What’s the number one most-consumed vitamin supplement worldwide? Which vitamin is believed by many to prevent colds despite ample evidence against it? Which vitamin is so highly extolled that proponents believe it can cure cancer, bird flu and AIDS? If you’ve guessed ascorbic acid or vitamin C, then you’ve guessed right.
Vitamin C is the supplement most widely used by people around the world. It is taken in pill form, capsules, or powder; and many people drink it in fresh fruit juices, or in multi-level marketing concoctions promised to be the next nutritional health panacea. Most animals produce their own, but not primates, which include apes, monkeys and humans. For non-producing organisms, vitamin C is an essential nutrient—that is, it must be obtained through the food.
There is a reason that vitamin C is so widely consumed—it is so important in so many vital functions. And sorry moms, but preventing colds is not one of them. Being deficient in vitamin C is not a good situation, as it can lead to a few illnesses that will ultimately compromise life. So getting enough vitamin C is paramount; and if you read on, you’ll learn exactly why I think supplementing with it is something everybody should be doing regularly.
Why Brits are called “Limeys”
Our understanding of vitamin C has a long history. Ancient people knew that eating plant foods and raw meat were necessary to prevent disease. The 16th, 17th and 18th centuries saw the knowledge of scurvy expand, and the use of plant foods, especially citrus, increasingly wipe away any presence of the disease.
Scurvy is a disease of vitamin C deficiency that leads to spongy and bleeding gums, liver spots on the skin, and bleeding from the mucous membranes. The spots are most abundant on the legs and thighs, and a person with scurvy looks pale, depressed and partially immobilized. Advanced cases can lead to tooth loss.
Scurvy was a common ailment among sailors, pirates and other passengers on ships where perishable fruits and vegetables were in short supply on long trips. In 1747, the surgeon of the British Royal Navy, James Lind conducted the first controlled clinical trial when he gave one group of sailors two oranges and one lemon per day, in addition to normal rations, while giving the control group cider, vinegar, sulfuric acid or seawater, along with their normal rations. What he found was that the sailors eating the citrus fruits were spared scurvy, while the control group developed the disease. As a result, British sailors adopted the habit of eating limes while at sea and thus picked up the nick name “limeys” from their American counterparts.
Why We Need Vitamin C—Wound Healing
Most people, if asked, would say that vitamin C is to prevent colds, to boost the immune system. But in reality, vitamin C’s most important function is to act a co-factor in the formation of collagen. Collagen is the main protein in connective tissue, and is an essential component of cartilage, ligaments, tendons, bone and skin. It has great tensile strength so it gives tissue both strength and elasticity. In skin, it provides elasticity, and when degraded, wrinkling follows.
Collagen is a major constituent of blood vessels, providing strength and stretchability. It is also essential in the formation of scar tissue. Collagen, then, is vital in the wound healing and tissue growth process. For this reason, I always advise my patients to take vitamin C to aid in their healing process. For people recovering from an injury, nothing beats vitamin C as a supplemental nutrient. Also, people trying to reverse joint degeneration with the use of glucosamine and chondroitin sulfate supplements, would be wise to add vitamin C to the mix, as it’s necessary for the formation of new cartilage.
As I’ve said, vitamin C is an important co-factor in the formation of blood vessels through its role in collagen formation. This property makes it an important player in cardiovascular health. Heart disease is still the world’s number one killer; any help we can give our hearts nutritionally, then, is a big plus.
Vitamin C has a role in preventing atherosclerosis or plaque build-up in the blood vessels that can lead to narrowing and eventually a heart attack. The way vitamin C behaves is that it acts as a filler, filling-in micro-tears that occur in blood vessel walls. These endothelial tears occur regularly throughout our lifetime, and when vitamin C levels are less than optimal, tears tend to be filled with cholesterol molecules. Cholesterol being “sticky” leads to more cholesterol attaching to the patch, and larger plaques form causing vessel narrowing (stenosis) and loss of elasticity. Loss of elasticity leads to further tearing which in turn causes bigger plaques. Vitamin C actually oxidizes the cholesterol molecule, reducing its stickiness, so having ample amounts circulating throughout the blood is of mega-importance.
