You have read about it everywhere. You are bombarded everyday with ads selling high vitamin C probiotics and what not. Heck, you probably own a bottle of the stuff, kept deep inside the cabinet with possibly more obscure stuff best not talked about. Yes, my friend, we are talking about vitamin C, but do you know what it is and what is its benefit?
Vitamin C, also known as L-ascorbic acid, is a vitamin which is essential to life. Its purpose is to act as an antioxidant in the body as well as being a cofactor in several enzyme-dependent reactions. It is key in the formation of collagen, a protein which is paramount to the development of connective tissue in humans. Think of it as a super vitamin that guards against damage to our precious DNA as well as giving us better skin, tendons and hair. As a matter of fact, scurvy, a disease affecting collagen-dependent tissue, was found by the British Navy in the late 18th century to be treated with lime juice, as they would give this beverage to their sailors in order to treat the, at the time, widespreaded scurvy, hence the slang term “limey” used to describe those from the British Isles.
The Institute of Medicine has established a daily intake for vitamin C to be 75-90 milligrams. This intake, known as the Reference Daily Intake (RDI), is a set amount per nutrient that needs to be consumed daily but achieving the RDI for this vitamin is highly dependant on the ingestion of fruits and vegetables, and smokers as well as people with high stress levels may need higher levels than the established RDI (up to twice as much).
Food items with a high content of vitamin C include oranges, kiwis, broccoli, chilli peppers and lemons. As a guideline, the more acidic it tastes, the higher its content in vitamin C. In order to achieve the RDI of vitamin C, eating five servings of fruit and vegetables is highly recommended, a serving being what would fit in a cup or what would be the size of your fist. However, due to several factors such as freshness, industrial manipulation or cooking, the content of vitamin C can vary substantially for a given fruit or vegetable. Generally, a fresh and raw fruit or vegetable will have a higher content of vitamin C than a matured and cooked piece. For a detailed list of food items with vitamin C content, click here (PDF document).
Eat these matey!
Due to its needful presence in many body processes, the benefits of vitamin C are invaluable. Unfortunately, vitamin C is not stored in the body hence it needs a constant flow to maintain its benefits. This means that not only should you be consuming plenty of fruits and vegetables, but that you should also be distributing your consumption throughout your meals. Approximately 30 minutes after absorption into the bloodstream, the level of the vitamin C ingested is reduced to half so it makes sense to spread your intake of vitamin C-rich foods. Eating pieces of fruits as snacks between meals is a great way to make sure your body’s need for vitamin C is satisfied round-the-clock. Once you are satisfying your daily vitamin C demands, you can benefit from the following:
Enhanced immune system
Due to the body’s inability to store vitamin C at any significant amounts, it is one of the vitamins that needs a higher intake during periods of increased stress. Stress, in the form of increased physical or mental demands, smoking or alcoholism, taxes the immune system and automatically increases the need for vitamin C to be supplied for the body’s revved internal processes. Either increased stress or not satisfying the RDI leads to a weakened immune system which puts you at a greater risk of becoming ill. However, and as the Hardvard Health Publications website suggests, its benefit on the immune system is quite possibly due to the synergy of vitamin C with the other nutrients obtained from a healthy diet. In any case, satisfying, as minimum, the RDI is the way to go to keep your immune system on its feet.
According to a 2008 study published in the journal Free Radical Biology and Medicine, vitamin C can help decrease levels of C-Reactive protein (CRP), a marker of inflammation which is associated with cardiovascular disease, hypertension and diabetes. Likewise, a recent report from the American Heart Association found an association between low vitamin C in blood and Peripheral Artery Disease (PAD), as well as low vitamin C and increased CRP. Moral of the story, eat your way up to the RDI of vitamin C!
Improved skin health
Adequate vitamin C intake protects the skin from oxidative-induced damage, improving the tone of skin and its appearance, as suggested by a 2007 study published in the American Journal of of Clinical Nutrition. Moreover, vitamin C is fundamental in the manufacture of collagen, which is what skin is composed of, hence it is imperative to ingest sufficient vitamin C to maintain healthy skin.
Attenuation of symptoms from the common cold
While vitamin C’s ability to prevent common colds in the average person is highly questionable, the Mayo Clinic website points to a body of evidence showing a mild decrease in the severity of symptons from the common cold. Likewise, its use to prevent the common cold in extreme conditions (very low temperatures or high exercise scenarios) has a more established record, reducing the risk of developing colds by up to 50%.
Now the question remains, should you use vitamin C in the form of supplements? Technically, one can obtain the RDI with food alone. Unfortunately, and as mentioned in the beginning, vitamin C content can vary substantially depending on how the food item was picked, processed and cooked. Moreover, people with increased stress levels or smokers may require higher amounts, thus the use of supplemental vitamin C offers a convenient way to obtain adequate amounts of vitamin C. Doses up to 500mgs per day have been established as safe and according to Medline Plus (part of the National Institutes of Health), vitamin C should not be taken above the 2000 mgs mark, which gives a safe margin of dosing. As vitamin C is excreted rapidly and not stored in any significant amounts in the body, taking amounts of 50-100mgs in the form supplementation with food can be a good way to ensure one is satisfying his requirement for this vitamin.
Overall, vitamin C is a versatile nutrient which is very important to the functioning of the body and satisfying its daily requirement can help one be at the top of his game.
Take home messages
– Ingest five servings of fruit and vegetables a day
– Eat them fresh and raw
– Satisfying one’s RDI can bring about plenty of benefits
All the best,