Centuries in the past, sailors on lengthy voyages typically succumbed to an odd illness: Their muscle mass atrophied, their gums bled, their tooth fell out. The wrongdoer was scurvy, brought on by extreme vitamin-C deficiency.

Mariners would subsist for months at sea on dried meat and hardtack, and C is discovered solely in greens and fruits. After dropping extra sailors to scurvy than fight through the 18th century, the British navy realized it may stop it by carrying limes onboard. A illness was cured, and the nickname “limey” was born.

Today, scurvy is comparatively uncommon, however circumstances are nonetheless identified, primarily in developed nations — together with the United States, the United Kingdom, and Australia — the place individuals typically subsist totally on processed meals as a substitute of produce.

Vitamin C, or L-ascorbic acid, is way more than a scurvy preventive, although. It’s one of many physique’s key antioxidants, supporting cell well being and immune response — and that’s only a sampling of its constructive attributes.

Even so, it may be simple to miss how central vitamin C is to our well being, largely as a result of it’s hiding in plain sight. We know that we want it, however we don’t know why.

Here, study the solutions to some widespread questions on vitamin C — and how one can get extra of this very important nutrient in your food regimen.

What roles does vitamin C play within the physique?

Vitamin C is a robust multitasker. Its roles embody the next:

  • Supporting the immune response.
  • Helping with protein metabolism and iron absorption.
  • Synthesizing collagen and serving to to construct connective tissue for blood vessels, cartilage, and muscle, making it important to wholesome bones, pores and skin, and gums, in addition to wound therapeutic.
  • Protecting cells from oxidative stress, the mobile equal of an apple turning brown. Functional doctor Gregory Plotnikoff, MD, calls vitamin C “the body’s Rust-Oleum.”
  • Contributing to the synthesis of carnitine, a compound the physique makes use of to assist vitality metabolism. (Fatigue and lethargy are widespread signs of suboptimal vitamin-C ranges.)
  • Supporting catecholamines like norepinephrine, that are concerned within the stress response and assist regulate blood sugar. (If you’re regularly “hangry,” Plotnikoff suggests upping your vitamin-C consumption.)

How does vitamin C help the immune system?

Vitamin C helps the immune response in a number of important methods, considered one of which Plotnikoff likens to a janitor who mops up after an immune response storms by way of.

“Vitamin C supports the production and function of white blood cells,” he explains. When a kind of white blood cell known as a neutrophil encounters an issue microbe, it douses it in a bathe of cells known as superoxide radicals — a disinfecting substance Plotinkoff compares to chlorine bleach.

“One of the functions of white blood cells is to create and release the most powerful form of bleach on the planet, which is great for getting rid of bacteria, viruses, cancer, and the like,” Plotnikoff says. “If you’re spilling bleach everywhere, you need mops to clean up the damage. C is one of those mops.”

Free radicals have additional, unpaired electrons that create a vacuum, permitting them to “hoover up” undesirable cells, he explains. But left unchecked, these unstable cells assault the whole lot of their path.

The immune response “releases free radicals that kill the virus, but kill our cells and tissues as well,” says functional-medicine doctor Terry Wahls, MD.

Vitamin C helps to neutralize the aftereffects. It’s extremely concentrated in neutrophils, serving to them to kill the virus; afterward, it helps remodel neutrophils by donating spare electrons to the “charged” free radicals, restoring them to a balanced state.

C is named an “antioxidant” as a result of it halts oxidation after an an infection.

How a lot vitamin C do I would like day by day?

Most animals produce their very own vitamin C, however people (together with different primates and, by the way, guinea pigs) don’t. We get vitamin C solely from what we eat, particularly greens and fruits.

The advisable day by day consumption of vitamin C — the naked minimal to forestall deficiency and maintain the physique’s immune response working correctly — is 75 mg per day for an grownup lady and 90 mg per day for an grownup man. (Younger kids want much less, however these 14 and up additionally require 75 mg per day.)

Smokers, who’re below better oxidative stress than nonsmokers, are suggested to eat an extra 35 mg day by day. Plotnikoff means that smoking one cigarette could dissipate as a lot as 25 mg of a physique’s vitamin C by itself.

Functional suppliers are inclined to advocate considerably greater than the RDA due to the vitamin’s important function in dealing with oxidative stress. “For the average person who isn’t suffering from a chronic illness, I think aiming for 400 mg a day is reasonable,” Plotnikoff advises. “That’s doable by intentionally getting a lot of fresh produce in one’s diet. You don’t necessarily need supplementation.”

For these identified with any power sickness requiring the physique to handle ongoing irritation, he recommends as a lot as 1,000 mg per day.

The want for C additionally will increase when on a regular basis diseases strike, provides Wahls. “The amount that you need daily if you’re well is lower than the amount you need if you’re not well,” she says.

You seemingly burn by way of your shops throughout any sickness, so it’s sensible to eat additional vitamin C afterward to rebuild them, ideally by upping your quotient of greens and fruits.

What are the indicators and causes of vitamin-C deficiency?

True vitamin-C deficiency quantities to scurvy, whose hallmarks embody excessive fatigue, weak point, and simple bruising and bleeding. The lethargy comes from inadequate synthesis of carnitine and the tissue injury from insufficient collagen synthesis. This is comparatively uncommon.

