Diet & Exercise: Vitamin C — Not just a good way to fight a cold

Published 8:00 am Friday, May 4, 2018

Vitamin C, or “ascorbic acid”, was discovered in 1912, isolated first by Hungarian biochemists Albert Szent-Gyorgi and Walter Norman Haworth in 1928 (both of who, in 1937, won Nobel Prizes in physiology and medicine and chemistry, respectively) and in 1933 became the first vitamin to be chemically produced.

Although not discovered, vitamin C has been known for over 400 years. Early sailors learned carrying citrus fruits (because of their vitamin C content) prevented “scurvy.” Scurvy is a disease caused by vitamin C deficiency. Symptoms include weakness, tiredness, and sore arms and legs.

Vitamin C is also on the World Health Organization Model List of Essential Medicines.

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Just about everyone knows vitamin C is good for us, but here are a few things you might not know.

Most animals can produce their own vitamin C, but humans, primates, bats and guinea pigs can’t, so they must ingest it.

Although naturally abundant, vitamin C is relatively delicate and can be destroyed through grilling and frying foods. Boiling doesn’t actually destroy vitamin C, but because it leeches easily into water, if the water is poured off, the nutrient benefits are lost.

Research has been ongoing for years with the notion vitamin C was a treatment for the common cold, but evidence has been inconsistent. It’s probably a good idea to take vitamin C when you have a cold, though, because of all the benefits this vitamin provides.

Here are a few:

• Lowers risk for certain cancers. Studies in animals and cancer cell cultures suggests high concentrations of vitamin C might prevent and treat cancer. Also, some research showed individuals who received high dose vitamin C and conventional treatment had a slower progression of the disease and, the side effects of chemotherapy were less pronounced.

• Vitamin C can improve cholesterol levels. A 2008 article published in the “Journal of Chiropractic Medicine” reported that vitamin C supplementation can reduce LDL (bad) cholesterol, and lower triglycerides (fat in the blood). Also, according to “Nutrition Journal,” vitamin C can protect LDL cholesterol from oxidation, which can prevent as much cholesterol from building up in the bloodstream.

• Controlling allergies. Vitamin C has been shown to lower histamine levels in the bloodstream. Histamines are chemicals your immune system makes to respond to threats like pollen, pet dander, or dust, but an overreaction of histamine causes allergy symptoms. 2,000 mg of vitamin C can cut histamine levels 40 percent, helping reduce allergy symptoms.

• Increasing white blood cell counts. White blood cells are cells of the immune system that protect the body from infectious diseases and foreign invaders. Vitamin C helps the body synthesize or make white blood cells. Vitamin C also increases levels of “interferon” the antibody that coats the surfaces of cells that stops viruses from entering them to begin with.

• Vitamin C protects against cognitive impairment. One University of Hawaii 10-year-long study of Japanese-American men showed the long-term benefit of supplementing with vitamins E and C. At the end of the study, the men had an 88 percent lower chance of developing vascular dementia and mixed dementia. Vascular dementia is a form of dementia caused by stroke. Mixed dementia is a condition where more than one type of dementia occurs in the brain simultaneously.

According to the Office of Dietary Supplements, the recommended daily allowance of vitamin C is birth to 6 months: 40 mg, infants 7-12 months: 50 mg, children 1-3 years: 15 mg, children 4-8 years: 25 mg, children 9-13 years 45 mg, teens 14-18 (boys): 75 mg, teens 14-18 (girls): 65 mg, adults (men): 90 mg, adults (women): 75 mg, pregnant teens: 80 mg, pregnant women: 85 mg, breastfeeding (teens): 115 mg, breastfeeding (women): 120 mg.

One interesting fact about vitamin C is the more you take at one time, the less you absorb. Your body absorbs 70 to 90 percent when you take 30 to 180 mg, but higher doses like one gram drop off dramatically, as absorption levels are less than 50 percent.

Most fruits and vegetables contain vitamin C, but foods high in this nutrient include Kiwi, papaya, guava, black currant, citrus fruits (oranges, limes, lemons, grapefruits, etc.), strawberries, sweet peppers, parsley, tomatoes, broccoli, potatoes, bananas and carrots.

David Crocker, of Landrum, has been a nutritionist and master personal trainer for 30 years. Diet or exercise question? Email me at or text to 864-494-6215.