You have probably heard of Linus Pauling. In 1962, at age 61, he received the Nobel Peace Prize in chemistry. He is best known for being an advocate and proponent of Vitamin C. He was ridiculed for his work by the scientists and doctors of his time, but his work has stood the test of time. He wrote a book called “How to Live Longer and Feel Better”, he was 85 yrs old at the time he wrote it!
Where Would You Be Without Vitamin C?
I’m sure you have heard the stories of scurvy on board the ships that were sailing around the world in the 1600s and 1700s. It was discovered that lemons and limes prevented scurvy, hence the name “limy’s” for British sailors. At the time, no one really knew what was in the lemons and limes that helped prevent scurvy.
In 1907, scientists like Axel Holst and Alfred Frohlich proposed that a special substance existed in these fruits, while Casimir Funk coined the term Vitamin C in 1912. He developed the concept of vitamins and showed that these “vital” substances were needed to keep people healthy and free of disease.
It was in the1930’s that Albert Szent-Györgyi discovered the chemical ascorbic acid—also known as vitamin C. When you are taking a vitamin C supplement, you are taking ascorbic acid. That is also the chemical form found in food.
The Benefits of Vitamin C
The studies with vitamin C are continuing to this day. The use of vitamin C for many illnesses is well reported in the integrative medicine world. Here is an overview of some of the areas vitamin C can be helpful for your body.
- Supports a healthy immune system
- Supports healthy adrenals
- Supports healthy skin and joints by creating collagen
- Improves blood flow for a healthy cardiovascular system
- Slows down aging because it’s an antioxidant
- Needed to absorb Iron
- Helps with wound healing
- Essential for healthy teeth and gums
- Helps the Liver detox
- Protects the RNA and DNA of your body
Your Immune System
Once you have had a serious illness, such as cancer, you become acutely aware of your immune system. You are watching labs with immune markers on them, you are paying attention to things that decrease immune function and you are very focused on keeping that immune system strong.
Vitamin C plays an important role in the health and function of your immune system. White blood cells depend upon vitamin C to survive and withstand the attack of pathogens and free radicals.
Vitamin C also plays a role in reducing a histamine response in the body that may be caused by an over-active immune system. Inflammation is the body’s way of attacking a virus, bacteria, or pathogen, but sometimes that inflammation can get out-of-control and vitamin C can tamp it down.
Vitamin C has been shown to help with the healing of burns, cuts, wounds, sprains, and even broken bones.
What is an Antioxidant?
We often hear the word “antioxidant” but what does it do in the body?
Unstable molecules that are missing an electron are called free radicals and they are catabolic (damaging) to the body. These free radicals are formed in a cycle called oxidative stress that creates damage and instability in cells, tissues, and organs in the body. Vitamin C is an antioxidant that acts to donate an electron to neutralize free radicals and restore peace and harmony to the body. They are sacrificial in the sense that they give up one of their electrons to prevent the free radical from doing its damage to tissues and organs.
Free radicals come into our bodies from environmental toxins such as pesticides and herbicides, chemicals in our clothing and furniture, water and air, and even our personal care products. Bruce Ames, a professor of Biochemistry and Molecular Biology Emeritus at the University of California, Berkeley, is considered the foremost expert on the study of free radicals. He states, “our cells are hit with 10,000 hits a day of free radicals.” In other words, we are under enemy attack all day long!
So, if we are under enemy attack every day, we better have an army of antioxidants on-board to fight back.
Environmental toxins damage cells and intracellular organelles leading to altered cellular metabolism and genetic mutations, which often lead to cancer. Vitamin C has powerful antioxidant properties that protect against the oxidative stress that hits your cells 10,000 times a day.
Vitamin C and Cancer
Another exciting area of research is the area of cancer and vitamin C. Research suggests that IV vitamin C can extend life further compared to chemotherapy alone. Even with the really poor outcomes of pancreatic cancer and ovarian cancer, survival time was extended when using IV vitamin C.
