Vitamin C is perhaps the most controversial of all the vitamins.
Great claims have been made for its healing and protective qualities,
not only in connection with the common cold, but in ageing, heart disease and many other conditions.
And though the official view on these claims remain skeptical,
no one denies that it is one of the most essential vitamins for good health.
Vitamin C, also known as Ascorbic acid, is vital for maintenance of the body’s connective tissue – that is, the skin, fibres, membranes, and so on, that literally hold it together. Collagen, a protein that is important for the formation of healthy skin, tendons and bones, depends partly on ascorbic acid for its manufacture, and the vitamin is also needed for the release of hormones and the production of other chemical substances which play a part in our survival and resistance to infection.
Vitamin C Benefits
A nutrient essential to human life and health in general, ascorbic acid benefits by being a potential healing or preventive agent for a number of specific illnesses, ranging from the common cold to cancer. And even, perhaps, Parkinson’s disease.
That new and exciting possibility is raised by work conducted at Columbia University, by Stanley Fahn, M.D. In a pilot study, he had found that patients with early parkinson’s, if given high doses of both vitamin C ad vitamin E stay relatively well, apparently much longer than patients not given these vitamins. Supplemented patients went on an average of roughly five years before they required dopaminergic drugs.
And that was two to three years longer than un-supplemented patients. The doses used are large and can be taken only under medical supervision. It must seen odd that ascorbic acid can be of possible help in problems as dissimilar as infections and Parkinson’s. But vitamin C, like most essential nutrients, has not one but multiple biochemical functions.
In the case of Parkinson’s, fahn hypothesizes that brain neurons may be damaged by oxidizing toxins produced by the body itself, and that since both vitamins C and E block oxidation, they may slow down the degenerative process. Future research may confirm this hypothesis.
The healing power of vitamin C has been tested against colds repeatedly. While the overall record is not clear, the most recent – and perhaps most unusual – study suggests that vitamin C may indeed have an effect on cold symptoms. At the University of Winsconsin, Elliot Dick, Ph.D., found that students who took 2,000 milligrams of vitamin C a day recovered from colds in seven days while those taking a placebo suffered for an average of 12 days.
What was extraordinary was that all the students, housed together, were observed by researchers around the clock. Careful analysis showed that the supplemented students sneezed a lot less, blew their noses a lot less, and coughed less, too. Dick’s research group repeated the study to see if these results can be confirmed.
There is considerable interest among scientists about the possible preventive effect of vitamins against cancer. But little has been done to explore a possible healing role for ascorbic acid. Perhaps, the most interesting study was done in Toronto, where doctors found that a combination of 400 mg of vitamin C and 440 international units of vitamin E daily was associated with a reduced recurrence rate of colon and rectal polyps.
Polyps recurred in 38 percent of patients who took placebos, but recurred in only 30 percent of the patients who received the vitamin supplements. Such polyps can become cancerous.
Vitamin C may also help the heart. At Tufts University, researchers had found int wo large studies that people over the age of 60 who had the most ascorbic acid in their blood also had the highest level of HDL cholesterol, the protective cholesterol associated with freedom from heart disease. They had further given 1000 mg of vitamin C a day to a group of volunteers to see if what they had found was a true cause and effect relationship.
Their is also a possible beneficial effect of vitamin C on oral health. In a recent study, 11 healthy non-smoking men with excellent oral health habits, who were consuming the Recommended Dietary Allowance of vitamin C – 60 mg a day – bled from the gums when probed by a periodontist. When given 600 mg of vitamin C a day, the bleeding lessened considerably.
The Moral: Brush, floss, see your dentist, and put lots of of vitamin C in your diet if you still have hemorrhage gums. Vitamin C may even have a healing role when it is party time. At the University of Michigan, researchers found that 20 students who have been taking vitamin C supplements cleared alcohol from their blood faster than normal. Theoretically, this effect could help people sober up faster and have less chance of liver damage.
The researcher’s suggestions: “Drink a little less, alcoholic beverage, and get a little more vitamin C.”
Vitamin C Deficiency & Recommended Dosage
The extreme form of ascorbic acid deficiency is a condition called scurvy. When this occurs, the connective tissue degenerates so that blood vessels break and there is bleeding into the skin, joints, and from the gums. Teeth are loosened, bruises appear, and resistance to infection is lowered.
