Dr. Roy Murrell, DC 200 NE 20th Avenue, Suite 140 Portland Oregon 97232 - disclaimer - 971-312-9497
A CLOSER LOOK AT VITAMIN C
With the coming of cold and flu season, I thought it would be a good time to talk about Vitamin C. Vitamin C is without a doubt the most well known member of the vitamin family and also the most misunderstood. Most people associate it with fighting the common cold and assume that Ascorbic Acid and Vitamin C are the same thing. In reality Ascorbic Acid is only the outer shell of the Vitamin C complex that is found in whole food. Its job is to protect the other components of the complex, to act as an antioxidant for the whole complex. (Over 90% of the Ascorbic Acid produced worldwide is used in the food industry as a preservative.) These other components, protected by Ascorbic Acid, include Rutin (sometimes referred to as Vitamin P) which is very important for the strength of blood vessels and other collagen-containing tissues, the "K" factor which supports the clotting mechanism of the blood, and the "J" factor which supports oxygen-carrying capacity of the blood. There is also Tyrosinase, a trace element (organic copper) that acts as an activator along with bioflavonoids that help everything synergistically work together. These nutrients play extremely vital roles in most every biological metabolic process.
RESEARCH AND ASCORBIC ACID
So how is it we became so fixated on Ascorbic Acid, which is only a small part of the C complex? It probably has a lot to do with the work of Dr. Linus Pauling and his use of this molecule in his quest to cure the common cold. Dr. Pauling was a chemist by trade and he proposed that Ascorbic Acid taken in large doses could prevent, or at least shorten, the common cold. Is this true? Yes and no. Further research (12 other studies to date) have concluded that Ascorbic Acid does not prevent a cold but there are some indications that it can shorten the duration or intensity of one. Studies with animals concluded that Ascorbic Acid did not increase the strength of the immune system; in fact, large doses actually decreased the production and circulation of white blood cells, the primary cells of our immune system. It did conclude that Ascorbic Acid does act as a antihistamine in the body. Scientists feel that it interferes with the natural inflammatory process that occurs when the body uses inflammation to surround and wall off a viral infection. This could account for its perceived ability to stop or lessen the severity of a cold. There are some that argue this is not a good thing, that you are interfering with the natural response the body uses to fight the invader. They say it reduces your immediate symptoms but that does not equate to health and leaves you more vulnerable to future infections. The jury is still out on this one, but one thing can be said for sure: pure Ascorbic Acid does not equate to the Vitamin C you get when eating foods rich in this nutrient and has no effects on Vitamin C deficient health issues.
In the field of cancer research, Ascorbic Acid has shown no real benefit. The famous Harvard Nurses Study with 89,000 participants taking 750 mg. of Ascorbic Acid/day had no lower risk of breast cancer than women who did not take the supplement. Another well controlled study at the Mayo Clinic gave 150 cancer patients 10,000 mg. of Ascorbic Acid/day or a placebo. The Ascorbic Acid neither shrunk tumors nor lengthened survival time any better than the placebo.
Most feel that large doses of Ascorbic Acid can't hurt you because it is a water soluble vitamin, but this may not be the case. Studies have shown that there are risks, including: weakening of red blood cells leading to hemolysis or destruction of these cells; irritation of the mucous membrane lining of the gastrointestinal tract, renal (kidney) calcification, interference with normal mineral metabolism including the development of hemochromatosis (an excess iron-absorption disease), destruction of blood serum Vitamin B12, interference with Vitamin A metabolism and more.
If you read labels, a lot of Vitamin C will list it as Vitamin C with Acerola berries or rose hips. These two foods are good sources of whole food Vitamin C complex but the amount they put in the bottle is usually extremely small. This gives them the right to put "Natural Whole Food" on the label when, in reality, the majority Ascorbic Acid component is synthetically produced from corn sugar.
Does all this make Vitamin C a bad thing to take? You could ask 10 different professionals and get 10 different opinions. Personally, I don't think high doses of any pure isolated compound (not part of a whole food complex) is a good thing to take daily. There is no research that supports Vitamin C as preventing illness and substantial evidence that daily high doses (2000mg/day or more) could have significant negative side effects (side effects that may not show up immediately and may not even be associated with excess Ascorbic Acid when they do). I think it would be reasonable to use it in an acute infection as a antihistamine but I myself have never found it to be that effective or worth the side effects you can get with high doses.
