In healthy adults, Vitamin C raises glutathione levels in the red blood cells and lymphocytes
Glutathione helps determine the balance of light and dark pigments (pheomelanin and eumelanin) in our skin. L-cysteine and the TYRP1 enzyme also play a part in this balance
Taking high doses of Vitamin C (1,000 – 3,000 mgs) can help to lighten skin over time
Since you’re reading this page, you’ve probably already asked yourself: can taking Vitamin C really lighten your skin?
The short answer is: Yes, it can.
But how exactly does Vitamin C help lighten our skin?
The answer to that question is a bit longer, but reading on will be worth it in the end (I promise!). If you don’t have the time to read about just how taking high doses of Vitamin C can lighten your skin, just bookmark this page to read later.
What is Vitamin C?
Before I go on to explain what Vitamin C has to do with our skin color, I think it’s important to know just what Vitamin C is first.
Vitamin C (also called Ascorbic Acid) is a water-soluble vitamin, and is needed by our bodies to form collagen in bones, cartilage, muscle and blood vessels. We get Vitamin C from fruits and vegetables, particularly citrus fruits like lemons, limes and oranges. It is also readily available in pill or liquid supplements.
Although it is a vitamin, Vitamin C is also an antioxidant. This means it can neutralize free radicals which would otherwise damage our skin and other organs. And since it is soluble in water, Vitamin C works both inside and outside of our cells to combat this free radical damage.
Vitamin C and our skin
The skin is the largest organ in the human body and collagen is the building blocks. Our skin benefits greatly from Vitamin C because of its unique collagen-forming properties.
Scientists have found that collagen protein requires Vitamin C for the molecules to achieve the best configuration possible. Vitamin C prevents collagen from becoming weak and susceptible to damage (a process is called hydroxylation). Vitamin C also increases the level of the procollagen messenger RNA. It is also needed to “export” the procollagen molecules out of our cells and into the extracellular spaces. In other words, Vitamin C is crucial in ensuring the structural integrity of our collagen.
Vitamin C also helps to heal any wounds we might have. Studies have shown that when Vitamin C was given to burn victims in high doses, it reduces the transfer of blood and waste products into the tissues (capillary permeability). This could be partly due to Vitamin C’s scavenging effect on free radicals (its antioxidant properties).
In another study, when Vitamin C (2,000 mg) and natural Vitamin E (1,000 IU) were given to 20 men and women, their resistance to sunburn increased by 20% after just 8 days. They had lower levels of inflammation and skin damage compared to the placebo group, which became more sensitive to sunburn.
Vitamin C is one antioxidant that boosts two more – glutathione and Vitamin E
Have you ever heard of that saying, one thing leads to another? This is especially true with Vitamin C.
This is because taking Vitamin C doesn’t just increase the Vitamin C levels in our blood, it also increases two more very important antioxidants – glutathione (a major antioxidant) and Vitamin E (a fat-soluble antioxidant).
Higher Vitamin C levels boosts glutathione and Vitamin E
|Glutathione is our bodies’ most prevalent antioxidant||Vitamin E is probably the most important fat-soluble antioxidant|
|It plays an important role in detoxing our bodies||It protects our cells from oxidation by reacting with fatty radicals|
|Glutathione is a tripeptide and made up of 3 amino acids:
Glycine, glutamic acid and cysteine
|Vitamin E is a group of compounds made up of tocopherols and tocotrienols.
Tocopherols act as antioxidants.
|Glutathione converts into glutathione peroxidase, an important enzyme which prevents oxidative damage||Our liver actually forms the Vitamin E in our blood, but it needs food sources with Vitamin E to do so.|
|Our bodies make its own glutathione supply.
Taking glutathione pills and supplements does not raise the glutathione levels in blood.
|Good food sources of Vitamin E include wheat germ oil, almonds, sunflower seeds, sunflower oil, hazelnuts, and peanut butter.|
Vitamin C boosts glutathione levels in the blood
Vitamin C and glutathione have a unique relationship. Vitamin C reduces glutathione back to the active form. In its active form, glutathione will regenerate vitamin C from its oxidized state.
Compounds that have Vitamin E activity (tocopherols) also rely on Vitamin C to regenerate back to its active form.
Why is the link between Vitamin C and glutathione levels important in skin lightening?
It’s important because scientists have found out that the way our skin balances between its lighter pigments (pheomelanin) and darker pigments (eumelanin) depends on glutathione, L-cysteine and the TYRP1 enzyme.
