Vitamin C is a compound with many interesting and still unrecognized properties. Apart from its antioxidant effect, this substance may also influence the secretion of certain hormones, such as… cortisol. This effect is incredibly interesting and may be used in sports supplementation provided that vitamin C is applied in proper doses.

A few words about cortisol

Cortisol, also called stress hormone is quite well known for its catabolic properties. Although it fulfills many biologically important functions, its permanently increased level turns out to be simply the enemy of physical condition and esthetic silhouette. Apart from specific health predispositions, increased cortisol secretion may also take place in such situations as:

  • living in constant stress connected to work or tough life situation,
  • using diets with high calorie deficit,
  • very intensive physical activity (e.g. 2 trainings a day, taking part in very demanding sports competitions).

Sometimes the factor that increases the activity of cortisol is… excessive fatty tissue level. It turns out that adipocytes take part in the metabolism of many hormones, including glucocorticoids! From the point of view of physically active people and those working on their body it is very important that the level of cortisol may be increased under the influence of hard and frequent training sessions connected with low-calorie diet. In such cases, increased secretion of the above mentioned hormone is the reason for the lack of satisfying progress in fatty tissue reduction.

In search of effective methods to lower cortisol level

Taking into consideration the above presented data, it is easy to understand that sportsmen, physiologists, dieticians and trainers have been searching for a long time for the methods to lower cortisol level. Changing the lifestyle is of huge importance here, including:

  • decreasing the level of mental stress (good time organization and assertiveness training are crucial here)
  • adjusting physical activity to the adapting possibilities of the organism,
  • adjusting energy supply to the organism’s needs or implementing reasonable calorie deficit,
  • providing proper amount of sleep,
  • taking care of finding the time during the day to relax.

As it turns out, one of the simple and effective ways to maintain cortisol under control may be vitamin C supplementation.

Interesting research results

The studies carried out by the group of researchers from the Department of Physiology, Faculty of Medicine at the University of Natal provided incredibly interesting data regarding the discussed matter. The researchers carried out the experiment in which forty five runners participated, a part of whom received 500 mg of vitamin C, another part – 1500 mg of this compound and the last part – placebo 7 days before the race, on the day of the competition (ultramarathon) and two days after the start. The authors decided to test cortisol level in all three groups. What were the results?

The level of the mentioned hormone after the effort was significantly lower in the group taking 1500mg in comparison to the group taking 500mg of vitamin C and the placebo group. Similarly, the level of adrenaline and pro-inflammatory cytokines was also lower in the group receiving high doses of l-ascorbic acid. In this way, vitamin C proved its anti-cortisol properties. The results of the above study are not alienated.

The above conclusions were clinched by the American researchers from the State University in Arizona, who studied the influence of using 1g of vitamin C on cortisol level and the relation cortisol-testosterone in young competitors of strength disciplines. During the experiment, the participants were subjected to intensive, high-volume strength effort based on basic multiarticular exercises (it was in fact a sports camp). The results of blood tests carried out in the period of 24 hours after the effort turned out to be more than interesting.

The authors of the study observed that applying vitamin C allows to considerably decrease the level of cortisol in blood. This compound, however, did not have the influence on testosterone level, but the relationship between this hormone and cortisol improved, which according to the researchers testifies to better tolerance of strain by the competitors taking part in the study, receiving vitamin C.

Practical conclusions

On the basis of the above information we may formulate certain recommendations regarding vitamin C application by sportsmen and people burdened with large effort. There are many arguments suggesting that taking high doses of vitamin C, ranging from 1 to 1,5g may constitute an effective solution in case of increased cortisol level. It should be highlighted at the same time that providing doses in the range of 1 – 1,5g based only on conventional food products is extremely difficult. Therefore, it is a good solution to use dietary supplements.

Which form of vitamin C is the best?

Since recently a lot has been said and written about various forms of vitamin C (better and worse, buffered, dextro- and levorotatory), it is worth highlighting that in the above described study simple l-ascorbic acids was used. Would other forms be better or worse? It is rather doubtful, especially that the often raised “levorotatory” vitamin C is far-fetched.

We should know that against what some people say, there is only one vitamin C, i.e. L-ascorbic acid. There are vitamins that appear in various forms, such as for example vitamin E (where in nature these are four tocopherols and four tocotrienols varying in their biological activity), but vitamin C doesn’t belong to this group. Medicines, dietary supplements and food products contain simply l-ascorbic acid. And this is not a levorotatory form or at least – it shouldn’t be. Someone spread gossip and confused the concepts of optical rotation and relative configuration.

As a matter of explanation, relative configuration (marked with D or L) is a way of naming optical isomers of chemical compounds by comparing them (and more specifically by a correlational analysis) against glyceride aldehyde. Optical rotation, on the other hand, is a value characterizing the optically active substance by the value of the rotation angle of polarized light surface. In relation to relative configuration, vitamin C will always appear in the form of L-ascorbic acid. D-ascorbic acid is not a vitamin and cannot be placed on the market in itself. If anybody does that – he or she breaks the law. Are we sure that no one commits such abuses? We are not. Similarly, we are not sure if instead of calcium lactate, there is not sodium chloride in the tablets or instead of vitamin D – starch is not used… This is, however, not the end. For many people it is going to be surprising that the actual rotation of vitamin C (i.e. L-ascorbic acid), according to the data of PubChem is +20,5-24°. What does this mean? That this compound is in fact dextrorotatory. Regardless of the fact if it comes from the capsule, tablet powder, kiwi fruit, mandarins or broccoli – vitamin C is dextrorotatory. In fact, the magic letter “L” does not refer to rotation, but relative configuration.


Routine supplementation with high doses

In the discussed matter it is also worth adding that although vitamin C in the doses 1-1,5g a day may lower cortisol level, it may also decrease certain benefits of physical activity. Therefore, we should always consider potential “for” and “against” of taking it in such high amounts. In daily usage, the optimal dose of vitamin C for sportsmen is around 200 mg a day. The doses exceeding 1g are worth introducing only in specific cases and for a certain period of time and not as a routine and “just in case”, as in this way we will in fact probably lower cortisol level, but we will also decrease the activity of mechanisms responsible for muscle mass development and efficiency.


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