The Importance of Vitamin C
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The heart disease and cancer questions remain open, but there is little evidence to support these uses of supplements. But the effect of vitamin C on infections has been carefully studied; in fact, years after Dr. James Lind performed the first clinical trial in history, Dr. Thomas Chalmers performed one of the first modern placebo-controlled randomized clinical trials when he studied vitamin C and the common cold. He found no benefit — and at least 21 other trials have corroborated that finding.
Pauling's legacy includes much that is admirable. Unfortunately, though, his belief that vitamin C can prevent and treat respiratory infection is something you can sneeze at. Scurvy is rare in the Western world, but it wasn't always that way. The disease was rampant in men who sailed the seas in the 15th—18th centuries, the great era of exploration.
Accomplished seafarers, the British were particularly hard hit, developing the bleeding and rotten gums, skin rash, swollen joints, muscle weakness, and profound fatigue that characterize the disease. In , for example, Admiral George Anson set out to circle the globe with six ships. He returned four years later with only one, having lost almost 1, men, many to scurvy. James Lind, a Scottish ship's surgeon, set out to rectify this problem.
How Vitamin C Supports a Healthy Immune System
While sailing aboard HMS Salisbury in May , he conducted the first controlled clinical trial in medical history. The subjects were 12 sailors who all had "putrid gums, the spots and lassitude, with weakness of their knees" — in other words, scurvy. Lind divided the sailors into six groups of two and gave each pair a different daily supplement: A quart of cider, two spoonfuls of vinegar before each meal, half a pint of sea water, elixir of vitriol, a paste of garlic, mustard seeds, and herbs, or one lemon and two oranges. Within just six days, the sailors who ate the citrus fruits were fit enough to return to duty.
But despite his success, Dr.
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Lind experienced the same frustration as many of today's scientists: It took 48 years for the bureaucrats of the British Admiralty to add citrus fruits to ships' rations. It doesn't take much vitamin C to prevent scurvy. That's why many countries recommend as little as 30 mg a day, a third of the amount recommended for American men. And even though vitamin C isn't stored in the body, people who have been getting even modest dietary amounts have enough in their systems to prevent any signs of deficiency for at least two weeks of complete vitamin C deprivation. That depends on your standards.
Population surveys from around the world have studied the relationship between vitamin C and disease. Some estimate vitamin C consumption; others measure the actual amount of the vitamin in the blood. Although there are some dissenting results, many of the studies link high levels of vitamin C to a reduced risk of heart attacks, strokes, memory loss and dementia, and impaired lung function in smokers.
The results of cancer studies are more variable. For example, in the Prostate, Lung, Colorectal and Ovarian Cancer Screening Trial reported that a high consumption of vitamin C did not protect men from prostate cancer. All in all, however, a high consumption of vitamin C has generally been associated with reduced mortality rates. Studies like these have made vitamin C a best-selling supplement. But they don't prove vitamin pills are helpful. Far from it. For one thing, the dissenting research includes some large studies such as Harvard's Health Professionals' Follow-Up Study as well as a trial that linked a high consumption of vitamin C from supplements to an increased risk of heart disease in diabetics.
More important, the hopeful results are all derived from observational studies, not clinical trials.
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Observational studies can never establish a cause-and-effect relationship — and they can sometimes be wrong. For example, observation suggested that hormone replacement therapy could help postmenopausal women and that vitamin E and beta carotene could help both men and women — but randomized clinical trials showed just the opposite.
It seems likely, even probable, that a high level of vitamin C is a marker for a good diet and a healthy lifestyle, but it is not necessarily protective in its own right. Fruits and vegetables are the main dietary sources of vitamin C, but they provide other beneficial nutrients as well.
Vitamin C: Why is it important?
Iron is an important nutrient that has a variety of functions in the body. It is essential for making red blood cells and transporting oxygen throughout the body.
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Interestingly, vitamin C supplements can help improve the absorption of iron from the diet. Vitamin C assists in converting iron that is poorly absorbed, such as plant-based sources of iron, into a form that is easier to absorb In one study, 65 children with mild iron deficiency anemia were given a vitamin C supplement.
