Vitamin C (also known as ascorbic acid) is a water soluble vitamin and is probably the most well known vitamin of them all. The discovery of vitamin C was the result of a search for a cure for scurvy (a disease which leads to problems with the connective tissue now known to be caused by a lack of vitamin C). Scurvy has been reported to affect explorers, sailors and soldiers throughout history. This is now thought to be because they stuck to a diet of dry biscuits and salted beef. They did not often take fruit and vegetables with them on their travels because they were not easy to preserve on long journeys. A number of folk remedies for scurvy (which contained elements of fruit and vegetables) did materialise over time but James Lind, a Scottish Naval surgeon, is generally credited as being the first to discover a cure. After reading multiple historical accounts, Lind noticed that scurvy developed in people with a limited diet. He then tested this theory by taking a ten week voyage where he treated sailors who had developed scurvy and discovered that citrus fruits provided the quickest cure. Lind published his findings in 1753 and as a result British soldiers were prescribed daily doses of lime juice in 1795 (hence the nickname limeys). However, it was not until 1928 that two independent researchers managed to isolate this scurvy cure. During this time Albert Szent-Györgyi extracted a substance from cabbage, oranges, paprikas and adrenal glands which he named hexuronic acid whilst Charles G. King extracted a substance from oranges and lemons that he called vitamin C.
The most important role of vitamin C is that it assists in the production of collagen (the main protein in animal connective tissues). Collagen helps maintain cell structure and is essential for healing all types of wounds including cuts, burns and broken bones. Vitamin C also has further benefits which include:
– Assisting with the absorption of iron from food.
– Preventing cancer (according to How Stuff Works).
– Protecting the body’s cells against oxidative damage (as an antioxidant).
– Protecting the eyes.
– Protecting against heart disease.
– Reducing the symptoms of the common cold.
– Supporting the body’s immune system.
Unlike most animals, humans cannot produce their own vitamin C and therefore have to rely on diet for their daily intake. Men and women are advised to consume 40mg of this vitamin each day. As you probably know citrus fruits such as oranges, lemons and limes are the richest source of vitamin C. However, strawberries, sweet peppers and potatoes are also good sources of this vitamin. Like the other water soluble vitamins, vitamin C is quite easily destroyed. Bruising and cutting of fruits and vegetables can destroy some of their vitamin C as can cooking at high heats. Therefore, I advise you to make sure that you take care when preparing these foods and steam your vegetables instead of boiling them.
As already discussed, not getting enough vitamin C can lead to scurvy. The symptoms of scurvy include bleeding, swollen gums, tooth loss and wounds that will not heal. Ultimately, scurvy can be fatal if left untreated but this is very rare because treatment simply involves returning to a normal intake of vitamin C.
Since vitamin C has been popularised by the media a lot of people take vitamin C supplements. Unfortunately, this can lead to overdosing which has a number of associated complications. These include cramps, diarrhea, headaches and vomiting. Getting too much vitamin C can also destroy vitamin B12 and reduce copper absorption in the body. Therefore, if you are considering vitamin C supplementation I advise you to see your doctor first. Vitamin C supplements can be a good addition to certain people’s diets but you may be getting enough from your food already. Your doctor will be able to assess your need for supplementation and give you an answer.
Vitamin C is vital. It helps you produce connective tissue, helps your wounds heal properly, protects your body’s cells from oxidative damage and much more. However, you can get too much of a good thing. Therefore, if you are considering supplementation see your doctor first.
Although you should try and get your vitamins from food where possible this is not always possible. Sometimes supplementation is required. In this case you should check out Vitabase who offer a fantastic selection of vitamin supplements at fantastic prices: