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Essential Vitamins 6 : Vitamin C


Vitamin C is an essential water-soluble vitamin, meaning our body does not store it. In addition, humans, unlike other animals, cannot make it. This vitamin is so important that neither animals nor plants can live without it. Interestingly, one of the explanations for the loss of the human ability to synthesize vitamin C was the fact that this was no longer necessary once ancient primate started eating fruit to a significant degree. Today, however, more and more people are relying on supplements to get their daily requirement of vitamins and minerals. This blog looks at the best forms of vitamin C and discusses why getting vitamin C through ascorbic acid can be a problem.


The Importance of Vitamin C

Vitamin C performs some very important functions throughout the body. It helps to boost the immune system, which prevents many illnesses including the common cold and flu. It also has powerful antioxidant properties, which reduce inflammation and harmful free-radicals. Vitamin C plays a part in the synthesis of many essential compounds, including collagen, L-carnitine and several neurotransmitters (the chemicals that allow us to think). Heart health, skin health and iron absorption are all additional benefits to having enough vitamin C.


Vitamin C deficiency is less common than other vitamin and mineral deficiencies. This is because vitamin C is prevalent in so many food sources that you would have to be avoiding fruit and vegetables completely to risk deficiency. Vitamin C is water soluble, meaning that we expel any excess in our urine, rather than storing it for later as happens with vitamin D or iron. Because of this, there is very little risk of toxicity from over-consumption but at the same time it is important to maintain a daily intake of fruit and veg to keep your levels topped up. So the bottom line is: eat as many vitamin C-rich foods as you like; your body will take as much as it needs and excrete the rest.


Signs that you may be deficient

Severe vitamin C deficiency manifests in a condition known as scurvy. Scurvy is relatively rare today, due to the abundance of vitamin C in foods and supplements. It is often associated with pirates and sailors, due to the fact that seamen would often be away from land for months at a time and so would have no access to fresh fruit or vegetables. As a result of this, scurvy was a very common condition among mariners, killing as many as 50% of the crew on a long sea voyage, although its cause was not discovered until around 1795 when the British Royal Navy began to give lemon juice to its sailors.


Symptoms of vitamin C deficiency (scurvy) include:

  • low energy/lethargy

  • bleeding gums/gum disease

  • dry/split hair

  • dry, cracked skin

  • red spots or sores on the skin

  • joint pain

  • nosebleeds

Persistently low vitamin C levels have been linked to serious health conditions, including high blood pressure, cancer and stroke.


How to meet your vitamin C quota

It is relatively easy to meet your vitamin C quota, so long as you regularly include fruit and vegetables in your diet. The NHS recommends that we take at least 40mg of vitamin C each day, although many nutrition experts argue that higher doses aid in supporting the immune system, especially around cold and flu season.

Some good sources of vitamin C include*:

  • Oranges - 1 large = 163% rda

  • Broccoli - 1 cup = 135% rda

  • Peppers - 1 cup = 300% rda

  • Strawberries - 1 cup = 150% rda

  • Brussels Sprouts - 1 cup = 160% rda

  • Kale - 1 cup = 130% rda

  • Black currants - 1 cup = 338% rda

  • Supplementing Vitamin C

As you can see, vitamin C is abundant in many fruits and vegetables and so in most cases a varied diet should mean that there is little chance of deficiency. However, in some circumstances it may be desirable to increase vitamin C levels, such as when fighting a cold or virus. Research has repeatedly shown that higher levels of vitamin C can help prevent infection and inflammation, while reducing the duration and intensity of colds. Because vitamin C is water soluble, any excess is expelled in the urine and so there is little danger from high levels. People supplementing with vitamin C may experience stomach ache or nausea but there are no serious health complications.

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