Vitamin C isn’t only for fighting off colds. It is a powerful antioxidant that has many functions in the body. But does vitamin C have any benefits for polycystic ovary syndrome? Let’s look at the evidence behind vitamin C for PCOS. Keep reading to learn more about vitamin C.
What is PCOS?
Polycystic ovary syndrome or polycystic ovarian syndrome (PCOS) is a common endocrine disorder impacting approximately 6% to 13% of people with ovaries worldwide. There are many symptoms of PCOS including lack of ovulation, irregular periods, difficulty getting pregnant, oily skin and acne, hirsutism, hair loss on the head, sleep apnea, rapid weight gain and more.
Although PCOS cannot be cured, managing the condition to improve symptoms and reduce the risk of other chronic conditions such as non-alcoholic fatty liver disease and metabolic disorders is advised.
PCOS management usually involves medication, dietary supplements and lifestyle changes. There are many PCOS supplements on the market, but is vitamin C required to see improvements in PCOS symptoms? Let’s dive in.
What is vitamin C?
Vitamin C, also known as ascorbic acid, is a water-soluble vitamin that is essential for the human body. It is an antioxidant which means it protects our bodies’ cells from the oxidative stress caused by free radicals. Free radicals are unstable molecules that are generated during regular metabolic processes.
They can also arise from environmental factors such as pollution and radiation exposure. These radicals have the potential to harm cells, play a role in accelerating the ageing process and contribute to the emergence of certain health issues, including heart disease and cancer.
Does vitamin C have benefits for PCOS?
Vitamin C is an essential vitamin for all but does it have specific beneficial effects for people with PCOS?
As the majority of people living with PCOS have insulin resistance managing insulin levels and blood glucose levels is an essential part of PCOS management. Interestingly, studies have suggested that those with type 2 diabetes and insulin resistance often have lower plasma vitamin C concentrations and suggested that people with type 2 diabetes may have higher vitamin C requirements compared to the control group. But, it is important to note that this study was small with only 89 participants so more research is required.
A randomized controlled trial investigated the impact of vitamin C on hormone levels in people with PCOS. They found that certain hormone levels improved such as follicle-stimulating hormone (FSH), progesterone and estradiol levels improved, but there was not a significant effect.
A more recent study from 2022 found that vitamin C intake is associated with a lower free androgen index in people with PCOS. PCOS is associated with raised total testosterone levels and hyperandrogenism is linked to many common PCOS symptoms like hirsutism and alopecia. This study only looked at 79 people with PCOS so larger-scale studies are required to truly understand the impact of vitamin C on hyperandrogenism and other symptoms of PCOS.
In a study looking at the impact of vitamin C on rodents with PCOS, researchers found that vitamin C may play a protective role against DHEA (dehydroepiandrosterone) induced polycystic ovaries via antioxidant mechanisms. As PCOS is associated with chronic inflammation antioxidants like vitamin C may help to improve symptoms but we need more research on human PCOS patients to truly understand the protective role of vitamin C.
In summary, more evidence is needed to understand the positive effect of vitamin C on PCOS symptoms as the evidence so far is often in small groups, and often not even in humans!
How much vitamin C do we need?
Vitamin C requirements depend on a variety of factors including your age, sex and specific health conditions. There is no vitamin C dosage for people with PCOS, so instead refer to the RDA (recommended dietary allowance) for your age and pregnancy or breastfeeding status.
- Adolescents aged 14-18 years: 65-75 mg
- Adults aged 19 years and above: 75-90 mg
- Pregnant adolescents aged 14-18 years: 80 mg
- Pregnant adults aged 19 years and above: 85 mg
- Breastfeeding adolescents aged 14-18 years: 115 mg
- Breastfeeding adults aged 19 years and above: 120 mg
Side effects of excess vitamin C supplementation
Vitamin C is considered generally safe when taken according to recommended daily guidelines. Although high dosage vitamin C supplementation may have certain side effects.
These may include gastrointestinal distress such as diarrhoea, stomach pain and nausea. Excess vitamin C supplementation may contribute to an increased risk of developing kidney stones, especially in those with a history of developing stones.
Too much vitamin C can interfere with the absorption of non-heme iron (plant-based iron) which could potentially lead to iron-deficiency anaemia in some individuals. Vitamin C may interfere with certain medications such as blood thinners, statins and some cancer medications. Always consult with your healthcare team before trying a new supplement regime.
How to get vitamin C
Vitamin C is found in many foods and you should be able to get enough vitamin C from your diet. However, some people may require supplementation to reach the recommended daily requirements.
The majority of people are able to get enough vitamin C from their diet. But if you are unable to, or have been recommended by a healthcare professional, you may require supplementation. Supplements are not a substitute for a varied diet, but complement your diet and address any specific deficiencies.
There are plenty of vitamin C supplements on the market. Look for supplements that are from a reputable brand and have been independently tested for purity and potency.
For people with PCOS supplementing with vitamin C is unlikely to be necessary. Instead, supplementing with nutrients that have more evidence to highlight their effect on PCOS will be more suitable. The best supplements for PCOS include omega-3 fish oil, inositol (sometimes referred to as vitamin B 8) and vitamin D plus folic acid if you are trying to conceive.
Vitamin C is available in a variety of different fruits and vegetables, particularly citrus fruits like oranges, grapefruits, strawberries, kiwi and peppers. We don’t produce vitamin C so it is essential that we consume enough via food or supplementation. Generally, most people can reach their vitamin C requirements by eating a varied diet but supplements may be necessary for certain people.
Key takeaways: vitamin C for PCOS
Vitamin C is an essential vitamin for the human body for overall health. Unfortunately, the evidence surrounding vitamin C for PCOS is not developed enough to recommend increasing your vitamin C dosage to help with symptom management. Instead, aim to get the daily recommended amount of vitamin C into your diet daily by consuming a variety of fruits and vegetables and if you are concerned about a deficiency, speak with your healthcare provider.
Founder and Editor | Registered Associate Nutritionist
Founder of Be The Collective LTD [The PCOS Collective & The Endo Collective] Alex Okell ANutr is a London-based reproductive health nutritionist with experience in research, private practice and digital media. She holds a Master’s degree in Nutrition from King’s College London and has co-authored papers with the University of Cambridge, King’s College London, The Food Foundation and the Food Standards Agency. Alex offers 1:1 PCOS support in our virtual PCOS clinic.