Vitamin C, also known by its chemical title ascorbic acid, is an essential nutrient for humans. Where most organisms can provide their own vitamin C in appropriate levels, the human body cannot synthesize this chemical on its own. Instead, we depend on our diet to provide the necessary nutrient in adequate dosages. Although ascorbic acid was not identified and isolated until 1933, its vital role in the body was recognized long prior. “Simple grains, fruits, and vegetables have all the nutrient properties necessary to make good blood.” Healthful Living, 63. This is, in large part, due to the high value of vitamin C in fresh produce.
Vitamin C is a water soluble vitamin. Practically, what this means is that our body does not store this vitamin for very long and we must replace it daily through our diet and/or supplements. The recommended daily allowance (RDA) for vitamin C has been under scrutiny for quite some time. Since the distance between too little and too much is too great, the FDA fell somewhere in the low-middle to compensate for the spread. To prevent scurvy (a terribly painful disease caused by the lack of vitamin C which causes bleeding both external and internal, loose teeth, sore joints, extreme fatigue, and anemia) the body needs only 10 mg daily. On the flip side, when more than 200 mg are taken at a time, the body passes any more than this out through the urine. To compensate for the spread, the RDA was set just high enough to prevent scurvy should there be a shortage of vitamin C for a couple weeks. The RDA was reevaluated in 2000 and raised from just 60 mg to 75–90 mg (depending on gender and weight). However, most believe that the recommended levels are still not high enough for optimal function. In 1996, researchers said that 200 mg per day was optimal while others still believe that this is still too low—more than twice the current recommendation. Decades of research show very clearly that vitamin C, taken in large dosages, improves many health issues including asthma, as well as if not better than prescription drugs (the difference is that vitamin C does not cause harmful side effects).
The main argument around vitamin C is the use of greater amounts since the body excretes any more than 200 mg taken in a day. A healthy person’s body contains approximately 5,000 mg of vitamin C at a fairly constant basis. When stressed by illness or injury, the level lowers and it is necessary to take in larger levels than normal. The body will only excrete excess vitamin C if the maximum level has been reached. For most people in our world today, maximum health is not a normal state and consequently, the milligrams that a person consumes will most likely boost the level to the optimal height. The beneficial results tend to be seen only at levels of more than 200 mg per day.
Listing the innumerable benefits of vitamin C to the body would take more space than allowed for our health feature, so to put it simply, there is very little that vitamin C does not do for the body. There are over 300 uses that the body finds for vitamin C, so just to list a couple of appetizers, Vitamin C is required for the production of collagen. Collagen is a strong bonding or connective tissue that keeps your skeleton together, attaches muscles to bone, keeps blood vessels strong, and holds skin and organs in place. Simply put, collagen is to the body as the egg (replacer) is to your favorite cookie recipe and what water is to concrete, holding all the components together. Because collagen is needed for healing wounds, vitamin C is an integral agent in the healing process.
Vitamin C also serves as one of your body’s top antioxidants. Antioxidants are molecules that slow or prevent the oxidation of other molecules. In the body, oxidation reactions can produce molecules with unpaired electrons, aka free radicals, which must be closely regulated by the body so as to prevent them from mutating cells. Vitamin C is a key component in preventing this. It also supports the body’s other antioxidants in their work. Vitamin C’s job is to capture free radicals and neutralize them before they can do damage to the body. This is actually a primary focus of a lot of the different minerals and vitamins. But vitamin C is particularly useful because it is water-soluble. This means that it can travel anywhere in the body, just like free radicals.
Without Vitamin C, other vitamins and minerals, such as iron and folic acid, would not be able to perform their work in the body. In fact, many vitamins and minerals depend on one another’s presence to get their work done, so it is important to make sure that we have the appropriate levels of vitamins and minerals in our bodies.
Vitamin C has been indicated as a beneficial agent in everything ranging from the prevention of heart disease (the National Center for Health Statistics, or NCHS, found that if adults in America added 500 mg of vitamin C to their diet each day, 100,000 deaths would be prevented each year.) to battling asthma. It is shown that children with asthma have significantly lower levels of vitamin C in their blood. Vitamin C has also been cited as being instrumental in the prevention and/or treatment of cardiovascular disease, high cholesterol, high blood pressure, stroke, diabetes, kidney stones, cancer, and arthritis.
