Vitamin C, also known as L-ascorbic acid, is soluble in water and, therefore, is found in many fruits and vegetables. Unlike many animals, humans cannot synthesize this vitamin by themselves in the body and, therefore, its supply must come through food.
Some of its benefits are its antioxidant properties and various vital functions for metabolism. It is involved in the formation of collagen and wound healing, as well as in the immune system, and also improves the absorption of iron in the intestine.
What is vitamin C?
L-ascorbic acid is odorless and colorless, with an acidic taste, has a solid crystalline structure, and is easily soluble in water. Chemically, it belongs to organic acids, more precisely, it is a vinyl carboxylic acid, whose salts are called ascorbates.
Ascorbic acid appears in four stereoisomeric forms, but only ascorbic acid-L (+) exhibits biological activity. However, the collective term vitamin C includes all substances that our body can convert into ascorbic acid-L (+), including dehydroascorbic acid (DHA).
The discovery of the vitamin
Vitamin C was discovered in the early twentieth century by Hungarian Albert Szent-Györgyi, who first isolated it from paprika and cabbage. It was not until 1933 that Walter Norman Haworth described its chemical structure.
Both men received the Nobel Prize in Medicine and Chemistry in 1937. The chemist Tadeus Reichstein later developed a process for the industrial production of the vitamin from glucose, for which this scientist was also honored.
Vitamin C achieved worldwide fame due to the disease caused by its deficiency, scurvy. It affected many sailors who ate dried fish and canned meat during their months and years of navigation and had to do without any fresh fruit or vegetables.
These developed serious and even fatal diseases such as:
- Weakness of connective tissue.
- Muscle wear and weakness of the heart muscle.
At that time, no one suspected that such a simple vitamin deficiency caused all these diseases, not even the English ship’s doctor James Lind, who at least empirically discovered that fresh fruit really helped his sailors.
A short time later, circumnavigator James Cook also benefited from these findings. With wise foresight, he took tons of sauerkraut and lemons on board. From then on, scurvy was sentenced. That is why Cook received an award from the Royal Society in 1776.
This is what humans, birds, and fish have in common: in the course of evolution, we have all lost the ability to produce vitamin C in our own bodies. With the exception of some species of monkeys.
The evolution probably started from the sustainability of the fact that food will always provide a sufficient supply of vitamin C. Nor was it considered necessary to store vitamin C, as is the case with fat-soluble vitamins, for example.
As a result, we now have to supply vitamin C through food or nutritional supplements.
Vitamin C benefits
First, the vitamin and the antioxidant are absorbed in the small intestine. Nutrition experts now know that the benefits of vitamin C are due in large part to the fact that free radicals, which are harmful to health, are neutralized.
It is also compatible with vitamin E, which is also a potent antioxidant. The antioxidant effect of vitamin C is based on the fact that antioxidants have mechanisms through which the cell cancels reactivity and/or inhibits the generation of free radicals.
If this does not happen, free radicals try to balance the load with other vital substances such as amino acids and proteins. That is why polyunsaturated fatty acids are so healthy. In this way, it is very likely that vitamin C prevents the formation of carcinogenic nitrosamines from unhealthy foods.
Vitamin C is one of the components that control the supply of oxygen to cells. This goes hand in hand with the development of connective tissue, including collagen, the production of bone and cartilaginous tissue, and the formation of important messenger substances and hormones.
The vitamin plays an important role in the elasticity and mobility of our joints, especially when it comes to maintaining cartilage functions. Last but not least, vitamin C has a positive effect on blood vessels, skin, and healthy hair and nail growth.
Your mood, your growth, your performance, and your sexuality are controlled by hormones, whose production and quality, in turn, depend on a good supply of vitamins, even brain functions depend on sufficient intake of vitamins.
The development and onset of nervous diseases such as Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s, or Huntington’s disease can be significantly delayed or even prevented with an adequate intake of vitamins.
Last but not least, vitamin C promotes the absorption of iron, calcium, and amino acids in the intestine, especially from plant-based foods.
Benefits of vitamin C in children
Growth, which affects the bones and teeth, as well as the maturation of the brain, is a decisive stage for children, in particular, due to the presence or absence of important vital substances. With regard to the immune system, vitamin C is very important for the so-called “first-line defense” against viruses and bacteria.
Much of the vitamin is concentrated in white blood cells to give them the sharp sword with which they can successfully complete their mission against viruses and bacteria. In addition, the vitamin stimulates the proliferation of T lymphocytes, whose task is, among other things, to eliminate infected cells.
Benefits of vitamin C in cancer therapy
Vitamin C has been the focus of supportive measures in cancer therapy since the 1970s. Early laboratory studies have shown that vitamin C inhibits the growth of tumors.
