What is Vitamin C?
Vitamin C is a micronutrient which comes under the class of water soluble vitamins. Unlike fat soluble vitamins water soluble vitamins can’t be stored in the body for long time. Hence, they are required to be taken through diet on a regular basis in order to maintain proper stores. Vitamin C is required for structural integrity of the skin, bones, cartilage, and other connective tissues in the body. It is very critical for proper immune function. It also helps you deal with stress. On top of this many other functions are performed by Vitamin C, which we will discuss further in this article.
Why vitamin C is essential?
- Strong Immune system: The most well known function of Vit C is its role in immunity. It is a very powerful antioxidant that protects against oxidative damage and enhances the pathogen killing capacity of our immune cells (A pathogen is an organism or agent that causes disease), thereby protecting against cold and infections.
- Collagen production: Vitamin C is needed to make collagen. Collagen is the most abundant protein in human body which is necessary for the structural integrity of bones, tendons, ligaments, cartilage, skin, cornea of the eye etc.
- Iron absorption: Iron from plant based sources such as spinach cannot be properly absorbed without enough Vit C. This is because vitamin C promotes ferrous state and iron is better absorbed in ferrous state.
- Dealing with stress: When you are stressed adrenal glands in your body releases a stress hormone called Cortisol for which Vitamin C is essential. Cortisol helps to regulate your body’s response towards stress. This explains why adrenals have the highest concentration of this nutrient than any other organ in the body.
- Production of Carnitine: Carnitine is an amino acid naturally produced in the liver. Vit C is necessary for its production. Carnitine has been shown to help with anemia particularly the one which is associated with kidneys. It appears to improve our body’s use of glucose, benefits the heart and has shown to resolve male infertility. It also plays a major role in transporting free fatty acids across mitochondrial membrane for energy production.
- Supports the health of adrenal, pituitary and thyroid gland: Vit C participates in the conversion of amino acid phenylalanine to Tyrosine. Tyrosine essentially supports the function of adrenals, pituitary gland, thyroid gland by making and regulating hormones.
- Helps you stay alert and awake and increases arousal: Norepinephrine, a hormone which increases alertness, attention and arousal is produced from dopamine and requires vitamin C.
- Works with vitamin E: Vitamin C works with vitamin E to prevent clogging of the artery thereby reducing the risk of heart attack.
Humans cannot make their own vitamin C
Animals such as dogs and cats can make their own vitamin C but unfortunately, humans can’t and it is required to be taken in the diet. This is because the chemical name of vitamin C is Ascorbic acid. ascorbic acid is derived from glucose. Animals can make vitamin C from glucose by a biochemical reaction. However, humans are incapable of carrying out this reaction. This makes them incapable of making their own vitamin C.
Vitamin C deficiency and symptoms
Inadequate levels of vitamin C results in a disease called ‘scurvy’. This disease from Vitamin C deficiency is characterized by abnormal bone growth, joint pains, bleeding gums, fatigue, impaired wound healing and tiny hemorrhages beneath the skin. Also, normal blood clotting mechanisms are hindered. The capillaries and the underlying tissue become weak, why? because of impaired collagen synthesis, the protein which holds the structural integrity of tissues. Further, this results into poor wound healing and increases susceptibility to infections. This weakening of the underlying tissue occurs in the digestive tract as well which causes a degeneration of its outer lining ultimately causing digestive issues such as leaky gut syndrome. In severe cases teeth may become loose and fall out.
In infants, a condition called scorbutic rosary develops which is characterized by swollen rib cage and swollen bone joints. Signs and symptoms of milder deficiency include a yellowish complexion and listlessness (lack of interest, energy and spirit) and some psychic disturbances which are due to imbalance in neurotransmitters.
As little as 10μg of vitamin C may be enough to prevent scurvy. Interestingly, the founder of vitamin C Albert Szent-Györgyi found out that he could never cure scurvy from the isolated ascorbic acid found in supplements of today but when the subjects were given vitamin C in the form of whole foods which contain the vitamin C complex, the scurvy was successfully treated.
What causes vitamin C deficiency?
1.Inadequate consumption of fruits
Since fruits are the richest and most easily available source of this vitamin, inadequate consumption of them can lead to low vitamin C in the body.
2.Excess sugar intake
Glucose competes with the digestion of vitamin C and if you regularly eat sugar in high amounts that can deplete your vitamin C stores from the body ultimately resulting in its deficiency.
3.Regular consumption of alcohol
People who drink alcohol on regular basis can have impaired Vitamin C absorption and increased excretion through urine. This results in low levels of vitamin C in the body.
Food sources of Vitamin C
Vitamin C is widely available in fruits with excellent sources being kiwi, cantaloupe, mango, strawberries and citrus fruits such as orange, lime, lemon, grapefruit. Kakadu plum, Amla and sauerkraut are the richest sources of this nutrient. In vegetables, broccoli, brussels sprouts, cabbage, cauliflower, green and red peppers are some of the richest sources. Vitamin C is susceptible to heat and cooking destroys it so it is practically best to consume it from raw fruits.
How much Vitamin C per day?
The recommended intake of vitamin C for adult men is 90mg and for adult women is 75mg per day. Pregnant women must eat 85mg of vitamin C per day where as lactating women for the first 12 months must eat 120mg.
Smokers should take more vitamin C!
Interestingly, people who smoke regularly have lower levels of vitamin C than non smokers. This is due to the fact that smoking produces oxidative stress in the body. And to reduce this damaging stress, Vit C usage is greatly enhanced which causes depletion of its stores faster than normal. Hence, people who smoke regularly are advised to eat more vitamin C.
What is the best form of vitamin C supplement?
Conventional vitamin C supplements are useless and here’s what you should know.
Vitamin C as a supplement comes in the form of ascorbic acid. However, ascorbic acid is not true Vitamin C. In nature Vitamin C occurs in a complex which contains several other constituents necessary for proper functioning of it in our body. If any of these constituents are absent there will be no vitamin activity. Ascorbic acid in supplements is a chemical copy of the real vitamin C found in foods. It does not contain other constituents of the complex but a fractional part of it. Hence, Ascorbic acid alone in supplements is useless.
Another problem with most Vitamin C supplements is that they are loaded with sugar, what’s the problem with sugar you may ask? Sugar, especially glucose, has the same chemistry as vitamin C. Both glucose and Vita C are absorbed through a group of receptors called ‘GLUT 1-4 receptors’. When you eat Vit C and glucose together the body always gives preference to glucose first, this means that as long as there is glucose, Vitamin C will not be absorbed.
When buying a Vit C supplement you need to make sure that it is not just ascorbic acid but whole Vitamin C complex and it is also not loaded with glucose.
Vitamin C is very essential for a healthy immune system and many other functions in the human body. Fruits are practically the best source of this nutrient since they are almost always eaten raw. Vegetables are mostly cooked and as we discussed above Vitamin C depletes in the presence of boiling heat.
It is important to get enough Vit C since its deficiency can cause some severe health issues such as scurvy, poor wound healing, poor digestion etc. Make sure that whenever you buy a vitamin C supplement it is whole Vit C complex rather than just ascorbic acid. If you smoke regularly you may require more vitamin C and same goes for pregnant/lactating women.