Nutrition Micronutrients

Vitamin C (ascorbic acid): properties and benefits

Vitamin C (ascorbic acid): properties and benefits

by in Nutrition - Micronutrients

last updated: March 16, 2020

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Vitamin C, or ascorbic acid, is an essential compound for the body. Let's see what are the benefits of vitamin C for health.

Vitamin C, also known as ascorbic acid, is a water-soluble compound similar to glucose. Although fairly stable in acid solution, vitamin C is the least stable of vitamins and is very sensitive to light, heat, and air, which oxidize it. In this article we will discover:

  • What is vitamin C for?
  • Absorption and storage
  • Properties and health benefits
  • The "enemies" of vitamin C
  • Vitamin C in food
  • Dosage
  • Deficit
  • Side effects
  • Contraindications
  • 5 studies on the effects of vitamin C

Vitamin C: what is it for?

Couple drinking orange juice rich in vitamin C

Not being able to produce vitamin C, our body needs its intake through the diet.

 

  • Vitamin C and collagen. A very important function of vitamin C is to maintain collagen levels, a protein necessary for the formation of connective tissue in the skin, ligaments, and bones. Vitamin C has an important role in the healing of wounds and burns because it facilitates the formation of the connective tissue of the scars. The cells of the arterial wall, as well as those of the most fragile capillaries, also need collagen to expand and contract with the beating of the heart.
  • Antioxidant action. Another important property of vitamin C is the antioxidant one. This function is carried out when the vitamin C self-oxidizes and then regenerates the oxidized substances such as iron or copper, returning them to their original form and removing the harmful oxidizing agent. Vitamin C also contributes to the formation of red blood cells and prevents bleeding.
  • Antihistamine effect. This vitamin counteracts bacterial infections and reduces the effects of some substances that cause allergies. Vitamin C has also been found to act as an antihistamine and can be used to reduce doses of the medicinal form. For these reasons, it is often used in the prevention and treatment of the common cold.
  • Vitamin C and nutrients. Vitamin C has significant relationships with other nutrients. Contributes to the metabolism of some amino acids such as phenylalanine and tyrosine, transforms the inactive forms of folic acid into the active form of folinic acid, has a significant role in the metabolism of calcium and iron, protects thiamine, riboflavin, folic acid, pantothenic acid, vitamin A and E from oxidation. Vitamin C also protects the brain and spinal cord from destruction by free radicals. In short, it is essential for the health and proper functioning of the whole organism.

Vitamin C: absorption and storage

Vitamin C supplements

Vitamin C supplements.

 

 

Vitamin C has the characteristic that, in stressful conditions, it is consumed very quickly by our body. Humans, monkeys and guinea pigs are among the few animals that must necessarily take vitamin C with food because they are unable to synthesize it independently. For this reason, consuming foods rich in vitamin C is essential!

 

The level of ascorbic acid in the blood reaches its maximum two or three hours after ingestion and then decreases when elimination begins through the urine and sweating. Most of the vitamin C is eliminated from the body in three to four hours, which is why it is important to eat foods containing this substance every day.

 

Greater elimination of vitamin C through the urine due to higher intake does not mean that the body's tissues are saturated with it. A human body filled up with vitamin C contains about 5000 mg, of which, 30 mg are found in the adrenal glands, 200 mg in the extracellular fluids and the rest is distributed in variable concentrations in all the cells of the body. The level of vitamin C in the blood will return to the average levels in 12 or 13 hours, regardless of the amount taken. Ideally, to maintain a good serum vitamin level, it should be taken at intervals of about four hours.

 

When we consume food or vitamin C supplements, most of it is absorbed through the mucous membrane of the mouth, stomach and upper part of the small intestine. The higher the dose, the lower the percentage absorbed. For example:

  • In a dose, less than 250 mg, the percentage of the absorbed vitamin is 80%.
  • In a dose greater than 2 g, 50% will be absorbed.

Since a healthy body can only absorb a certain amount during a certain period of time, taking high doses of vitamin C in one go, if not needed, results in a greater elimination of unmetabolized ascorbic acid. It has also been noted that in therapeutic treatments intravenous injections of a few grams of ascorbic acid are more effective than the oral intake of the same amount.

Vitamin C: properties and health benefits

ascorbic acid crystals

Ascorbic acid crystals under the microscope.

