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“There are more than ten thousand published scientific papers that make it quite clear that there is not one body process (such as what goes on inside cells or tissues) and not one disease or syndrome (from the common cold to leprosy) that is not influenced – directly or indirectly – by vitamin C.” Drs Emanuel Cheraskin, Marshall Ringsdorf and Emily Sisley

To demonstrate how being low in even one nutrient can affect your entire body, I’d like to give myself as an example. Even as a nutrition researcher and recognizing deficiencies from thousands of programs for our clients at Swanson Health Center, there is always something to learn. I eat well, exercise, sleep and try to balance work and play. But sometimes, certain events transpire that you glance over as symptoms of stress, not realizing more precisely it is your inability to withstand stress from a deficiency.

Last year, I had a series of things happen that I attributed to stress. I injured my back in a yoga class, my eyes were bothering me when I used the computer and got glasses, my gums started receding, and just recently I started to develop environmental allergies for the first time after moving to a new climate. I assumed everything was related to over-working (and overtraining), and that the allergies were something that apparently everyone has in this area. But I also thought about how environmental allergies really don’t make sense in an evolutionary context, and since nature always provides what we need in each environment, it would stand to reason that vitamin C and flavonoids like quercetin from plants would counterbalance the reaction to the very allergens they produce.

I had been taking what I considered a low dose of whole food vitamin C (about 150mg for acerola cherry, camu camu and rose hips) with a vitamin pack, thinking that this was a sufficient amount with my diet. When I started reading 1) how quickly vitamin C is depleted post-harvest making my whole foods vitamin C questionable 2) how vitamin C is depleted in high amounts by stress, pollution, and exercise, and that in most food it is basically depleted from storage, processing, and cooking – I started to second guess myself.

It wasn’t until I started to experiment with 3-4 grams of vitamin C to see if I could eliminate new environmental allergies that I had never had, that I started seeing results. My cough and allergy symptoms disappeared. I felt relaxed with a strong balanced sense of well-being despite a very stressful time of family issues. My body felt stronger and more resilient with faster recovery times. My gums looked healthier, my eyes felt stronger and I was able to maintain all of these things with a 500mg-3,000mg dose depending on circumstances. I started to wonder if vitamin C was the most important vitamin I should be taking.

How Were These Symptoms All Related to Vitamin C?

  • Vitamin C is necessary for the correct synthesis of collagen, and it helps to maintain healthy collagen. Collagen is the glue that holds your body together, and without healthy collagen, you will begin to fall apart. Vitamin C strengthens the tendons through collagen synthesis, and high dose vitamin C has been found to accelerate healing of the Achilles tendon.
  • The vitamin C concentration in the lens of the eye is one of the highest of any human tissue.
  • Vitamin C has a high concentration in the adrenal glands and is used up rapidly during times of emotional stress.
  • The link between gum health and vitamin C has long been established.
  • Vitamin C works as an antihistamine against environmental allergens.
  • Through genetic testing at Nutrition Genome, I was able to discover an increased need for vitamin C. 

Here are some other ways YOU could be deficient in vitamin C, and how it can help you stay well:

  • Vitamin C is depleted during a fever, viral illness, antibiotics, cortisone, aspirin and pain medicines.
  • Sugar and vitamin C use the same transport mechanism, which excess sugar overrides and causes deficiency.
  • Environmental toxins such as DDT, petroleum products, carbon monoxide, exposure to heavy metals such as lead, mercury or cadmium deplete vitamin C rapidly. This means just our environment is depleting our vitamin C. Adequate vitamin C intake removes toxic metals such as aluminum, mercury, and lead from the body.
  • After exposure to toxic chemicals, natural killer cell function is decreased significantly (common after chemotherapy). One study found that at a dose of 60mg per kilogram of body weight (4000mg for a 150lb person), vitamin C enhanced natural killer cell function ten-fold in 78% of patients.
  • Sulfa antibiotics increase elimination of vitamin C from the body by two to three times the normal rate.
  • Extensive research shows that adequate vitamin C reduces the risk of cancer, heart disease, colds, flu, cataracts, hypertension and even depression.
  • Vitamin C speeds wound healing, helps keep the body in good repair, slows the aging process and extends life itself. A lack of vitamin C results in tiny cracks in the walls of the blood vessels, which makes the body produce more cholesterol to fill in the cracks. Vitamin C keeps blood vessels strong, reducing circulating cholesterol, while also clearing the inner walls of fat deposits. 
  • Vitamin C is also very safe; negative effects from overdosing have never been observed. Only contraindications are high amounts of oxalic acid in the urine, anemia from pyruvate kinase and G6PD deficiencies, iron metabolism disorder causing increased iron storage, sickle cell anemia.

