Vitamin C: The Wonder Vitamin
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Vitamin C: The Wonder Vitamin

October 3, 2019


Vitamin C, or ascorbic acid, is much more
than a vitamin. It is a molecule so essential for life that
all plants and most animals are able to build it themselves starting from glucose. Among mammals, humans are one of the very
few exceptions, together with guinea pigs and bats, that cannot make their own vitamin
C. Back in the millennia, our ancestors too were able to make their own vitamin C, but
this ability has been somehow lost with evolution, not because vitamin C ceased to be important,
but likely because our ancestors were getting so much from food that it became unnecessary
to build it ourselves. Unfortunately, as you already know, our diet
today is very different than our ancestor’s. Not only they would eat a lot more fresh fruit
and vegetables, but they would also eat them without much processing and storage, all of
which can cause major losses of vitamin C. Besides, they would also eat most of their
food raw or undercooked, and cooking also destroys vitamin C. Even meat and fish, when
eaten row, were important sources of vitamin C.
As a result of this evolutionary trick, nowadays most people do not get from food the amount
of vitamin C that they would have made by themselves hadn’t they lost the necessary
enzyme to build it in the liver. Many researchers have tried to estimate what
exactly this amount would be, to determine the ‘optimal dose’ of vitamin C to remedy
this metabolic disadvantage of humans. Nobel laureate Linus Pauling spent the last
40 years of his life trying to figure this out. By looking at the amounts of vitamin C made
by other vertebrates, including gorillas and chimpanzees that are still able to make their
own vitamin C, Dr Pauling concluded that the daily need of vitamin C for an adult human
is at least 2 grams a day, but should be increased in stressful periods. He himself used to take 6 grams of vitamin
C every day, and did so religiously until his death at 93 years of age. And here we come across an apparent controversy
of classical nutrition. Although it has recently been increased, the
current RDA for vitamin C is set at 75 mg for women and 90 milligrams for men, to be
increased by 35 mg by smokers since smoke destroys some of it. These amounts are about 20 times lower than
the dose identified by the above mentioned studies of comparative physiology. Where do these numbers come from? As you recall from one of our first videos,
they discovery of vitamin C has been historically linked to its key role in the prevention of
scurvy, the collagen deficiency disease that used to claim numerous victims among sailors
in long sea voyages, whose diet was devoid of vitamin C.
First and foremost, vitamin C is a cofactor in the metabolic pathway leading to the formation
and stabilization of collagen, the main structural protein of our connective tissue: our bones,
teeth, gums, skin, tendons and blood vessels, all need collagen for strength and elasticity. If vitamin C is deficient, collagen cannot
perform its function and our connective tissues start to wear out: gums bleed, teeth are loose,
wounds are slow to heal and the risk of thrombosis increases because of low vessel elasticity. These are indeed the first symptoms of scurvy. We know that a vitamin is called a vitamin
because its deficiency results in a disease, which in the case of vitamin C, is scurvy. So it makes perfect sense that the RDA is
set at 75 to 90 milligrams. This is the necessary amount to prevent scurvy. However, if we want to take advantage of the
many other benefits that are offered by vitamin C to maximize health, then our intake should
be several folds higher than that. Let’s examine some of the other advantages
of vitamin C. Vitamin C is a powerful antioxidant molecule:
while vitamin E is fat soluble and protects our cell membranes, vitamin C is water soluble
and protects the inside of our cells and our bloodstream from oxidative stress. Vitamin C also modulates some detoxifying
enzymes in our body protecting us from many environmental pollutants and heavy metals
such as lead, mercury and cadmium, and helping us detoxify drugs. In our stomach it prevents the reaction of
food nitrites and nitrates with amino acids to form nitrosamines, which are carcinogens. In our intestine, it enhances iron absorption
and limits some of the damages associated with its pro-oxidant strength. These are two of the reasons why vitamin C
is associated to a lower risk for cancers of the gastrointestinal tract. In our cell membranes, vitamin C works together
with glutathione and some phenolic antioxidants to regenerate vitamin E, so it can maintain
its biological activity. Vitamin C also has an anti inflammatory activity,
as it breaks down histamine. In general, vitamin C boosts our immune system:
it enables white blood cell formation and protects them from oxidative damage. Besides, by allowing for proper collagen formation,
it enhances the barrier activity against pathogens of many tissues, first and foremost our skin. The immunostimulatory activity of vitamin
C has long been known. One of the pioneer vitamin C researchers,
physician Fredrick Robert Klenner, has experimented with megadoses of vitamin C since the 1940s,
publishing numerous research papers and books in which he described the advantages of using
