Vitamin C is one of the water soluble vitamins. Unlike the fat soluble ones, these vitamins cannot accumulate in the body and cause toxicity. Any excess vitamin C consumption is usually excreted in the urine. They have to be taken on a regular basis for the body to continue benefiting from their health promoting properties. The technical term for it is L-ascorbic acid. Animals are capable of synthesizing their own vitamin C but human beings cannot. For this reason it is one of the nutrients referred to as essential. We have to source it from the food we eat.
What happens when you have vitamin C deficiency?
Relative deficiency of vitamin C may present with non-specific signs and symptoms of poor health. However, if the problem is severe and prolonged, then symptoms of scurvy will appear. This condition is rarely seen nowadays. People at a high risk of developing the problem include:
- The elderly
- Pregnant and breastfeeding mothers
- Burns victims
- Post-major surgical patients
- Malnourished people
- Those who depend on purely processed foods
- People who depend on food donations due to poverty
- Smoking. Although this habit may not lead to scurvy on its own, it is associated with low levels of the vitamin in the body. If combined with alcoholism, the disease’s risk is compounded.
It can take up to 3 months of not taking little or no vitamin C for symptoms of deficiency to set in. these signs and symptoms include:
- Joint pains
- Bleeding under the nail beds
- Thin dry hair that splits easily
- Inflamed and easily bleeding gums
- Lose and falling teeth
- Anemia due to blood loss and poor iron absorption from the gut
- Rough and dry skin
- Poor wound healing
- Nose bleeding
- Poor resistance to infection
According to a study published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition of august12 2009 vitamin C deficiency is still prevalent in some areas and population groups in North America despite the easy availability of fruits and vegetables.
Untreated and severe vitamin C deficiency can lead to chronic poor health and can eventually proof fatal. These symptoms may be complicated by other symptoms due to other nutrients’ deficiencies.
Sources of vitamin C
Vitamin C is available in a wide range of fruits and vegetables. These include:
- Oranges, grapes and other citrus fruits
- Bell peppers
- Dark green leafy greens
- Strawberries and other similar berries
- Kiwi fruit
Even with adequate quantities of these fruits and vegetables, you can still suffer from some vitamin C deficiency though not the overt type. This means you can be at risk of developing some of the health problems associated with low levels of the vitamin. One such problem is high blood pressure.
Factors that may interfere with the amount of vitamin C in your fruits and vegetables
There are both pre and post-harvest factors that can affect the amount of the vitamin in the food you eat. These include:
• The type of soil used for growing the food
• Harvest-consumption time. The longer the duration, the higher the deterioration
• State of the fruit/vegetable at the time of harvest. For some (example tomatoes) have high vitamin C levels when fully ripe while the vitamin level of others drops with maturity (example peas)
• Method of growing the food
• Harvesting method
• Handling – bruising for example negatively affect the vitamin’s content
• Post-harvest chemical use and irradiation
These are just a few of the many reasons why your delicious-looking orange may not give you the amount of vitamin C you would expect. To overcome this problem many people who are concerned about their personal health care consider supplementing their diet with vitamin C supplement. This action helps them to achieve more benefits of vitamin C.
Benefits of vitamin C
- Supports the synthesis of collagen
Collagen is needed to maintain the integrity of the skin, the bones, tendons, indeed all the tissues in the body. This special protein is needed for minerals to hold together for strong bones. Without it, the body would essentially crumble.
- It is a powerful and unique antioxidant
Vitamin C is unique in scavenging for freely circulating harmful metabolic radicals. Unlike many other antioxidants, the vitamin can be recycled over and over again. One study in Korea found the antioxidant properties of the vitamin improved the survival rate of paraquat (a type of herbicide) poisoning victims. Usually this is a very difficult type of poisoning to manage.
- Supports cardiovascular health
Studies have shown that there is a possible link between low vitamin C levels and high blood pressure. Borderline hypertension has markedly improved with vitamin C supplementation. It is also thought to have some influence on potassium uptake. Potassium is important in the healthy functioning of the heart.
