Health Information CenterVitamin C

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Vitamin C is a water soluble white powder. It was shown, in 1932, to be the substance that cures scurvy. In the late eighteenth century English sailors carried limes on long voyages to ward off scurvy which led to them being given the nickname ‘limeys’. 

What does vitamin C do for your body?

Vitamin C is involved in over 300 biological processes in the body.

COLLAGEN - Vitamin C is necessary for the manufacture of collagen, the protein which forms the basis of connective tissue. The most abundant tissue in the body, connective tissue acts as a cementing substance between cells. It helps support and protect blood vessels, bones, joints, organs and muscles and forms a sizeable proportion of skin, tendons, the cornea of the eye, ligaments, cartilage, teeth and bone. Collagen  forms a protective barrier against infection and disease and promotes healing of wounds, fractures and  bruises.

ANTIOXIDANT - Vitamin C is the body’s most powerful water soluble antioxidant and plays a vital role  in protecting the body against oxidative damage. It neutralizes potentially harmful reactions in the watery parts of the body such as the blood and the fluid inside and surrounding cells. It helps protect LDL  cholesterol against free radical damage. This antioxidant action helps to protect against cancer, the effects of aging, heart disease and an array of other health problems.

HORMONES - Vitamin C is important in the synthesis of hormones by the adrenal glands.

CARDIOVASCULAR SYSTEM - Vitamin C plays a role in cholesterol production in the liver and in the conversion of cholesterol to bile acids for excretion. It lowers total blood cholesterol and harmful LDL cholesterol and raises beneficial HDL cholesterol. Vitamin C also increases the production of prostacyclin, which decreases the clumping of blood platelets and dilates blood vessels, therefore reducing the risk of  heart disease, atherosclerosis and stroke. Vitamin C also lowers blood pressure.

NERVOUS SYSTEM - Vitamin C plays a role in the conversion of tryptophan to serotonin, a neurotransmitter with many vital functions.

Absorption: Body tissue stores of vitamin C are small and easily saturated, with any excess excreted in two to three hours.

Deficiency: A lack of vitamin C leads eventually to scurvy. The symptoms are mainly due to poorly  formed collagen and include the breaking open of small blood vessels, the reddening and bleeding of gums, loose teeth, joint pains, dry scaly skin and blood vessel damage. Other symptoms include general  weakness, fluid retention, depression, and anemia.

Vitamin C deficiency can lead to slower wound healing, increased susceptibility to infections, male infertility and increased genetic damage to sperm cells which may lead to birth defects. It may also contribute to rheumatoid arthritis , diarrhea , and gastrointestinal disorders.

Scurvy and severe vitamin C deficiency are rare in Australia and New Zealand but marginal deficiencies may be relatively common and may play a role in the development of diseases such as cancer and heart disease.

Therapeutic effects: Vitamin C has a number of therapeutic effects:

CANCER - Vitamin C protects against cancer. Many studies have found a reduced risk of cancer in  people who have high vitamin C intakes (above150 mg or the amount in four ounces of orange juice). The protective effect seems to be strongest for cancers of the esophagus, larynx, mouth and pancreas. Vitamin C also  seems to provide some protection against cancers of the cervix, liver, stomach, rectum, breast and lungs.

Vitamin C may exert these anti cancer effects by acting as an antioxidant and shielding the genetic mechanism of the cell from damage that can lead to cancerous changes. Vitamin C can also neutralize cancer promoting chemical compounds called nitrosamines which are formed in the stomach from nitrite food additives and are also found in cigarette smoke. Vitamin C may also strengthen the immune system’s ability to track down and destroy pre-cancerous cells.

Vitamin C may also benefit cancer patients who are undergoing radiation treatment by enabling them to withstand greater doses of radiation with fewer side effects.

CARDIOVASCULAR DISEASE - Vitamin C may protect against heart disease by preventing the  oxidation of artery clogging LDL cholesterol. Studies have shown that high vitamin C intake is linked to reduced risk of heart disease. Vitamin C may also be of benefit in the treatment of mild high blood pressure, again lessening the risk of heart disease and stroke.