Vitamin-C inadequacy, nonetheless, seems extra widespread. It’s tough to say exactly how widespread, as a result of the final time the U.S. authorities measured serum ranges of vitamin C on a big scale was in 2004, for the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey. In that examine of seven,277 members, about 7 % had been discovered to be vitamin-C poor — primarily people who smoke and low-income examine members, who could have had much less native entry to recent produce.

Plotnikoff believes healthcare suppliers have to be trying extra carefully at vitamin-C standing in sufferers affected by unexplained well being points, given the advanced function it performs in immunity and restoration. “We might be seeing deficiency but not know it,” he says, noting that in a Canadian examine that examined the vitamin-C ranges of hospitalized sufferers, solely 20 % had ranges thought of regular. That left 80 % of hospitalized sufferers with suboptimal vitamin-C standing, suggesting a minimum of some doable relation between low ranges and treatment-necessitating sickness.

Some widespread danger elements for C deficiency embody:

  • Inadequate dietary consumption. It’s doable to develop vitamin-C deficiency on any restricted food regimen, whether or not one is consuming strictly quick meals or proscribing carbohydrate consumption from greens and fruits.
  • Cigarette smoking. Multiple research have discovered people who smoke to have one-third much less circulating vitamin C than nonsmokers, on common, which is why they’re typically endorsed to eat an extra 35 mg of vitamin C per day.
  • Chronic gastrointestinal (GI) points. Illnesses resembling Crohn’s and ulcer-ative colitis can block intestinal absorption of vitamin C from meals.
  • Exposure to air air pollution. Ozone, nitrogen dioxide, and different oxidants enhance the necessity for antioxidants like vitamin C.
  • Type 2 diabetes. This situation has been linked to a better want for vitamin C, presumably due to the oxidative stress brought on by hyperglycemia.
  • Cancer therapies. Radiation and chemotherapy can set off compromised immunity and decrease circulating C.

Does vitamin C actually assist combat the widespread chilly?

It relies upon. “There is some evidence that vitamin C can help shorten the duration of a cold,” says Plotnikoff. “But there is no clear evidence that it prevents a cold.”

Some research point out that growing vitamin C consumption may help scale back a chilly’s length by about 8 % in adults and 14 % in kids. And different proof has urged individuals who endure heavy bodily stress (marathon runners; these working in subarctic situations) could develop fewer colds once they complement with vitamin C.

Regardless of whether or not it reliably shortens a chilly or reduces its signs, Plotnikoff and Wahls each counsel growing vitamin C consumption if you’re in poor health for any purpose as a result of the physique makes use of extra C to scrub up after any inflammatory immune response.

Does vitamin C decrease most cancers danger?

A variety of research counsel a correlation between strong vitamin-C ranges and decrease most cancers danger. The famed Nurses’ Health Study discovered a 63 % danger discount of breast most cancers in ladies with a household historical past of illness once they consumed a median of 205 mg of vitamin C a day from meals.

Other research counsel vitamin C could assist shield in opposition to GI cancers by reducing the quantity of Helicobacter pylori micro organism within the intestine, which can be a danger issue for most of these most cancers.

Wahls is cautious about attributing these results to vitamin C alone, nonetheless. She notes that complement research are normally inconclusive, and even once they present a profit it’s normally “not nearly as helpful as we’d have thought.”

She believes the synergistic results of all of the vitamins in complete meals — particularly recent greens and fruits, that are wealthy in vitamin C — are extra seemingly liable for any protecting results. “When you eat a food, it has many more bioavailable compounds than just vitamin C or any other nutrient,” she says.

“We don’t store it and we can’t make it,” says Wahls, so it’s important to make sure you’re getting vitamin C day by day.

As at all times, meals is the primary and finest method to meet your physique’s wants, each every day and if you’re in poor health. Eating all kinds of colourful plant meals is the best way to go. Pretty a lot all brightly coloured greens and fruits present a wholesome dose of C, however a number of the highest content material is present in bell peppers, citrus fruits, darkish leafy greens, broccoli, Brussels sprouts, and strawberries.

Also, vitamin C breaks down when greens are cooked, so be sure to eat a few of your greens recent or fermented to get the utmost C content material.

Wahls favors fermented cabbage-family greens like sauerkraut and kimchi, that are excessive in vitamin C; the byproducts of fermentation are additionally good for the intestine microbiome. (A cup of fermented red-cabbage kraut offers an astonishing 700 mg of vitamin C.)

So, what about orange juice? “It spikes blood sugar,” says Wahls. If you’re sick, that sugar could cancel out any advantages. She recommends including lemon juice to water and tea as a substitute, and consuming peeled complete citrus fruits, as a result of the fiber helps decelerate the glycemic impact.

As for vitamin-C dietary supplements, like these fizzy drink packets you chug if you really feel a chilly approaching? “I don’t see any downside to it,” says Plotnikoff. “It gives you 1,000 mg in one packet. But I tend to look at those as more marketing than magic. I wouldn’t want people to take it on a regular basis —then people are depending on a supplement rather than ensuring they’re getting a good balance in their diets. Fundamentals first.”

This article initially appeared in Experience LifeLife Time’s whole-life well being and health journal.