IMPORTANT: The information on this site should never be used to self medicate or to self diagnose. Always contact your health care provider before using any kind of supplementation or making any extreme change in diet.
Cool wet droplets slide slowly down the side of my tall icy glass of orange juice. It is hot and working in the earth planting, digging, raking has built up a thirst I am looking forward to quenching. Slowly I lift the glass to my lips and feel the wonderful liquid roll over my tongue and across my palate. Its flavours permeate my senses and find their way into my brain. Wonderfully delicious and satisfying the powerful little molecules of energy and nutrition flow down my throat and through my body to work their magic.
Broccoli, red peppers, and brussels sprouts have more vitamin C than oranges but for some reason we usually associate vitamin C with this bright orange coloured fruit.
WHAT IS VITAMIN C ?
Vitamin C, also called ascorbic acid, is sometimes confused with citric acid. Citric acid is another acid which the body needs to help produce the energy that runs each individual cell. In our diets we find citric acid most often in citrus fruits such as lemons, limes, oranges and grapefruit.
Vitamin C on the other hand is needed by the body for a whole other range of metabolic reactions. Humans cannot make this vitamin internally. We need to get it from food.
So what is it needed for?
1. The first thing Vitamin C does is to synthesis collagen. It works to create the most abundant protein in the human body, collagen, which makes up from 25% to 35% of the bodies protein content.
There are five types of collagen:
Collagen one is designed for the skin, tendons, blood vessels, ligaments, organs and is the main component of bone.
Collagen two is designed for cartilage. All the cartilage in our bodies is made up of this collagen.
Collagen four forms the base of our cell membranes
Collagen five is designed for cell surfaces, hair and placenta
Without collagen we would just disintegrate.
2. Vitamin C synthesises carnitine. What is that, you may ask, as I did. It turns out carnitine is an important compound that is synthesised from the amino acids (protein building blocks) lysine and methionine and is required for transporting fatty acids into the mitochondria (energy center) of the cell where they are broken down creating energy for the cell.
3. Vitamin C helps in the syntheses of the neurotransmitter that doubles as a hormone, neuroepinephrine. Neuroepinephrine also known as noradrenaline, controls our stress levels and the fight or flight response as a hormone. As a neurotransmitter it controls our focusing and responding actions and acts on our sympathetic nervous system in regard to our fight or flight response.
5. Vitamin C also helps to create the amino acid tyrosine and it acts as an electron donor to enzymes.
6. What Vitamin C is most famous for is it’s amazing antioxidant properties. When there are more free radicals (free and out of control oxygen molecules) than antioxidants in the cell then a condition called oxidative stress arises.
Oxidative stress leads to diseases such as cardiovascular disease, hypertension, chronic inflammatory disease and many cancers. Even in small amounts ascorbic acid can reverse oxidative stress and create chemical balance within the cells. It is believed that this amazing vitamin can even replenish the antioxidant vitamin E after E has spent its electrons to inactivate free radicals.
WHAT HAPPENS WHEN WE DON’T GET ENOUGH VITAMIN C ?
In the beginning, back in the olden days, when sailors sailed on wooden ships across the vast oceans, they used to contract a disease called scurvy. One day somebody noticed this guy who liked limes and used to take a bunch with him on his voyages. He never got any of the symptoms associated with scurvy. Word got around and pretty soon everybody was into the ‘lime fad’. Scurvy became a thing of the past. This, of course, is a bit of fantasy. It probably didn’t happen exactly like that but somehow the introduction of limes to the diet of sailors ended the scourge of scurvy.
Many years later a famous chemist named Linus Pauling whose main interest was in the area of the electronic strutter of atoms and molecules and who was the winner of two Nobel prizes, the first for physical chemistry and the second for mathematical physics decided to try his hand at understanding the structure of atoms and molecules in the biological realm. Through his work he became interested in how vitamins affect the body. He coined the term ‘orthomolecular medicine’ or megavitamin therapy. It was in 1966 that he became interested in high dose vitamin C and thus the love affair began.
He studied and experimented with vitamin C for many years coming to many conclusions some of which were verified and many which were not. To this day he is considered one of the greatest minds of the last two centuries. This is not the format to go into the details of his work but should you be interested there has been a great deal written about him and by him and I’m pretty sure Google can find most of them for you.
