In these times there has never been so much talk about Vitamin C. We see news on our Instagram feeds that hospitals in both China and New York are administering Vitamin C to patients intravenously. Linus Pauling, in fact, in the early 1950s developed a system for preventing and treating heart attacks combining vitamin C, the amino acids lysine and proline, and plant antioxidants – rather like the supplementation programmes we tend to recommend today.
How much do we really need?
Human beings, unlike most animals, are unable to make any new Vitamin C. While Vitamin C is stored in cells and tissues, particularly white blood cells, eyes, adrenal glands, pituitary gland, and brain, it needs constant replenishment, so it is an essential part of our daily diet.
The original RDA was for 30mg, raised to 60mg in 1991 and now to 110mg for men, 80 mg for women (EU, 2013). Irish people today consume about 80mg vitamin C from food, and on average, a further 1000mg or so from supplements.
Many Irish people in the nineteenth century however consumed about 400 mg vitamin C a day: for half the population, the daily diet consisted of about seven pounds of vitamin C-rich potatoes for each adult. Estimates of the vitamin C content of real “paleo” diets, such as out hunter-gatherer ancestors probably ate, are in the 200-300 mg daily range.
Colds and stress
Vitamin C supports the immune system, the white blood cells particularly, that play a key role in controlling inflammation. Stressful conditions quickly deplete Vitamin C in these cells, and this also happens in the early stages of a cold or infection.
Several recent studies indicate that supplementary vitamin C at the level of about 1000mg (one gram) daily for an adult prevents this depletion. This may not be a cure for a cold but is likely to help prevent complications such as pneumonia which is a major plus.
Skin, outside and inside
Because vitamin C has a critical role to play in collagen formation, it can be especially beneficial to the skin, and here its antioxidant powers also come into play. Loss of collagen is a major reason for wrinkle formation.
But much more than the beauty aspect, proper collagen formation is essential for the health of the blood vessels both small and large. When the small blood vessels are weak, it may show up as easy bruising or thread veins, while for larger arteries, any roughness or irregularity may set off clot or plaque formation, the root cause of heart attacks and strokes.
Good sources of vitamin C
Fruits and leafy vegetables, potatoes, citrus juices, peppers, broccoli, Brussel sprouts, liver, kidney and fresh milk are all sources of vitamin C but the problem arises when you buy an apple that has been in storage for two years!
Heating, delay after cooking, processing and storage all deplete the food vitamin C available to us, even if our diets are correct all the time. Alcohol seems to reduce vitamin C absorption considerably. So there is a good case for supplementation.
The best immune-supporting C supplements also contain other vitamins and flavonoids such as quercetin to help vitamin C in its action.
Some hints if in practice you are not getting enough in your diet