Vitamin C, also known as ascorbic acid, is an easily accessible water-soluble vitamin found in various fruits and vegetables. It is renowned for its antioxidant and immune-supporting properties. Vitamin C serves as a key co-factor for approximately 15 enzymatic systems in the body. This nutrient boasts a wide range of actions and contributes to the overall well-being of the organism.
Vitamin C as an Antioxidant
Oxidative stress is a condition characterized by an excessive level of free radicals and reactive oxygen species in the body, which can cause damage to cells and tissues. These free radicals are generated during various processes such as metabolic activity, exposure to toxins and pollutants, and the use of certain medications.
Vitamin C plays a vital role in combating oxidative stress as it acts as a reducing agent. This means that it can donate electrons to other molecules that have been damaged by free radicals. Vitamin C effectively “recharges” other antioxidants, such as vitamin E, by converting them back from their oxidized forms to active antioxidants. This enhances the effectiveness of both vitamins in fighting oxidative stress in the body.
The damages caused by free radicals or reactive oxygen species have a wide-ranging impact on the body and can lead to various issues. Nevertheless, even small amounts of vitamin C can be effective in mitigating the impact of oxidative stress.
Additionally, the reducing potential of vitamin C makes dietary iron more easily absorbable. When we consume iron in the form of Fe3+, vitamin C converts it to Fe2+, which is more readily absorbed by the body. The combination of vitamin C and iron is crucial for optimal absorption of iron from plant sources and can be a useful strategy in treating iron-deficiency anemia.
Vitamin C for Immune Support
Vitamin C stimulates the production and function of leukocytes – the white blood cells. Two important subgroups of leukocytes are neutrophils and lymphocytes, which are responsible for the immune defense of the body. These cells demonstrate the ability to accumulate high concentrations of vitamin C intracellularly, which protects them from oxidative damage. This protection is especially valuable during the activation of the immune system when reactive oxygen species are released to destroy pathogens as part of the normal immune response. Vitamin C deficiency is associated with immune dysfunction and increased susceptibility to infections.
Vitamin C Deficiency
In comparison to many other animals, which can synthesize vitamin C in their tissues, humans lack the necessary enzymatic potential to perform this synthesis and therefore must obtain vitamin C from their diet. Approximately half of adults do not meet the recommended intake of vitamin C. For healthy adult men, health specialists recommend an intake of 90 milligrams (mg) daily, while for women, the recommended dose is 75 mg daily. These doses are set for individuals with normal needs. The requirements for vitamin C increase during pregnancy, lactation, and in other high-risk groups.
Although vitamin C deficiency is rare, it can still occur in people with limited nutrition or those engaged in certain unhealthy habits, such as smoking. Studies examining vitamin C levels in smokers have shown reduced plasma and white blood cell levels of vitamin C due to oxidative stress associated with smoking. In such cases, an additional 35 mg of vitamin C daily is recommended.
One of the essential functions of vitamin C is related to the production and maintenance of collagen in the body. Collagen is the most abundant protein in the body and is found in blood vessels, connective tissues, and bones. Vitamin C deficiency can lead to a condition called scurvy, where an individual develops various issues related to collagen biosynthesis, such as:
- Slow wound healing
- Appearance of bruises
- Gum problems (gingivitis)
- Hair loss
- Tooth loss
These symptoms are linked to the reduced ability of the body to synthesize and maintain normal collagen levels. If not corrected, vitamin C deficiency can lead to serious health problems.
Sources of Vitamin C
Vitamin C is readily accessible and can be obtained through the consumption of fresh fruits and vegetables. Citrus fruits such as oranges, lemons, limes, as well as peppers, berries, and kiwis, are exceptionally rich sources of vitamin C. The fruits of acerola are an outstanding source of vitamin C. Just one acerola berry can provide the daily recommended intake of vitamin C for women and nearly the entire recommended dose for men. Camu Camu is another source of vitamin C with a significant content of approximately 2.5 grams per 100 grams of fruit.
Some studies suggest that the bioavailability and impact of vitamin C from natural sources may be stronger than those of its synthetic analogs. This is because natural sources contain other beneficial phytochemicals. The synergy between polyphenols and other phytochemicals may enhance the effectiveness of vitamin C. However, more research is needed to fully understand the complex relationships between plant-based and synthetic sources of vitamin C and their contributions to human health. Epidemiological studies show that increased consumption of plant-based sources of vitamin C has positive effects in preventing various diseases.
Recent studies highlight the potential benefits of vitamin C for cardiovascular health, combating age-related macular degeneration, and cataracts. Higher intake of fresh fruits and vegetables is associated with specific forms of cancer prevention, likely due to their high vitamin C content.
Although further research is needed to unlock the full potential of vitamin C, some of its beneficial properties have already been established. It possesses a potent antioxidant capacity, helping the body cope with oxidative stress and the cell damage associated with it. Vitamin C plays a crucial role in the immune system, modulating the body’s inflammatory response and maintaining its functions in optimal condition.
Furthermore, vitamin C is involved in tissue maintenance, as it supports collagen synthesis. Inadequate intake of vitamin C can lead to various issues, including delayed wound healing, hair loss, and other health disorders related to the weakening of the body’s structural support.
In conclusion, vitamin C is of utmost importance and offers diverse benefits for health and well-being. Its antioxidant properties, role in immune function, and ability to maintain tissue structure make it an essential element in our healthy dietary regimen. Scientific research underscores the significance of incorporating vitamin C into our daily diet to protect the body from various age-related ailments.