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Benefits of Vitamin C

Why is vitamin C good for you?

The most well-known health benefit of blackcurrants is that they contain large amounts of vitamin C. Vitamins are substances we need to enable our bodies to live, grow and reproduce normally. Vitamin C is an essential nutrient - it cannot be made by the human body and we must therefore eat foods which contain it (1). Because the body breaks down vitamin C very quickly and does not store very much, we need to eat vitamin C containing foods regularly, preferably every day.

Reference: McCance & Widdowson, The Composition of Foods, 5th Ed, RSC & MAFF

We must consume a minimum amount of vitamin C to prevent scurvy. The recommended daily allowance (RDA) for vitamin C is 60 mg. This is well above the level required to prevent scurvy, to ensure that our bodies stay healthy. However, apart from the world's poorest countries, diets in the 21st century are very unlikely to contain less than this minimum amount.

Vitamin C looks after body tissue health

Vitamin C is needed by the body to make collagen, an important structural material in bones, teeth, skin, ligaments (that connect bones to other bones in joints), tendons (that connect muscles to bones) and cartilage (that helps to provide cushioning in joints).

Collagen is responsible for skin elasticity and its degradation leads to wrinkles. Adequate vitamin C is therefore necessary to maintain the health of all of these body tissues and deficiency can result in tooth loss, joint pains and problems with bone and connective tissue (2, 3).

Vitamin C helps iron absorption

Vitamin C helps the body absorb and use the iron we get from vegetables and cereals (4, 5, 6, 7). Iron is an important mineral because it enables blood to carry oxygen to all our bodily tissues. People who don't get enough iron from their food become anaemic.

Vitamin C boosts the immune system

Scientific studies have shown that vitamin C can boost many different parts of the immune system (8, 9, 10, 11, 12, 13, 14, 15). For example, vitamin C is essential for the functioning of white blood cells (16, 17).

Vitamin C is necessary for the immune system to function and extra vitamin C could give us more power to fight illness.

Vitamin C can help fight colds

It has not yet been proven whether or not vitamin C can prevent infections such as colds and flu (18, 19, 20). However, if you do catch a cold, vitamin C can help to reduce the symptoms and speed up your recovery (21, 22).

Some scientific studies suggest that levels of white blood cells and vitamin C in the body decrease when you suffer from a cold (23, 24, 25). Therefore, taking extra vitamin C can prevent the fall in vitamin C levels (26) which suggests that the body may need a greater amount of vitamin C during illness, especially when fighting an infection.

Vitamin C as a healthy antioxidant

Vitamin C also keeps us healthy by acting as an antioxidant (27, 28, 29), protecting our bodies from free radical damage. Scientists think that by consuming lots of antioxidants regularly, we can delay age-related diseases, which occur as a result of our organs "wearing out".

Research suggests that vitamin C can help to:

