Vitamin C is undoubtedly the most controversial of all the mainstream vitamins. As well as being the most supplemented of all the vitamins, Vitamin C is also probably the least understood (at least by the medical "establishment") and the vitamin most frequently deficient in Western society.
Many of the roles of Vitamin C are universally accepted - it is an excellent antioxidant, helping rid the body of damaging free radicals. It is also essential for the prevention of scurvy, characterised in its acute form by bruising, bleeding gums, poor wound healing and other signs of blood-vessel damage, which, if left unchecked is rapidly fatal. In addition, Vitamin C is known to be important for the absorption of several other vitamins and minerals.
What is less-well accepted, at least by the pharmaceutical-based modern medical establisment, is the place of Vitamin C in supporting the immune system and its pivotal role in preventing and treating heart disease, otherwise known as CHRONIC SCURVY.
Functions of Vitamin C in the body
Many of the functions of Vitamin C are well-known. It is a key component of collagen, the protein that froms the basic building block of the body needed for connective tissues such as cartilage, ligament, tendon, skin and bone. Collagen is also one of the major components of our blood vessels, which we will return to later, in the discussion of heart disease.
Vitamin C also plays a vital role in the immune system, strengthening our ability to fight of infections. It helps in the absorption of Iron, is a powerful antioxidant and is involved in countless enzyme pathways. In addition, Vitamin C has powerful effects on the production of important chemicals for the control of hormones and brain function.
|Functions of Vitamin C
|Vital component of all body cells
|Essential for manufacture of collagen, needed for healthy connective tissue, skin, bones and vascular system
|Stimulates white blood cells and antibody production
|Required for proper wound healing and tissue regeneration
|Formation of stress hormones
|Assists iron absorption
Vitamin C deficiency
Because it is needed by every cell in the body, deficiency of Vitamin C has widespread consequences. In the short term, acute Vitamin C deficiency leads to scurvy, which can prove rapidly fatal if adequate Vitamin C is not added to the diet quickly.
Vitamin C deficiency at a lower level leads to irritability, weakness, poor immune system function, joint pain, bruising, skin problems, fatigue, poor healing of wounds and slower recovery from infective diseases.
Over the long term, the inablity to repair blood vessels properly leads to the use of cholesterol as the "band-aid" of the vascular system and eventually to heart disease (see our article, Cholesterol, Vitamin C and Heart Disease). Similarly, chronic immune system dysfunction leaves the body open to cancers, and Vitamin C deficiency is particularly associated with cervical cancer.
|Symptoms of Vitamin C deficiency
|Fatigue / exhaustion
|Poor wound healing and tissue regeneration
|Bleeding and sore gums, loose teeth
|High cholesterol levels (a sign of Vitamin C deficiency)
The list of conditions that can be improved by Vitamin C shows how important this vitamin is:
|Conditions that can be improved by Vitamin C use
||Mitral valve disease
||High Blood Pressure
|Coronary Artery Disease
||Low sperm count
||Wound healing problems
Association with other minerals and vitamins
Vitamin C plays a number of important roles in the absorption and metabolism of other vitamins and minerals. In particular, it is essential for the absorption of iron and it's subsequent assimilation, and the absorption of other antioxidants.
|Effects of vitamin C on other vitamins and minerals
|Increases absorption of Iron
|Decreases absorption of copper
|Affects other antioxidants, such as Vitamin E, Selenium and Vitamin A
Factors which reduce Vitamin C absorption
Although absorption of Vitamin C is not generally affected by other nutrients, the levels of Vitamin C in food are drastically changed by storage, cooking and preparation.
Just slicing or peeling vegetables exposes the Vitamin C - containing flesh to the air, light or heat which destroys the Vitamin C content, as does contact with either alkalis or metals.
As you might expect, food processing also causes much of the Vitamin C content of foods to be lost, which explains why our convenience-food society is so deficient in this vital nutrient.
Factors which increase Vitamin C excretion
Just as important as absorption of Vitamin C is its excretion. There are many things that can affect this, including infection, stress, smoking, pollution, aspirin or the contraceptive pill. Intensive exercise, smoking, drinking and pollution all increase the amount of free radical neutralization that Vitamin C and the other antioxidants have to do, increasing its elimination and the need for Vitamin C replacement.
Normal amounts of Vitamin C in the diet
This is a matter of HUGE disagreement and contention. Whilst, since the middle ages, it has been recognised that small doses of Vitamin C will protect against scurvy, its role in more modern diseases has been completely dismissed by orthodox medicine.
As a result, most Goverments and regulatory authorities recommend 60-90mg of Vitamin C per day, which is enough to just about prevent scurvy, but totally useless otherwise. The man who discovered the link between Vitamin C and Heart Disease, Dr Linus Pauling (also, the only man EVER to have won the Nobel prize TWICE - no rogue sicentist) recommended doses of 5,000 to 10,000 mg per day for the prevention of heart disease. Around 60% of this Vitamin C goes to making collagen for the repair of our arteries and other cells, without it, they cannot function properly!
Doctors will tell you that "if you take that much Vitamin C, you'll just pee a lot of it out". Absolutely CORRECT - Vitamin C has a very short half-life (the time it stays in the body). However, due to it's antioxidant properties, the vitamin C that leaves your system will take with it lots of those nasty, scavenging free radicals that cause cell damage, so not only does it help repair the cells, it helps stop them getting damaged too!
Sources of dietary Vitamin C
Everyone knows that citrus foods are the best source of Vitamin C, right? Well.....no, actually! Although you DO get healthy doses of Vitamin C from oranges, lemons, limes etc, it is only half as much as you find in brussels sprouts, and a quarter of the amount you would find in red peppers or blackcurrants. For a full list of Vitamin C content in food, see below.
Dietary sources of Vitamin C (mg / 100g)
|Red bell peppers
||Elderberries, calves liver, turnips
|Sweet green peppers
||Black-eye peas, soybeans
Vitamin C supplements
Vitamin C comes in many supplemental forms, and is added to lots of commcercially produced foods, especially drinks. Most of this vitamin C comes from corn, but if this is a problem, other sources are available that are derived from sago.
Most supplements feature Vitamin C in its basic form, ascorbate (or ascorbic acid). Whilst it is generally well-tolerated and non-toxic, some people may not be able to tolerate large doses o Vitamin C without some gastrointestinal problems such as diarrhea. Other forms are available, such as sodium, potassium, magnesium or calcium ascorbate. These "buffered" preparations are generally better tolerated.
The various tablets, capsules, powders, granules and effervescent drinks all deliver their vitamin C fairly effectively, however, due to the short time Vitamin C stays in the body, it is suggested that you split your daily amount and take it in at least two separate doses, ideally morning and night.
In addition, those using high-dose vitamin C should consider taking it a half hour before or after other vitamins and minerals to maximize the absorption of both.
It is known that Vitamin C and estrogen are eliminated by the same route, so estrogen levels will remain higher in women taking contraceptive pills as well as high doses of Vitamin C.
People requiring additional Vitamin C.
Whilst virtually everyone would benefit from Vitamin C supplementation, there are some specific groups who are likely to benefit more than most, namely
- People with heart disease (angina, heart attack, "hardened arteries", coronary artery disease, other vascular disease, high blood pressure)
- Those with poorly healing wounds (such as leg ulcers)
- People with skin problems
- Anyone undergoing chemotherapy
- Those who are exposed to toxic environments / high levels of pollutants
Back from Vitamin C to nutritional supplements
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