What is it?
Perhaps the best-known water soluble vitamin, also named ascorbic acid, that functions as an antioxidant in the body–protecting cells from damage. It holds several important roles that you may not know about including collagen formation, detoxification and more.
Is anyone getting scurvy anymore?
The question is, do we actually need more vitamin C than we get from our diets? The old tales of sailors not eating fresh fruit while at sea, and then dying of unhealed wounds and bleeding is no longer a concern in the 21st century. However, humans (unlike animals) cannot synthesize their own supply of this vitamin. They need to get it from outside sources or they will succumb to the inevitably fatal disease of scurvy. The amount necessary to prevent this (also known as the ‘RDA’) is 60mg /day, equivalent to one kiwi fruit.
Uses in the body
The cells of the immune system require vitamin C to function at their best. It’s no surprise then, that when we encounter an infection our body actually requires more of this vitamin. Your digestive tract will actually absorb more vitamin C during periods of illness—so increasing your intake at this time will do the body good!
Vitamin C for the common cold: friend or foe?
Taking vitamin C during cold and flu season before you get sick has shown to reduce both the severity and duration of illness. Several studies identified at least 500mg per day preventatively was enough to ‘lessen the blow’ of the infection if you did catch it. What if you start to feel the sniffles coming on? At the first signs of infection a mega dose of 6g (split over several hours) did reduce symptoms and speed recovery.
This protein is an integral part of skin, blood vessels, ligaments, internal organs, even hair. Vitamin C is needed to make the protein and keep these structures strong. Poor collagen formation? The result is poor wound healing, broken capillaries, and skin that lacks elasticity and youthfulness. It’s important to note that we decrease our production of collagen by 1% per year after age 30. Even more reason to make sure the building blocks (namely vitamin C) are in place to maximize our body’s production ability.
Vitamin C is one of several antioxidants (along with vitamin E) that helps recycle the powerful liver detoxifier, glutathione. When are bodies are overwhelmed with toxins and pollutants the liver tries to ‘neutralize’ them before we can excrete them. Glutathione does this job but when it runs out of steam vitamin C is the one that comes to its rescue to continue the job. No vitamin C? Your detox potential remains slow and limited. Toxins stay in the body longer and can cause more harm.
You may be familiar with the brain chemicals (called neurotransmitters) serotonin and dopamine. They are responsible for mood, focus, learning and motivation. What many people don’t know is that vitamin C plays an important role in the manufacturing of these neurotransmitters and can have a negative effect on mood and performance if intake is low.
But is it safe?
The safety of vitamin C has been studied extensively. A common side effect of higher dosing may be stomach upset and loose stools. These are easily eliminated by dividing doses throughout the day and increasing dosing slowly over a period of several days. Since it is a water soluble vitamin, any unused amounts will be excreted in the urine. Those with poor renal function should be cautious when using high doses (low doses do not impair kidney function). Also, take note that research does not support the notion that high dose vitamin C increases the risk of kidney stones in a healthy individual. This is good news!
If you’re looking for a quicker fix to feel well you might try vitamin C directly into the bloodstream. However, intravenous vitamin C (>5g) should not be administered to patients with a deficiency in the enzyme glucose-6-phosphate-dehydrogenase. Not to worry though, your healthcare practitioner will run the necessary blood work prior to starting treatment in this setting.
It is a necessary, safe and affordable nutrient. Dose matters and long-term usage (whether through diet or supplementation) is vital in order to obtain maximum benefit.
A final piece of advice: opt for a red pepper instead of that orange next time you’re attempting to increase your intake. Red peppers contain more vitamin C and less sugar (an immune system reducer), which will have a stronger impact on your defences all year long.