Vitamin C - The pros and cons

Vitamin C
by Ly Pham

Since 1932, as vitamin C was discovered, scientists have ceaselessly researched on various aspects of this important and indispensable vitamin. Vitamin C plays different roles within our bodies, especially it prominently acts as an antioxidant protecting our tissues and defending against free radicals. It appears to have many pros of vitamin C than its cons, and that is why vitamin C is most likely to be in our favor. Researches on vitamin C have shown that it is one of the multifunctional vitamins in our bodies and has tremendous effects on our health.

I. Health benefits of vitamin C :
1. As an antioxidant nutrient : the most outstanding characteristic of vitamin C is its ability to fight against free radicals, which are the unpaired and unstable chemical molecules. Since vitamin C is an electron donor, it is able to give electrons and combine with free radicals, preventing the damages by neutralizing them. Thanks to this antioxidant role, vitamin C can help protect our tissues, reduce oxidative stress, and contribute to the prevention of some diseases. Moreover, since vitamin C is an antioxidant, it slows down the aging process, and makes our skin healthier by killing harmful free radicals.
2. Vitamin C and Iron absorption : whenever we are recommended to take iron supplements or eat more iron-containing foods, we are asked to consume additional vitamin-C rich foods since vitamin C can enhance the absorption of iron in our bodies. The power to converting iron from ferric to ferrous enables vitamin C to become an essential iron absorption ( except for iron supplements which are already in ferrous forms ).
3. Vitamin C and pregnancy : together with other nutrients, vitamin C is essential for pregnant women during critical periods. According to the chart on page 521 of the textbook, pregnant women need around 112.5% and lactating women need 162.5% of vitamin C. In addition, the increase in the need for iron during pregnancy ( 150% ) requires the rising demand for vitamin C to help absorb iron. Vitamin C is necessary for infant as well. For example, a 5-month-old-infant needs nearly 5 times as much vitamin C per pound as an adult male ( chart on. P549, textbook ).
4. Wound healing : whenever you are wounded or injured, vitamin C can help recover the wound by encouraging the production of collagen, which then stick separated skin/tissues together. As many scientific researches prove that balanced and regular intake of vitamin C ( and vitamin E ) through fruits and vegetables show good impact on the skin.
5. Heart disease : one recently major effect of vitamin C is that it is may reduce risks for heart disease. A new research at University of California, Berkeley has shown that : “vitamin C supplements can lower concentrations of C-reactive protein (CRP), a central biomarker of inflammation that has been shown to be a powerful predictor of heart disease and diabetes. The same study found no benefit from daily doses of vitamin E, another antioxidant”. What vitamin C does is that it helps lower LDL oxidation and cholesterol level, and raise HDL cholesterol, improving blood pressure. Vitamin C, together with vitamin E, can be used to control the oxygen burst (the production of free radicals, which is what antioxidants are supposed to do), which is one major cause of cell damage in many diseases. There is also a positive result when scientists did an experiment on rats. They give rats high dose of vitamin C, and after observing the changing and measure the cholesterol level, it was totally amazing since the cholesterol in rats was decreased considerably, leading way for scientists to have more evidence about the heart-disease-fighting treatment with vitamin C. Boston University School of Medicine once reported on the significant role of vitamin C in reducing hypertension through their 39 patients, aging around 49. Accordingly, people with every day intake of vitamin C have lower blood pressure, and as a result, are less likely to suffer from hypertension. [Editor's Note: Again this is a small study, and the results aren't conclusive, only suggestive of an area that could use more detailed study. ---J. Learn]
6. Cancer : the relationship between vitamin C and cancer has been studied for a long time, and researchers have found out that, vitamin C has a beneficial effect in some cancer treatment and prevention such as mouth cancer and stomach cancer. In 2006, American Institute for Cancer Research did a comprehensive study on the link between vitamin C and stomach cancer : “the researchers examined the blood levels of vitamin C (which, for certain fruits and vegetables, can provide a more accurate indication of consumption than self-reporting) they found a strong protective effect. That is: they found that those subjects with the highest level of vitamin C in their blood had a 60 percent lower risk of stomach cancer than those subjects with the lowest levels.” One important thing is that vitamin C is effective when taken in through fruits and vegetables, but can have more risks from side effects when taken through high doses of vitamin C supplements. [Editor's Note: Recent studies have shown that while vitamin C is protective of cells, it can also protect the very cancer cells a person may think their C is supposed to fight. It makes sense---cancer cells are cells. They are susceptible to the same oxidative stresses and damage as regular cells, and if vitamin C protects healthy body cells, it can also be protective for cancer cells. ---J. Learn ]
7. Reversing male infertility : in 2006, the American Society for Reproductive Medicine led a study on vitamin C and male fertility, in which 13 men were given 1000mg vitamin C daily in 2 months. This resulted in improved quality of sperm, and therefore, was likely to help with infertile males. The discovery, however, is still ongoing and need more evidence. [Editor's Note: A study of only 13 subjects isn't considered large enough to be conclusive or generalizable to other individuals---only suggestive of an area that needs further study. There are adverse side effects from taking this high a dose of vitamin C for an extended period. ---J. Learn]
8. Gout : aging men often suffer from gout, which is cause by the increase of uric acid crystals in the joints ( due to alcohol, high-in-meat diet, etc. ). According to BBC News, recent research has shown that vitamin C, as an antioxidant, can reduce the uric acid level, preventing risk of gout “Compared with men who did not take vitamin C supplements, those who took 1,000mg to 1,499mg per day had a 34% lower risk of gout and those who took 1,500mg per day had a 45% lower risk.”

II. Adverse effects of vitamin C :
As with other nutrients, vitamins, and minerals, over intake or overdose of vitamin C can become a damage to our health. Toxicity of vitamin C can cause nausea, diarrhea, fatigue, insomnia, ht flashes or rashes, kidney stones, etc.
The amount vitamin C cannot be higher than 3000mg/day ( actually 2000mg/day is considered to be high for adults ).
Vitamin C should be taken in through diets, fruits, and vegetables so that it can have its best effects and is good for our health. Vitamin C supplements are only used as addition if our bodies do not have enough vitamin C.
The role of vitamin C in preventing cold is not totally proved, and in fact some researchers found no links between vitamin C and its cold-fighting potential. Therefore, do not fall under the misapprehension of taking too much vitamin C when you have cold/flu since you can be overdosed and suffer from vitamin C toxicity.
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