We Once Produced Our Own Vitamin C!? How Did We Lose our Vitamin C Mojo?

What really piqued my interest about vitamin C is that we can’t produce it while some animals can, and every brightly colored berry and vegetable that contains vitamin C appear to be nature’s way of attracting us to this molecule. Like water, neither plants or animals can live without vitamin C, making it one of the most important vitamins for survival, especially for preventing infection.

We have all probably heard the story of the sailors that got scurvy while on the sea due to a lack of fruits and vegetables and was quickly remedied by the additions of citrus to the boat. Cases of scurvy are very serious and have accounted for millions of lost lives. But if we go back a little further, we find out something very interesting about vitamin C. The anthropoid primates were able to synthesize vitamin C. That’s right, the hominids (estimated to be 2.3 to 2.4 million years old) that include the modern human are a part of the anthropoid primate pack. It is thought our distant ancestors lost this ability roughly 41-60 million years ago.

In fact, many species, such as anthropoid primates, teleost fishes, guinea pigs, as well as some bat and Passeriformes bird species, have lost the capacity to synthesize it. This compound is synthesized by the large majority of vertebrate and invertebrate species, including our faithful companions, the dog and cat. When’s the last time your dog or cat caught a cold? The reason we lost it has to do with an evolutionary gene mutation, much like photolayse that use to protect us from the sun. As this seems like a mutation that would have seemed unfavorable for survival, it somehow became a dominant trait and remains a mystery.

From my own studies about how diet has changed our skin color, I would place my bet on the climate-changing the available plant life, increasing vitamin C consumption and causing a genetic mutation that told the body it is no longer needed. Yet over hundreds of millions of years, the majority of other animals did not lose this ability; most likely due to not obtaining enough from the diet to trigger a mutation. Was our intake that high?

Do We Need Higher Doses of Vitamin C for Optimal Health?

All truth passes through three stages. First, it is ridiculed. Second, it is violently opposed. Third, it is accepted as being self-evident. -Arthur Schopenhauer 

It was estimated by researchers that the Paleolithic diet provided approximately 600mg of vitamin C to our ancestors. Today, the RDA is 60mg a day for adult males and 75mg a day for adult females. Put on your thinking cap for a second and think about that. We had 400mg from freshly harvested plants, organ meats, and zero pollution. Today, most of the vitamin C is almost absent from our foods due to storage and preparation, while we have satan’s Easter basket of chemicals in the water, air, and soil.

What about athletes? According to Dr. Colgan, Ph.D., who researched vitamin C absorption rates in athletes, he reported a variance with individuals ranging from 100-1000%. That’s 900mg to 9,000mg for males. Guinea pig studies have found that there is a twenty-fold range in the vitamin C needs of individual guinea pigs for optimal health and that the individual variations in humans are probably just as great. Based on stress, illness, heavy metals, 150lbs of sugar consumption per year, air pollution, water contamination, exercise, genetic variants and medications, how much do you think most of us need today?

How Three Scientists Arrived at the Same Conclusion

Linus Pauling is one of only two people who won two Nobel Prizes in different fields, and one of them was for chemistry. He is often referred to as one of the most brilliant scientists of our time, yet his research on vitamin C is what brought him the most controversy – and the most opposition from people that apparently have done something more impressive than win two Nobel Prizes. The first was the physician Dr. Victor Herbert refuting his recommendation for the common cold, asking for research to back up his claims. Pauling sent 4 randomized double-blind clinical studies – like he asked – from which Dr. Herbert allegedly got flustered, took his ball, and went home.

