Understanding Vitamin C

 Background

Scurvy is the oldest known vitamin deficiency disease. For centuries, scurvy was a big problem for sailors on ocean voyages, who often had to go for many weeks with no fresh fruits or vegetables. The chief doctor for the British Navy, proved that lime juice prevented and cured the problem and after that the British sailors were given lime juice every day, which is why they have the nickname ‘limeys’. Another name for vitamin C is ascorbic acid which literally means ‘acid that prevents scurvy’.

The Role It Plays

Vitamin C plays a role in so many body functions that it is sometimes referred to as a miracle drug rather than a plain old vitamin. Vitamin C has cured some types of male infertility and helped diabetics. People with high vitamin C levels have lower blood pressure, which makes it less likely to have a stroke or heart attack. It has helped in combating heart disease and even cancer. And although it does not cure the common cold it is less likely we will ‘catch’ a cold. If we ‘catch’ a cold and have plenty of vitamin C it will be a mild cold that won’t last very long.

We need vitamin C for more than 300 different purposes in our body. Vitamin C is needed to make collagen, the strong connective tissue that holds our skeleton together, attaches our muscles to our bones, builds strong blood vessels, and keeps our organs and skin in place. Collagen is the glue that holds our body together and we can’t make it unless we have enough vitamin C. Because we need collagen to fix damage to our body, it stands to reason that vitamin C heals heal wounds of all sorts. Broken bones, sprained joints, cuts, and other injuries all heal a lot faster if our body gets plenty of vitamin C. Vitamin C is our body’s top antioxidant. Not only does it mop up free radicals, it helps other antioxidants do their work better. Without vitamin C we can’t use some of the other vitamins and minerals, like folic acid and iron, properly. Our immune system needs a lot of vitamin C to run at peak levels. If we don’t get enough we will get sick often and stay sick longer. We also need vitamin C to manufacture many of our hormones.

Vitamin C’s main job is to capture free radicals and neutralize them before they can do any damage to our cells. Along with the jobs of other vitamins and minerals, vitamin C is the most important because it is water-soluble, it’s everywhere in our body. It’s in all our cells and in spaces in between and because free radicals are everywhere too, vitamin C is always right there to track them down. And just as important, other powerful antioxidants (vitamin E enzymes, and SOD and glutathione) need vitamin C to work properly.

Vitamin C is also needed to make other enzymes that round up and remove toxins such as lead and environmental pollutants in our body. Today’s environmental pollutants of all sorts are almost impossible to avoid. The faster the toxins are booted out, the less damage they can do. Your best protection is a high level of vitamin C.

Types Of Vitamin C

Vitamin C is ascorbic acid and ascorbic acid is vitamin C, whether it’s synthesized in a lab or extracted without solvents from rose hip or acerola. Most of the vitamin C today is made from corn and it’s all pretty much the same. Stick to a reliable, inexpensive brand and don’t waste your money on the stuff that claims it’s better because it’s ‘organic’ or ‘natural’.

Ascorbic acid tablets and capsules. They usually contain 500 mg and are meant to be swallowed whole. For most people, the most convenient and economical way to take vitamin C.

Chewable tablets. These usually contain 250 mg. They have pleasant, mildly tart taste that kids usually like. A few drawbacks: They’re more expensive and they often have sweeteners and flavors added. Also, sodium ascorbate is often added to reduce the acidity (which could damage your tooth enamel) avoid this type if you’re on a sodium-restricted diet.

Ascorbic acid crystals. Kids (and plenty of adults too) don’t like to swallow pills. Crystals can be stirred into fruit juice or sprinkled on applesauce or fruit. They have a slightly acid or sour taste. (Don’t add crystals to milk – it will curdle.) A level teaspoon of crystals has about 4 g (4,000 mg), so just a large pinch is all you need to get 1,000 mg.

Sodium or calcium ascorbate tablets and crystals. If plain ascorbic acid bothers your stomach, try switching to a buffered version that’s made from sodium ascorbate or calcium ascorbate. Don’t take these in large doses though (over 3,000 mg) or you’ll get too much sodium or too much calcium. You could also try time-release tablets of plain ascorbic acid. These don’t start working until they reach your intestines, as to avoid stomach upsets. You may not absorb that much though.

Potassium ascorbate crystals. A spoonful of this stuff mixed with an ounce or two of water makes a bubbly, pleasant-tasting drink that has 4,000 mg of vitamin C. It also has 700 mg of potassium, an amount that could kill a child or someone with a heart or kidney condition. Talk to your doctor first about taking vitamin C this way.

Other forms. You can also get vitamin C in liquid, wafer, chewing gum. Syrup, and even more forms now. If you have a practical reason for choosing these pricier products, go ahead. Read the labels to figure out how much vitamin C you’re actually getting.

RDA

The RDA is quite low (far too low in the opinion of many doctors and nutritionists). The RDA is set in between two conditions. It is high enough to prevent scurvy and low enough that you won’t lose any in your urine. The RDA is set in between the two and is the bare minimum for vitamin C intake. Many researchers believe 200 mg is too low. These amounts prevent disease, but they don’t do much to promote health.

Age                              Dose

0 – 0.5 year                     30 mg

0.5– 1 year                      35 mg

1 -3 years                       40 mg

4 -6 years                       45 mg

7 – 10 years                     50 mg

11-14 years                     50 mg

Men 15+ years                    60 mg

Women 15+ years                  60 mg

Pregnant women                   70 mg

Nursing women                    95 mg

This RDA is for people who do not smoke. Smokers have below-normal levels of vitamin C. It is recommended for smokers to take 100 mg – 200 mg a day.