Since Vitamin C has been scientifically proven to boost gluthathione levels in the blood, we can say that Vitamin C helps to lighten skin color.
Glutathione is found in almost all raw fruits and vegetables. Cooking destroys most glutathione, but that doesn’t really matter. Because although glutathione is found in many fruits, vegetables, and meats, our stomachs and intestines ability to absorb glutathione is very poor.
Speaking of which, please do not be fooled by “gluthathione skin whitening pills”. Glutathione pills and supplements cannot raise the glutathione levels in your blood. They will only serve to make you poorer.
To raise the glutathione levels in our blood, it is better to eat foods that is high in glutamine instead, such as lean meats, eggs, wheat germ, whey protein and whole grains. These will stimulate the liver so you can produce more glutathione naturally. Glutamine is one of the known precursors of gluthathione production. High doses of Vitamin C will also boost our natural glutathione levels, so supplementation with Vitamin C is important if you want to lighten your skin. Glutathione and Vitamin C show a strong, functional interdependence in vivo.
Note: You can be deficient in glutathione if you take Tylenol (acetaminophen) regularly or in large amounts. Doctors treat emergency cases of acetaminophen toxicity with high doses of N-aceytlycysteine (NAC), which raises glutathione levels in the blood.
L-cysteine is an amino acid found in most high-protein foods including yogurt and whey protein. Good vegetarian sources comes are onions, garlic and broccoli. The L-cysteine derived from N-Acetyl Cysteine (NAC) helps to boost our liver’s production of glutathione. L-cysteine also helps synthesize proteins, taurine, coenzyme A, and inorganic sulfate.
3) The TYRP1 enzyme (or Tyrosinase-related protein 1)
Sounds scary, I know! But all you really need to know is that this is the genetic part of the whole skin lightening discussion. Our TYRP1 gene provides instructions for making the TYRP1 enzyme. The functions of this enzyme are still unclear but it is involved in the production of melanin. It’s likely that this is where our genes come into play in determining the color of our skin.
Mutations in the TYRP1 gene has been linked with oculocutaneous albinism.
Individually, none of these factors decides our skin color. All three play a part.
Enemies of Vitamin C: pollution, smoking, alcohol, diabetes
If you smoke and drink, chances are your Vitamin C levels are lower than people who don’t. And while we’re at it, do you live in a polluted area? That’ll do it too.
Studies have shown that drinking large quantities of alcohol will lower the amount of Vitamin C in your blood plasma and make you excrete vitamin C through urination. Smoking and general pollution will also lower the level of Vitamin C in the blood. Having diabetes will also reduce your body’s Vitamin C levels.
What does all this mean? Should I take Vitamin C to lighten my skin?
Yes, yes, and yes! If want to lighten your skin by internal means using supplements, detoxing or changing your diet, Vitamin C supplements are essential.
You should take a high dose of 1,000 – 3,000 mg of Vitamin C daily either through supplements or fruits. A mixture of the two is best. Spread out your intake of Vitamin C throughout the day for maximum effectiveness.
References and Further Reading
Extracts of clinical studies on Vitamin C’s relationship with gluthathione levels
CS Johnston, CG Meyer and JC Srilakshmi Department of Family Resources and Human Development, Arizona State University, Tempe 85287.
We examined the effect of supplemental ascorbic acid on red blood cell glutathione. Subjects consumed self-selected vitamin C-restricted diets, and, under double-blind conditions, ingested placebo daily for week 1 (baseline), 500 mg L-ascorbate/d for weeks 2-3, 2000 mg L- ascorbate/d for weeks 4-5, and placebo daily for week 6 (withdraw). Mean red blood cell glutathione rose nearly 50% (P < 0.05) after the 500-mg period compared with baseline. However, the increases in plasma vitamin C and red blood cell glutathione were not correlated (r = 0.22). At the 2000-mg dosage, mean red blood cell glutathione was not significantly different from the value obtained at the 500-mg dosage.
Objective: The objective was to determine the ability of vitamin C supplements to modulate the concentration of glutathione inhuman lymphocytes.
