“Good health and good sense are two of life’s greatest blessings.”- Publilus Syrus
Vitamin C is perhaps the most popular vitamin out there. As a child growing up, you have probably heard your mom telling you to load up on vitamin C at the first sign of colds and cough. There are many (and I mean MANY) studies, scientific and otherwise, done on this particular vitamin. So let us try to learn more, establish facts, and maybe expose some myths about it.
What is Vitamin C?
Vitamin C is also known as ascorbic acid. It is a water-soluble vitamin, which means that the body flushes it away. Unlike other mammals, humans have lost the ability to produce this vitamin due to a gene mutation. This is the reason why we need access to food that are rich in vitamin C all the time (not just during flu season). It is an essential component to keep our body functioning in tip-top shape. Here are some of the essential roles of vitamin C:
It is needed for the production of collagen, which is a protein used to make skin, ligaments, cartilage, etc.
It is important for growth and repair of tissues and healing of wounds
It helps in maintaining healthy teeth and bones
It is a powerful antioxidant and ongoing studies point to a possible preventive role in aging, cancer, cardiovascular disease, and arthritis
It aids in the absorption of iron
It plays an important role in strengthening immunity
In the olden times, sailor who spend long periods in the sea and those who have no access to fresh fruits and vegetables often get vitamin C deficiency (or scurvy). But this condition is now uncommon thanks to the availability of handy vitamin capsules. Here are some signs of vitamin C deficiency:
Easy fatigability (one of the first signs to appear)
Gingivitis (inflammation of the gums) and bleeding gums
Dry, scaly skin and dry, breakable hair
Slow wound healing and poor bone health
Easy bruising and nose bleeding
Where can we get Vitamin C?
Aside from the synthetic vitamin C that we buy in our local pharmacies, we can also get it from fruits and vegetables. These include citrus fruits (oranges, lemon, kalamansi), apple, green pepper, watermelon, papaya, strawberries, and tomatoes. Green leafy vegetables like spinach, sprouts, broccoli, and cabbage are also excellent sources. As vitamin C come from colorful fruits and vegetables, you can easily make attractive plates for children. However, vitamin C (along with other vitamins) is easily destroyed by heat and light, so it is best to consume these food items either raw or lightly cooked.
How much Vitamin C should we take?
As we know, children have unique nutritional requirements owing to the development they go through. Certain conditions would also require different amounts of vitamins and minerals. According to the daily recommended dietary allowance (RDA) for vitamin C, we should be receiving the following amounts according to age, sex, and condition:
Individuals who smoke require an additional 35 mg/day compared to non-smokers.
Some people advocate taking “megadoses” of vitamin C, thinking that this can boost their immunity. But this is NOT a good idea. Taking Vitamin C more that the upper daily limit of 2000mg can cause adverse effects such as diarrhea, nausea, and abdominal cramps. It may also contribute to the formation of kidney stones.
Which type of Vitamin C is more effective?
Synthetic Vitamin C is mostly marketed as ascorbic acid. Other available forms are sodium ascorbate, calcium ascorbate, and those that are made in combination with other minerals such as zinc or calcium. Some are in effervescent tablets that can be dissolved in water. There are even vitamin C gummy candies available for children.
Synthetic ascorbic acid is cheap, readily available and has the same bioavailability as the naturally occurring ascorbic acid, hence, it is the preferred source of vitamin C. However, people who have hyperacidity may benefit from taking the “buffered” or alkalinized forms. Deciding on which to buy for your family can be very confusing. Remember that some medications interact with vitamin C, so check with your doctor about which form and what dose of vitamin C is good for your family.
Truth, myth or something in between?
Due to its many functions, vitamin C is heavily promoted as a preventive measure (sometimes, even as a cure) for a myriad of diseases. Which ones are true, and which ones are false? Because science has not yet even managed to scratch the surface of how diseases work in our body, the following are based on what we know at present.
Cancer prevention: Vitamin C is a known antioxidant and can limit the formation of carcinogens and strengthen the immune system, so it can theoretically prevent cancer. However, at this stage, there has been no conclusive evidence that moderate intake of vitamin C can significantly lower the risk of developing cancer. Verdict: Unsure
Cancer treatment: there are studies that look into whether high doses of Vitamin C can lengthen the survival of cancer patients. Again, this is an ongoing area of study so before loading up on vitamin C and other antioxidants, ask your doctor first. Verdict: Unsure
Hypertension and cardiovascular disease: vitamin C promotes blood vessel health and lowers the risk of plaque formation. However, there are conflicting data on whether vitamin C supplementation alone can prevent and lower the morbidity and mortality of these diseases. VERDICT: Unsure
Cataract and Age-Related Macular Degeneration: these are diseases that come with age, and scientists think that oxidative stress might play a role. As of now, scientists do not have conclusive evidence that Vitamin C affects your risk of developing these diseases, but it may slow down disease progression. VERDICT: Maybe True
Common cold: In the 1970s, Linus Pauling suggested that Vitamin C can prevent the occurrence and even cure the common cold. Decades and several studies later, this is still an area of debate. What we do know is that for the general population (that means you and me), vitamin C does NOT reduce the occurrence of the common cold. However, Vitamin C is beneficial to those who are exposed to cold environments, athletes, elderly and smokers. Moreover, Vitamin C may help shorten the duration of the common colds BUT there is no evidence that taking vitamin C after the onset of symptoms offers any help. Verdict: It Depends
More research is needed to conclusively say that vitamin C can cure diseases. But at present, what we do know about Vitamin C is that it is involved in many normal body functions and when taken in appropriate amounts, it can promote good health. It is a powerful vitamin but it is NOT the only vitamin NOR is it a super vitamin. Hence, it is always a good idea to have a balanced diet coupled with adequate exercise. Limit sugar, sodium, and fat intake and nurture the mind. Now, go out, enjoy the summer and get your much-needed dose of Vitamin Sea.