Vitamin C is one of the most well-known vitamins in our culture. Most people adhere to the adage that Vitamin C helps with cold and flu season and like to take Vitamin C supplements to help. Vitamin C (ascorbic acid) is truly one of the most well-known, popular and researched vitamins. Ever wonder how Vitamin C got to be so popular? We all know the horrible tales of the disease known as Scurvy from our history lessons. Scurvy killed millions of sea voyagers in the Age of Discovery as ships ventured far into the vast unknown of the world’s seas and stayed on board for months at a time. Scurvy is a horrid disease where the body literally disintegrates on both the outside and on the inside. Scurvy impairs the body’s ability to make collagen, a major component of connective tissue. Scurvy affects every function and system in the body and we now know that it is caused by a deficiency of Vitamin C. The discovery that scurvy could be cured by eating citrus fruits and other fresh fruits and vegetables came as an observational discovery. It was in 1535 that a French explorer by the name of Jacque Cartier discovered a puzzling connection- his men were saved from the scurvy scourge after their ship got stuck in ice on the St. Lawrence River and the local Indians supplied them with a special tea from the bark and leaves of a particular tree. But it was 200 years later that the first real ‘research trial’ was done upon a ship. In 1747, James Lind, a surgeon at sea, divided up 12 men suffering from scurvy into pairs and gave them six various remedies; one of which was eating 2 oranges and a lemon. After just one week, those eating the citrus fruits were strong enough to take care of their sea-mates. History was made and scurvy began to be under control. No one knew exactly why or how citrus fruits cured scurvy, they just knew it worked.
But history aside, Vitamin C is a well-known vitamin and most people take it to prevent colds and boost the immune system during flu and cold season. The truth is that Vitamin C does a lot more than just help your immune function; it also helps with your cardiovascular health, is a powerful antioxidant and is one of the primary vitamins necessary for growth and repair of your tissues, joints, muscles, bones and teeth. Low levels of Vitamin C in the plasma (inside the blood) are seen in most all chronic disease cases. Vitamin C is NOT made naturally inside your body, you need to get it from the foods you eat every day. Vitamin C is also not stored in the body. It is a water-soluble vitamin and is quickly used up or excreted every day. That’s another reason why you need to eat some foods that are rich in Vitamin C every day to replenish and give your body what it needs.
Let’s look at some of the ways that Vitamin C helps you stay healthy and where you can find the best sources of it in your food.
Vitamin C and Your Health
1. Cardiovascular Support: Vitamin C has been shown to be helpful in lowering blood pressure in both people with high blood pressure and those with normal blood pressure. It has been shown to have a relaxant effect on the blood vessels. Because Vitamin C is a strong antioxidant it also helps with preventing oxidative stress on LDL (bad cholesterol) levels in the body. There has been a lot of research on the effects of Vitamin C and heart disease risks. Some of the studies are observational and some are clinical trials. The most important takeaway from the research is that Vitamin C intake may help most notably with lowering blood pressure and reducing levels of LDL (Bad Cholesterol) as well as lowering triglycerides. The strong antioxidant and anti-inflammatory capacity of Vitamin C rich foods is a primary factor in the cardioprotective effects of Vitamin C.
2. Antioxidant Support: Eating Vitamin C rich foods can increase your blood levels of antioxidants by up to 30%. Antioxidants dispel free radicals and decrease unchecked inflammation throughout the body. Inflammation is the basis for most of our chronic health conditions these days – every disease from heart disease, diabetes, cancer and poor immunity are linked to too much inflammation in the body. Inflammation happens in our body when we eat inflammatory foods like sugar, sweets, trans-fats, white flours, breads, white pastas and don’t get enough fresh fruits and vegetables to provide us with antioxidants.
3. Immune Support: Vitamin C is most famous for helping with our immune system. This is why many of us start popping Vitamin C pills if we feel a cold coming on. But how exactly does Vitamin C help with our immune system? Our immune system is a complicated system that helps protect us from disease and infections. It is not just one separate special system- it is made up of different organs in our body, different cells and different parts of different tissues. Some people are surprised that the cells of our immune system originate in our bone marrow and from there they circulate through the blood and lymph tissue, seeking out and destroying viruses and pathogens and even cancer cells that might make us sick. The thymus gland, spleen and lymph nodes also comprise our immune system. Vitamin C seems to help with immunity by encouraging the production of white blood cells that protect against pathogens and viruses and other harmful body invaders. The high antioxidant capacity of Vitamin C protects these special fighter cells from free radical damage. Although taking Vitamin C to prevent a cold or virus is controversial and many consider it a myth, research DOES support the fact that adding more Vitamin C into our bodies when we are sick with a cold will shorten the duration of the cold and help us recover faster. If you connect the dots between how it is boosting those white blood cells that help your body fend off the virus it makes sense that adding more Vitamin C intake is going to help you recover more quickly from a cold or any kind of infection.