Results: At baseline, the mean (±SD) concentration of plasma ascorbate was 19.5 ± 7.2 µmol/L, 22.5 µmol/Lbelow the median of normal distribution. The ascorbate concentration in plasma was linearly associated with that in lymphocytes (r= 0.53, P < 0.001). On supplementation with vitamin C, lymphocyte ascorbate increased by 51% (from 16.7 ± 4.9 to 25.3 ±6.9 nmol/mg protein; P < 0.001) and was accompanied by an increase of lymphocyte glutathione by 18% (from 22.5 ±4.5 to 26.6 ± 6.5 nmol/mg protein; P < 0.001). After placebo, the ascorbate and glutathione concentrations fell to near baseline concentrations (17.1 ± 5.4 and 23.5 ±6.4 nmol/mg protein, respectively). No significant interaction was observed for sex and smoking status. Finally, the changes in lymphocyte ascorbate after supplementation were strongly associated with changes in lymphocyte glutathione (r = 0.71,P < 0.001). The association suggests that every 1-mol change in ascorbate is accompanied by a change of 0.5 mol in glutathione.
Conclusion: Vitamin C supplements increase glutathione in human lymphocytes
|Vitamin C Is an Essential Antioxidant That Enhances Survival of Oxidatively Stressed Human Vascular Endothelial Cells in the Presence of a Vast Molar Excess of Glutathione. From the Departamento de Fisiopatología, Facultad de Ciencias Biológicas, Universidad de Concepción, Casilla 160C, Concepción, Chile, the §Departamento de Bioquímica, Facultad de Ciencias, Universidad de Chile, Casilla 297, Santiago, Chile, the Roswell Park Cancer Institute, Buffalo, New York 14263, the ||Facultad de Medicina, Universidad Católica de la Santísima Concepción, Casilla 653, Concepción, Chile, and the **Instituto de Bioquímica, Facultad de Ciencias, Universidad Austral de Chile, Casilla 567, Valdivia, Chile.
Extract: Human endothelial cells acquire and maintain elevated intra cellular concentrations of AA through a combination of overlapping mechanisms that directly impact their interaction with blood cells and their resistance against oxidative stress.Our present data provide definitive evidence for functional cooperation between vitamin C and glutathione in providing endothelial cells with strong antioxidant defenses. Maximal antioxidant protection was observed only when both antioxidants were simultaneously present, indicating that both antioxidants are needed for cell survival against oxidative stress. Most importantly, AA concentrations in the micro molar range were fully effective in increasing antioxidant protection in the presence of a 10-fold glutathione excess.This is an important finding because any analysis about the role of vitamin C in antioxidant defense should consider the evidence that the content of glutathione of most human cells and tissues exceeds, sometimes by more than one order of magnitude the respective concentrations of vitamin C.
|Conclusion: Vitamin C is required for survival of endothelial cells containing elevated glutathione concentrations|
Extract of a study linking pheomelanin and eumelanin to L-cysteine, glutathione, and tyrosinase-related protein-1
Cysteine deprivation promotes eumelanogenesis in human melanoma cells
Melanocytic cells can produce two types of pigment, pheomelanin or eumelanin. We used two types of human melanoma cell lines to explore the regulation of pigmentation by biochemical and enzymatic studies. These two cell lines were previously designated as either pheomelanotic or of mixed type when cultured in a medium rich in cysteine. We analyzed the effects of L-cysteine depletion on melanin synthesis and the involvement of the tyrosinase-related proteins in the production of both eumelanin and pheomelanin.
Cultures were exposed to L-cysteine concentrations ranging from 206 to 2.06 microM, and the following parameters were measured: tyrosine hydroxylase activity, intracellular L-cysteine and glutathione concentrations, eumelanin and pheomelanin formation, and tyrosinase-related protein-1 and -2 mRNA levels. Extracellular L-cysteine depletion significantly increased tyrosine hydroxylase activity and promoted both eumelanogenesis and visible pigmentation in both lines. In contrast, pheomelanogenesis was increased only in the pheomelanotic cell line. Whereas eumelanogenesis was apparent upon L-cysteine depletion, tyrosinase-related protein-1 expression was not induced in the pheomelanotic cells, and tyrosinase-related protein-2 expression remained unchanged.
