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Deficiency of Vitamin C is quite well known throughout history– sailors and soldiers who were away for long periods of time and not eating fresh foods sometimes became unwell; wounds wouldn’t heal, they had poor mood, bone pain, and loose teeth are just a few of the signs seen. This was known as scurvy. The reason for scurvy and the specific nutrient involved wasn’t understood until the 1900’s.

Vitamin C is not produced by the body, so we must consume it via the diet. It is an essential nutrient for maintaining health.  It is a water-soluble nutrient so isn’t stored for long periods, therefore daily we need to obtain adequate amounts through our food or dietary supplements.

Vitamin C has many important functions in key areas of the body:

  • Antioxidant – helping control free radical damage
  • enhancing immune system response
  • maintaining integrity of blood vessels and connective tissue like collagen
  • healthy adrenal gland function
  • support responses to allergies
  • growth and repair
  • helping iron absorption

Vitamin C performs so many direct and indirect actions in humans that a deficiency has extremely wide ranging implications.

What are the food sources of Vitamin C?

Fortunately, many foods contain Vitamin C, but the best sources tend to be citrus fruit, guavas, kiwifruit, leafy greens, capsicum, tomatoes, broccoli, kumara and potatoes are among the highest sources.  Berry fruit, blackcurrants, papaya, mango, melon, pineapple, pumpkin and all the brassicas are also very good sources. Cooking these foods can reduce the amount of Vitamin C so they are best eaten fresh.

Are there different forms of vitamin C?

Ascorbic acid is another name for vitamin C.  In supplemental form, it is often combined with a mineral like sodium or calcium to buffer and make it less acidic. A mineral ascorbate form of vitamin C is recommended for people who experience gastrointestinal problems such as pain or diarrhoea when taking the plain ascorbic acid form.

Among the usual tablets, capsules and powdered Vitamin C supplements, esterified vitamin C (Ester-C) is a well thought of formulation.  An ester is created by a chemical reaction combining vitamin C with other compounds including metabolites intended to enhance absorption.  Some studies indicate the ester form of vitamin C gives better absorption than other standard forms.

New generation technology has introduced the option of Liposomal Vitamin C liquid supplements. A liposome is a tiny lipid container which absorbs easily through the cell membrane. Liposomes navigate the harsh gastrointestinal environment unharmed due to their microscopic size, and directly transport the enclosed vitamin C to its destination inside the cells.

The important relationship of Vitamin C with Bioflavonoids

Bioflavonoids work very closely with Vitamin C and are known to enhance the action of Vitamin C. Some bioflavonoids include quercetin, hesperidin and rutin. Bioflavonoids support circulation, the antioxidant effect and support of allergies alongside Vitamin C. In nature vitamin C and bioflavonoids are found together in the same food.

Why is Vitamin C’s role in collagen production so important?

Collagen is the main protein and helps to hold the body together – it makes our connective tissue. It is found in bones, skin, muscles, tendons, and provides the structure for our body. The role of vitamin C in collagen synthesis is essential.

How important is the antioxidant role of vitamin C?

Antioxidants provide chemical reactions that neutralise free radicals and reduce their destructive effect on cells and tissues.  Free radical formation is increased by environmental toxins like UV light, radiation, smoking and industrial pollution. Free radical damage can impact negatively on cell membranes, DNA, and the health of the cell. This damage can affect the aging process.

How does vitamin C support the immune system?

Despite mainstream belief, research inconsistently shows if Vitamin C can prevent or shorten ills and chills. It seems to be that it can support best in the most extreme cases, for example, for extremely active people it appears to reduce the incidence of immune challenges. Other research has shown that Vitamin C may shorten the duration of the cold by one day.

Who needs Vitamin C?

Everyone needs Vitamin C, but there are several risk factors that can increase likelihood of vitamin C deficiency.

Cigarette smoking

The chemicals in cigarettes antagonise Vitamin C in the body, so people who smoke need to make sure that they consume adequate amounts. As well as the amount of Vitamin C in the body being depleted, the needs of the body increase due to the oxidative burden caused by smoking.

Alcoholism

Like smoking, alcohol adds to the burden of the body, while also depleting the body

Restrictive diets

This includes eating disorders, diets high in junk food, and other forms of restrictive diets. It may also impact on elderly people who aren’t eating well.

Dialysis

People on dialysis for kidney disease have an increased rate of clearance and so can become deficient in Vitamin C

What is the recommended daily dosage of vitamin C?

The New Zealand Government reviewed these amounts in 2006 and stated that the minimum amount of Vitamin C needed to prevent deficiency is 45mg in adults. This amount will increase if there are pre-existing health conditions, stress, pregnancy, or other risk factors mentioned previously.

Various organisations recommend different amounts of Vitamin C be taken per day, but more research is needed to confirm this.

What does bowel tolerance refer to?

Bowel tolerance is the term used to describe how much vitamin C an individual can absorb.  When the body has received more than it can absorb through the bowel, evacuation is triggered, and the person can experience mild or moderate diarrhoea.

Your vitamin C needs will vary according to your state of health, so as you recover from illness your need will decrease and so may your bowel tolerance level.  You need to then slowly decrease your dosage until you find your new maximum.

Liposomal delivery of vitamin C has been shown to have an even higher absorption rate than intravenous doses, and the flexibility of its liquid form allows for easier intake of doses.

Finding a quality vitamin C product

When selecting a Vitamin C supplement its important to check the label.  Some products contain artificial sweeteners, flavourings and colours which have no nutrient value.  Check for the size of the dose that you want after discussing your needs with a health practitioner.

-The HealthPost Naturopaths