Vitamin C is best known for its role in immunity, especially when we are sick.
Advice from family and friends is almost always to load-up on vitamin C. Furthermore, vitamin C packets and tablets are selling over-the-counter in almost every pharmacy in town. But the role of vitamin C in immune function is only one amongst many. When a deficiency occurs (which is rare), one can begin to appreciate all the other functions.
What is Vitamin C?
Vitamin C, ascorbic acid, is an essential vitamin and antioxidant that has many roles in the body. Essential means that it cannot be synthesized in the body and therefore it must be consumed through diet.
This vitamin plays a key role in the production of collagen, a fundamental protein of connective tissue and blood vessels. Vitamin C plays a key role in the formation of muscle, cartilage, and bone. It is also necessary for the healing of wounds and red blood cell formation (it promotes the intake of iron in the gut).
- Fruits (citrus)
- Vegetables (yellow bell pepper)
- Supplements (powders and tablets)
A deficiency in vitamin C can result in bloody gums, muscle weakness, poor vision, and poor healing. Deficiencies are very rare. It was actually a deficiency in sailors of the 15th century that eventually lead to its discovery.
Because of their extensive time at sea, sailors began to show
symptoms of Vit. C deficiency (scurvy) which included bloody gums, loose teeth, and poor healing. Eventually, the association between scurvy and a dietary deficiency was made.
It became custom for sailors to take citrus with them on long voyages to prevent the adverse effects of malnutrition. It wasn’t until years later that vitamin C was isolated and recognized as the substance responsible for preventing scurvy (1).
Heart Disease and Stroke:
Vitamin C is important for vascular health since blood vessels multi-layered glued together connective tissue (lots of collagen!). Not having a sufficient amount can leave the vascular system susceptible to atherosclerotic damage.
Atherosclerosis is the process by which vessels harden and form plaques. It eventually leads to cardiovascular (CVD) and cerebrovascular disease (CBD). For this reason, it is important to consume enough every day by eating lots of fruits and vegetables.
The link is not solid, but the association does exist. It is a powerful antioxidant and is usually consumed in a complex rich in other vitamins and minerals (like in fruits). Eating more fruits and vegetables lowers the likelihood of many cancer types including colorectal cancer.
Furthermore, the antioxidant properties of vitamin C counteract damage from free radicals, which are reactive chemical species. Free radicals can damage cell membranes and DNA amongst other structures.
Sickness may have a lesser effect on an individual who supplements Vitamin C. It shortens sickness and helps the body heal and clear-out infections at a faster rate.
Recommendations in Smokers
Smoking causes substantial oxidative stress and depletes vitamin C levels in the body. It is therefore important that smokers consume enough to prevent a deficiency. It is preferable that an individual gets this vitamin by consuming whole foods like fruits and vegetables as opposed to supplements.
When one is getting their daily vitamins from fruits and vegetables, one is also getting lots of other nutrients essential to every aspect of health. Furthermore, eating lots of fruits and vegetables lowers the chances of being deficient in other essential nutrients.
Vitamin C is a water-soluble vitamin and overdosing is harder than it is with fat-soluble vitamins (which store in fat). One is very likely to excrete any extra vitamin C in the body in urine.
However, it is important to note that there have been cases in which excess vitamin C has contributed to renal problems, such as kidney stones. This is another reason why it is important to be getting this vitamin from whole foods which have other regulatory nutrients that help with absorbing and clearing it from the body.
Vitamin C supplements are becoming very popular and are generally ok as long there isn’t a chronic overdose. It is also important to drink lots of water if taking a supplement of high concentration.
The best way to maximize health and get results is to address diet and nutrition and all its contributing factors. Talk to our staff at Santa Cruz Core to set up a series of consultations in with our Integrative and Functional Nutritionist today!