Vitamin C

Vitamin C is also known as ascorbic acid. It is a water-soluble vitamin that is necessary for normal growth and development. It is required for the growth and repair of tissues in all parts of your body. It is necessary to form collagen, an important protein used to make skin, scar tissue, tendons, ligaments, and blood vessels. Vitamin C is essential for the healing of wounds, and for the repair and maintenance of cartilage, bones, and teeth.

Vitamin C is one of many antioxidants. Vitamin E and beta-carotene are two other well-known antioxidants. Antioxidants are nutrients that block some of the damage caused by free radicals, which are by-products that result when our bodies transform food into energy. The build up of these by-products over time is largely responsible for the aging process and can contribute to the development of various health conditions such as cancer, heart disease, and a host of inflammatory conditions like arthritis. Antioxidants also help reduce the damage to the body caused by toxic chemicals and pollutants such as cigarette smoke.

Vitamin C deficiency can lead to dry and splitting hair; gingivitis (inflammation of the gums) and bleeding gums; rough, dry, scaly skin; decreased wound-healing rate, easy bruising; nosebleeds; weakened enamel of the teeth; swollen and painful joints; anemia; decreased ability to ward off infection; and, possibly, weight gain because of slowed metabolic rate and energy expenditure. A severe form of vitamin C deficiency is known as scurvy, which mainly affects older, malnourished adults.

The body does not manufacture vitamin C on its own, nor does it store it. It is therefore important to include plenty of vitamin C-containing foods in your daily diet.

Food Sources

All fruits and vegetables contain some amount of vitamin C. Foods that tend to be the highest sources of vitamin C include green peppers, citrus fruits and juices, strawberries, tomatoes, broccoli, turnip greens and other leafy greens, sweet and white potatoes, and cantaloupe.

Other excellent sources include papaya, mango, watermelon, brussels sprouts, cauliflower, cabbage, winter squash, red peppers, raspberries, blueberries, cranberries, and pineapples.

Side Effects

Vitamin C is water soluble and is regularly excreted by the body. Therefore, toxicity is very rare. Amounts greater than 2,000 mg/day, however, are not recommended because such high doses can lead to stomach upset and diarrhea.

1. Boothby LA, and Doering PL. Vitamin C and Vitamin E for Alzheimer's Disease. Ann Pharmacother. 2005 Dec;39(12):2073-9. Epub 2005 Oct 14.

Objective: To evaluate the literature on supplemental vitamin C and vitamin E therapy in the prevention and treatment of Alzheimer's disease (AD).

Data Sources: Literature retrieval was accessed through MEDLINE (1966-March 2005) using the key words antioxidants, vitamin C, vitamin E, Alzheimer's disease, and dementia. International Pharmaceutical Abstracts (1970-March 2005), Current Contents (1996-March 2005), Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews (1994-March 2005), and Ebsco's Academic Search Elite (1975-March 2005) were searched with the same key words.

Study Selection and Data Extraction: Articles related to the objective that were identified through PubMed were included. DATA SYNTHESIS: Oral supplementation of vitamin C (ascorbic acid) and vitamin E (d-alfa-tocopherol acetate) alone and in combination have been shown to decrease oxidative DNA damage in animal studies in vivo, in vitro, and in situ. Recent results of a prospective observational study (n = 4740) suggest that the combined use of vitamin E 400 IU daily and vitamin C 500 mg daily for at least 3 years was associated with the reduction of AD prevalence (OR 0.22; 95% CI 0.05 to 0.60) and incidence (HR 0.36; 95% CI 0.09 to 0.99). Contradicting this is a previous prospective observational study (n = 980) evaluating the relationship between 4 years of vitamin C and E intake and the incidence of AD, which detected no difference in the incidence of AD during the 4-year follow-up. Recent meta-analysis results suggest that doses of vitamin E >/=400 IU daily for more than one year are associated with increased all-cause mortality. Mega-trial results suggest that vitamin E doses >/=400 IU daily for 6.9 years in patients with preexisting vascular disease or diabetes mellitus increase the incidence of heart failure, with no other outcome benefits noted.

Conclusions: In the absence of prospective, randomized, controlled clinical trials documenting benefits that outweigh recently documented morbidity and mortality risks, vitamin E supplements should not be recommended for primary or secondary prevention of AD. Although the risks of taking high doses of vitamin C are lower than those with vitamin E, the lack of consistent efficacy data for vitamin C in preventing or treating AD should discourage its routine use for this purpose.