There are multiple studies that have shown removing or isolating one part of a vitamin complex, such as Ascorbic Acid, decreases or totally changes its function as a vitamin. Vitamins are complex structures of multiple compounds that all work synergistically together. There are compounds in the Vitamin C complex that science has not yet identified but we do know that nature has put them there for a reason. It is why taking Ascorbic Acid for a Vitamin C deficiency disease like scurvy will have no effect in reversing that disease where taking even a small amount of a whole food source of Vitamin C will see almost immediate reversal of the disease.
IMPORTANT HEALTH ISSUES OF VIT. C
It is amazing that in a country as rich as the US, you would find it common to see Vitamin C deficiencies. The RDA for the vitamin is only 60 mg/day (this is considered a minimum, more than twice that would be optimal) but physicians routinely find patients that have blood levels below the RDA and taking Ascorbic Acid will do nothing to raise this. Why is this important? Vitamin C plays a crucial role in the formation and plasticity of collagen, a protein that forms the basis for connective tissue (the most abundant tissue in the body) and endothelial tissue, cells that line blood vessels, the heart, and other body cavities. People who bruise easily are lacking Vitamin C (and again, taking Ascorbic Acid will not help this). Vitamin C also aids in weaving cells more tightly together, so it is imperative to wound healing and the tensile strength of tissues in the skin. White blood cells (leukocytes that play a major role in our immune system) carry more Vitamin C than any other cell in the body. Cancer patients have routinely low levels of serum Vitamin C. Vitamin C is also needed for oxygen utilization (crucial in any type of respiratory disease), endocrine function (hormone), bones, teeth, and gums. Bleeding gums (sometimes known as pink toothbrush) is also a sign of Vitamin C deficiency. The list goes on and on; the Vitamin C factors involved in connective tissue, oxygen utilization, and fibrin production (blood clotting and wound healing) make Vitamin C crucial in almost every part of the body.
FOOD HIGH IN VIT. C
Most people think of citrus when they think of Vitamin C; it is true that citrus fruits are high in C but most all fruits and vegetables have C and many are higher than the traditional orange. In fact, bell peppers have more than twice the Vitamin C of oranges by volume (especially the red). Broccoli is also very high; other vegetables that are high are brussels sprouts and cauliflower. Strawberries are also higher than oranges and Papaya is off-the-charts high.
There are a number of factors that affect our Vitamin C levels and at the top of the list would be digestion. If you suffer from chronic digestive stress you have to correct that before you can ever hope to maximize your vitamin levels, either from food or supplements. Another factor is your exposure to environmental chemicals; smoking just one cigarette will neutralize 25 mg. of C, one third of your totally daily needs. This alone puts every smoker in a severe daily deficiency.
Another major factor is food preparation. If you are trying to consume a diet high in Vitamin C, you will want to eat things that are good raw or minimally cooked. Just blanching a food reduces its C by 25%. Cooking for 10-20 min. will cut the C by 50%. This is true of most of the antioxidants in foods. It is the main reason you should strive to consume 1/3 of your daily nutrition from raw (organic if possible) fruits and vegetables. If everyone did this, can you imagine how different our health care debate would be?
Vitamin C is much more than Ascorbic Acid. Read labels! It is always best to get your nutrients from whole fresh foods but if you feel that you are lacking in your diet and want to supplement with a vitamin, make sure it is a truly whole food vitamin. If you are taking a vitamin that lists 500 or 1000 mg. of Vitamin C, it cannot be a whole food; there are no whole foods with that much Vitamin C. If you read the label, it will usually say 500 mg. of Vitamin C as Ascorbic Acid. Any time you see a nutrient listed with an as after it, it is a synthetic vitamin -- meaning it was made from chemicals, not food. I wrote about this in my last letter "A Look at the Vitamin Industry”. If you have any issues that are associated with C deficiency, taking your typical Vitamin C will not help; you have to get a whole food source either from foods rich in it or from a company like Standard Process that makes truly whole food vitamins. If you are interested in more information on this company and its products, please contact me and I will be happy to discuss them with you.
So as this cold season gets rolling, think DIET, EXERCISE, AND SLEEP!!!!!!!!
Yours in Health