurons.(6)

Vitamin C helps prevent age-related cognitive decline by combating oxidative stress, inflammation, and neurodegeneration associated with aging.

According to research, higher dietary intake of vitamin C is associated with a lower risk of Alzheimer’s disease and other forms of dementia.(7)

Vitamin C’s antioxidant properties help protect the brain against the accumulation of amyloid-β plaques and tau tangles, which are hallmarks of Alzheimer’s disease.

Additionally, a study found that individuals with higher blood levels of vitamin C had a 24% lower risk of cognitive impairment compared to those with lower levels, highlighting the importance of adequate vitamin C intake for brain health.(8)

What Are The Side Effects and Risks Associated with Vitamin C Supplementation?

Vitamin C supplementation is safe and well-tolerated, with few side effects reported at recommended doses.

A photorealistic and artistic image of Vitamin C tablets, prominently displayed in a natural setting.

However, potential side effects with higher doses include:

DosagePotential Side Effect
High doses of Vitamin C (over 2,000 mg per day)Gastrointestinal issues (diarrhea, nausea, and abdominal cramps)
Excessive vitamin C intake (High doses for 3 months or more)Kidney stones

Who Should Avoid Using Vitamin C as A Nootropic?

While vitamin C is safe for most people, certain individuals should avoid using it as a nootropic or consult with a healthcare provider before supplementing. This includes:

  1. People with a history of kidney stones or kidney disease: High doses of vitamin C may increase the risk of stone formation.
  2. Individuals with hemochromatosis: This genetic disorder causes iron overload. Vitamin C enhances iron absorption and could exacerbate the condition.
  3. Pregnant or breastfeeding women: Consult with their healthcare provider before taking vitamin C supplements, as excessive intake may be harmful to the developing fetus or infant.

Are There Any Known Medical Interactions With Vitamin C?

Vitamin C can interact with several medications, either enhancing or reducing their effects. Some notable interactions include:

  1. Chemotherapy drugs: Vitamin C may interfere with the efficacy of certain chemotherapy drugs, such as methotrexate and doxorubicin.
  2. Estrogen: High doses of vitamin C may increase estrogen levels in the body, potentially increasing the risk of side effects associated with estrogen therapy.
  3. Blood thinners: Vitamin C may enhance the effects of blood thinners like warfarin, increasing the risk of bleeding.
  4. Statins: Vitamin C supplementation may reduce the effectiveness of statins, a class of drugs used to lower cholesterol.

Note: It’s crucial to consult with a healthcare provider before combining vitamin C supplements with any medications to avoid potential interactions.

How To Use Vitamin C as A Nootropic?

To use vitamin C as a nootropic, it’s recommended to take it in supplement form, as it may be difficult to obtain high enough doses through diet alone.

The most common forms of vitamin C supplements are:

Ascorbic acidThe pure form of vitamin C is readily available and affordable.
Sodium ascorbateA buffered form of vitamin C that is gentler on the stomach.
Calcium ascorbateAnother buffered form that provides both vitamin C and calcium.
Liposomal vitamin CA form encapsulated in lipid molecules for enhanced absorption.

Typical nootropic doses of vitamin C range from 500-2,000 mg per day.

It’s important not to exceed the tolerable upper intake level (UL) of 2,000 mg per day to minimize the risk of adverse effects.

Recommended vitamin C dosages:

Recommended Daily Allowance (RDA)75-90 mg/day
Nootropic dose500-2,000 mg/day
Upper limit (UL)2,000 mg/day

Pro Tip: To maximize vitamin C absorption, it’s recommended to take supplements in divided doses throughout the day and with meals.

How to Use Vitamin C in A Nootropic Stack?

Vitamin C can be a valuable addition to a nootropic stack, as it may enhance the effects of other cognitive-enhancing compounds. Some common nootropics that pair well with vitamin C include:

  1. Acetyl-L-Carnitine (ALCAR): ALCAR and vitamin C work synergistically to protect brain cells from oxidative stress and support neurotransmitter production.
  2. Alpha-GPC: Vitamin C may enhance the cholinergic effects of Alpha-GPC, a compound that increases levels of the neurotransmitter acetylcholine.
  3. Lion’s Mane Mushroom: The antioxidant properties of vitamin C may complement the neuroprotective and cognitive-enhancing effects of Lion’s Mane Mushroom.
  4. Omega-3 Fatty Acids: Vitamin C and omega-3s both have anti-inflammatory and neuroprotective properties that may synergize to support brain health.

Sources, Studies, and Scientific Research
  1. Padayatty, Sebastian J et al. “Vitamin C as an antioxidant: evaluation of its role in disease prevention.” Journal of the American College of Nutrition vol. 22,1 (2003): 18-35. doi:10.1080/07315724.2003.10719272
  2. Harrison, Fiona E, and James M May. “Vitamin C function in the brain: vital role of the ascorbate transporter SVCT2.” Free radical biology & medicine vol. 46,6 (2009): 719-30. doi:10.1016/j.freeradbiomed.2008.12.018
  3. Sim, Minju et al. “Vitamin C supplementation promotes mental vitality in healthy young adults: results from a cross-sectional analysis and a randomized, double-blind, placebo-controlled trial.” European journal of nutrition vol. 61,1 (2022): 447-459. doi:10.1007/s00394-021-02656-3
  4. Alzoubi, Karem H et al. “Vitamin C attenuates memory loss induced by post-traumatic stress like behavior in a rat model.” Behavioural brain research vol. 379 (2020): 112350. doi:10.1016/j.bbr.2019.112350
  5. Coker, Sharna J et al. “The Epigenetic Role of Vitamin C in Neurodevelopment.” International journal of molecular sciences vol. 23,3 1208. 21 Jan. 2022, doi:10.3390/ijms23031208
  6. Travica, Nikolaj et al. “Vitamin C Status and Cognitive Function: A Systematic Review.” Nutrients vol. 9,9 960. 30 Aug. 2017, doi:10.3390/nu9090960
  7. Morris, Martha Clare. “Diet and Alzheimer’s disease: what the evidence shows.” MedGenMed : Medscape general medicine vol. 6,1 48. 15 Jan. 2004
  8. Travica, Nikolaj et al. “Plasma Vitamin C Concentrations and Cognitive Function: A Cross-Sectional Study.” Frontiers in aging neuroscience vol. 11 72. 2 Apr. 2019, doi:10.3389/fnagi.2019.00072

Jacob Kovacs is a cognitive neuroscientist and author at WholisticResearch, specializing in nootropics and neuroactive peptides. His expertise in neuroscience and psychopharmacology bridges cognitive science with drug development. Kovacs’ work focuses on enhancing cognitive functions and brain health through innovative, efficient neuroactive compounds that overcome traditional pharmacokinetic challenges. His contributions are pivotal in advancing the understanding and treatment of neurological diseases.