In addition, ascorbic acid helps patients withstand the most violent side effects of chemotherapy, which is usually associated with an improvement in the quality of life.
In diseases such as Alzheimer’s, Parkinson, and Huntington, large doses of vitamin C cause at least one measurable slowdown in the progress of the disease.
Foods high in vitamin C
The most important and best-known sources of vitamin C are fresh fruits, especially citrus fruits, and berries. In addition to lemon and orange, many fruits and vegetables also contain large amounts of this valuable vitamin.
The following list should give you an idea of what can contribute to our vitamin balance:
- Kale and Brussels sprouts (more than 100 milligrams of vitamin C per 100 grams, twice the vitamin content than an orange)
- Raw peppers (red and yellow with more than 200 milligrams of vitamin C per 100 grams)
- Currants (especially black)
- Buckthorn Berries
Already with half a pepper (red) and the freshly squeezed juice of two oranges covers your daily vitamin requirement. For a better overview, we would like to list the best sources of vitamin C separately:
- Broccoli, Brussels sprouts and other types of cabbage
- Sea buckthorn
- Black currants
How much vitamin C is required?
The daily requirement of vitamin C in milligrams is approximately the following:
- Adult men (19 years and older) – 110
- Adult women (19 years and older) – 95
- Fourth month pregnant women – 105
- Nursing Mothers – 125
- Smokers need significantly more vitamin C.
- Children (depending on their age) get along with a little less vitamin C.
Benefits are reduced through storage and preparation
Vitamin C is very sensitive to external influences. The complex molecule undergoes rapid change through storage (after only two days) in which it is exposed to light, oxygen, or higher temperatures.
By freezing fresh produce, the destruction of vitamin C remains within limits. This goes so far that frozen foods sometimes have more vitamin C than fruits or vegetables that have been stored for several days.
For example, potatoes lose up to 75 percent of their vitamins when stored for a long time. If you keep an apple at room temperature for a month, it will no longer contain vitamins. The same applies to frozen fruits and vegetables after about six months in the freezer.
Consequences from a deficit of vitamin 100
Most likely, you get enough vitamin with your diet. But with an incorrect and unhealthy diet or in case you suffer from chronic gastrointestinal disease, it is very possible that there is an insufficiency of vitamin C.
The risk group basically includes smokers, pregnant women, and nursing mothers, who themselves have a higher vitamin requirement. If you have just overcome infection or severe surgery and are constantly under stress, you need an extra dose of the vitamin every day.
There is a deficit if blood values fall permanently below eleven micromoles per liter. In this case, there are no longer anybody reserves. As a result, several serious diseases can develop relatively quickly.
The first clear warnings are, for example, sudden bleeding of the gums. It was exactly the same as the old sailors before becoming full-blown scurvy. Babies and young children show a dramatic lack of vitamin C in the disease Möller-Barlow.
In this case, the development and bone growth of the child are severely affected.
The effect of vitamin C when it overdoses
The good news here is that nothing can really happen. In principle, you can ingest all the vitamin C you want, especially if you take the appropriate tablets or powder since there is no serious health risk.
The reason for this is that the absorption rate in the intestine decreases in case of overdose, which means that there is a separate biochemical control circuit that keeps everything in balance automatically. Since ascorbic acid is very soluble in water, unusable parts are simply excreted through the kidneys.
When the vitamin is injected or infused directly into the blood, the situation is quite different. Such measures should generally be carried out under medical supervision.
If you ingest up to 1,000 milligrams of the vitamin per day with your diet, you are absolutely in the “safe zone.” But if it later becomes more than 3,000 milligrams per day, this can lead to diarrhea or gastrointestinal problems.
If you suffer from a damaged kidney, suffer from urinary stones (kidney stones), or have the so-called iron utilization disorder, then you belong to the risk group that develops certain side effects even with moderate amounts of the vitamin.
In these cases, we strongly recommend that you talk to your doctor before taking dietary supplements.
The vitamin in high doses has proved to be really dangerous in the following circumstances:
1. Predisposition to kidney stones
Oxalic acid is formed from part of ascorbic acid during metabolism. In relation to calcium, kidney stones made of calcium oxalate develop over time. By the way, men are affected more frequently than women.
2. Lack of glucose-6-phosphate dehydrogenase
This mainly hereditary G-6-PD deficit is also known as favism. In the case of a too high dose of vitamin C, it conceals hemolysis, which means that the red blood cells are destroyed.
With this strange disease, the body absorbs too much iron from food. High content of vitamin C in the blood further increases iron absorption, which aggravates the disease dangerously.
A final note
Before resorting to large-scale dietary supplements, and this also applies to the vitamin, you should get advice at the pharmacy or even better from your GP.