Antioxidants have been in the limelight for a while now, and vitamin C with its legendary antioxidant punch is almost universally revered for its health benefits. But is this commonly found nutrient really a magic healer? Find out just how good vitamin C can be and what all the fuss is about.
What if someone told you that upping your intake of vitamin C could do wonders for your cardiovascular health? Or that it could improve the quality of life for a loved one going through cancer treatment? Vitamin C or ascorbic acid is an important water-soluble vitamin found in citrus fruits, tomatoes, potatoes, broccoli, kiwi fruit, sprouts, bell peppers, and berries, and is so much more than just another means to build immunity.
But why is vitamin C so important? One of its roles is to protect cells in your body from damage by free radicals. Vitamin C also helps make collagen, a protein that heals wounds and supports your bones. Besides this, it strengthens your immune system and helps absorb iron that comes from vegetarian dietary sources.1 Ongoing research is also examining the role of this important vitamin in the development and progression of cancer, cardiovascular disease, common colds, and age-related macular degeneration of the eyes.
Vitamin C Inadequacy: Could You Be At Risk?
This essential nutrient isn’t stored by your body, which makes it necessary for you to get enough through your diet or supplements. Groups that are at a higher risk of vitamin C inadequacy are smokers, passive smokers, infants fed with boiled milk or evaporated milk, individuals who do not consume a variety of fruits and vegetables, and people with chronic diseases such as diabetes, osteoporosis, or heart disease. People who have a severe deficiency of the vitamin run the risk of developing scurvy. Symptoms of the illness include weakness, gum disease, anemia, and skin diseases.2 Vitamin C can be supplemented in the form of tablets or, if higher doses are required, through an intravenous (IV) line that would supply the vitamin directly to the bloodstream.3
Vitamin C And The Big C
Vitamin C supplementation has also been shown to improve the well-being of cancer patients and alleviate fatigue, nausea, appetite loss, and pain.4 In addition, vitamin C works with some chemotherapy agents (such as with arsenic trioxide and gemcitabine) to make them more effective in the body. It has similar complementary effects when used alongside some radiation therapies as well. Vitamin C therapy is used in some cancer treatments with an IV line, rather than orally, as a direct IV dose os more effective in increasing the concentration of the vitamin in the blood. Some studies also show that high-dose vitamin C dosage can slow the growth of prostate, pancreatic, liver, colon, as well as other types of cancers. In fact, vitamin C’s role in cancer prevention is one that is being studied quite intensely by the scientific community although results aren’t yet conclusive.5
Take Heart: Cardiovascular Benefits Of Vitamin C
Vitamin C protects against the oxidation of low density lipoproteins (LDL or “bad fat”), protecting you against the action of free radicals. These oxygen-related metabolic products formed during food breakdown can wreak havoc on your cells. They react with LDL, making it stronger and more formidable in causing further tissue damage.6
Researchers have found that vitamin C can prevent apoptosis or cell death in the vascular smooth muscle, triggered by moderately oxidized LDL. They also suggest that taking vitamin C supplements could protect you from plaque instability if you already have advanced atherosclerosis.7
Some animal studies have shown that ascorbic acid also helps inhibit the adherence of leukocytes (a type of white blood cell) to the interior surface of blood vessels, which is induced by cigarette smoke. This “sticking” of leukocytes plays a key role in triggering atherosclerosis, which causes plaque buildup in your arteries and could even lead to a heart attack.8
Can It Help Cure Your Cold?
Preventative use of vitamin C supplements does not generally reduce the risk of developing a cold, other than in people who live in extreme climatic conditions. In their case, however, it can actually reduce the risk by 50%.9 The daily intake of vitamin C is important for you to build a strong immune system that can fight off invaders such as bacteria. Without a healthy immune system, your body is more prone to infections, wounds, and other chronic diseases. Supplementation, either orally or intravenously, can help people who are not getting enough vitamin C from the food they eat or who have cancer or chronic diseases. However, this supplement must be started only after consulting with a medical professional.10
Can You Have Too Much Vitamin C?
Side effects associated with a “megadose” of vitamin C are mostly manifested in people who have a history of kidney disorders, a genetic disorder called G-6-PD, and those who have a condition called hemochromatosis (where the body stores more iron than it needs). Generally however, the body has a very good ability to regulate vitamin C. It is so well regulated that even if the consumption is at high doses orally (1g/day or higher), less than 50% would be absorbed by the body. Overdosing may, however, cause you a bout of diarrhea, vomiting, heartburn, insomnia, headaches, or kidney stones. The recommended daily allowance is around 90mg/day for an average male and 75mg/day for an average female.11 Smokers, though, would require an additional 35mg/day.12
It should be noted that for most people, a healthy, unprocessed diet involving different colors of fruits and vegetables helps to maintain all your vitamins at optimum levels and keep you protected. So go ahead and eat that orange!
References [ + ]
|1, 3, 10, 12.||↑||Vitamin C, NIH.|
|2.||↑||Srivastava, Sneha. “The Importance of Vitamin C: a review for pharmacists.” Pharmacy Times 77, no. 10 (2011): 129.|
|4.||↑||Yeom, Chang Hwan, Gyou Chul Jung, and Keun Jeong Song. “Changes of terminal cancer patients’ health-related quality of life after high dose vitamin C administration.” Journal of Korean medical science 22, no. 1 (2007): 7-11.|
|5.||↑||High-Dose Vitamin C (PDQ®)–Health Professional Version, NIH.|
|6, 11.||↑||Naidu, K. Akhilender. “Vitamin C in human health and disease is still a mystery? An overview.” Nutrition Journal 2, no. 1 (2003): 1.|
|7.||↑||Siow, Richard CM, Justin P. Richards, Kevin C. Pedley, David S. Leake, and Giovanni E. Mann. “Vitamin C protects human vascular smooth muscle cells against apoptosis induced by moderately oxidized LDL containing high levels of lipid hydroperoxides.” Arteriosclerosis, thrombosis, and vascular biology 19, no. 10 (1999): 2387-2394.|
|8.||↑||Lehr, Hans-Anton, Balz Frei, and Karl-E. Arfors. “Vitamin C prevents cigarette smoke-induced leukocyte aggregation and adhesion to endothelium in vivo.” Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences 91, no. 16 (1994): 7688-7692.|
|9.||↑||Vitamin C, NIH.|