Health Eating: Vitamin C in action

From reducing risk of heart disease, to preventing wrinkles, find out what this long-forgotten vitamin can do for you.

Oranges  (photo credit: Courtesy)
(photo credit: Courtesy)
Ten years ago, Vitamin E was hailed around the world as the nutrient that would solve all our health problems. A few years later, the words antioxidants, flavonoids and phytonutrients starting popping up everywhere. Proclaimed as the first line of defense against cancer and cardiovascular disease, these compounds were heavily sought after. Last year, Vitamin D was crowned as the "ultimate disease fighting champion." But what about vitamin C? Continuously overshadowed by Vitamins A through K, Vitamin C hasn’t really received any respect since its glory days of curing scurvy-ridden sailors via juicy citrus fruit. Even its ability to fight off the common cold and flu has taken a massive hit, with many scientists now attributing this cold fighting ability to none other than Vitamin D.
But don’t discount this vitamin, just quite yet. Scientists have started to take a fresh look and discovered a few ways that Vitamin C may help you on the inside and the outside.
Eye protector
As children, we were always told to eat our carrots because the Vitamin A they contained was important to protect our eyes. While this is 100 percent true and Vitamin A (or more specifically its precursor beta-carotene) is important for our eye health, studies have found that another of nutrient is just as, if not more, important for our eyes to function properly – Vitamin C!
Research suggests that while this vitamin cannot prevent the need for glasses, it can help reduce the onset of age-related macular degeneration. "Cells in the retina need to be 'bathed' in relatively high doses of vitamin C, inside and out, to function properly," says Dr. Henrique von Gersdorff, co-author of a recent study conducted at the Oregon Health & Science University. "Because the retina is part of the central nervous system, this suggests there's likely an important role for vitamin C throughout our brains, to a degree we had not realized before," von Gersdorff adds.
Disease fighter
We have heard that Vitamin C can be a powerful ally against the dreaded cold or flu; but what about more severe disease? Can this vitamin help you? Over the years, the importance of antioxidants and their potential roles in preventing an array of medical conditions, from cancer to dementia to cardiovascular disease, has spread. More and more people are aware of antioxidants such as lycopene found in tomatoes, resveratrol found in red wine and maybe even quercetin found apples, but most people don't know that good old Vitamin C is considered one of the most powerful antioxidants out there. So what does this mean?  As a potent antioxidant, Vitamin C helps to prevent the oxidation of LDL cholesterol that leads to the hardening of the arteries. Research indicates that this vitamin may also lower one’s risk of bladder, esophagus, stomach, and lung cancers. While more research is needed to find out Vitamin C’s specific role, there is no doubt that it does mop up harmful free radicals that are believed to be a cause of certain forms of cancer.
Stress buster
Feeling overworked? Or maybe your children or friends are driving you a little crazy today? Grab an orange. Yes this may sound odd; but recent studies have found that Vitamin C may in fact help to reduce both the physical and psychological effects of stress. When people experience stress, the body produces cortisol - a hormone that notifies the body when it is experiencing stress. Normally this hormone would dissipate when we begin to relax; however, if the individual remains under constant stress, this hormone will continue to linger in the body. As a result, the body’s physical resources are lowered, resulting in a feeling of extreme fatigue. If this persists long enough, some individuals find it difficult to concentrate and may experience learning impairment. In fact, studies have found that people who have high levels of Vitamin C do not display the expected mental and physical signs of stress when subjected to acute psychological challenges. What's more, these people bounce back from stressful situations faster than people with low levels of Vitamin C in their body.
Wrinkle preventer
If you look around at most moisturizing beauty product these days, the majority of them will say infused with antioxidants, Vitamin E and other skin friendly nutrients. But what about Vitamin C? As you may have heard, this vitamin is needed for the synthesis of collagen, a fibrous protein that supports and connects organs to bones. This connective protein that is responsible for the elasticity of our skin.
Unfortunately, as we age, our bodies produce less and less of it and once-youthful expression lines quickly turn into unwanted wrinkles as the skin losses its flexibility. Fortunately, for us ladies, there may be a simple remedy.
Studies have found that increasing one’s intake of Vitamin C may boost the production of collagen, thereby helping to keep skin toned, firm, and maybe even wrinkle free. In fact, a study published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition found that people who ate foods rich in vitamin C had fewer wrinkles and less age-related dry skin than those whose diets contained only small amounts of this vitamin.
So where can you find this vitamin?
When most of us think about Vitamin C, oranges, grapefruits and other citrus fruits typically come to mind. So who would of thought that the top source of this vitamin is none other than green and red hot chili peppers. The perfect way to add a little zest to your meal, green chilies provide more vitamin C than any other food, followed closely by red chili peppers. However, if spicy food doesn’t score with your taste buds, a single serving of guava, kiwi and papaya each provides more than 100% of your daily-recommended intake of this vitamin. Now you do not just need to rely on fruits to satisfy your daily requirements; certain vegetables such as kale, broccoli, and mustard greens as well as fresh herbs such as thyme and parsley are abundant in this vitamin.