Vitamic C: The Versatile Nutrient

A daily dose of vitamin C can help you stay well and keep a host of ailments at bay

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Vitamin C, also known as ascorbic acid, is one of the most publicised, yet less understood, of all vitamins.

Linus Pauling, PhD, the only two-time winner of the Nobel Prize, was the first to realise vitamin C's importance in the maintenance of a healthy immune system. In 1970, he proposed that regular intake of vitamin C in amounts far higher than Recommended Daily Allowance [RDA] of 75-90 mg could help prevent and shorten the duration of common cold.

Though the medical community immediately voiced its strong disagreement with the idea, many people took to Dr Pauling's observation and began taking large amounts of vitamin C. Most of them also immediately noticed a big drop in the frequency and severity of their colds.

Medical research has confirmed Dr Pauling's original idea. Not only does a high vitamin C intake markedly reduce the severity of a cold, it also effectively prevents secondary viral or bacterial complications.

Vitamin C works by stimulating the immune system and protecting it from damage caused by free radicals. It is a known fact that constant exposure to toxins, like lead or benzene, drains your vitamin C reserve in the body. Research suggests that vitamin C deficiency harms the body's natural process of detoxification just as well. Therapists often recommend a good intake of vitamin C through natural food sources. Alternatively, they may also prescribe a nutritive pill that takes care of your vitamin C requirement - and, also promotes detox.

How much is good enough

Experts believe that a regular intake of 1,000 mg/day or more of vitamin C is safe - this is in sharp contrast to RDA of 75-90 mg per day for adults. So what's the right dose? How much do we need to take on a daily basis, and with safety?

To answer this, it is important to realise that RDA is not based on what is required for optimum health. It is more related to the amount needed to prevent scurvy - the most obvious deficiency picture caused due to lack of vitamin C. As a matter of fact, RDA is actually based on the vitamin C content of average diet.

Variety is what you need

In spite of all its health benefits, this miracle vitamin cannot be manufactured by the body. It needs to be ingested.

Eating a variety of foods that contain vitamin C is the best way to get an adequate amount of the nutrient each day.

The main dietary sources of vitamin C are fresh fruits and green leafy vegetables

  • Amla [Indian gooseberry] is one of the richest sources of vitamin C both in the fresh as well as in dry form
  • Guava is another cheap but rich source of this vitamin
  • Germinating pulses contain good amounts [Traces occur in fresh meat and fish]
  • Roots and tubers contain small amounts.

If you need to get your dose of vitamin C through natural sources, stock up fresh lime, oranges and gooseberry.

In order to get the most vitamin C from your foods, eat them promptly after preparation. Exposure to light and oxygen can rapidly decrease the amount of vitamin C in fresh fruits and vegetables. The nutrient is also lost during preparation, cooking or storage.

Benefits

Studies suggest that vitamin C may be helpful in:

  • Boosting immune system function
  • Maintaining healthy gums
  • Relieving eye pressure in conditions like glaucoma
  • Improving visual clarity for those with uveitis [inflammation of the middle part of the eye]
  • Slowing the progression of Parkinson's disease
  • Reducing the bad effects of pollution
  • Lowering blood pressure
  • Treating allergy-related conditions, such as asthma, eczema, and hay fever [allergic rhinitis]
  • Relieving pain from pancreatitis
  • Reducing the bad effects of sun exposure, such as sunburn, or redness, and skin cancer
  • Easing the problem of dry mouth, a common side-effect of anti-depressant medications
  • Healing burns and wounds
  • Forming collagen, a protein that gives structure to bones, cartilage, muscle, and blood vessels
  • Absorbing iron and maintaining capillary, bone, and tooth health.

So, the next time you catch a cold, just pile your plate with citrus fruits, papaya, strawberries, cantaloupe, and pineapple, and ensure you get your dose of this wonder nutrient.

Things to Do

It is best to use fresh vitamin C every time, and not allow it to stale.

Here are a few ideas:

  • Serve fruits and vegetables raw whenever possible
  • Steam, boil, or simmer foods in very small amounts of water, or microwave them for the shortest time possible
  • Cook potatoes with their skins.
  • Be sure to wash the dirt off the outside of the potato
  • Refrigerate prepared juices and store them for no more than 2-3 days
  • Store cut, raw fruits, and vegetables, in an air-tight container and refrigerate - do not soak or store in water. Vitamin C is a water-soluble, anti-oxidant vitamin. It dissolves easily in water.

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