Vitamin C can also lead to a better quality of life for cancer patients. In one study of 39 patients diagnosed with terminal cancer, IV vitamin C led to improvements in physical, emotional, and cognitive status as well as reductions in fatigue, nausea, vomiting, pain, and appetite loss.
For as long as I have been practicing nutrition (over twenty years) there has been controversy about using antioxidants during chemotherapy. There are 71 scientific papers, that found no evidence that antioxidants interfered with the therapeutic effect of chemotherapy and, on the contrary, suggest the hypothesis that it would increase the efficacy.
IV Vitamin C is standard protocol in cancer clinics around the world. In the United States, we are seeing more and more integrative medical practices use IV Vitamin C with wonderful results.
Vitamin C and Heart Disease
Heart disease is still the number one cause of death in the U.S. If someone has high blood pressure, vitamin C has been shown to reduce it or prevent it from happening. Vitamin C also shows promise as a treatment for ischemia and perfusion injury, which can occur following a heart attack or stroke, leading to increased inflammation and oxidative damage.
Dr. Rhonda Patrick, states ““Vitamin C might be effective at reducing myocardial injury in part by mitigating oxidative stress.”
Nitric oxide dilates blood vessels, raising blood supply, and lowering blood pressure. Conversely, it helps protect tissues from damage due to low blood supply. Vitamin C spares endothelial cell-derived nitric oxide to help modulate blood flow. This allows the blood vessels to stay dilated and therefore increasing blood flow throughout the body. All though vitamin C may not be able to reverse atherosclerosis, it may well play a role in preventing the endothelial dysfunction that is the earliest sign of many such cardiovascular diseases.
Vitamin C and Brain Health
The rise in Alzheimer’s has been very concerning. My own mother died of Alzheimer’s, and I wouldn’t wish it on my worst enemy. Keeping our brains healthy and functioning optimally as we age should be a goal for all of us.
Vitamin C is found in high concentrations in the brain, in fact, to the detriment of other tissues, it will “hog” the available vitamin C. It is found in high concentrations in the hippocampus and frontal cortex regions.
Vitamin C is also important for the regulation of neurotransmitters, the formation of neural circuits, and many other key brain functions. It may play a role in the prevention of other cognitive diseases besides Alzheimer’s such as Parkinson’s Disease and Huntington’s Disease.
Vitamin C Bioavailability
“Bioavailability” is the ability of the body to pick up and use a nutrient, getting it to the cell site where it can do its job. Since vitamin C is water-soluble, it leaves the body rather quickly.
We are one of the few mammals that do not make its vitamin C. When animal testing is done, they have shown that animals under stress will increase their output of vitamin C. Stress, sugar, toxins, immune disorders, and poor gut health, all require more vitamin C in the system. Wouldn’t it be nice if we made our own? But, sigh…..we don’t, so we will want to eat a diet rich in vitamin C, fruits and vegetables, and supplement with vitamin C to support our daily stressors.
That leads to the question, “what kind of vitamin C should I be using?”
Vitamin C Formulations
You can look around the vitamin world and see many, many different vitamin C formulations as well as prices. Let’s dive into what each of these does when they enter the body.
- Ascorbic Acid– as mentioned above, this is the chemical name for vitamin C. You will see this on the label of your vitamins and it is often derived from food (usually GMO corn) or it’s made in a lab. The body can, and will, use this form of “C” but it’s going to be in and out of the body quickly.
- Buffered Vitamin C – this type of “C” is buffered so that it does not cause digestive upset. Vitamin C is acidic, so this type of ascorbic acid can often be tolerated better than a capsule or tablet.
- Threshold Control – this type of vitamin C is “wrapped” in a protein so that it does not release immediately. Vitamin C is absorbed in the small intestine so this type of formulation gradually “unwraps” as it travels down the small intestine slowly releasing its “C”. This gives you a sustained release of vitamin C so that you do not have as much of a urine spill-over.
