Vitamin C, or ascorbic acid, is one of the many micronutrients that our body needs to stay healthy. In fact, vitamin C has a host of benefits that can also keep you living for longer. It is not just about taking mega doses of vitamin C when you have a cold or flu. Your body needs a constant supply of vitamin C on a daily basis. While vitamin C is abundant in a number of foods, the modern diet is at times lacking in vitamin C. But just how important is vitamin C? Does it really serve such an important function in the body? Or is vitamin C supplementation another hype on the part of the health product industry.
About Vitamin C
The fact is that vitamin C is essential, not optional. It plays an integral role in several body processes that sustains health and even life. Vitamin C is a water soluble vitamin and it has to be sourced from food or supplements. The human body cannot produce vitamin C. Furthermore the human body cannot store vitamin C although small amounts are distributed throughout the system where it is gradually utilized. Therefore vitamin C intake has to be consistent – ideally on a daily basis.
How Much Vitamin C?
Minors need between 40mg to 75mg of vitamin C daily (age dependent), while adults should have around 90mg of vitamin C daily. Males need a higher intake than females, and the vitamin C requirement increases during pregnancy and breastfeeding. Cigarette smokers may require an additional 50mg of vitamin C daily. However, this is the minimum amount of vitamin C required and these days many people opt for high doses as vitamin C is safe to use in larger doses.
Vitamin C And Collagen Synthesis
Vitamin C plays an important role in the synthesis of collagen within the body. Collagen is a type of protein that is an essential component of connective tissue. It makes up the bones, skin, tendons, ligaments and blood vessels. Simply collagen is responsible for the body’s framework and the strength and rigidity of many organs by acting as the “cement” between cells. When collagen is deficient then the body’s framework is weakened. A vitamin C deficiency is one way in which collagen synthesis is disrupted.
One of the most widely known diseases of vitamin C deficiency is scurvy. It is a consequence of a very severe and longstanding vitamin C deficiency. Scurvy is not seen as often these days. Much of what occurs in scurvy is a result of this tissue weakening and specifically the deterioration of blood vessels. It is not just about bleeding of the gums and loss of teeth which are characteristic signs of scurvy. Gradually tissue throughout the body deteriorates due to the lack of vitamin C.
Vitamin C And Anti-Aging
Aging is inevitable. But most of us would like to do as much as possible to slow down the effects of aging. Vitamin C may have a role to play in the this process. There is still some debate as to why we age. What is known is that the constant damage the body has to endure plays an important part in aging. It speeds up cellular degeneration and new cells need to be form. But cells can only replicate a limited number of times. The key is therefore to minimize cellular damage, allowing the cell to live longer and replicate less frequently.
It all gets a little complicated but much of it revolves around free radicals. These are potentially harmful compounds that are formed in the normal course of cellular activity. But much of it is also a consequence of the way we live – the foods we eat, air we breathe and lifestyle options like cigarette smoking. Vitamin C is one of the many antioxidants that can neutralize free radicals. It therefore limits cellular damage and reduces the effects of premature aging.
Vitamin C And Heart Disease
There are many different heart diseases but one of the most significant in modern times is coronary artery disease (CAD). Here fatty plaques build up in the walls of the arteries supplying blood to the heart. These coronary arteries are gradually narrowed and eventually become blocked. Blood to the heart muscle is restricted and it can lead to symptoms like angina pectoris and eventually result in a heart attack. This narrowing of the arteries can occur anywhere in the body and is known as atherosclerosis.
Vitamin C has antioxidant properties that can actually retard the process of atherosclerosis. This means that fatty plaques are less likely to develop in the artery walls. Vitamin C alone is not sufficient. You will have to use medication to control your blood pressure or blood cholesterol and change your diet and lifestyle. But vitamin C is one component that is sometimes ignored in the prevention of heart diseases like coronary artery disease.
Vitamin C And Wound Healing
Wound healing is dependent on a number of factors but vitamin C plays an important role. It is not just about collagen synthesis although this is an important step in wound healing and scar formation. The injured tissue is under severe stress and this further contributes to free radical damage. People with a vitamin C deficiency heal much slower. The faster and more effectively a wound heals, the less likely it is to become infected or develop other complications.
Vitamin C for wound healing has been well known from the early 20th century. In fact it was noted that people with vitamin C deficiencies healed slower after surgery and therefore vitamin C supplementation was recommended. The metabolic demand for vitamin C also appears to increase when the body undergoes major stress which further supports the use of vitamin C supplements as part of the healing process. But always speak to your doctor before starting mega doses of vitamin C either before or after surgery.
Vitamin C And The Immune System
Probably one of the best known benefits of vitamin C is its ability to boost the immune system. When a cold or flu strikes, many people reach out for the orange juice and mega doses of vitamin C. However, research to support the use of vitamin C in the prevention of these viral illnesses has been inconclusive. Even though it does not have as profound benefits on immune function as we are sometimes led to believe, vitamin C is still essential for health. And a well functioning immune system is dependent on your overall state of health.
There has been some evidence to show that low levels of vitamin C may correlate with low levels of some of the immune cells. But this does not mean that boosting your vitamin C intake will definitely increase immune activity. Indirectly though vitamin C may still be helpful. For example, vitamin C increases iron absorption and is useful with iron supplementation in conditions like iron-deficiency anemia. Similarly vitamin C may work in conjunction with other micronutrients which collectively help in maintaining health and possibly improving immune function.