4. Growth and Repair: Without Vitamin C our bodies literally ‘fall apart”. This is what happened to those sailors so many years ago when they had scurvy- their bodies fell apart from the inside out. Vitamin C is what helps us keep all the structures of our bodies together- Bones, teeth, muscles, tendons, ligaments, blood vessels, organs, tissue- all our built by Vitamin C. Vitamin C regulates the synthesis of a major building block in the body called collagen. Collagen is important in the synthesis and repair of our entire body and tissues- skin, bone, ligaments, tendons and blood vessels. It helps to repair wounds and skin and form scar tissue when necessary. Vitamin C helps your body stay sound and strong and ALIVE.
5. Iron Deficiencies: Vitamin C helps improve the uptake and absorption of Iron. Iron is important for helping to make red blood cells which help to transport oxygen through our bodies. This is especially important for vegans and vegetarians who don’t eat meat because Vitamin C helps to convert the plant-based irons that are difficult to absorb and make them more readily available for the body to use. Just 100 mg of Vitamin C can increase iron absorption by 67%. This means that Vitamin C is very important for those who suffer or are prone to anemia
6. Mind, Mood and Stress: Vitamin C is necessary to produce serotonin and other neurotransmitters that keep our moods on keel and helps with emotional health. Serotonin is needed in many body systems-your nervous system, endocrine system, immune system and digestive system.
7. Gout: Vitamin C intake is linked to lowering the risk of gout. This is important if you suffer from recurring gout problems. Vitamin C helps to lower blood uric acid levels.
How much Vitamin C do you need?
For men and woman over the age of 19, the RDA for vitamin C is as follows:
- Men: 90 mg
- Woman 75 mg
- Pregnancy: 85 mg
- Lactation: 120 mg
- Smokers beware – you need to increase your Vitamin C an extra 35 mg. Smoking depletes Vitamin C in the body!
Many health professionals advise taking supplements in higher doses than the RDA. Vitamin C is a water-soluble vitamin and your body cannot store it so it is difficult to take too much; but very high doses can have other side effects. Talk to your health professional about any specific needs you may need for your best health.
Best Food Sources of Vitamin C:
Here are the top food sources of Vitamin C that you can eat.
- Papaya (224% RDA)
- Red Bell Peppers (157% RDA)
- Broccoli (135% RDA)
- Brussel Sprouts (129% RDA)
- Strawberries (113 % RDA)
- Pineapple (105% RDA)]
- Oranges: (93% RDA)
- Kiwi (85% RDA)
- Cantaloupe (78% RDA)
- Cauliflower (73% RDA)
Other Great Sources:
- All Citrus Fruits and juices- grapefruit, lemons, limes
- Berries: raspberries, blueberries, and cranberries
- Sweet potatoes, white potatoes
- Winter squash
- Turnip greens
- Leafy green
Cooking foods with Vitamin C or storing them for too long can reduce the amount of Vitamin C so try to eat as many as possible RAW and FRESH. Fresh frozen is fine as well.
Vitamin C is not just about warding off or fighting that cold you may get. It is one of the most important nutrients you can put in your body. Think of Vitamin C as the one nutrient that really “Integrates” and ‘pulls you all together” in body and mind (remember Scurvy is the absence of Vitamin C and it makes the body “DIS-integrate” and fall apart). Grab some oranges for your truck or your desk. Keep a fresh sliced container of red bell peppers for snacking and some pineapple for a sweet dessert; you can also add berries to just about everything- breakfast oatmeal, salads, yogurt and smoothies. Remember you need to eat your Vitamin C EVERY day! Your body doesn’t store it so you can’t stock up one week and skip the next. Keep up with your intake and fuel your body well.
By: Cindy Luisi, WHE, WHC, CCP, CDL Wellness Coach