Vitamin C is one of the most well known nutrients and one of the earliest to be discovered. It was found to be the healing chemical to cure scurvy. Scurvy is an unpleasant condition that affected sailors and pirates, who were out at sea for long periods without fresh fruits and vegetables. Scurvy could progress from skin spots and bleeding gums to open oozing wounds and teeth loss. A British surgeon, James Lind, discovered way back in the mid 1700’s that citrus fruits could heal scurvy, some time before the discovery of vitamin C in the 1930’s. The chemical name of vitamin C – ascorbic acid – actually translates from Latin as “without scurvy”. Since then, vitamin C has been proven to have many more important functions for our health.
One of the most poignant vitamin C benefits is its antioxidant properties. As a water soluble antioxidant, vitamin C, protects us from free radical attacks in water based cells. Free radicals are unstable molecules that damage our cells and can cause a range of health problems including cancer, heart disease, premature aging, diabetes and chronic inflammatory conditions. Protein, carbohydrate and DNA molecules are examples of the cells that vitamin C specifically protects.
Vitamin C is an essential part of a healthy immune system. Our ability to fight off foreign invasions from viruses, bacteria and other diseases, would be seriously jeopardized without it. Vitamin C benefits the immune system in several ways:
1) Collagen production – Vitamin C is an essential part of the production of collagen. Collagen is the most abundant protein in the body and is referred to as the “glue that holds the body together”. It has a fibrous nature and binds together skin, bone, muscles, cartilage and tendons, giving them strength and firmness. In fact, scurvy is the breaking down of collagen as a result of vitamin C deficiency and explains its previously stated symptoms. Skin Collagen is also the first line of defense against foreign invaders, blocking many bacteria and viruses from entering the body in the first place.
2) Increasing our white blood cell count – White blood cells are actually a variety of different cells with specific functions for fighting disease and protecting us from foreign bodies. In particular, vitamin C benefits the production of white blood cells called neutrophils and interferons. Neutrophils are the most abundant type of white blood cell and are a key defense against bacterial and fungal infections. Interferons are antibodies that are released in response to pathogens such as bacteria, viruses and parasites. Interferons also communicate with other members of the immune system that eradicate tumors.
There are a variety of health problems that fall under the umbrella of heart disease. Although cardiovascular disease is often used interchangeably with heart disease, it relates more specifically to problems with blood vessels that effect the heart. Fortunately, there has been a considerable amount of research conducted about how C vitamin benefits heart disease. (The health benefits of juicing include vitamin C content and protection from heart disease.)
Vasolidation is the contracting and relaxing rhythm of blood vessels. Artherosclerosis, angina, congestive heart failure, diabetes, congestive heart failure, high blood pressure and high cholesterol are all linked to impaired vasolidation. However, there has been many studies that consistently show taking vitamin C in doses of 500mg per day benefited all of these conditions by improving vasolidation.
Stroke – One prospective study followed 20,649 people over a period of 10 years. The top 25% of the group in respect to having the highest blood levels of vitamin C were 42% less likely to suffer a stroke than those in the lowest 25% of the group.