ASTHMA AND ALLERGY - There is some evidence that vitamin C may be of benefit in reducing the bronchial constriction and impaired breathing seen in asthma and allergic responses. This effect may be due to the antioxidant effect of vitamin C as oxidizing agents can increase allergic responses. Vitamin C may also improve lung and white blood cell function and decrease respiratory infections and hypersensitivity reactions by reducing histamine levels.

IMMUNITY - Vitamin C boosts immunity by increasing the production of B and T cells and other white blood cells, including those that destroy foreign microorganisms. It also increases interferon levels and antibody responses and has antiviral and antibacterial effects. These immune stimulating effects lead to improved resistance against infections. Vitamin C may reduce the duration of colds and the severity of cold symptoms such as sneezing, coughing and sniffling by reducing blood levels of histamine which can trigger tissue inflammation and runny noses. It may also protect the immune cells and surrounding tissue from  oxidative reactions that occur when cells fight bacteria.

CATARACTS - Many studies show that vitamin C may protect against cataracts, possibly by reducing ultra violet damage. Vitamin C is highly concentrated in the lenses of normal eyes which may contain 60 times the amount of vitamin C as the blood, while in lenses with cataracts the levels are much lower. Vitamin C may act to protect the lens from oxidative damage and protect enzymes within the lens that remove oxidation damaged proteins.

DIABETES - Increasing vitamin C intake in diabetics may improve blood sugar regulation in diabetics.The transport of vitamin C into cells is regulated by insulin and some of the problems of diabetes such as increased cholesterol and depressed immunity may be due to vitamin C deficiency.

OTHER BENEFITS - Vitamin C may also protect the skin from sun damage, improve response to stress including an improvement in athletic performance due to the effects on adrenal hormones. It may overcome some types of infertility and, in smokers, may help to prevent sperm abnormalities that can lead to birth defects. When given with vitamin K, vitamin C may be of benefit in treating morning sickness.

The all-round benefits of vitamin C to the human physiology have been known and utilized for centuries. In terms of its benefits in cancer treatment and prevention, we read the following from Phillip Day:
"Dr Linus Pauling, often known as the 'Father of Vitamin C' and twice awarded the Nobel Prize, declared that daily intake of up to 10 grams a day of the vitamin aids anticancer activity within the body. "Pauling was largely derided for making these declarations but, today, large doses of vitamin C are used by many practitioners for cancer patients in nutritional therapy, who believe Pauling was right and that the popular nutrient is indispensable to the body in its fight to regain health from cancer." , Phillip Day, "Cancer: Why We're Still Dying To Know The Truth", Credence Publications, 2000.

Vitamin C can protect against breast cancer. After reviewing 90 studies on the relationship between vitamin C and cancer, Gladys Block, PhD, at the University of California at Berkeley, concluded: "There is overwhelming evidence of the protective effect of vitamin C and other antioxidants against cancer of the breast."

And Geoffrey R. Howe, of the National Cancer Institute of Canada, reviewed 12 controlled case studies of diet and breast cancer and noted that vitamin C had the most consistent statistically significant relationship to the reduction of breast cancer risk. On the subject of the importance of mineral and vitamin supplements, a recent New York Times front-page article quoted Dr Geoffrey P. Oakley, Jr, at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta, as saying: "We, the physicians, were mistaken not to recommend vitamin supplements to our patients for so long. We need just to admit that, on this one, we were wrong.
Vitamin C helps in the body’s absorption of iron by helping convert dietary iron to a soluble form. It is also involved in the conversion of folic acid to its active state. Vitamin C deficiency may lead to increased excretion of vitamin B6 and vitamin B6 deficiency leads to low levels of vitamin C as can a deficiency of vitamin A. Vitamin C protects against the toxic effects of cadmium, copper, vanadium, cobalt, mercury and selenium. Large doses of vitamin C may lower vitamin B12, copper and selenium blood levels. Calcium and manganese supplements may decrease vitamin C excretion and vitamin C supplements may increase manganese absorption.

Exposure to cigarette smoke or air pollutants such as ozone and carbon monoxide may deplete vitamin C in the lungs.
Large doses of vitamin C may interfere with contraceptive pill absorption and reduce its effectiveness.
Aspirin, alcohol antibiotics and steroids may increase vitamin C requirements.
Vitamin C may diminish the response to some antidepressants, and the anticoagulant drug warfarin.

Vitamin C is also known as:

  ascorbic acid, ascorbate


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