One of the things I love about medical studies at Bastyr University is the depth of nutrition knowledge that we aquire as a part of our required coursework. This quarter, I have been studying the micronutrients that are essential in our diet (because we can't make them in our own bodies) and I was struck by the vital importance of the misleadingly basic Vitamin C. We all get plenty of it, right? Well, I'm not so sure. It's in multivitamins, of course, and in oranges and juice, right? Well, yes, but it quickly degrades in juices and when exposed to light, and one orange has only 70 mg of vitamin C. But how much do we need? About 90 mg for men and 75 for women, so eating that orange will almost get you there. But how is that RDA (Recommended Daily Allowance) set? It's set to give us the amount of Vitamin C that will prevent the symptoms of Scurvy! I think I'm interested in doing more than avoiding Scurvy. I'd like to experience all the benefits of Vitamin C in my body. And there are so many!
Vitamin C is a critically important anti oxidant. In that role, in adds a hydrogen atom to free radicals that otherwise can damage our cells and tissues. Where do free radicals come from? They are made when oxygen reacts with ordinary things such as sunlight (UV radiation), ionizing radiation (x rays, air travel), cigarette smoke and air pollution (industrial activities all around us). And they are made INSIDE us when our bodies do normal things such as make energy for us (in our mitochondria) and kill pathogens for us (with hydrogen peroxide no less!). If we leave those free radicals alone, they tend to multiply. They link up and create more of themselves within us. This leads to cell degradation over time: aging is one clear example of free radical damage that we can see in the mirror: sun damage particularly. So what can we do about it? One thing we can do is keep up with our anti oxidants. They are the ingredients that nature has provided us to combat these damaging effects in our bodies. But we need to ingest them, because we don't make our own (as most mammals do).
Great sources of Vitamin C are found in sweet red peppers (141 mg per 1/2 cup!) and strawberries. Raw, of course. And remember, organic is your best bet here. It doesn't benefit us very much if we eat fruits that are tainted with residues of fungicides (strawberries) and pesticides (peppers). These are two of the foods that the Environmental Working Group (www.EWG.org) lists as #11 and 12 on their ranking of the Dirty Dozen: foods that contain the most pesticides, that you should buy organic instead.
I make sure I eat some food sources of Vitamin C every day. But personally I like to take one 500 mg vitamin C tablet every day, as a sort of insurance policy against free radicals. After all, the Vitamin C safe Upper Limit (UL) is 2000 mg per day, and that is set to avoid gastrointestinal distress. So my 500 mg tablet won't likely put me anywhere near that level, even with lots of fresh fruits and veggies in my diet. So, consider adding the misleadingly simple Vitamin C tablet as part of your arsenal against free radicals. It's cheap, and makes it easy to get a good amount of this vital anti-oxidant that will help support your fight against the effects of oxygen free radicals in your body. And fighting free radicals is just the beginning of what Vitamin C does for us. Another discussion is called for to talk about all the other things it does for us, like helping us to form collagen (there's our skin again) and other substances that are important to us like carnitine, tyrosine, norepinephrine, serotonin, calcitonin, oxytocin, Growth Hormone Releasing Factor and more!
So give some strawberries a try, and some fresh sweet red peppers, and consider adding a bit more Vitamin C to your day --- your cells with thank you!