Many benefits of vitamin C have been identified since the consumption of citrus fruit was first recognised as the immediately effective cure and preventative for the scurvy which so dreadfully afflicted the long distance sailors of a few centuries ago.
Numerous studies have recognised the vitamin as a possible protector against coronary heart disease, stroke, atherosclerosis, hypertension and cancer, to name but a few, and it is possible that all of these effects stem ultimately from vitamin C’s acknowledged role as a powerful anti-oxidant, active in preventing the free radical damage which is a known cause of premature ageing and many chronic degenerative diseases.
So the absence of acute deficiency diseases such as scurvy in modern affluent societies should not be taken as implying that the typical Western diet contains an adequate intake of vitamin C for optimum long-term health.
The United States Recommended Dietary Allowance (RDA) for vitamin C is 90 mg per day for a healthy, non-smoking man and 75 mg for a woman. But these suggested requirements are increased to 125mg and 110 mg respectively in the case of smokers, a tacit acknowledgement of the increased requirement for this vitamin which increased toxic stress places on the body. But these RDAs nevertheless appear to be set at a level sufficient only to avoid outright deficiency disease.
To be sure of obtaining all the optimum benefits of vitamin C, the authoritative Linus Pauling Institute has recommended a daily minimum intake of at least 400 mg. This amount has been shown to achieve saturation levels of the vitamin within the body’s tissues in healthy young adults who are non-smokers. To get this in perspective, even the consumption of the recommended five daily servings of fruits and vegetables may provide just 200 mg of vitamin C, whilst even commercial multi-vitamin supplements typically provide only around 60 mg.
But the real story’s actually even worse than this, not only because all too few people actually manage to consume the recommended quantities of fruit and vegetables, but because the nutritional quality of those that we do consume is poor, and getting worse.
As long ago as 1936, Senate Document 264 noted that the poor quality of American farm soils was leading to widespread nutritional deficiencies, and the 1992 Earth Summit reported that mineral concentrations in US farm soils were 85% lower than those of a hundred years ago.
Nor does the problem lie just in the soil. The modern Western diet’s preference for highly refined grains, and the treatment of fruits and vegetables with preservatives, dyes, pesticides and even radiation is a proven disaster for vitamin and mineral retention, as well as a significant toxic assault on the body.
Indeed, the problem for us in the twenty-first century is that our environment seems as though it might have been expressly designed for ill-health. Daily we’re exposed to a kind of toxic soup of pollutants such as industrial emissions, car exhausts, pesticides, herbicides, dyes and all kinds of everyday household chemicals. But as the liver works ever harder in an increasingly desperate struggle to detoxify the body, an unwelcome side effect is that it produces enormous quantities of the free radicals which are amongst the chief contributors to premature ageing and degenerative disease.
In these adverse circumstances it can only make sense to ensure that the body is as lavishly provided as possible with the top quality anti-oxidants of which vitamin C is certainly one of the most important.
Fortunately, high dosages of vitamin C are readily available as supplements and fortunately, too, it seems that the manufactured kind of l-ascorbic acid (vitamin C) is chemically identical to that obtained naturally. This is not in any way to deny the importance of healthy eating, or to suggest that it doesn’t make sense to try and eat the recommended five daily servings of fruit and vegetables, because these contain a myriad of trace nutrients which operate synergistically within the body, and which all need to be present for optimum health.
It does suggest, however, that to rely on diet alone, however apparently healthy, may well be to risk missing out on the vital anti-oxidant properties of vitamin C which may in time be reflected in chronic, degenerative, if not acute, disease. It should be noted as well, that as a water-soluble compound, any excess vitamin C is harmlessly excreted by the body.
So with all the health benefits of vitamin C at stake, it surely makes sense to err on the side of taking in too much rather than too little.