  • Improve memory in older people (30, 31)
  • Enable us to do more exercise for longer and recover from exercise better, by giving us healthy connective tissues e.g. ligaments, tendons, cartilage etc (32, 33, 34, 35, 36, 37)
  • Look after eyesight, by reducing oxidative damage to lens protein - an important cause of cataracts (38, 39, 40, 41, 42)
  • Protect our bodies against environmental pollutants by inactivating free radicals (43, 44, 45)
  • Preserve healthy teeth and gums and prevent periodontal disease by maintaining the resilience of gums towards bacteria (46, 47, 48, 49, 50)
References
  1. Department of Health. Dietary Reference values for Food Energy and Nutrients for the United Kingdom, Report on Health and Social Subjects 41. London: HMSO, 1991.
  2. Burri BJ, Jacob RA. Human metabolism and the requirement for Vitamin C, In: Packer L, Fuchs J, eds. Vitamin C in health and disease. New York: Marcel Dekker Inc, 1997:341-66.
  3. Gaby et a Vitamin intake and health. A scientific review New York: Marcel Dekker 1991;103-161.
  4. Hallberg L, Sandström B, Aggett, PJ. Iron, Zinc and Other Trace Elements. In: Garrow JS, James WPT, eds. Human Nutrition and Dietetics, 9th Edition. Edinburgh: Churchill Livingstone, 1993: 174-207.
  5. Hurrell RF. Bioavailability of Iron. European Journal of Clinical Nutrition 1997; 51, Suppl. 1: S4-S8.
  6. The Scientific Committee for Food. Reports of The Scientific Committee for Food (31st Series), Nutrient and Energy Intakes for the European Community (Opinion Expressed on 11 December, 1992). Directorate - General Industry. The Commission of the European Communities, 1993.
  7. The British Nutrition Foundation. Iron. Nutritional and Physiological Significance. The Report of the British Nutrition Foundation’s Task Force. London: Chapman and Hall, 1995.
  8. Anderson et al. The effect of increasing weekly doses of ascorbate on certain cellular and humoral immune functions in normal volunteers. Amer.J.Clin.Nutr 1980;33:71-76.
  9. Boxer et al. Enhancement of chemotactic response and microtubule assembly in human leukocytes by ascorbic acid. J.Cell.Physiol 1979; 100: 119-126.
  10. Siegal, Enhanced interferon response to murine leukaemia virus by ascorbic acid. Infect. Immunol. 1974;10:409-410.
  11. Washko et al. Ascorbic acid transport and accumulation in human neutrophils. J.Biol. Chem.1989;264:19882-19002.
  12. De-la-Fuente-Met al Immune function in aged women is improved by ingestion of vitamins C and E. Can J Physiol Pharmacol 1998:76 (4) 373-80.
  13. Patrone Effects of ascorbic acid on neutrophil function. Studies on normal and chronic granulomatous disease neutrophils. Acta Vitaminol. Enzymo. 1982;4:163-168.
  14. Basu, TK and Schorah, CJ1982. Vitamin C in Health and Disease. London: Croon Helm. Pp11-20 and pp54-57
  15. Prinz et al The effect of ascorbic acid supplementation on some parameters of the human immunological defense system. Int J. Vit. Nutr. Res 1997; 47:248-257
  16. Research Council. Recommended Dietary Allowances 10th Edition. Washington DC: National Academy Press, 1989.
  17. Jacob RA, Introduction. Three Eras of Vitamin Discovery. In: Harris JR, ed. Subcellular Biochemistry, Volume 25, Ascorbic Acid: Biochemistry and Biomedical Cell Biology. New York and London: Plenum Press, 1996: 1-16.
  18. Jariwalla RJ, Harakeh, S. Antiviral and Immunomodulatory Activities of Ascorbic Acid. In: Harris JR, ed. Subcellular Biochemistry, Volume 25, Ascorbic Acid: Biochemistry and Biomedical Cell Biology. New York and London: Plenum Press, 1996: 215-231.
  19. Hemilä H. Vitamin C and the Common Cold. British Journal of Nutrition 1992; 67: 3-16.
  20. Hemilä H. Vitamin C Intake and Susceptibility to the Common Cold. British Journal of Nutrition. 1997, 77: 59-72.
  21. Hemilä H. Vitamin C and the Common Cold. British Journal of Nutrition 1992; 67: 3-16.
  22. Hemilä H. Vitamin C Intake and Susceptibility to the Common Cold. British Journal of Nutrition. 1997, 77: 59-72.