Safe Dosage

Because vitamin C is water-soluble, it’s almost impossible to overdose or reach toxic levels even when taking large doses, the excess passes harmlessly out of the body through the urine. The usual safety range is from 500 mg to 4,000 mg a day. Research clearly shows that people who take large amounts of vitamin C on a regular basis are healthier than those who don’t. The research also shows that large doses of vitamin C help many health problems, such as asthma, as well or better than a strong prescription drug (at less cost and without nasty side effects. And extensive research shows that large doses of several thousand milligrams a day (or even more) are perfectly safe for almost everyone. Most doctor recommend taking at least 500 mg daily.

Large doses sometimes cause stomach upsets, diarrhea, and cramping, however. The problems usually start at levels over 2,000 mg, but children and some adults are more sensitive and could experience these at levels lower than 2,000 mg. If or when you begin to take larger doses, start with smaller doses and gradually work your way up. If you get diarrhea, cut back until the diarrhea stops and then stick to that dose. This is called ‘reaching bowel tolerance’.

A major argument against large doses of vitamin C is that you will excrete anything beyond 200 mg a day. This isn’t quite true. A healthy person’s body contains about 5,000 mg of vitamin C and the excess is only excreted after you’ve reached this saturation point and only if you’re in perfectly good health.

Large doses of vitamin C can interfere with medical tests for sugar and calcium oxalate in the urine, for blood in the stool, and for hemoglobin levels in the blood. When scheduled for a medical checkup, cut back on you vitamin C supplements for a few days before to avoid false readings.

If you have ever had kidney stones or if you have kidney disease, it’s advised to probably not take large doses of vitamin C. Doses up to 1,000 mg a day are unlikely to cause kidney stones, but if you have kidney problems, discuss vitamin C supplements with your doctor.

Smoker’s should consider taking 1,000 mg daily. This amount could protect you from two types of cancers smokers often get: cancer of the larynx and cancer of the esophagus.

Make It Work Better

Vitamin C breaks down when it’s exposed to light, heat, water, or air. Buy just a few weeks’ worth at a time from a store that turns over its stock quickly. Store vitamin C in a cool, dark, dry place. Vitamin C works better with: all other vitamins and minerals, B vitamins, calcium, flavonoids, and magnesium. Take vitamin C in several small doses spread throughout the day. Each dose is gone from the body within four hours, so spreading out the dose helps keep a steady level. Taking vitamin C with meals and before bed is recommended. To get the most out of vitamin C supplements, take them along with a good daily supplement that contains all the other vitamins and minerals. Calcium, flavonoids, and magnesium are especially needed to use vitamin C most effectively.

Good Sources

Vitamin C is found in so many common fruits and vegetables that almost everyone gets about 100 mg a day without even trying. There is some, though not a lot, of vitamin C in meat, poultry, fish, milk, and dairy products. Beans generally have little or no vitamin C and there’s none in grains such as wheat or oats. Fruits and vegetables have high amounts with acerola having the most at 1,644 mg in one cup. Other good sources include: cooked broccoli, fresh blueberries, Brussels sprouts, cantaloupe, raw cauliflower, cranberry juice, pink grapefruit, white grapefruit, guava, honeydew melon, cooked kale, kiwi, lemon, lime, mango, orange, papaya, peppers, pineapple, baked potato, strawberries, tangerine, and tomato. If you eat five servings of fresh fruits and vegetables every day, you’ll easily reach 250 mg of vitamin C or even more. Frozen fruits have somewhat less vitamin C than fresh fruits and canned fruits have almost no vitamin C so go for the fresh whenever you can. A lot of vitamin C is lost when foods are cooked. Try to cook vegetables very lightly in as little water as possible.

Deficiency

After several weeks with no vitamin C in your diet, you’d get scurvy. At first you’d just feel a little tired and irritable, but soon you’d have sore and bleeding gums, loose teeth, fatigue, bruising, sore joints, slow wound healing, and anemia. You only need about 10 mg a day to prevent scurvy and most nutritionists agree that you should get about 250 mg daily and most everyone agrees that the RDA is not enough. If you fall into any of the following categories, you may need more than you’re actually getting:

Smokers. Cigarette smoke breaks down your vitamin C quickly. You also need vitamin C to combat the damage smoking does to your cells. People around second hand smoke will also need more vitamin C.

Diabetics. Vitamin C does not get into your cells very well if you have diabetes.

Allergies or asthma. Fighting allergic reactions and asthma attacks uses up a lot of your vitamin C.

Infectious illness such as cold or flu. Your immune system needs plenty of vitamin C, especially when it’s in high gear fighting off an illness.

Surgery. Vitamin C helps heal wounds and fight infection.

Stress (physical or psychological). When under stress, your body’s system goes into overdrive and uses up your vitamin C extra fast.

Older adults. Older people need more vitamin C in general, especially if they take drugs that interfere with vitamin C absorption. Elderly may not eat as well or getting enough fresh foods.

Pregnant or breastfeeding. You’re passing on a lot of vitamin C to your baby.

Taking aspirin, birth-control pills, antibiotics, or other drugs on a regular basis. These drugs either block vitamin C from being absorbed into your body or break it down too fast.

Alcohol abuse. People who abuse alcohol don’t usually eat properly and alcohol destroys vitamin C.

Your teeth won’t fall out if you have a mild deficiency but you may feel these symptoms: fatigue, and tiring easily, appetite loss, muscle weakness, bruising easily, and frequent infections. Fatigue, appetite loss and weakness could all easily be caused by other things but the clincher is bruising easily. A shortage of vitamin C weakens the walls of your blood vessels. They break easily, causing bruises and even nosebleeds. Low vitamin C can lead you into a downward spiral of bad health. The deficiency means you’re tired all the time – too tired to eat properly which gets you more sick and then so on.

 

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