Vitamin C – not just for colds!

When we think of Vitamin C we often think of it in relation to colds and immune health. But vitamin C is a vitamin with far reaching effects and benefits in the human body.

Did you know that humans are one of only a couple of species (including guinea pigs) who cannot manufacture their own vitamin C? Even plants make vitamin C!  The theory is that we lost the ability to produce it over time because our diets were rich in vitamin C and we no longer needed to make it.  However, most of us now have a diet that is rich in processed foods and we do not live as close to nature – so in most cases we do not get our foods straight from the garden and our vitamin C intake has been much reduced.  Vitamin C levels decline easily in foods once they are picked or processed, so that by the time we eat even so called ‘fresh’ foods the levels are often very low.

Animals are known to increase their production of vitamin C when they are sick or stressed – sometimes to amazing levels.  Acting as a free radical scavenger (or antioxidant), vitamin C is able to protect the body against toxins and stress. Vitamin C is also involved in collagen production in skin and joints and boosts the immune system through a range of mechanisms, including natural antiviral actions.

Scurvy is the classic sign of gross vitamin C deficiency – giving rise to easy bruising, skin lesions, bleeding gums, depression and fatigue. While most people consume enough vitamin C to prevent overt scurvy – which is about 50mg per day, there are also theories that many western people suffer from a more chronic kind of subclinical scurvy – due to insufficient vitamin C levels.  This has been implicated in a range of conditions from cardiovascular disease to cancer, skin conditions, premature ageing and diabetes.  Anyone who smokes, will also use up around 5-10mg of vitamin C per cigarette, so there is another reason to quit!  Vitamin C also acts as a natural anti-histamine and is great for allergies and inflammation.

While focusing on a healthy diet rich in vitamin C foods is recommended , supplementing is also worthwhile – particularly if you suffer from stress, immune dysfunction or your diet is not always optimal.  Foods rich in vitamin C include most fruits and vegetables – particularly wild berries, rosehip, acerola cherry, guava, parsley, citrus, capsicum, tomatoes.

The native Australian fruit the Kakadu plum (pictured right) has the highest known source of vitamin C – giving around 1000-5000mg per 100g! Meats – especially liver also contain vitamin C.  Remember that cooking foods will reduce the vitamin C content by around 50%, so be sure to have some raw foods in your diet. Vitamin C content also rapidly decreases once fruits or vegetables are picked, so in many cases the levels are low in the ‘fresh’ foods we buy. Many of us find it hard to get freshly picked foods in our diets that are rich in vitamin C and so supplements can be necessary to fill the gap.

Supplements can be in powder or tablets and should really also contain bioflavonoids, such as rutin, hesperidin and quercetin for best effects. Foods that are high in vitamin C usually also contain these important companion bioflavanoid compounds.  New liquid liposomal forms of vitamin C are now available which offer superior absorption. Massive doses of 4000-20,000mg of injectable vitamin C have also been used in modern medicine for treating cancer and fighting viruses and pneumonia.   As a water soluble nutrient the risk of toxicity is minimal as it is readily excreted when consumed in excess.  The standard of bowel tolerance is often used when dosing oral vitamin C supplements. As loose stools are a transient sign of excess intake, we generally recommend dosage be scaled back if this occurs. Most people will benefit from taking at least 500-1000mg per day as maintenance and can increase that to 5000mg in split dosages throughout the day when sick.

We can discuss this if you think you could benefit from vitamin C supplements next time you visit the clinic, and we can look at the best one for you from the range of vitamin C supplements I stock, including tablets, powders and liquid liposomal forms.