  23. Hume R and Weyers E. Changes in Leucocyte Ascorbic Acid During the Common Cold. Scottish Medical Journal. 1973. 18: 3 – 7
  24. Wilson CWM and Loh HS. Common Cold and Vitamin C. The Lancet. 1973, 1: 638 – 641.
  25. Schwartz AR, Togo Y, Hornick RB, Tominaga S and Gleckman RA. Evaluation of the Efficacy of Ascorbic Acid in Prophylaxis of Induced Rhinovirus 44 Infection in Man. The Journal of Infectious Diseases. 1973, 128 (4): 500 – 505.
  26. Hume R and Weyers E. Changes in Leucocyte Ascorbic Acid During the Common Cold. Scottish Medical Journal. 1973. 18: 3 – 7
  27. The Scientific Committee for Food. Reports of The Scientific Committee for Food (31st Series), Nutrient and Energy Intakes for the European Community (Opinion Expressed on 11 December, 1992). Directorate - General Industry. The Commission of the European Communities, 1993.
  28. Riemersma RA. Epidemiology and the Role of Antioxidants in Preventing Coronary Heart Disease: a Brief Overview. Proceedings of the Nutrition Society 1994; 53: 59-65
  29. Rock CL, Jacob RA, Bowen PE. Update on the Biological Characteristics of Antioxidant Micronutrients: Vitamin C, Vitamin E and the Carotenoids. Journal of the American Dietetic Association 1996; 96: 693-702.
  30. Perrig WJ et al. The relation between antioxidants and memory performance in the old and very old. J Am Geriatr Soc 1997;45:718-24
  31. Masaki KH et al. Association of Vitamin E and C supplement use with cognitive function and dementia in elderly men. Neurology 2000; 54(6):1265-1272
  32. Rokitzki, et al. Dietary, serum and urine ascorbic acid status in male athletes. Int J Sports Med 1994; 15; 45-440.
  33. Fishbaine, B; Butterfield, G; Ascorbic Acid status of running and sedentary men. Intl J Vit Nutr Res. 1984; 54; 273.
  34. Phillips, C. and Yeowell, H. Vitamin C, collagen biosynthesis and agin. In: Vitamin C in Health and Disease eds: Lester Packer and Jurgen Fuchs, marcel Dekker, Inc. New York 1997;205-231.
  35. Keith RE, Vitamins and physical activity. In: Wolinsky, I, Hickson, JF eds. Nutrition in exercise and sport. 2nd Ed. CRC Press, Bocca Raton, FL, 1994. 159-183.
  36. Thompson D et al Prolonged Vitamin C supplementation and recovery from demanding exercise. Int J Sport Nutr Exerc Metah 2001:11(4):466-81
  37. Kaminski M et al An effect of ascorbic acid on delayed-onset muscle soreness. Pain 1992;50:317-21.
  38. Lohmann, Ascorbin acid and cataract Ann.N.Y.Acad.Sci. 1987; 498:307-311
  39. Hankinson et al. Nutrient intake and cataract extraction in women: a prospective study. Br Med J 1992;305;355-359.
  40. Leske et al. The lens opacities case-control study group. Risk factors for cataracts. Arch Ophthalmol 1991;109:244-251.
  41. Taylor et al. Potential role of exogenous nutrients in modifying oxidative damage in the eye. Investigative Ophthalmology & Visual Science 1995;36:s192
  42. Reiss et al. Ascorbic acid levels in the aqueous humor of nocturnal diurnal mammals. Arch. Opthalmol 1986;104:753-755.
  43. Halliwell B. Vitamin C: antioxidant or pro-oxidant in vivo. Free Radic Res 1996;25:439-54.
  44. Frei B et al Ascorbate: the most effective antioxidant in human blood plasma. Adv Exp Med Biol 1990;264:155-63
  45. Gaby et al. Vitamin intake and health. A scientific review. New York: Marcel Dekker 1991;103-161.
  46. Pussinen P J et al. Periodontitis Is Associated with a Low Concentration of Vitamin C in Plasma Clin. Diagn. Lab. Immunol 2003;10(5):897-902
  47. Holmes L Effects of smoking and/or Vitamin C on crevicular fluid flow in clinically healthy gingival, Quintessence Int. 1990;21(3):191-5
  48. Vaananen MK et al Dental caries and mutans streptococci in relation to plasma ascorbic acid. Scand J Dent Res 1994;102:103-8
  49. Vaananen M et al. Periodontal health related to plasma ascorbic acid 1993;89 1-2, 51-9
  50. Rubinoff AB et al Vitamin C and oral health. J Can Dent Assoc. 1989 55(9):705-7