The name ascorbic acid used to describe vitamin C when it is manufactured, is derived from ‘antiscorbutic,’ meaning the ability to prevent and cure scurvy. Fruits, especially citrus fruits, are some of the richest sources of ascorbic acid. Best Choices are amla (Indian Gooseberry), oranges, lemons, sweet limes, pineapples, strawberries and tomatoes (a variety of berries). Vegetables, such as potatoes in their jackets, cauliflower, and cabbage also bring in ascorbic acid.
It is generally acknowledged that the body required extra ascorbic acid after a severe illness or injury, and there have been experiments showing that burns heal faster when a vitamin C solution has been applied to the skin in conjunction with injections or doses taken by mouth. High doses of vitamin C have also been used successfully in experiments to reduce cholesterol fatty deposits in the arteries.
The recommended daily allowance (RDA) for Indians, as determined by the Indian Council of Medical Research (ICMR), is as follows:
- For infants up to 1 year – 25 mg per day
- For children and adults – 40 mg per day
- For lactating mother – 80 mg per day
The Richest Source of Ascorbic Acid
Researchers at the University of Sydney have found the richest known natural source of vitamin C in the billygoat plum, and Australian bush food eaten by aborigines for thousands of years. Also called Terminalia ferdiandiana, the plum has 100 times the vitamin C of an orange.
Excessive Ascorbic Acid
The body excretes any surplus of this vitamin and any massive doze of vitamin C that is not utilized by the body is simply flushed away in urine. This means that there is no possibility of an overdose, as per our present knowledge.
Vitamin C and the Cardiovascular Disease
Two time Nobel Laurate Linus Pauling, who died on August 19, 1994, aged 93, drew much scoffing in the ’70s from the medical establishment or championing the health benefits of nutrients, especially vitamin C, among other things, he said that mega doses of vitamin C could prevent colds. Over the ’80s and the ’90s, he saw the scoffing turn to vindication in the light of snow-balling research on the benefits of antioxidants, including vitamin C.
And here is Pauling’s last prediction before his death – like the other’s it is controversial, and, like them, it centers around ascorbic acid. It is perhaps all the more worth our attention since this was the man who had a way of turning skeptics into converts – when they eventually starting believing him after some years.
“My opinion is that there will be a revolution in the prevention and treatment of cardiovascular disease – coronary heart disease, strokes, and peripheral circulatory problems. It ought to be possible to get nearly complete control of atherosclerosis and heart disease.
During the last 20 or 30 years, people in cardiological research have said they understand heart disease. They say its primary cause is a lesion in the wall of a blood vessel, especially in a place where there is special stress, where the pulse id strong, In a cascade of reactions the body tries to heal the lesion or prevent it from doing too much harm.
Well a couple of years ago I said, “Why should there be a lesion in the wall of a blood vessel.?” One of the most important thing ascorbic acid does is to take part in the manufacture of collagen and elastin, fibrous proteins that hold the body together.
Collagen makes the blood vessels strong, as well as skin, muscles, bones, and teeth. To make collagen, you use up vitamin C. If people do not have much C, they do not make much collagen and their blood vessels are weak. So the primary cause of cardiovascular disease is too small an intake of vitamin C. Almost every person is deficient in this vitamin. And nearby every person is susceptible to cardiovascular disease.
We found that if you give a guinea pig much less vitamin C then its ordinary chow contains – an amount corresponding to the RDA (recommended daily allowance) for a human – that guinea pig will develop cardiovascular disease similar to the human type.
The average animal manufactures about 200 times more vitamin C for its weight than the RDA for humans. And that, I say, is the reason that animals don’t get the sort of heart disease and strokes that humans do. This is one of my principle arguments for a high vitamin C intake.”
Vitamin connoisseurs know that Pauling used to take 18000 milligrams everyday – 18 grams of crystalline ascorbic acid, 300 times the RDA. Even smaller amounts than this can be a laxative and gas producer for novices, he acknowledged, so you should experiment to find your “bowel tolerance.” In any case he urges a minimum of 6 grams a day.