Vitamin C: Information
Vitamin C (a.k.a ascorbic acid) is a water-soluble essential vitamin. Because the body cannot produce or store it, vitamin C must be obtained through dietary supplements or foods such as citrus fruits, green vegetables, tomatoes, kiwi, broccoli, strawberries, etc. As a water-soluble vitamin, vitamin C cannot be stored and therefore supplies must be replenished regularly.
Vitamin C's Functions
Vitamin C participates in many vital biological processes. The body uses vitamin C to make collagen (a component of skin, scar tissue, blood vessels, tendons and ligaments). The integrity of cell structure, immune function, cardiovascular health, growth, and repair all require vitamin C. Vitamin C is also a powerful antioxidant, protecting cells and helping to neutralize harmful free radicals.
Vitamin C: Getting Enough?
Only few types of mammals including humans cannot make their own vitamin C. It is theorized that at some point in human development, a genetic mutation cost humans the ability to make their own vitamin C (humans possess 3 of the 4 enzymes needed to make it). A primitive diet rich in C and possibly the adaption of a compensatory mechanism have allowed humans to thrive in spite of this mutation.
Animals that can make their own vitamin C make substantial amounts. An adult goat, with roughly the same biomass as a human, will make about 13,000 mg (13g) per day, and much more when ill, injured or under stress. This argues that optimal doses for humans are probably far higher than the 90 mg/day RDI. (RDI's are bare-minimum levels needed to prevent the development of a deficiency disease). Probably because antioxidant defense in humans is complex and involves many different factors, it has been difficult for researchers to establish ideal or optimal amounts of vitamin C.
Vitamin C deficiency causes scurvy, which has unpleasant physical side effects. But scurvy is rare in developed countries and in most cases vitamin C supplements are taken to promote overall health and not for the prevention of scurvy. A balanced diet will usually protect against deficiency; however, supplements are needed to obtain optimal levels. For certain individuals with major health challenges like AIDS, alcoholism, hyperthyroidism, chronic infection or malabsorption syndromes, the need for vitamin C may be higher.
Vitamin C's Health Benefits
Many studies have examined vitamin C with respect to cardiovascular health including heart disease, high cholesterol, high blood pressure, and atherosclerosis. These studies suggest that reducing risks to cardiovascular health may require gram doses of vitamin C, enough to saturate the body's pool of vitamin C. Studies also suggest a relationship between vitamin C intake and the development of cataracts although further research is needed before specific recommendations can be made. Vitamin C is not a cure for any of these conditions, but an essential element for good health and prevention. Taking extra vitamin is a great way to support your health in several ways at once.
Vitamin C is well-known and well-researched with respect to the common cold. Although much of the research showed reductions in frequency and severity of colds, results haven't been reproducible in all populations. It is important to note that vitamin C does not cure colds or prevent them outright. Vitamin C works to support the immune system, which may shorten the duration or intensity of colds.
Since a low level of vitamin C is associated with obesity, the antioxidant may also help support a healthy weight loss program.
Ascorbic Acid or Ester-C?
Vitamin C supplements come in two principal forms; ascorbic acid and mineral ascorbates (such as calcium ascorbate). In the body, only mineral ascorbates have vitamin C activity. This means that before the body can use ascorbic acid, it must first attach a mineral to it, to form a mineral ascorbate. This isn't necessarily a drawback - most of the studies of vitamin C have used ascorbic acid, so that form does 'work' perfectly well. If you tolerate ascorbic acid without problems, that is the best form to take.
Ester-C, Emergen-C and certain other vitamin C products contain mineral ascorbate forms of vitamin C. These are less acidic than ascorbic acid, may be gentler on the stomach and may be easier for the body to use. They also cost more on a dollars per milligram basis.
Using Vitamin C Safely
Use as directed.Vitamin C is an extraordinarily safe nutrient with essentially no toxicity at supplemental doses. Most people supplementing vitamin use from 500-1500mg per day. Occasionally people take more on the advice of their doctor. Pregnant women should not take more than recommended doses, as high doses of vitamin C may cause harm to the developing fetus. Consult your physician before using any dietary supplements if you are currently taking any medications, as vitamin C may interact with other medications or drugs you are taking. Vitamin C absorption is enhanced when taken in combination with flavonoids. Vitamin C may increase the absorption of iron.