Thus, tyrosinase-related protein-1 mRNA expression seems to be concomitant with eumelanogenesis when the L-cysteine concentration is high, but does not appear essential for eumelanogenesis at low L-cysteine concentrations. The mechanisms governing pheomelanin to eumelanin balance are dependent on L-cysteine, glutathione, and tyrosinase-related protein-1 expression, but none of these factors alone appears to be dominant in directing the synthesis of a particular type of melanin.
|Conclusion: The mechanisms governing pheomelanin to eumelanin balance are dependent on L-cysteine, glutathione, and tyrosinase-related protein-1 expression, but none of these factors alone appears to be dominant in directing the synthesis of a particular type of melanin.|
Effect of Vitamin C, Vitamin E and L-cystein applied in vivo on brownish guinea pigs
The effect of simultaneous administration of vitamin C (ascorbic acid), L-cystein (Cys) and vitamin E (tocopherol) on the melanogenesis in vivo and in vitro was studied. Forty-eight brownish guinea pigs were divided into 4 groups as follows: VC group, VC+Cys group, VC+Cys+VE group and control group. They were given these vitamins by oral administration every day. UV-B exposure (0.384 J/cm2) on their depleted back skin was done at the day 8, 10, 12, 15 17 and 19. After UV-B irradiation, vitamins were administrated further 3 weeks. The luminosity score was measured using a Color Reader CR-11 (Minolta, Co) and the numbers of DOPA-positive melanocytes of their back skin were counted. B16 melanoma cells were incubated with VC, N-acetyl cystein (NAC) and VE. After 4 days of incubation, cells were harvested. The melanin contents and the tyrosinase activities in cells were measured.
The luminosity score in the VC+VE+Cys group was higher than those in the other groups. The numbers of DOPA-positive melanocytes of guinea pigs treated with VC, VE and Cys were significantly decreased compared with those in VC group. In B16 melanoma cells, simultaneous treatment of VC, VE and NAC was the most effective to decrease the melanin contents and to inhibit tyrosinase activity.
|Conclusion: Vitamin C, Vitamin E and L-cystein given to guinea pigs lead to lighter skin (i.e. greater luminosity).|
Glutathione taken orally has negligible effects on the body
Witschi A, Reddy S, Stofer B, Lauterburg BH.Department of Clinical Pharmacology, University of Bern, Switzerland.
When the plasma glutathione concentration is low, such as in patients with HIV infection, alcoholics, and patients with cirrhosis, increasing the availability of circulating glutathione by oral administration might be of therapeutic benefit. To assess the feasibility of supplementing oral glutathione we have determined the systemic availability of glutathione in 7 healthy volunteers. The basal concentrations of glutathione, cysteine, and glutamate in plasma were 6.2, 8.3, and 54 mumol.l-1 respectively.
During the 270 min after the administration of glutathione in a dose of 0.15 mmol.kg-1 the concentrations of glutathione, cysteine, and glutamate in plasma did not increase significantly, suggesting that the systemic availability of glutathione is negligible in man. Because of hydrolysis of glutathione by intestinal and hepatic gamma-glutamyltransferase, dietary glutathione is not a major determinant of circulating glutathione, and it is not possible to increase circulating glutathione to a clinically beneficial extent by the oral administration of a single dose of 3 g of glutathione.
|Conclusion: It is not possible to increase the body’s glutathione levels by taking it orally.|
Vitamin C and Vitamin E’s protective effects against sunburns
UV radiation causes acute adverse effects like sunburn, photosensitivity reactions, or immunologic suppression, as well as long-term sequelae like photoaging or malignant skin tumors. UV radiation induces tissues to produce reactive oxygen species, eicosanoids and cytokines. Inhibition of these mediators might reduce skin damage. Antioxidants such as ascorbic acid and d-alpha-tocopherol have been found to be photoprotective in some in vitro studies and animal experiments.
OBJECTIVE: Our purpose was to assess the protective effect of systemic vitamins C and E against sunburn in human beings.
METHODS: In a double-blind placebo-controlled study, each of 10 subjects took daily either 2 gm of ascorbic acid (vitamin C) combined with 1000 IU of d-alpha-tocopherol (vitamin E) or placebo. The sunburn reaction before and after 8 days of treatment was assessed by determination of the threshold UV dose for eliciting sunburn (minimal erythema dose [MED]) and by measuring the cutaneous blood flow of skin irradiated with incremental UV doses against that of nonirradiated skin.
RESULTS: The median MED of those taking vitamins increased from 80 to 96.5 mJ/cm2 (p < 0.01), whereas it declined from 80 to 68.5 mJ/cm2 in the placebo group. Cutaneous blood flow changed significantly (p < 0.05) for most irradiation doses with decreases in those given vitamins and increases in the placebo group.
|Conclusion: Combined vitamins C and E reduce sunburn reactions.|