 

Bones

Vitamin C facilitates the formation of healthy bones, protecting the enamel and pulp of the teeth.


Allergies

It reduces the negative effects on the body of certain substances that produce allergies.


Cold

Vitamin C is frequently used to reduce the duration and severity of the common cold.


Joints

The lubricating fluid of the joints (synovial fluid) becomes smoother when the serum levels of ascorbic acid are high, allowing greater freedom of movement. Arthritic patients also treated with vitamin C can get some pain relief.


Wounds

It is an important nutrient in the treatment of wounds because it accelerates the healing process, especially in the case of cornea burns.


Cholesterol

Ascorbic acid can lower the blood cholesterol content of patients suffering from arteriosclerosis and the serum cholesterol rate has been shown to decrease by 35-40% with vitamin C treatment. Although the results are not known yet definitive, studies on the relationship between cholesterol and vitamin C continue.


Collagen

The need for vitamin C increases with age due to a greater need for collagen regeneration.


Sexual organs

Over the years, the sexual glands require a greater amount of vitamin C and obtain it from the other tissues, which therefore remain more exposed to diseases. Adequate integration will help reduce its depletion. Vitamin C has also given positive results in cases of male infertility, as it improves the use of zinc, magnesium, copper, and potassium, vital elements for normal sperm functioning.


Cervical dysplasia

Vitamin C has a beneficial action in the case of cervical dysplasia, a disorder that can lead to cancer.


Varicose veins

Vitamin C, vitamin E, and bioflavonoids have provided relief to many people who suffered from varicose veins.


Stress

Vitamin C is useful in all stressful conditions because the need for ascorbic acid in the tissues is higher in the presence of accelerated metabolism.


Viruses and bacteria

Vitamin C stimulates the production of interferon and acts as an inactivating factor against viruses and infections, including the herpes virus, vaccination rashes, poliomyelitis, encephalitis, measles, pneumonia and AIDS. This is because vitamin C, catalyzed by copper ions, reduces oxygen molecules into elements that, in turn, attack the virus's nucleic acids. Since the normal functioning of white blood cells that fight against infections depends on vitamin C, this same mechanism works against bacteria, including those responsible for diphtheria, tuberculosis, tetanus, typhoid fever, and staphylococci.

If enough vitamin C is taken to saturate the tissues, it enters the cells and destroys momentarily inactive viruses. For more than 25 years dr. Frederick Klenner of Reidsville, North Carolina, has used vitamin C in the treatment of viral diseases. Its therapy is based on the administration, intravenously or orally, of 20-40 grams of vitamin C per day. The symptoms of scurvy also quickly regress with the administration of 100 mg per day.


Drug addiction

Massive doses of vitamin C have been used to assist drug addicts, including heroin addicts and methadone and barbiturate addicts. The chiropractor Alfred F. Libby of Santa Ana, California, obtained good results by administering for 25 days from 85 to 85 grams of sodium ascorbate, a version of vitamin C, then reducing the dose to 5 grams of sodium ascorbate and 5 grams of ascorbic acid. The treatment facilitates the renunciation of heroin, helps to establish a good appetite and a good sleep, and helps to contain abnormal reasoning.


Mental illness

High doses of vitamin C reduce the levels of vanadium which is associated with manic-depressive disorders, problems with water metabolism and electrolytes. Vitamin C can increase the efficacy of psychotropic drugs such as haloperidol, thus allowing to reduce their quantities, with a consequent decrease in side effects. Dr. Carl Pfeiffer states that vitamin C acts as an anxiolytic on the nervous system. He uses vitamin C to assist in the treatment of schizophrenia. Studies have shown that mentally ill patients have an unusual need for vitamin C and treatment with this substance leads to an improvement in cases of paranoia and depression.

 

Immune system

Vitamin C is essential to stimulate the immune system and puts the body in a position to resist disease. Its role as an antioxidant in the lungs is also valuable in minimizing the effects of environmental pollution, including those due to carbon monoxide and cigarette smoke. Vitamin C levels in smokers can be brought back to normal through careful supplementation.


Toxic substances

Vitamin C can block the formation of carcinogenic substances such as nitrosamines. These substances are found in cosmetics, tobacco products, cigarette smoke, malt-based drinks and treated meats (some types of salami are added to vitamin C to prevent nitrosamines from entering the body).