Less plaques on vessel walls makes all-around elasticity greater, which in turn leads to better control of blood pressure. So getting adequate vitamin C indirectly prevents heart attacks and strokes. Not bad for an inexpensive and abundant vitamin that we all have access to.
Vitamin C is one of the best antioxidants available. An antioxidant is a molecule that neutralizes free radicals—reactive substances that can damage our cellular material, especially our DNA, and lead to degenerative diseases like cancer and rapid aging. Antioxidants stop free radicals cold by reducing the oxidant with the addition of an electron. Along with the vitamins A, E and selenium, vitamin C is a powerful free radical fighter.
If you’ve read my book, The Six Keys to Optimal Health, then you know that regular exercise leads to the formation of free radicals. The solution here is not to discontinue your workout regimen—nice try—but instead to make sure you are getting plenty of antioxidants to neutralize the reactive oxidizers.
Vitamin C can also prevent cataracts—a clouding of the lens of the eye , and can lead to vision loss or complete blindness if left untreated. Sunlight on the eye leads to free radical formation, and vitamin C is necessary to neutralize them, thus preventing cataracts. The catch, though, is that vitamin C must be plentiful, so people getting minimal amounts of this antioxidant are not guaranteed protection.
Finally, good news for diabetics: Vitamin C helps reduce some of the damage that can be caused by increased blood sugar. As sugar levels rise in the blood, the red blood cells pick up some of the glucose molecules on their hemoglobin. This glycosylated hemoglobin is damaging to blood vessels leading to poor wound healing, capillary damage, and sluggish blood flow, all of which can lead to things like tissue damage, tissue death and, eventually, amputation.
Supplement Recommendations and Dose
As we’ve already discussed, being deficient in vitamin C is a dangerous situation. But what are the proper levels necessary to maintain good health? If you recall in my previous nutrition article on vitamin B and protein, I said that there is a real difference between RDA levels and optimum levels of nutrients. RDA levels are the minimum necessary to prevent disease. So to prevent scurvy, then, a minimum of 75 mg of vitamin C is needed by women daily, while men need a minimum of 90 mg per day. That’s easy enough; you’ll probably get that from your two oranges and a lemon ration, just as the British sailors did while under Dr. Lind’s watchful eye.
But what about all the other benefits we have been talking about? What about for wound healing, or preventing heart disease or cancer, how much vitamin C is necessary then? My recommendation is for every living person (with the exception of those with gout or sickle cell anemia) to take 1,000 to 2,000 mg ascorbic acid (vitamin C) per day. Now that may seem like a lot, but it’s not. I carry a top-quality brand in my Los Angeles, West Hollywood and Beverly Hills chiropractic office, and 1-2 gm is one and two capsules, respectively. And that’s per day. With a jar containing 100 capsules, that’s a two to four month’s supply of vitamin C. Nice.
As you can see, vitamin C is so important that having less than optimal amounts in your body is inadvisable. Now mind you, one does not have to take supplements at all; but eating 20+ oranges a day, I’m guessing, will get a little old after awhile. So what’s the next best thing? Taking vitamin C supplements is what. Only by supplementing with this essential nutrient are you guaranteed to get optimal amounts of vitamin C in your system.
One more time: if you want to do all that you can to slow down the aging process, if you want to make sure that you are healing from your injuries completely and optimally, if you want to prevent degenerative diseases like heart disease, stroke, cancer, and cataracts, then you would be absolutely foolish to not supplement with this powerful antioxidant nutrient. Vitamin C is not the most widely-used nutritional supplement for no reason—it has miraculous properties which prolong and preserve life. So join the crowd and start taking your vitamin C supplements today.
-February 28, 2009
The Six Keys to Optimal Health by Dr. Nicolas Campos
For More Advice on Health and Optimal Living Read
The Six Keys to Optimal Health by Dr. Nicolas Campos