Vitamin C, or ascorbic acid, is an essential nutrient for the healthy growth and development of cells and tissues. Ascorbate is an anti-oxidant, effectively nullifying the damage volatile oxygen free radical molecules do to our DNA. It is therefore widely endorsed as a therapeutic treatment for a variety of ailments including the common cold and influenza, amongst others. It also enhances our immune system, rebuilds bone and assists in the healing process. The eminent chemist, and complementary medicine advocate, Linus Pauling was an early champion of its use as a dietary supplement and in the treatment of cancer. Ongoing research has supported this, demonstrating selective toxicity of vitamin C for cancer cells. Vitamin C also aids in the formation of collagen, the primary protein of connective tissues in the body i.e. skin, bone, cartilage, tendons, teeth.
The following foodstuffs are rich in Vitamin C:
- Fruits - especially citrus fruits such as oranges and grapefruit
- Kiwi fruit
- Sweet peppers (capsicum)
A balanced diet containing a selection of the above foods should contain enough vitamin C to meet ones daily requirements. However, vitamin C is easily damaged in the food preparation stage, so care should be taken when storing and cooking foodstuffs i.e. food should be stored in a fridge and not chopped or processed excessively. People with wounds or recovering from surgery may need more vitamin C to support the healing process. Anyone who consumes alcohol or smokes on a regular basis may have a vitamin C deficiency. Alcohol inhibits vitamin C absorption in the body whilst cigarettes deplete vitamin C levels. In extreme cases, alcoholics may get scurvy, a disease caused by a vitamin C deficiency.
The most common symptoms of a vitamin C overdose are diarrhoea and vomiting. It can also lead to abdominal pain and jaundice. Iron poisoning may also result from an overdose of vitamin C. This is because vitamin C increases the absorption rate of certain nutrients, such as iron and calcium, in the body. There is an ongoing debate as to the efficacy of vitamin C supplements. Consult your doctor, accredited dietitian, naturopath or nutritionist if in doubt.