vitamin C as a therapy for a wide range of illnesses. In his first publication he described how
he cured 60 out of 60 polio patients by injecting them intravenously with a staggering 100 to
300 grams of vitamin C (neutral pH sodium ascorbate). He then went on to test vitamin C finding
positive outcomes for over 30 diseases. Dr Klenner believed that megadoses of vitamin
C should routinely be given to all cases of infections, burns and many cases of intoxication,
and he suggested that all patients should, quote, “get large doses of vitamin C in
all pathological conditions while the physician ponders the diagnosis”, as this could save
their life in many cases. Dr Klenner’s work on vitamin C drew a lot
of attention in the past, so much so that many hospitals actually followed his advice
and routinely gave megadoses of vitamin C before every surgery, dramatically reducing
surgical and post-surgical complications and infections. So where do we find vitamin C in food? Everybody knows that citrus fruits are rich
in vitamin C: oranges, lemons, grapefruit. Moreover, these fruits also contain some particular
phenolic substances, called flavonoids, that enhance its biological activity. A middle size orange provides by itself the
amount of vitamin C necessary to prevent scurvy. Orange juice is also a good source of vitamin
C, but must be drunk immediately after squeezing the orange, to prevent light and oxygen from
damaging vitamin C. In prepackaged pasteurized orange juice, some vitamin C has likely been
added back to make up for processing losses. There are however some fruits that have even
more vitamin C than oranges, and these are strawberries, kiwifruit, lychee, guava and
black currant. Rose hips are exceptionally rich sources of
vitamin C, and even more so some tropical fruits such as acerola, camu camu (Myrciaria
dubia) and the richest of it all, the australian kakadu plum (Terminalia ferdinandiana), which
can have up to 100 times more vitamin C than oranges, that is, an astonishing 5 grams of
vitamin C per 100 grams of fruit. Among vegetabes, broccoli, peppers, tomatoes
and brussels sprouts are all rich sources or vitamin C. Sundried tomatoes can provide
a lot of it. In general, all fruits and vegetables provide
some vitamin C, as long as they are eaten raw or very quickly steamed. Remember that vitamin C is a very unstable
vitamin: it is rapidly lost with processing and exposure to air and light, it is water
soluble so washing or boiling vegetables will wash it away, and it is heat sensitive, so
cooking destroys most of it. Some typical deficiency symptoms of vitamin
C are – swollen and bleeding gums (the toothbrush
becomes pink) – slower wound healing
– easy formation of bruises on the skin – pinpoint hemorrages of the skin caused by
slight bleeding – increased susceptibility to sore throats
and colds – more unspecific symptoms like fatigue, weakness,
joint pain, loss of appetite My advice to you is to get as much vitamin
C as possible through food sources, plus a daily supplement of 500 mg vitamin C, to be
increased to 1 or 2 grams during the winter season or when the cold viruses start circulating,
in case of infections or physical stresses such as wounds and burns, or in preparation
for surgeries or traumas, for example, before going to the dentist to extract a tooth. If we have access to some of the extraordinarily
rich natural sources of vitamin C, such as the Australian plums, these can of course
replace the supplements. One of the most widely known uses of vitamin
C to date is in the prevention and treatment of the common cold, following an extremely
popular book written by Linus Pauling, “Vitamin C and the common cold”. On this, I disagree with most nutrition textbooks
which downplay the role of supplemental vitamin C in preventing and reducing the symptoms
and duration of colds. Not only by personal experience, but when
I look at the evidence, the evidence is there, although clouded by many trials who tested
ridiculously low dosages of 200 mg or so, which of course found no effect for vitamin
C. If we look at the clinical trials using 1
or 2 grams of vitamin C, they consistently show that vitamin C reduces symptoms and duration
of colds. The key to successfully use vitamin C in preventing
the onset of a cold is timing: you have to get it at the very first symptoms that make
you suspect you may be getting a cold, before it fully sets in. Immediately take 1 gram of vitamin C, and
then keep taking 1 gram every hour until you go to bed, for a maximum of 10 hours. Vitamin C is water soluble and has no known
toxicity because at high dosages, most of it is not even absorbed and what’s absorbed
can be easily flushed out with the urine. The only possible side effect is that in some
people it may cause diarrhea, because the part that is not absorbed reaches the colon
and attracts water. It is mostly to prevent this undesired side
effect that an upper level of 2 grams has been set for vitamin C, although most individuals
can safely exceed such amount with no side effects.

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  1. Should we take vit. C supplement every single day, or it's better to follow cycles? (I.e. taking it 3 month, 20 days of "rest", than repeat)
    Thank you!!

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