How Vitamin C Supports a Healthy Immune System
30.11.22 0 Comments
What is vitamin C and what does it do?
Vitamin C, also known as ascorbic acid, is a water-soluble nutrient found in some foods. In the body, it acts as an antioxidant, helping to protect cells from the damage caused by free radicals. Free radicals are compounds formed when our bodies convert the food we eat into energy. People are also exposed to free radicals in the environment from cigarette smoke, air pollution, and ultraviolet light from the sun.
Vitamin C is well known for its role in supporting a healthy immune system. Because your body cannot make vitamin C, it must come from the foods you eat every day.
However, this was not always the case. Once upon a time, man was able to produce - synthesize his own vitamin C himself. Most animals are able to synthesize ascorbic acid from glucose in either the kidney or the liver. About 61 million years ago, some mammals and primates, including our human ancestors, lost the ability for this endogenous vitamin C synthesis. This occurred due to the inactivation of L-gulono-lactone oxidase gene with the consequence that the last step of the ascorbate synthesis from glucose was blocked. From then on, these species, including some primates, guinea pigs and Indian fruit bats, have been dependent on dietary, daily intake of vitamin C.
The body also needs vitamin C to make collagen, a protein required to help wounds heal. In addition, vitamin C improves the absorption of iron from plant-based foods and helps the immune system work properly to protect the body from disease. Vegetarians may be especially interested to know that vitamin C helps the body to better absorb non-heme iron — the kind from plant foods such as beans, spinach and quinoa. To get this benefit, combine vitamin C-rich foods with iron-rich plant foods in the same meal. For example, combine black beans and tomato sauce or create a flavorful spinach salad with strawberries and mandarin oranges.
Research shows vitamin C is essential for the growth and repair of tissue all over the body. Vitamin C helps repair and maintain healthy bones, teeth, skin and cartilage — a type of firm tissue that covers the bones. As an antioxidant may help prevent or delay certain cancers and heart disease and promote healthy aging. Vitamin C from foods also seems to reduce the risk of cartilage loss in those with osteoarthritis.
What foods provide vitamin C?
Sources of vitamin C are abundant and extend well beyond the ever-popular orange or orange juice. Many fruits and vegetables supply this vital vitamin. Sources of vitamin C include citrus fruits (such as oranges and grapefruit) and their juices, tomatoes, potatoes, strawberries, cantaloupe, green and red bell peppers, broccoli, Brussels sprouts and kiwifruit, among others. You can enjoy these foods raw or cooked, but it's important to note that fruits and vegetables lose vitamin C when heated or stored for long periods of time. To get the most nutrients, eat them as soon as possible after shopping and consider steaming vegetables for short periods of time to limit nutrient loss.
What kinds of vitamin C dietary supplements are available?
Most multivitamins have vitamin C. Vitamin C is also available alone as a dietary supplement or in combination with other nutrients. The vitamin C in dietary supplements is usually in the form of ascorbic acid, but some supplements have other forms, such as sodium ascorbate, calcium ascorbate, other mineral ascorbates, and ascorbic acid with bioflavonoids. When choosing a suitable nutritional supplement, you should check the origin of the vitamin. It happens that cheap vitamin C comes from GMO corn treated with pesticides. You can find more about what to follow when choosing nutritional supplements in this article.
Am I getting enough vitamin C?
Most people get enough vitamin C from foods and beverages. However, certain groups of people are more likely than others to have trouble getting enough vitamin C:
- People who smoke and those who are exposed to secondhand smoke, in part because smoke increases the amount of vitamin C that the body needs to repair damage caused by free radicals. People who smoke need 35 mg more vitamin C per day than nonsmokers.
- Infants who are fed evaporated or boiled cow’s milk, because cow’s milk has very little vitamin C and heat can destroy vitamin C. Cow’s milk is not recommended for infants under 1 year of age. Breast milk and infant formula have adequate amounts of vitamin C.
- People who eat a very limited variety of food.
- People with certain medical conditions such as severe malabsorption, some types of cancer, and kidney disease requiring hemodialysis.
What happens if I don’t get enough vitamin C?
Vitamin C deficiency is rare. People who get little or no vitamin C (below about 10 mg per day) for many weeks can get scurvy. Scurvy causes fatigue, inflammation of the gums, small red or purple spots on the skin, joint pain, poor wound healing, and corkscrew hairs. Additional signs of scurvy include depression as well as swollen, bleeding gums and loosening or loss of teeth. People with scurvy can also develop anemia. Scurvy is fatal if it is not treated. The name for vitamin C - "ascorbic acid" - was derived from the Latin name of the disease "scorbutus", which means against scurvy.
What are some effects of vitamin C on health?
Scientists are studying vitamin C to understand how it affects health. Here are several examples of what this research has shown.
Cancer prevention and treatment
People with high intakes of vitamin C from fruits and vegetables might have a lower risk of getting many types of cancer, such as lung, breast, and colon cancer.
A few studies in animals and test tubes indicate that very high blood levels of vitamin C might shrink tumors. But more research is needed to determine whether high-dose intravenous vitamin C helps treat cancer in people.
Vitamin C dietary supplements and other antioxidants might interact with chemotherapy and radiation therapy for cancer. People being treated for cancer should talk with their oncologist before taking vitamin C or other antioxidant supplements, especially in high doses.
People who eat lots of fruits and vegetables seem to have a lower risk of cardiovascular disease. Researchers believe that the antioxidant content of these foods might be partly responsible for this association because oxidative damage is a major cause of cardiovascular disease.
Age-related macular degeneration (AMD) and cataracts
AMD and cataracts are two of the leading causes of vision loss in older people. Researchers do not believe that vitamin C and other antioxidants affect the risk of getting AMD. However, research suggests that vitamin C combined with other nutrients might help slow AMD progression.
In a large study among older people with AMD who were at high risk of developing advanced AMD, those who took a daily dietary supplement with 500 mg vitamin C, 80 mg zinc, 400 IU vitamin E, 15 mg beta-carotene, and 2 mg copper for about 6 years had a lower chance of developing advanced AMD. They also had less vision loss than those who did not take the dietary supplement. People who have or are developing the disease might want to talk with their doctor about taking dietary supplements.
The relationship between vitamin C and cataract formation is unclear. Some studies show that people who get more vitamin C from foods have a lower risk of getting cataracts. But further research is needed to clarify this association and to determine whether vitamin C supplements affect the risk of getting cataracts.
The common cold
People who take vitamin C supplements regularly might have slightly shorter colds or somewhat milder symptoms when they do have a cold. Though it may not keep you from catching a cold, there is some evidence that high doses of vitamin C may decrease the length of cold symptoms by as much as one to one-and-a-half days for some people. However, other studies did not result in the same findings, and the risk of side effects is greater with high doses of vitamin C supplements, so check with your doctor or registered dietitian nutritionist before taking.
Can vitamin C be harmful?
Taking too much vitamin C can cause diarrhea, nausea, and stomach cramps. In people with a condition called hemochromatosis, which causes the body to store too much iron, high doses of vitamin C could worsen iron overload and damage body tissues.
The daily upper limits for vitamin C include intakes from all sources—food, beverages, and supplements—and are listed below:
|Life Stage||Upper Limit|
|Birth to 12 months||Not established|
|Children 1–3 years||400 mg|
|Children 4–8 years||650 mg|
|Children 9–13 years||1200 mg|
|Teens 14–18 years||1800 mg|
|Adults||2000 mg |
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