By Nelson Narciso DNM®
Interesting Facts and History of Vitamin C
For many years, Vitamin C has been considered the “king” of antioxidants. First isolated in 1928 by the Hungarian biochemist Albert Szent-Gyorgyi, the importance of Vitamin C in human health is remarkable. There have been hundreds of studies on this extraordinary vitamin. An interesting fact is that, although Vitamin C is so essential for our health, we are one of only a few animals that can’t synthesize this vitamin. We must obtain it through diet and/or supplementation. Most animals, by contrast, have the ability to make it by converting glucose into Vitamin C in either the kidneys or liver. In addition to the inability to synthesize this vitamin we don’t store any significant quantity of it either. The greatest concentration of vitamin C is in the pituitary gland, followed by the adrenal glands, liver, brain and white blood cells.
One of the earliest known diseases recorded in human history is scurvy. Scurvy results from a prolonged deficiency of Vitamin C. Although, back then, the cause of scurvy was unknown, it resulted in the deaths of many. It was eventually noted by sailors on long sea voyages that certain foods, like limes, kept this disease at bay. We, of course, know today that the foods they consumed were good sources of Vitamin C.
What is Vitamin C?
Vitamin C, known chemically as ascorbic acid, has the primary function of manufacturing collagen. Collagen is the principle protein in our human body and is needed for bone, connective tissue, tendons, cartilage and wound repair. Vitamin C is also one of the most potent antioxidants in the human body, with the ability to protect cells from the destructive effects of free radicals (reactive compounds that damage cells). Vitamin C also has the ability to regenerate Vitamin E and prevents vitamins B1, B2, and B5 from oxidation. Vitamin C is water soluble. In simple terms this vitamin dissolves in water and doesn’t require fat for absorption. Eighty to 90% of Vitamin C is absorbed in the small intestine and 75% of that is excreted within 24 hours of consumption.
Why is Vitamin C Important?
Given that we can neither manufacture nor store any considerable amounts of Vitamin C, regular consumption or supplementation is an absolute necessity. Several studies have shown that many individuals, especially those under chronic emotional, psychological and physical stress (which includes exercise), have suboptimal levels of Vitamin C. Chronic stress can dramatically increase urinary Vitamin C excretion.
Researched Health Benefits of Vitamin C:
- Reduces recovery time between workouts (may be especially important for body builders, who often have higher levels of connective tissue damage)
- May reduce the increased oxidative stress that occurs from exercise
- Decreases pain and speeds up muscle-strength recovery (take 400 to 3,000 mg of vitamin C per day taken for several days before and after intense exercise)
- Increases vasodilation by stimulating nitric oxide (NO2) release
- People who exercise appear to have lower levels of vitamin C
- Athletes who supplemented with one gram of vitamin C daily were able to perform more work and had lower heart rates when compared to the placebo group.
- Prevents the formation of certain cancer-causing compounds
- Low blood levels of vitamin C are correlated with a greater risk of certain forms of cancer
- Although shown in some studies to increase life expectancy of cancer patients, it is critical that high dose supplementation be discussed with your doctor while undergoing chemo and radiation therapy
- Immune function
- Enhances white blood cell production
- Possesses broad spectrum antiviral activity (influenza, herpes, etc.)
- Reduces the life of a cold in some accounts by half
- Dramatically elevates glutathione levels
- Cardiovascular health
- Raises HDL and lowers LDL
- Maintains the elasticity of blood vessels
- Prevents the oxidation of LDL cholesterol thereby reducing plaque formation
- Helps lower high blood pressure
- Lowers heart disease risk by 45% in men and 25% in women
- Detoxifies heavy metals like mercury and lead
- Wound Healing
- Speeds up the healing of scars, broken bones, burns, etc.
- Prevents bone loss by reducing osteoclast resorption. Osteoclasts are cells that remove calcium from bones
- Improves blood glucose levels
- Can boost mental ability later in life
- Reduces incidences of asthma, eczema and hay fever
And this is just a shortlist. There are many other health benefits. Vitamin C has been researched on over 40 health conditions and new research continues on a yearly basis.