Suffice it to say that Linus Pauling’s work on vitamin C gave a great wake up call not only to the medical community but to the public in general. There’s nothing like controversy to peak one’s interest. For years, and I will tell you this because I was there, the public was all fired up about the wonders of vitamin C and the medical profession was pooh, poohing it all as if it were some giant hoax. Finally science began to move on the side of the public proving that there was some validity to this vitamin C stuff.
As time has moved forward we have had the opportunity to do many, many studies and tests to prove or disprove what this vitamin can do for us. Even now, though, there is still much to learn. Testing has proven itself to be very difficult because of the vast array of variables in every test, variables such as how many other vitamin supplements were being taken by which individuals and exactly what was the diet of each person in a 20,000 person study. How did all the other nutrients being ingested interact with vitamin C.
This is what we now know vitamin C can and can’t do:
Scurvy: It cures scurvy which is caused by the loss of collagen which results in damaged blood vessels, connective tissue and bone. Scurvy leads to joint swelling and pain, frequent bleeding and easy bruising hair and tooth loss and ultimately death.
Stroke: When consumed with vegetables and fruits, six to seven days a week, it helps to lower the risk of stroke by over 50%. If taken as a supplement it only lowers the risk by about 30%. This suggests that it may work better as a team player with other nutrients to promote health.
Cancer: There have been numerous studies done showing that the risk of contracting most cancers decreases the more fresh fruits and vegetables are consumed. When we consume 90 to 110 mg daily of vitamin C there is a significant reduction.
In the ‘Nurses’ Health Study’, premenopausal women with a family history of breast cancer who consumed an average of 205 mg/day of vitamin C from foods had a 63% lower risk of breast cancer than those who consumed an average of 70 mg/day.” – Linus Pauling Institute.
Studies also have shown that diets poor in vitamin C lead to higher risk of lung borne diseases in smokers than if they got higher levels in their diets.
Immunity: Vitamin C affects both the production and function of white blood cells, our primary defence against bacteria and viruses. It also protects the integrity of immune cells against free radicals’ oxidative damage. So far this is what we know about vitamin C and the immune system. Further studies are needed to ascertain whether it acts as a direct immune enhancer or whether its role is as a support to the immune system.
Vasodilation: Vitamin C, in study after study, has shown that it improves the ability of the blood vessels to relax.
The common cold: Contrary to our great expectations, study after study has shown that vitamin C does not help stop a cold once it has begun nor does it shorten the duration of a cold. It does, however, according to a recent double-blind study, give a 60% lower risk of developing three or more colds over a five year period if we consume over 500 mg per day of supplemental vitamin C. They, apparently, did not measure dietary intake.
Infections & wounds: Studies of the treatment of infections and wounds with high doses of vitamin C have been inconsistent. When combined with other antioxidants however there is an improvement in wound healing. Once again it is the synergy between the nutrients which promotes health in the body.
WHAT HAPPENS WHEN WE GET TOO MUCH VITAMIN C ?
How much is too much? How much is enough? The amount of vitamin C we need each day to prevent scurvy is about 60 mg. This is the baseline. This, for years, was the recommended daily intake by the European Union RDA, the USDA and Health Canada. Recently it has been increased by the North American Dietary Reference Intake which now recommends 90 mg per day. This will prevent scurvy, a disease which has been under control in the developed world for a very, very long time. If, however, you want to prevent chronic diseases more is definitely better. If you want to live a health empowered life then more, along with an ample supply of a variety of other nutrients, is best.
The North American Dietary Reference Intake now recommends 90 mg per day. The Linus Pauling Institute, which has done probably more than any other institution to study the properties and effects of vitamins and minerals in humans, recommends 400 milligrams a day. Others suggest massive doses in the thousands although this, in the big picture, appears unnecessary if not counter productive. We would be better advised to make vitamin C as part of a comprehensive vitamin and mineral dietary regime. Mix it up! Enjoy a good, well balanced meal.
Because the body gets rid of any excess vitamin C in our urine it is not possible to get too much.
WHERE DO WE GET VITAMIN C ?
Vitamin C decomposes under certain conditions. Longer cooking times at lower temperatures can actually increase the loss.(as will cooking in unlined copper pots) Boiling quickly decreases the loss. Leaching into the water increases loss. Vegetables with thicker skin such as broccoli don’t loose as much as thin skinned ones and fruits stored in the fridge don’t loose as much as those left on the counter.
LINUS PAULING INSTITUTE