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Dr. Kestner: Want to know about vitamin C? Ask an expert!

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There is now a large amount of research that indicates vitamin C (ascorbic acid) actually plays a much larger role in human function than previously recognized. You may be interested to learn that most animals actually produce vitamin C in their bodies. The exceptions are primates (including humans) and guinea pigs. This is why it is important for humans to consume vitamin C daily; we can’t make it in our bodies.

Vitamin C is a water-soluble vitamin that is vital to the normal functioning of your body. It is not stored in the body so constant renewal of the available supply is essential.

Some researchers have developed theories that vitamin C can be used to treat certain serious health conditions. Although this research is promising, there are problems with the practical application of this type of treatment.

The problems arise when you attempt to consume the levels of vitamin C that have been proposed to be therapeutic. Your body will begin to excrete vitamin C almost as quickly as you consume it. It is somewhat like trying to carry five gallons of water with a one-gallon bucket. You can pour five gallons in, but you still end up with only a gallon after the excess spills over. Add a few holes to the bucket and you get the idea of what happens to vitamin C in your body.

This is one reason mega doses of vitamin C are not popular with all nutrition experts. Because of the rapid rate of excretion, some critics say that consuming high doses of vitamin C only produces expensive urine. However, some researchers assert that although the excretion rate is high, the temporary elevation in vitamin C helps the body to heal.

One of the leading researchers of the role of vitamin C in human physiology is Dr. Herb Schellhorn of McMaster University in Ontario. For this article, I contacted Schellhorn personally to ask him to help explain how vitamin C is useful to you and me.

Schellhorn confirmed my understanding of the limitations of being able to sustain significantly elevated levels of vitamin C in our body. According to Schellhorn, taking an occasional mega-dose is not as successful as regularly consuming smaller doses of vitamin C. Instead of trying to take 500 milligrams or more of vitamin C at once, the key is to take smaller amounts throughout the day, or at least in twice daily doses.

Wouldn’t you like to know what the vitamin researchers actually take themselves? I asked Schellhorn about his personal vitamin regimen. He explained that he takes a high dose multi-vitamin including 250 mg of vitamin C twice daily. He commented that for most people it is important to at least take the recommended amount (70-90 milligrams) daily since the nutrient is excreted easily, but taking several times this amount causes no harm and may be beneficial. Schellhorn also added that he is a researcher, not a physician, and is not making any specific recommendations for readers.

After reading many research reports with various outcomes and findings over the years, I am convinced that vitamin C plays a key role in our immune systems, production of collagen (a vital component of connective tissue, including blood vessels), is a powerful antioxidant (thereby playing a role in the factors that affect aging and disease), and may play a role in many other aspects of our health, including cardiac health, muscle function, and possibly cancer fighting.

The U.S. Recommended Daily Allowance (RDA) of Vitamin C is 90 milligrams for men; and 75 for women. The RDA for smokers is 35 milligrams higher (125 men / 110 women) due to the effect smoking has on blood levels of ascorbic acid. It would be appropriate for most people to consume at least 90 milligrams daily and a regimen like Dr. Schellhorn’s is probably beneficial.

Next week, I’ll find out why so many of us are deficient in vitamin D, and what effect this is having on our health. Until then, eat more citrus fruits and vegetables, and make sure you have adequate levels of vitamin C.

Dr. Mark Kestner

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