What Forms of Vitamin C are Available?
Although Vitamin C is most commonly available in its ascorbic acid form, some individuals may find gastrointestinal disturbances when using this naturally acidic vitamin. To prevent this problem, buffered forms of Vitamin C are available that are not only easier on your GI tract but may offer superior absorption and therapeutic activity. To buffer (neutralize the acidity) ascorbic acid, the vitamin is bound to minerals. In this form it’s known as mineral ascorbate. Finding a Vitamin C supplement that offers calcium ascorbate, magnesium ascorbate, manganese ascorbate, zinc ascorbate and potassium ascorbate may be the best way to go. Not only are you getting a pH neutral Vitamin C, but you also get health benefits from the minerals that are bound to it. Another noteworthy form of Vitamin C is ascorbyl palmitate. Unlike the water soluble ascorbic acid, this form is fat soluble as well. This allows for better delivery of Vitamin C to fatty structures in the body like the heart, brain and central nervous system. When compared to ascorbic acid you get 33% less excretion of ascorbyl palmitate within a 24-hour period. When you choose which form of Vitamin C to purchase consider one that provides both mineral ascorbates and ascorbyl palmitate.
Complimentary Nutrients that Improve Absorption & Efficacy
We all know that certain nutrients complement and improve the absorption of others. Magnesium and Vitamin D are needed for proper calcium absorption. Copper and zinc should be used together to prevent one or the other from becoming deficient. These synergistic interactions are also true in the case of Vitamin C. The bioflavonoids hesperidin, rutin and quercetin have been shown to improve the bioavailability of Vitamin C. Rich sources of antioxidants like grape seed, bilberry and resveratrol (an antioxidant present in grapes) can further increase the antioxidant capacity of any Vitamin C formula. Fruit concentrate contain numerous synergistic compounds that not only function as antioxidants but can potentially compliment Vitamin C. Choosing fruit concentrates that are particularly rich in Vitamin C like Indian goose berry, blueberry, cranberry, acerola cherry, elderberry, camu berry, kiwi, and mango provide you with additional supportive nutrients that can only, at this time, be derived from whole fruit extracts.
The use of proteolytic (protein digesting) enzymes like bromelain and papain with your Vitamin C formula will not only help with digestion but, more importantly, also support the healing properties of Vitamin C by reducing inflammation and its associated pain. Another little unknown substance that has shown tremendous promise, both as a therapeutic compound as well as an aid to absorption, is Bioperine®. The technical name of this compound is piperine and it is an extract from black pepper which can improve the absorption of Vitamin C significantly.
How Much Vitamin C?
Unfortunately there is no single answer. As mentioned earlier varying conditions dictate the dose. With increasing stress factors comes an increased need for more Vitamin C. To be on the safe side, one should aim for 1,000 to 1,200 mg of Vitamin C daily, preferably in divided doses. The consumption of excessive sugar, exposure to UV, certain pharmaceuticals (cortisone, tetracycline, the pill and Aspirin to name a few) deplete or impact Vitamin C in the body. Smoking, in particular, depletes Vitamin C rapidly. For each cigarette smoked researchers suggest taking an additional 25 to 50 mg of Vitamin C.
Side Effects and Contraindications
Side effects from Vitamin C are fairly uncommon given the water soluble nature of this vitamin and the fact that we don’t store it to any considerable degree. If you consume large doses, diarrhea may develop (relieved by lowering the dose). Although some individuals have suggested that large doses of Vitamin C may contribute to kidney stones, several studies have disproved this assertion. Lastly, and important to note, is the use of Vitamin C when undergoing chemo and radiation therapy. As mentioned earlier, you should only supplement with large Vitamin C doses under the advice and supervision of your doctor. The concern is that the antioxidant properties of vitamin C may protect cancer cells from the chemo and radiation.
Vitamin C is truly a supplement that all of us can benefit from using. With so many antioxidants available today nothing has yet been able to de-throne vitamin C’s status as “king”. Although its role as a cold fighter is still important, it really has a cornucopia of valuable benefits to offer.