Vitamin C: The Antioxidant which you are not getting enough of, RDAs be damned

As the summer months have drawn to an ignominious end by opening the gates to allow the cold weather in, there’s one concern lingering in the backs of people’s minds: flu season. Our vision is peppered by advertisements for flu shot centers, and eventually by sheer annoyance we capitulate and stroll in to the nearest pharmacy to grab one.

 

(Or not… I contend they aren’t strictly necessary if one overhauls his or her immune system and practices some basic gestures of mindfulness like washing hands more often, etc. This of course teasingly alludes to future content on how to overhaul that immune system).

 

In my experience, I’ve seen some intrepid folks go into battle with this surge of sickness armed with gallons of orange juice, to take advantage of the copious Vitamin C packed into everyone’s favorite morning refresher (paired with champagne of course). We’re talking chugging a gallon a day or more of this stuff.

 

Firstly, I’d NEVER recommend a recourse like that to prevent illness – there’s way, way too much sugar in orange juice to ever merit consuming it in that baffling amount. Secondly, here’s some deep science to settle the debate of loading Vitamin C in supplemental ascorbic acid form:

 

Studies show that C’s prevention and treatment of illness onset vary wildly in efficacy, but the general consensus being arrived at is that chronic supplementation of a therapeutic dosage will reduce expression of symptoms of colds and flus, whereas reactionary supplementation (reaching for the bottle only when you’re starting to feel ill) does, in the exact words of the examining clinical studies, “diddly shit” [1]. So, it’s really one of those ‘give it a shot and see’ type deals.

 

I’m not here to sell Vitamin C as a panacea the way certain Nobel laureates once did (ahem Linus Pauling). But C is not totally a snake oil potion either. It has its uses, and I contend that the Recommended Dietary Allowance (RDA) for Vitamin C is woefully undervalued.

 

Hell, the RDAs in general are 100% obsolete, having been drafted to govern nutrient intakes for sustenance diets in the 1940s – ya know, so convicts and orphans wouldn’t keel over from fucking scurvy. Indeed, as long as you are meeting the RDA for Vitamin C, you won’t die of scurvy. End of story. Nutritionally speaking, you’re putting in the minimal effort. Slacker.

 

This minimum balance fails to tap into C’s impressive repertoire of ameliorating health effects. For starters, C plays a prominent role in the synthesis and maintenance of collagen in your body, the connective protein tissue that binds damn near everything that gets you moving – tendons, ligaments, skin, cartilage, bones, intervertebral discs – as well as select other spots, like the cornea, blood vessels, the gut, and teeth dentin.

 

Additionally, collagen is found in nontrivial amounts in the muscle tissue. Think of it like superglue, except in a form your skin and body likes and not in a form which leaves you screaming FUCK I JUST GLUED MY FINGERS TOGETHER. Turns out that Vitamin C is a major cofactor (the physiological equivalent of an assist) in the production of collagen from its predecessor, procollagen.

 

Secondly, the kingpin of the antioxidant gang, glutathione, requires Vitamin C in its synthesis pathway. Think of glutathione as a watchful protector, a silent guardian … a dark knight. And think of its precursor(s), like Vitamin C, as all of the embezzled R & D money that was poured into the science machinery at Wayne Enterprises to produce the spectacular array of gadgetry that Batman uses daily to bring justice to Gotham’s criminal scum.

 

Not enough C in your diet directly correlates to a dried up inventory of glutathione – it’s like Bats going into a battle with someone like Bane, trying to throw a Batarang and coming up empty when he reaches into his utility BatBelt. Or worse, throwing a rotted tomato at him or something instead. Well, shit, guess it’s fisticuffs then… with a mutant-strong mouth-breathing psychopath fueled by triple-distilled hatred. We all know how THAT went down. And if you don’t, shame on you.

 

Alright, so, you’re now interested in beginning this healing process (that’s a direct command, not a tactfully suggested assumption, by the way), but directionless in what form of C to buy and how much to take. Never fear, I am here! Generally, many of the C supplements out there already do a decent job at providing a satisfactory amount by weight – in the neighborhood of 1 g per dose.

 

I’d contend that an even greater dosage, like 5 g or so, would go a long way in buttressing your immune system’s defenses. If you have time and patience, choose the jars of powder over the processed pill forms, just to avoid the excipient / binding agents that manufacturers use, but it’s not a big deal. Actually, here’s the one I am using right now, go go gadget product endorsement: http://www.amazon.com/Natrol-Easy-C-1000mg-180-VegetarianTablets/dp/B0013NXPO6

 

Now, a secondary yet significant point: shoot for pure L-ascorbic acid unless one of two exceptions is relevant to your case:

  • You know what you are doing in taking mineral ascorbate complexes such as calcium ascorbate or magnesium ascorbate (which can be better but you must refrain from causing a mineral imbalance)
  • The acid form is just too hard on your stomach (thus compelling you to research alternative C formulations and qualify under the first point listed above)

 

Don’t worry about the exorbitantly high percentages over the RDA either. Unless you have renal difficulties. But for most healthy individuals, taking in excess of 30 g of Vitamin C over the course of a day has been shown to have zero impact on bodily functioning.

 

I wouldn’t advocate such a steep dose as a daily regimen, however, as C isn’t so innocent when it comes to iron and calcium levels in the long term. Meaning, it acutely enhances iron absorption within proximity of taking it. If you are consuming extra iron, space it out from when you administer C. Likewise, for calcium, there’s quite a bit of drama unfolding in the research scene concerning whether chronic C megadosing increases risk of kidney stones via some screwball effect on oxalate excretion [2].

 

But honestly, again, don’t worry about it if you are just weathering your “imbalance of humors” or some other old-school bullshit terminology. I only wrote this section to cover those of us (ahem, those of me I mean) who ran extended trials of megadose C supplementation to scare away all of those dastardly cancers.

 

In conclusion, if you want to laugh yourself into stitches watching all your friends succumb to a flu-nami (portmanteau of flu and tsunami… horrible I know) this fall and winter while you enjoy relative vigor in all of your worldly endeavors, then head on over to a drug store and pick up a 1 g+ pill of C. Trust me, it’ll help. Even if you fall sick yourself, at least your powerlifter of an immune system (compared to the cubicle dwelling disgruntled pre-diabetic fatso immune systems of your friends) will rebound much quicker.

 

References:

[1] Vitamin C page on NYU’s website. http://www.med.nyu.edu/content?ChunkIID=21522

[2] Vitamin C supplementation and Urinary Oxalate Excretion. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC1472830/