Importance of Vitamin C (ascorbic Acid) Supplements in Your Diet

by G Kharchenko

Posted on Tuesday 12th of July 2011

Although vitamin C (ascorbic acid) is the most popular vitamin supplement in the United States, in many respects it is the most controversial. Over the years many respected scientists have shared polarized views on the importance of vitamin C supplementation to human health. While researchers and experts may argue just how much vitamin C we need to consume, one thing about vitamin C is not controversial its essential role in human nutrition.
Food Sources

While most people think of citrus fruits as the best source of vitamin C, vegetables also contain high levels, especially broccoli, peppers, potatoes, and brussels sprouts. Exposure to air destroys Vitamin C, so it is important to eat fresh foods as quickly as possible. Although a salad from a salad bar is a healthier lunch choice than a hamburger, the vitamin C content of the fruits and vegetables from a salad bar is only a fraction of what it would be in a fresh salad. For example, freshly sliced cucumbers, if left standing, lose 41 percent and 49 percent of their vitamin C content within the first 3 hours. A sliced cantaloupe left uncovered in the refrigerator loses 35 percent of its vitamin C content in less than 24 hours.

Deficiency Signs and Symptoms

While most other animals can manufacture their own vitamin C, the human body does not have this luxury. Throughout history humans have suffered from the vitamin C-deficiency disease known as scurvy. The classic symptoms of scurvy are bleeding gums, poor wound healing, and extensive bruising. In addition to these symptoms, susceptibility to infection, hysteria, and depression are also hallmark features.

Scurvy affected many people in ancient Egypt, Greece, and Rome. Scurvy undoubtedly molded world history because rations supplied during military campaigns and long ocean voyages seldom contained adequate amounts of vitamin C.

During some parts of history, scurvy hit a population just like the plague. Between 1556 and 1857, for example, 114 epidemics of scurvy were reported during the winter months, when fresh fruits and vegetables are not available. Even more severe was the devastating scurvy associated with long sea voyages.

Some explorers, like Jacques Cartier in 1856, learned that eating certain foods helped cure scurvy. Cartier's crew ate spruce tree needles; other crews ate oranges, lemons, limes, and berries. In 1742, British physician James Lind wrote the first real scientific discussion about the possibility that scurvy was a dietary deficiency. In his classic experiment, Lind demonstrated that patients given lemon juice recovered from scurvy. Although some explorers adopted Lind's finding by rationing citrus fruits on long voyages Captain James Cook's crew avoided scurvy altogether in his three long voyages between 1768 and 1779 the British Navy did not adopt the use of lime juice rations for its crews until 1804, some 62 years after Lind's discovery. Today's mainstream medical community appears to have adopted the same timeline for integrating scientific information about the importance of nutrition.

Vitamin C was identified as the "antiscorbutic principle" and was first isolated by Albert Sent-Gyorgyi in 1928. Nearly 70 years later, researchers are still discovering health-promoting benefits for ascorbic acid. Although scurvy is now rare in our society, subclinical or marginal vitamin C deficiency is common, especially in the elderly. The following table illustrates the percentages of population groups with unequivocally low vitamin C levels as determined by measuring the vitamin C content of the buffy coat layer of blood. The buffy coat consists of all the cellular components of blood, but primarily white blood cells.

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