2. Douglas RM, Chalker EB, Treacy B. Vitamin C for Preventing and Treating the Common Cold. Cochrane Database Syst Rev. 2000;(2):CD000980.

The role of oral ascorbic acid (vitamin C) in the prevention and treatment of colds remains controversial despite many controlled trials. There have also been a number of efforts to synthesize and/or overview the results of these trials, and controversy over what these overviews tell us. The objective of this review was to answer the following two questions: (1) Does regular high dosage supplementation with vitamin C reduce the incidence of colds? (2) Does taking vitamin C in high doses at the onset of a cold have a therapeutic effect? Randomised and non-randomised trials of vitamin C taken to prevent or treat the common cold.

Two reviewers independently extracted data and assessed trial quality. Thirty trials were included. The quality of the included trials was variable. Vitamin C in doses as high as one gram daily for several winter months, had no consistent beneficial effect on incidence of the common cold. For both preventive and therapeutic trials, there was a consistently beneficial but generally modest therapeutic effect on duration of cold symptoms. This effect was variable, ranging from -0.07% to a 39% reduction in symptom days.

The weighted difference across all of the studies revealed a reduction of a little less than half a symptom day per cold episode, representing an 8% to 9% reduction in symptom days. There was no clear indication of the relative benefits of different regimes or vitamin C doses. However in trials that tested vitamin C after cold symptoms occurred, there was some evidence that a large dose produced greater benefits than lower doses. Long term daily supplementation with vitamin C in large doses daily does not appear to prevent colds. There appears to be a modest benefit in reducing duration of cold symptoms from ingestion of relatively high doses of vitamin C. The relation of dose to therapeutic benefit needs further exploration.

3. Yilmaz C, Erdemli E, Selek H, Kinik H, Arikan M, Erdemli B. The Contribution of Vitamin C to Healing of Experimental Fractures. Arch Orthop Trauma Surg. 2001 Jul;121(7):426-8.

The benefits of various minerals and vitamins on fracture healing have been demonstrated in animal models. Vitamin C is an essential substance in fracture healing but has not been studied previously on an experimental basis. Sixteen rats were grouped randomly into control and vitamin C-supplemented groups. The right tibias of all rats were fractured by digital manipulation. One group received single high dose of vitamin C intramuscularly. On the 5th, 10th, 15th, and 20th days, two rats from each group were killed and the tibias examined under light microscopy. It was seen that the vitamin C-supplemented group went through the stages of fracture healing faster compared with the control group.

4. Naidu KA. Vitamin C in Human Health and Disease is Still a Mystery? An Overview. Nutr J. 2003 Aug 21;2:7.

Ascorbic acid is one of the important water soluble vitamins. It is essential for collagen, carnitine and neurotransmitters biosynthesis. Most plants and animals synthesize ascorbic acid for their own requirement. However, apes and humans can not synthesize ascorbic acid due to lack of an enzyme gulonolactone oxidase. Hence, ascorbic acid has to be supplemented mainly through fruits, vegetables and tablets. The current US recommended daily allowance (RDA) for ascorbic acid ranges between 100-120 mg/per day for adults. Many health benefits have been attributed to ascorbic acid such as antioxidant, anti-atherogenic, anti-carcinogenic, immunomodulator and prevents cold etc. However, lately the health benefits of ascorbic acid has been the subject of debate and controversies.

Danger of mega doses of ascorbic acid? Does ascorbic acid act as a antioxidant or pro-oxidant? Does ascorbic acid cause cancer or may interfere with cancer therapy? However, the Panel on dietary antioxidants and related compounds stated that the in vivo data do not clearly show a relationship between excess ascorbic acid intake and kidney stone formation, pro-oxidant effects, excess iron absorption. A number of clinical and epidemiological studies on anti-carcinogenic effects of ascorbic acid in humans did not show any conclusive beneficial effects on various types of cancer except gastric cancer. Recently, a few derivatives of ascorbic acid were tested on cancer cells, among them ascorbic acid esters showed promising anticancer activity compared to ascorbic acid. Ascorbyl stearate was found to inhibit proliferation of human cancer cells by interfering with cell cycle progression, induced apoptosis by modulation of signal transduction pathways. However, more mechanistic and human in vivo studies are needed to understand and elucidate the molecular mechanism underlying the anti-carcinogenic property of ascorbic acid. Thus, though ascorbic acid was discovered in 17th century, the exact role of this vitamin/nutraceutical in human biology and health is still a mystery in view of many beneficial claims and controversies.

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