 

Vitamin C can neutralize the toxicity of chloramines, which are added to water to replace chlorine. It also protects against the harmful effects of harmful substances such as cadmium, mercury, lead, iron, copper, arsenic, benzene, and some pesticides.


Back problems

Dr. James Greenwood of Baylor University says that a higher than normal intake of vitamin C helps maintain the integrity of the intervertebral discs and prevent back problems.


Aging

Vitamin C can help diabetics suffering from bleeding gums, slow healing of wounds and premature aging of the skin. Studies conducted in Russia have shown that vitamin C slows down the aging process of cells. Russian athletes also use vitamin C to support the growth of muscle tissues.


Other functions

Vitamin C helps victims of wound shock, electric shock, and electric shock. It prevents miliaria rubra and heat stroke. Vitamin C powder, moistened with water to obtain a spreadable mass to be applied to the skin, can resolve contact irritation with Rhus radicanse in 24 hours Rhus dìversiloba (two varieties of creepers common in America, Ed) if they are taken simultaneously also adequate doses of the vitamin orally.

The "enemies" of vitamin C

The body's ability to absorb vitamin C is reduced by factors such as:

  • smoke,
  • stress,
  • high fever
  • inhalation of gases derived from the burning of oil.

Sulfonamides increase the elimination of vitamin C through the urinary tract by two or three times compared to the normal amount, while baking soda creates an alkaline environment that destroys vitamin C. In addition, drinking excessive amounts of water depletes the organic reserves of this vitamin.

Vitamin C in food

Foods rich in Vitamin C

Foods rich in vitamin C.

 

Even cooking food in copper containers destroys vitamin C! Care must be taken in preparing and transporting food: vitamin C deteriorates rapidly with processing, storage, cooking, bruising, cutting, exposure to light, air, and heat.

  • Orange juice, if it is kept covered in the refrigerator, will keep its charge of ascorbic acid more or less unchanged for several days.
  • Broccoli stems retain the vitamin much longer than the inflorescences.
  • Spinach loses 105 mg of the vitamin within 10 days.
  • Sweet peppers can be kept for 3 weeks with a minimal loss if intact.

The fresher and less cooked the foods, the greater the amount of vitamin C contained. Among the preferred cooking methods we mention:

  • microwave with a covered container,
  • vapor,
  • quick frying.

Vitamin C: dosage

The National Research Council (USA) recommends 60 mg of vitamin C per day for adults.
Requirements vary according to:

  • weight,
  • metabolism,
  • physical activity,
  • illnesses,
  • age.

Stress and anxiety states, as well as infections, wounds, surgical operations, burns, and general tiredness, increase the body's need. Hypoglycaemic individuals or those on a high-protein diet need a higher dose of vitamin C (these conditions interfere with the metabolism of the vitamin) and so also people with high levels of copper or iron in the blood.


Any condition that raises the level of copper in serum increases the need for vitamin C, including schizophrenia, smoking, (smokers should take 100 mg of vit C per day) the use of oral contraceptives, menstruation and the last month of pregnancy (under medical advice).
Supplementing 2 g per day for two weeks can help decrease the duration and severity of colds and allergy symptoms.

Vitamin C: deficiency and symptoms

C vitamin

By consuming enough ascorbic acid, deficiency symptoms can be significantly reduced.

 

It has been discovered that the elderly, those suffering from chronic diseases and alcoholics are more vulnerable to scurvy due to a severe vitamin C deficiency. People with cancer, those suffering from dental, orthopedic or dialysis patients are all exposed to vitamin C deficiencies


If we don't have enough vitamin C in the body, the skin becomes rough, dry and scaly. Bone endings soften and become painful, malformations arise in children that can cause growth imbalances and fractures. Some of the major symptoms of vitamin C deficiency are:

  • shortness of breath,
  • bad digestion,
  • brittle hair, with split ends, that break,
  • dry and knotted hair,
  • shortage of milk in new mothers,
  • rupture of blood vessels and tendency to hematomas
  • bleeding gums,
  • tooth enamel weakening,
  • swollen or painful joints,
  • nose bleeds,
  • anemia,
  • decreased resistance to infections,
  • slow healing of fractures and wounds.

Vitamin C: side effects

In some cases, abundant doses of vitamin C can give some side effects with symptoms such as:

  • a slight burning sensation when urinating,
  • intestinal disorders or diarrhea,
  • intestinal gas or abdominal pain,
  • skin redness and nausea.

When one of these symptoms occurs it is good to reduce the dosage. The presence of these conditions can be avoided by taking the vitamin after meals, which is also useful for proper assimilation. If symptoms persist, other types of vitamin C supplements may be tried.

Vitamin C: contraindications

Large doses of Vitamin C should not be taken by those who tend to form oxalate stones or cystinuria unless it is in the form of sodium ascorbate. Sodium ascorbate does not affect the acidity of the urine and promotes the excretion of oxalates.


Some individuals suffer from a rare genetic disorder that causes kidney stones to form when taking large amounts of vitamin C. People who have a tendency to gout and those who, due to a genetic condition, have impaired absorption of vitamin C, they are more exposed to stone formation. In these cases, the intake of the vitamin must be reduced.


Black Americans, Africans, Asians, Sephardic Jews, and some other ethnic groups may have greater side effects due to taking very high dosages. In these people, excessive amounts of ascorbic acid could cause the breakdown of red blood cells causing hemolytic anemia. People with sickle cell
anemia are also particularly vulnerable

5 studies on the effects of vitamin C

Vitamin C and whooping cough

Ninety children with whooping cough were given 5,000 milligrams per day of oral vitamin C by injection for seven days, gradually reducing the dose to a daily level of 100 milligrams. A control group was given a pertussis vaccine instead.

Results. The duration of the disease in children who received ascorbic acid was 15-20 days, while the average duration for children who received a vaccine was 34 days. When ascorbic acid therapy was initiated during the catarrhal stage, the spasmodic stage was prevented in 75% of cases. (Journal of the American Medical Association, 4 November 1950, as reported in Rodale, The Encyclopedia of Healthful Living, p. 956.)


Vitamin C and miliaria rubra

Thirty children were divided into two groups. One of them was given vitamin C in relation to body weight; the other was given a placebo, in this case in the form of sugar pills. Only the pharmacist knew to whom they had been administered. After two weeks, Dr. Hindson and the pharmacist compared their notes:

  • Vitamin C group: 1 unchanged4 improved10 healed from injuries
  • Placebo group: 9 unchanged4 improved2 worsened

Results. The 15 patients who received the placebo were given vitamin C following the first comparison. Over two months, no injuries were found in any of the 30 children. (Dosage: 17 kg child = 250 mg per day). (Dr. C. Hindson, as reported in Rodale, ed., Prevention, July 1972.)

 

Vitamin C and iron deficiency

Thirty women between the ages of 14 and 40 suffered from iron deficiency. They were given one 200 mg tablet of ascorbic acid per day.

 

Results. After 60 days of treatment, iron deficiency improved. Chronic iron deficiency is often complicated by the side effect of scurvy. An intake of at least 200-500 mg of vitamin C per day is required to influence iron absorption. (Enil Margo Schleicher, director of the Hematology department of St. Barnabas Hospital. Minneapolis, as reported in Rodale, ed., Prevention, August 1970.)

Vitamin C and nicotine

 

Fourteen smokers and 14 non-smokers with similar dietary habits underwent diets lacking in vitamin C. All blood samples were taken. Then 1.1 g of vitamin C and abundant doses of water-soluble vitamins were administered to facilitate absorption. This process lasted 5 days until the subjects' body was saturated with vitamin C. For three days the intake of vitamin C was limited and the urine scrupulously analyzed.

 

Results. Blood tests showed that smokers had about 30% less vitamin C in the blood than non-smokers. (Ornar Pelletier of the Research Division of the Food and Drug Directorate in Ottawa, Canada, as reported in Rodale, ed., Prevention, July 1969.)

Vitamin C and inflammation of the urethra

 

Twelve men suffered from a painful inflammation of the urethra. After a careful visit, each of them was given 3 grams of vitamin C for four days. The irritation was caused by phosphate crystals that formed in the urine due to insufficient acidity.

 

Results. The high doses of vitamin C were good therapy to introduce enough acidity for the crystals to regress in solution. The excess intake of vitamin C led to the elimination from the urine of that part not stored by the body and the consequent recovery of the patients. The excess of vitamin C in the urine has proven to be 100% effective in curing symptoms. (Rodale, ed., Prevention, July 1973).

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