- Liposomal Vitamin C – this is the new kid on the block. This vitamin C is encapsulated or “wrapped” in fat. Fat takes a while to digest, and again, slowly releases into the system. The research on this type of “C” shows it has a 70% higher absorption rate than the traditional ascorbic acid tablet or capsule.
- IV Vitamin C – Intravenous IV vitamin C bypasses the gut all together and goes directly into the blood stream. Very high doses of vitamin C can be given this way without causing digestive or bowel upsets.
How Much Should You Take?
The BIG question everyone asks! Well, that depends……
Remember, since we do not make our vitamin C we have to look at our lifestyle to determine our dosage. For a basic foundational dosage, I return to what Linus Pauling said, “our vitamin C consumption should be on par with what other mammals produce by themselves under normal conditions.” Mammals who create their own “C” are creating the equivalent of 1,000-1,500mg of vitamin C per day.
This is a good place to start as a foundation for good health. If a person is dealing with a virus, then increase the dosage to “bowel tolerance”, then back off by 500mg. Again, if someone’s stores of “C” are very low, this may require as much as 5-6,000mg a day. Stay at this dosage until the virus, cold or flu has passed.
For someone in a health crisis like cancer, I would recommend that person stay at that “threshold” of right below bowel tolerance until there is no evidence of disease. The worst that can happen, is you pee it out!
Some folks are concerned about the impact on kidneys and kidney stones. If you are a person who is prone to oxalate forming kidney stones then I would not go beyond the Linus Pauling recommendation.
Foods That Contain Vitamin C
Let’s not forget that a good part of your daily vitamin C can come from foods. The challenge is the sourcing (organic or not), the transporting, storing, and cooking of the fruit or vegetable. Cooking destroys 25% of the vitamin C in the food.
Fortunately, many vitamin C-rich foods can be eaten raw so that you get a good amount of “C”. I would highly recommend you shop for organic fruits and vegetables to eliminate the free radicals coming in from the pesticides and herbicides. When these are present your little bit of vitamin C is going to have to be immediately used up to fight the toxins!
Here are some foods rich in vitamin C:
- Red Bell Peppers
- Brussel Sprouts
- Sweet Potatoes
Is Vitamin C a “Cure-All?”
Well, there is no such thing, but this lowly, under-appreciate vitamin, sure comes close! Linus Pauling’s research on vitamin C was focused a lot on durations of the cold virus. Further research has since been done, and yes, it has been proven to shorten the length of time you would be sick with a cold or flu virus.
It’s also been shown to help with respiratory disorders like asthma, exercise-induced bronchoconstriction, and pneumonia. It has also been shown to be helpful for inflammation, the Herpes virus, and Epstein-Barr infections.
The research is continuing at places like the National Institutes for Health and the Linus Pauling Research Institute. I think we will continue to discover the magic of this wonderful unsung hero, vitamin C!
Hippocrates said, “Of several remedies, the physician should choose the least sensational.” I think Vitamin C fills that criterion………
In good health,
Carpenter KJ. The Discovery of Vitamin C. Ann Nutr Metab. 2012;61(3):259-64. doi: 10.1159/000343121. Epub 2012 Nov 26. PMID: 23183299.
https://www.healthline.com/nutrition/vitamin-c-benefits, 7 Impressive Ways Vitamin C Benefits Your Body, Ryan Raman, MS, RD, February 18, 2020
https://drjockers.com/health-benefits-liposomal-vitamin-c/, The Remarkable Health Benefits of Liposomal Vitamin C
Journal of Korean Medical Science, February 28, 2017
doctoryourself.com, High Doses of Antioxidants Including Vitamin C Do Not Decrease the Efficacy of Chemotherapy, Abram Hoffer, M.D., Ph.D.
Role of Vitamin C in the Function of the Vascular Endothelium, James M. May and Fiona E. Harrison, 2013 December 10
https://articles.mercola.com/sites/articles/archive/2020/06/06/rhonda-patrick-vitamin-c.aspx, Rhonda Patrick on Vitamin C, June 6, 2020