Until canning and refrigeration were common place vitamin C deficiency was quite rampant in many areas during the winter months particularly due to the lack of fresh produce. Now that fruits and vegetables are available year-round most people get all the vitamin C that is necessary despite the season, although the level is not nearly as high as some health professionals believe it ought to be. In some instances, however, an extra dose may be necessary. The cells of a person with diabetes do not keep vitamin C levels as well as someone who does not suffer from this ailment. Smokers also should take care to maintain a good level of vitamin C as cigarette smoke breaks down the content in the cells. They need vitamin C also to help the body repair the damage done to the body through smoking. Those combating asthma or allergies use up more vitamin C than most in order to fight the reaction. When you are sick, your immune system needs an extra boost to arm your body against the illness and return to a state of wellness. Patients who have just undergone surgery, heavy drinkers, those who take prescription or over-the-counter drugs or steroids, older adults, pregnant or breastfeeding women, and people who are under excessive mental and physical stress such as athletes also need an extra boost of C.
Just about every fresh fruit and vegetable contains some level of vitamin C. The food that has the highest level is native to the West Indies and is not seen frequently in the Americas. However, it is used most frequently in adding a boost of C to foods and drinks. Acerola, per serving, contains 1,644 mg of vitamin C, more than four times the amount of the common fruit or vegetable that are “high” in the vitamin.
Vegetables like kale, spinach, collard greens, broccoli, Brussels sprouts and turnips are also excellent sources of vitamin C. Surprisingly, so are bell peppers, particularly yellow which has 341 mg per serving! Any adult who consumes 5 servings of fresh fruits and vegetables a day easily reaches 250 mg of C in their diet. However, the quality of produce has a lot to do with how much you get. Produce that has been prepared and sits out looses its nutritional value the longer it sits. Canned fruits and vegetables have had their vitamins and minerals virtually processed out of them. Although they do still contain some levels of their original content, it is minute.
To enhance the benefits of vitamin C in your diet, there are some things that act as a catalyst or an aide. All other vitamins and minerals have some effect on the use of vitamin C, but particularly the use of the B family, calcium, flavonoids, and magnesium. Vitamin C blockers include alcohol, some antibiotics and antihistamines, estrogen, barbiturates, birth-control pills, steroids, and baking soda. Although some of these are unavoidable, being aware of this will assist in maintaining proper levels of vitamin C in your body.
Now, to address a very common problem when looking at the supplement isle of your local grocers or health food market, what should you do about supplements? There are so many options on the shelves that scream their superiority. But which one do you believe? Is there really one that is better than another? And what about the ‘organic’ claims?
Vitamins come in all sorts of forms now—from chewable tablets, capsules, lozenges, syrups, even gummy bears! Some claim to be organic, others claim the supremacy of synthesized ingredients and others boast of their rate of absorption. Here’s a quick run-down for reference. Most people will tend to take the tablets and capsules, in large part due to convenience. The capsules usually have 500 mg and are swallowed with a liquid or food. Most people find this to be the easiest and most economical. The capsules are easiest on the pocketbook.
Chewable tablets are usually about 250 mg. Children are not adept at swallowing pills, neither are some adults for that matter. These are generally a good source of vitamin C; however, there are usually artificial additives such as sweeteners and flavors to make them more palatable. Vitamin C can also come in the form of powder and added to food or beverages. A teaspoon of this form has approximately 2,000 mg.
For people who have sensitive stomachs, sodium or calcium tablets create a buffer for your stomach and prevent unrest. Timed-capsules are also available which do not reach your system until the substance is in the intestines, beyond the reach of the stomach. Vitamin C also comes in combinations with bioflavonoids or potassium. Caution is required in taking the potassium due to risk of overdoses, particularly in small children or those with heart or kidney problems.
Unfortunately there are very few government regulations where dietary supplements are concerned. Because of this, manufacturers have too much leeway to manipulate the general public. One way to ensure the quality of the product you are purchasing is to look for the Good Manufacturing Practices (GMP) certification on the label. Although this is not a guarantee, it is generally a good sign.
Understanding the body and what it requires for optimal health is a matter not just of physical health, but also mental and spiritual. The different vitamins and minerals that play a role in our overall health must be replenished such that our beings are in the best of condition for the roles that God gives us in our lives. “Between the mind and the body there is a mysterious and wonderful relation. They react upon each other. To keep the body in a healthy condition to develop its strength, that every part of the living machinery may act harmoniously, should be the first study of our life. To neglect the body is to neglect the mind.” Testimonies, vol. 3, 485.