Vitamin C is more than essential for health-it's integral to life itself. It helps maintain our blood vessels, and plays key roles in energy production, mood, and skin, bone, and cartilage maintenance.
Alias: Chemists call vitamin C ascorbic acid. As a dietary supplement, it comes in many different forms, including ascorbic acid, Ester-C, and buffered C.
Benefits: Over the past several years, research has revealed multifaceted benefits to vitamin C.
- Cell Regulator. In recent studies, vitamin C alone (out of 880 substances) prompted the conversion of generic cells into heart, brain, and bone cells. In one study, newly formed heart cells actually started pulsating when viewed through a microscope.
- Energy. Your body needs vitamin C to make L-carnitine, which helps you burn fat for energy. Researchers at the National Institutes of Health reported that fatigue was one of the first signs of vitamin C depletion. In one study, 44 workers received 6 grams of vitamin C daily. After two weeks, their fatigue had decreased by almost one-third.
- Skin and Bone. You need vitamin C to make collagen, the predominant protein in the body. Collagen forms part of all our tissues, including skin, organs, cartilage, and bone. Some research has found that lotions containing vitamin C can improve skin tone and reduce fine wrinkles. Another study reported that vitamin C reduces the risk of bone fractures.
- Moods and Mental Health. Vitamin C is needed to manufacture several important mood-enhancing neurotransmitters, including dopamine, norepinephrine, and epinephrine. Given this role, it's not surprising that one of the first signs of vitamin C deficiency is irritability. A recent study in Montreal found that almost two out of every three patients in an acute medical ward had low or deficient levels of vitamin C. Taking 1,000 mg of vitamin C daily led to significant reductions in anger, anxiety, and depression.
- Infection Fighter. Vitamin C really can't prevent the common cold, but it can reduce symptoms and duration by about one-third. According to a review of studies, the most beneficial dosage range is 2,000-6,000 mg, spread out over the course of a day.
- Cancer Treatment. Considerable research now indicates that large doses of vitamin C are helpful as an adjunct therapy for cancer patients. Under these circumstances, the ideal method of administration is intravenous, but oral vitamin C can help, too. Ten grams (10,000 mg) of oral vitamin C daily is particularly helpful in reducing nausea, improving appetite, and enhancing overall quality of life in cancer patients.
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Background Check: Doctors and dietitians have long known that scurvy is a sign of vitamin C deficiency. The disease involves extreme fatigue, bruising, and bleeding from orifices and old skin injuries. Scurvy, however, isn't the first sign of vitamin C deficiency—it is the final set of symptoms before death.
Gleanings: Nearly all animals make their own vitamin C from glucose. But human ancestors lost this ability some 25 million years ago, so we have to obtain vitamin C through our diets. How much? Based on other animals, a 150-pound human may need anywhere from 2,000 to 13,000 mg daily-more if stressed by illness.
Heads Up: Taking too much vitamin C at once will loosen stools, which could be a benefit to people who are constipated. The late Robert Cathcart III, MD, suggested using the "bowel tolerance" method for determining your ideal dosage. Take vitamin C supplements three to four times daily, but keep the dosage a little below the amount that loosens your stools.
What Should You Take: One often-quoted study found that people can't absorb more than 200 mg daily, but that was based on just seven healthy young men. The researchers noted that their findings did not apply to women, older people, or those with chronic health problems. Consider taking 1,000 mg with each meal.
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Sharon wasn't just tired all of the time. She was fatigued and irritable. She healed slowly from bruises and cuts. And she had developed fine wrinkles on her face at a relatively young age. Now, at age 40, her joints were starting to hurt.
It might seem hard to believe that just one supplement could turn Sharon's life around, but it did. She started taking vitamin C—3 grams daily—and within a month, all of her health problems eased up. That was such a motivator that Sharon tried taking a couple of other supplements (including a multivitamin and CoQ10), began paying attention to the quality of food she ate and started a regular exercise program.