- Supports the regeneration of vitamin E
Vitamin E is a fat soluble vitamin antioxidant. Once it forms a bond with the free radicals it scavenges, it comes to the end of its effectiveness because it forms an irreversible bond with the radical. Vitamin C has the ability to break this bond which frees the vitamin E to continue removing the excess and harmful radicals. Without this mechanism, vitamin E stores would probably be exhausted in the body as most of it would be bound to the free radicals.
- Lowers the risk of cancer
High fruit and vegetable consumption areas have a lower incidence of many cancers. Vitamin C reduces the formation of known carcinogens such as nitrosamines. Some researchers have used high doses of vitamin C in the management of some cancers. The results are encouraging as some patients have enjoyed long survival rates.
More benefits of vitamin C
- Boosts immunity against common viral infections such as the ones that cause the common cold
- Reduces the risk of developing age-related macular degeneration (AMD)
- Supports joint health
- Reduces the risk and severity of allergies
- Supports healthy pregnancy. It reduces the risk of pre-eclampsia
- Promotes better sugar control in the body
- Supports a healthy skin
- Promotes better wound healing including burns
Vitamin C is one of the most studied nutrient and its benefits are many and varied. When you have to supplement your dietary sources of the vitamin with a nutritional supplement, make sure that you are getting your money’s worth of the vitamin. Although some studies suggest that there is little difference between the natural and synthetic forms, health enthusiasts think otherwise. If you want to have only the natural form, read the label carefully and look for statements such as:
- 100% natural
- Made from … ( a list of fruits or vegetables)
- Made from organically grown … (fruits or vegetables)
- Does not contain preservatives
If you can trust your pharmacist, ask him or her to help you confirm whether the product you are about to buy is synthetic or natural. This way you stand a better chance of enjoying all the benefits of vitamin C and good overall health.
Ravindran, R. D., Vashist, P., K. Gupta, S., S. Young, I., Maraini, G., Camparini, M., … Fletcher, A. E. (2011). Prevalence and Risk Factors for Vitamin C Deficiency in North and South India: A Two Centre Population Based Study in People Aged 60 Years and Over. PLoS ONE, 6(12), e28588. http://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0028588
Tressler, D. K., Mack, G. L., & King, C. G. (1936). Factors Influencing the Vitamin C Content of Vegetables . American Journal of Public Health and the Nations Health, 26(9), 905–909.
“Effect of Vitamin C on Plasma Total Antioxidant Status in Patients With Paraquat Intoxication,” Hong S-Y, Hwang K-Y, Lee E-Y, et al, Toxicol Lett, 2002;126:51-59.
Juraschek, S. P., Guallar, E., Appel, L. J., & Miller, E. R. (2012). Effects of vitamin C supplementation on blood pressure: a meta-analysis of randomized controlled trials. The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, 95(5), 1079–1088. http://doi.org/10.3945/ajcn.111.027995
Traber, M. G., & Stevens, J. F. (2011). Vitamins C and E: Beneficial effects from a mechanistic perspective. Free Radical Biology & Medicine, 51(5), 1000–1013. http://doi.org/10.1016/j.freeradbiomed.2011.05.017
Hecht SS. Approaches to cancer prevention based on an understanding of N-nitrosamine carcinogenesis. Proc Soc Exp Biol Med 1997;216:181-91
Levine M, Espey MG, Chen Q. Losing and finding a way at C: new promise for pharmacologic ascorbate in cancer treatment. Free Radic Biol Med 2009;47:27-9
Levine, M., Espey, M. G., & Chen, Q. (2009). Losing and finding a way at C: New promise for pharmacologic ascorbate in cancer treatment. Free Radical Biology & Medicine, 47(1), 27–29. http://doi.org/10.1016/j.freeradbiomed.2009.04.001
Carr, A. C., & Vissers, M. C. M. (2013). Synthetic or Food-Derived Vitamin C—Are They Equally Bioavailable? Nutrients, 5(11), 4284–4304. http://doi.org/10.3390/nu5114284