Updated: Apr 1
Most proponents of the carnivore diet will tell you that vitamin c isn't necessary when doing a carnivore or very low carb diet (or the need greatly decreases). While that may be true for many people, personally I believe additional vitamin c may be necessary for some people doing carnivore, especially those healing from a serious chronic illness.
Here's my experience with vitamin c deficiency while doing a strict carnivore diet:
Several years ago, I started the carnivore diet when I was severely ill with ehlers-danlos syndrome, dysautonomia, chiari malformation, intracranial hypertension, gastroparesis, mast cell activation syndrome, and more. At the time I was mostly bed-bound and was unable to even cook my own food. After a few months of the carnivore diet, I started to see some significant benefits, particularly in my ability overall energy levels.
While many things in regards to my health were greatly improving, there were a few things that actually got worse. I noticed that my histamine reactions to food were increasing. A histamine reaction happens when the body isn't able to break down histamines properly, and can cause symptoms like itching, headaches/migraines, digestive issues, fatigue, etc.
In attempts to try to minimize my histamine levels, I started eating un-aged meats and cooking my meats from frozen. This did help, but I knew it had to be a temporary solution.
In my research I found that vitamin c is a natural anti-histamine, and actually helps the body to break it down. This made me really curious if there was a possible connection between the carnivore diet being very low in vitamin c and the high rate of histamine intolerance among those doing carnivore.
My bloodwork at the time revealed severely low levels of vitamin c (almost untraceable). This photo shows my results.
I also learned that vitamin c is important for immune health and collagen synthesis in the body. As someone that is recovering from a connective tissue disorder (hEDS), I would think vitamin c could be very important.
Another thing I noticed after going carnivore was that my bruising actually worsened, even though I already bruised very easily prior to starting. I have to wonder if that could have been from the lack of vitamin c in my diet.
After my research and realizing I had a vitamin c deficiency, I decided to try a whole food vitamin c supplement. Personally, I didn't want to take a synthetic vitamin c supplement (absorbic acid), because I prefer to get my nutrients from real food.
Within a few days of taking the vitamin c supplement, my histamine reactions greatly improved. I wasn't as sensitive to whether the meat was aged or not and didn't have to cook everything from frozen anymore. This wasn't the only factor in my histamine intolerance recovery—in fact there are other things that have helped more than vitamin c (such as nervous system regulation), but I'll leave those details for another blog post.
Overall, I'm not a huge fan of supplements, as I don't believe taking a pill can bring true health. But I do believe they can be useful in certain situations.
In my case, taking a vitamin c supplement has been the most obviously beneficial supplement I've ever tried. And almost a year later, I still take it every day. In the beginning, if I accidentally skipped a day or two of taking it, I'd notice more itching/headaches. After a few months of taking it, I also noticed my bruising had significantly improved.
I've been using the Paleovalley brand whole food vitamin c complex. I only take one pill even though the recommended dose is two, so the bottle lasts me 60 days. One pill is about 200% the recommended DV.
**Keep in mind, this is not a carnivore source of vitamin c and does contain some level of oxalates, but personally that didn't matter to me. My diet is so low in oxalate that it isn't a concern for me.
Carnivore Diet Sources of Vitamin C
In general, animal-based foods are very low in vitamin c. There are, however, some carnivore foods that contain a significant amount of vitamin c.
Here are some examples:
Whale blubber (4oz serving): 50% of DV
Beef thymus organ or "sweetbread" (4oz serving): 40% of DV
Salmon roe (1/2 cup serving): 20% of DV
Beef kidney (4oz serving): 16% of DV
Beef liver (4oz serving): 2% of DV
Beef muscle meat (4oz serving): 1% of DV
*The vitamin c levels may vary depending on how the animal was raised (ex. grass-finished is slightly higher than grain finished)
As you can see, even muscle meat does have very small amounts of vitamin c in it, likely plenty to prevent very severe deficiency (scurvy). But for many, a carnivore diet may not give optimal levels of vitamin c.
I don't hear of many carnivores eating whale blubber or several cups of salmon roe a day to get in enough vitamin c. That being said, I do think its important to take the recommended DV with a grain of salt. That's just based on national averages, and many people are supplementing with extremely high levels of synthetic vitamin c—so the recommended value could very well be off.
The most important thing is always how you're feeling, but if you're curious if you're deficient, you can always get your levels checked through bloodwork.
Personally, it always helped with my histamine reactions to eat the thymus organ (or sweetbreads). Thymus is a tough organ to find. Northstar Bison, White Oak Pastures, and Billydoe Meats often carry it.
If you'd rather take an organ supplement, One Earth Health has both thymus and kidney supplements that are very affordably priced in comparison to competing brands (and just as good of quality). I've used them off and on and found them to be beneficial. Using this link will give you a discount on their organ supplements.
What about fruit?
This is yet another controversial topic in the carnivore community, but I don't think it should be. There are so many people that have positive effects adding in fruit after doing a strict carnivore diet. I have to wonder if this is at least in part due to the high vitamin c levels in fruit.
Just consuming one large orange per day would give you enough vitamin c for the recommended daily value.
In the last month or two, I've added some fruit back into my diet and done really well with it. Whenever I do have carbs, I make sure to eat it after having plenty of animal protein and fat to stabilize blood sugar. I'm still supplementing with (whole food) vitamin c pills, but hope to be able to get enough just through my diet in the future.
All this being said, I think its important to recognize that adding more vitamin c may be very beneficial for some on the carnivore diet. After all, vitamin c is essential for the synthesis of collagen, immune health, and is a natural anti-histamine. If you're feeling great, then don't change a thing! But if you're having issues, especially related to histamine intolerance, a potential vitamin c deficiency may be something to consider.
I hope this blog post was helpful for you. I'd love to hear your thoughts in the comments down below.
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