Researchers found that the supplement alone helped control their anemia If you suffer from low iron levels, consuming more vitamin C-rich foods or taking a vitamin C supplement may help improve your blood iron levels. One of the main reasons people take vitamin C supplements is to boost their immunity. First, vitamin C helps encourage the production of white blood cells known as lymphocytes and phagocytes, which help protect the body against infections Second, vitamin C helps these white blood cells function more effectively while protecting them from damage by potentially harmful molecules, such as free radicals.
Studies have also shown that taking vitamin C may shorten wound healing time 23 , For example, people who suffer from pneumonia tend to have lower vitamin C levels, and vitamin C supplements have been shown to shorten the recovery time 25 , It affects over 35 million people worldwide and typically occurs among older adults Studies suggest that oxidative stress and inflammation near the brain, spine and nerves altogether known as the central nervous system can increase the risk of dementia Vitamin C is a strong antioxidant. Low levels of this vitamin have been linked to an impaired ability to think and remember 29 , Moreover, several studies have shown that people with dementia may have lower levels of vitamin C in the blood 31 , Furthermore, high vitamin C intakes from food or supplements have been shown to have a protective effect on thinking and memory with age 33 , 34 , Vitamin C supplements may aid against conditions like dementia if you do not get enough vitamin C from the diet.
However, more human-based studies are needed in order to understand the impact of vitamin C supplements on nervous system health While vitamin C has many scientifically proven benefits, it also has many unfounded claims supported by either weak evidence or no evidence at all. It has been linked to many impressive health benefits, such as boosting antioxidant levels, reducing blood pressure, reducing heart disease risk, protecting against gout attacks, improving iron absorption, boosting immunity and reducing dementia risk. Overall, vitamin C supplements are a great and simple way to boost your vitamin C intake if you struggle to get enough from your diet.
Vitamin C is very important for your health, leading some to take vitamin C supplements. This article explores whether its possible to consume too…. Free radicals are compounds formed when our bodies convert the food we eat into energy. People are also exposed to free radicals in the environment from cigarette smoke, air pollution, and ultraviolet light from the sun.
Vitamin C: Sources & Benefits
The body also needs vitamin C to make collagen , a protein required to help wounds heal. In addition, vitamin C improves the absorption of iron from plant-based foods and helps the immune system work properly to protect the body from disease. The amount of vitamin C you need each day depends on your age. Average daily recommended amounts for different ages are listed below in milligrams mg. Fruits and vegetables are the best sources of vitamin C. You can get recommended amounts of vitamin C by eating a variety of foods including the following:.
The vitamin C content of food may be reduced by prolonged storage and by cooking. Steaming or microwaving may lessen cooking losses.
Fortunately, many of the best food sources of vitamin C, such as fruits and vegetables, are usually eaten raw. Most multivitamins have vitamin C. Vitamin C is also available alone as a dietary supplement or in combination with other nutrients. The vitamin C in dietary supplements is usually in the form of ascorbic acid, but some supplements have other forms, such as sodium ascorbate, calcium ascorbate, other mineral ascorbates, and ascorbic acid with bioflavonoids.
Research has not shown that any form of vitamin C is better than the other forms. Most people in the United States get enough vitamin C from foods and beverages.
However, certain groups of people are more likely than others to have trouble getting enough vitamin C:. Vitamin C deficiency is rare in the United States and Canada. People who get little or no vitamin C below about 10 mg per day for many weeks can get scurvy. Scurvy causes fatigue , inflammation of the gums, small red or purple spots on the skin, joint pain, poor wound healing, and corkscrew hairs.
Additional signs of scurvy include depression as well as swollen, bleeding gums and loosening or loss of teeth. People with scurvy can also develop anemia. Scurvy is fatal if it is not treated. Scientists are studying vitamin C to understand how it affects health.
Here are several examples of what this research has shown. People with high intakes of vitamin C from fruits and vegetables might have a lower risk of getting many types of cancer, such as lung, breast , and colon cancer. However, taking vitamin C supplements, with or without other antioxidants, doesn't seem to protect people from getting cancer.
It is not clear whether taking high doses of vitamin C is helpful as a treatment for cancer.