House CallApril/May 2010 Issue

Vitamin C is for Citrus

This vitamin is essential for good health

Vitamin C

Mom was right. We should all eat more fruit and vegetables. These foods offer vitamin C, a critical nutrient we need on a daily basis for the proper functioning of our bodies. This vitamin affects health in a big way—from cartilage and skin to the heart, immune system and even our moods.

When most people think of vitamin C, they think of citrus but this vitamin is found in many of the plants we eat, with notable amounts in red and green peppers, broccoli, Brussel sprouts, rose hips and acerola cherries.

Most mammals produce their own vitamin C but we humans lack this ability, as do gorillas, bats, guinea pigs, and some birds and fish and we must acquire it from diet. Because it’s water soluble (our bodies store only a small amount), we need to eat a fairly constant supply of C-containing foods to maintain optimal levels. Cooking, freezing, canning and long trips from garden to consumer can deplete the amount of vitamin C in foods by up to 50 percent. So eat your produce fresh and raw—and plenty of it.

Getting Enough

According to the National Academy of Sciences, daily dosage ranges from 60 mg for women to 95 mg for men—but needs vary widely among individuals and increase during times of stress and illness. People with absorption issues and those on restricted diets are vulnerable to deficiency. (Smokers require more than non-smokers.) Nobel Prize winner, Linus Pauling, known as the father of vitamin C, suggested much higher doses for ideal health.

One in ten Americans is a conservative estimate of those suffering from chronic low-level deficiency, known as scurvy. This condition causes weak collagen, one of the main structural proteins in the body, leading to fatigue, depression, nosebleeds, gum bleeding, slow-healing cuts, joint pain, swollen hands, and low-grade inflammation. In advanced scurvy, the teeth fall out, open wounds form and death results, which is why British sailors, nicknamed Limeys, would suck on limes when out at sea.

Certain medications—oral contraceptives, steroids, sulfa drugs (antibiotics) and nonsteroidal anti-inflammatories, like aspirin—deplete vitamin C. If you take any of these on a regular basis, be sure to include foods high in vitamin C in your diet and consider taking a supplement.

The most common supplement is ascorbic acid, which may cause a bit of intestinal distress even at low doses, particularly if taken on an empty stomach. Buffered ascorbic acid contains a mineral (such as calcium) to make the supplement easier on the stomach. Another form is Ester C, a patented formula that combines C metabolites to enhance the vitamin’s effects. Rose hips supplements contain fiber and anti-inflammatory bioflavonoids. Ascorbyl palmitate, a fat-soluble version found in certain supplements, is added as an antioxidant to some processed foods.

Many vitamin C supplements are made from corn. People who are corn sensitive should choose a supplement made from acerola, citrus or potato.

If you take too much vitamin C, you’ll develop gas and diarrhea. This commonly happens at dosages between 2,000 to 5,000 mg daily. Symptoms disappear when supplements stop. It’s generally accepted that taking 500 mg at a time is a good dosage to enhance absorption. LW

Christine Doherty, ND, is a licensed naturopathic doctor who specializes in food allergies and celiac disease. She lives in the Boston area.


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