Everyone knows vitamins are essential for life—that's why they're called vitamins. The word stems from the Latin word vita, which means life, and the word "amine", which alludes to the original belief that all vitamins contained an amino acid as a chemical subunit.
If you already know that vitamins are important do you really need to read another long list of reasons why you need to eat them everyday? Maybe not, but I suspect it is necessary (at least a little bit!) because most people are deficient in at least one or more vitamins (and minerals).
A perfect example is vitamin C. This essential is ubiquitous in the food supply and very accessible; yet, many people don't get enough of it every day. Why is this? There are at least a few reasons:
1. Vitamin C is water soluble and therefore it's easily lost via the urine, sweat, and stool. This is can lead to significant loss of vitamin C if a person drinks diuretic beverages such as coffee and other caffeinated beverages, tea, some diet drinks, and alcohol, and/or doesn't replenish vitamin C lost through perspiration following intense physical activity or exposure to hot temperatures.
2. Vitamin C is present in highest amounts in fresh, raw vegetables and fruits. However, there is a substantial reduction in vitamin C in vegetables and fruits that are:
- picked before they're ripe
- stored for extended periods of time
- processed and/or refined
- cooked, especially at high temperatures and/or under high pressure
- sliced and not immediately consumed.
In fact, vitamin C is the most labile of all the vitamins and it is easily denatured or destroyed by exposure to high heat, high pressure, light, oxygen, high (alkaline) pH, and certain minerals such as copper.
3. The need for vitamin C increases dramatically when a person is under stress.
For some people, all of the above reasons are relevant and contribute to a vitamin C deficiency. What are the consequences of that? The best way to understand the answer is to consider the major functions vitamin C has in maintaining overall body health.
Vitamin C ~ Top Functions
Supports immune system function
Promotes wound healing
Strengthens bones and teeth as well as skin and other connective tissue
Protects against cardiovascular diseases
Essential for red blood cell formation
Supports liver detoxification
Protects the liver from toxin-induced damage
Helps reduce the risk of developing various diseases including cancer and other immune disorders
Vitamin C is best taken in divided doses throughout the day, and this is why foods and beverages rich in this vitamin are a perfect way to meet your daily needs. Health Canada suggests you consume at least 75 to 90 mg and up to 2 grams of vitamin C per day.
As a natural health practitioner, I recommend everybody ensures a daily intake of at least 10 to 20 mg of vitamin C per kilogram of body weight. For example, an ideal daily intake of vitamin C for a person weighing 120 lbs (approximately 60 kg) is approximately 600 to 1200 mg. Consume more if:
- you're fighting an infection
- you suffer from acute or chronic inflammatory conditions including metabolic diseases including diabetes, cardiovascular diseases including hypercholesterolemia, gum disease (periodontitis), liver steatosis or hepatitis, and/or gastrointestinal disorders such as irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) and inflammatory bowel diseases (IBD, which includes ulcerative colitis)
- are very physically active
- have diarrhea (provided it's not caused by an intake of vitamin C that exceeds your bowel tolerance)
- are taking prescription drugs and especially diuretics
- are pregnant or breastfeeding
- are exposed to large amounts of environmental toxins including air pollution and pesticides
- are recovering from surgery, major trauma or injury including topical burns
- have or are recovering from cancer and/or are undergoing cancer treatment such as chemotherapy or radiation
- have recently had, or are scheduled to have, x-rays or a CAT scan
- regularly smoke cigarettes and/or drink alcohol
- have anaemia
- experience profound bouts of stress, varying from short-term intense stress such as exams to long-term intense stress such as post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and depression
- are doing a fast or detox program.
If you pace your intake of vitamin C throughout the day (consuming vitamin C rich foods or beverages at least 2 to 4 hours apart, depending on the amount you ingest), it's unlikely that you'll "overdose". Because this vitamin is water soluble, it won't accumulate or reach toxic levels in your body as could occur when some fat soluble vitamins, such as vitamin A, are consumed in excessive doses.
However, consuming extremely high doses of vitamin C—especially over a short period of time—will most often cause loose stools and much of the excess intake will be lost (along with other essential nutrients including electrolytes that are particularly important for nervous system, heart, and liver health and function). If you experience diarrhea caused by consuming high doses of vitamin C (this type of condition is called osmotic diarrhea), cut back your intake to a comfortable dose and stay well hydrated.
Also noteworthy is that if you take high doses of vitamin C for extended periods of time and then you suddenly decrease your intake significantly, this could lead to a relative deficiency of the vitamin because your body becomes accustomed to a high daily intake. This "vitamin loss shock" could be acutely harmful to your health and you may notice immediate symptoms such as a reduction in immune system function and strength. Always adjust your intake gradually.
Note: In supplements and on food ingredient labels, you'll most often see vitamin C written as ascorbic acid, L-ascorbic acid, ascorbate, L-ascorbate, or various similar forms such as ascorbyl palmitate and mixed mineral ascorbates.
In upcoming blog articles, I'll describe each major function of vitamin C in more depth.
Notes and Definitions
Osmotic Diarrhea: Diarrhea caused by the presence of a single substance in extremely high concentrations in the lumen of the colon. This causes a concentration gradient across the wall of the large intestine, thereby drawing water into the colon via osmosis to restore the relative solute concentration (that is, osmotic pressure). This hydrates and loosens stools. Osmotic diarrhea doesn't generally cause irritation to the gastrointestinal lining, and therefore it rarely causes inflammation or damage to the mucosa. Osmotic diarrhea is often the result of high acute intake of vitamin C, magnesium, sorbitol and other sugar alcohols, fructose (particularly in people who suffer fructose malabsorption), lactose (particularly in people who are lactose intolerant), and/or prebiotics such as inulin and fructooligosaccharides (abbreviated as FOS). Some laxatives and some inflammatory disorders such as pancreas disease and coeliac disease can also cause osmotic diarrhea. Loose stools caused by a high intake of soluble fibre are not due to osmotic diarrhea.