Linus Pauling started out taking 3,000mg and worked up to 18,000mg of vitamin C, after receiving a letter and attached study from a biochemist showing how 3,000mg of vitamin C could extend his life 25 years or more. I had the pleasure of meeting Dr. Zelek Herman on the Stanford Campus, who worked with Linus Pauling for the last 15 years of his life. He claimed that Pauling was one of the most brilliant men he had met. After talking with Dr. Herman about his work with Pauling, speaking two of the six different languages he spoke as other people he knew approached him, I started to think that he was one of the most brilliant men I had met.

Pauling based his own intake of vitamin C on several factors, including the amount synthesized by animals that are able to do so, the amount consumed in the diet by wild animals that are biologically closely related to humans, and the estimated intake by our Paleolithic ancestors. He claimed he used to get colds often, but once he started taking vitamin C they never came back. He lived until he was 94 and obviously did something right. Dr. Herman continues the regiment of 10,000mg of vitamin C a day.

Raymond Francis, a chemist from MIT and author of Never Be Sick Again, saved his own life with vitamin C and came up with the theory that there is only one disease, two causes (deficiency and toxicity) and six pathways. To this day, Francis takes 10,000-12,000mg of vitamin C daily. The truth of the matter is that every clinical practitioner I have spoken with that has decades of experience, has recommended dosages in the range of 2000mg to 6000mg orally for various disorders and recommending high dose vitamin C IV’s for cancer. For oral doses, bowel tolerance is often used to determine when the level is too much. There is no shortage of anecdotal cases of success to back up these dosages, and, of course, it is difficult to prove what you prevented for those being proactive. Obviously, something is missing between the research and practical application of oral vitamin C.

What Do the Studies on Vitamin C Really Say?

There are currently 52,119 studies on vitamin C! I have never seen so much controversy and conflicting studies and research as I have with vitamin C. If you are limiting yourself to a Google search on vitamin C studies, you are going to be on a wild ride of confusion and possibly convinced that anything over 200mg is a waste. But you would be doing yourself a great disservice, especially if you do not take the time to see why the poor design of many vitamin C studies has stifled larger research on an inexpensive solution to possibly improving the health of the entire human population.

For the sake of not making this article ten pages in length, I will not bore you with an analysis of each study. You can read many of these in the book Ascorbate: The Science of Vitamin C (not boring to us science nerds), Curing the Uncurable and some fascinating double blind studies in the book How to Live Longer and Feel Better by Linus Pauling. Here a few to peak your interest:

Vitamin C and The Common Cold and Flu

In a study of 463 students that used 1,000 milligrams every hour for 6 hours, then 3 times daily after that, reported flu and cold symptoms in the test group decreased 85% compared with the control group after the administration of megadose Vitamin C.

Vitamin C and Cardiovascular Disease

For those interested in vitamin C and cardiovascular disease, you will find that from 1990-2000 there is only 1 study that shows a beneficial response to a dose of less than 500mg of vitamin C and 3 studies with no response. You will also find 30 studies with a beneficial response over 500mg, and 4 studies with no response. So why do we highlight the negative studies and disregard higher doses again?

How Negative Vitamin C Studies Can Be Poorly Designed

What I will say is that it appears very clear that many of the negative studies:

  • Used too low a dose to find any significant value
  • Used too small of a sample population 
  • Did not understand the mechanism and half-life of vitamin C, and therefore limited it to one daily dose when multiple doses should have been used throughout the day
  • Did not take into the account the numerous health variables that change vitamin C status, and an RDA for an entire population cannnot be effectively established based on the mechanism of vitamin C and bio-individuality
  • Makes you wonder if cheap, simple and unable to be patented vitamin C is a bigger threat to pharmaceutical companies than is publicized

The Most Accurate Understanding of Vitamin C

The Dynamic Flow Model put forth by Dr. Steve Hickey and Dr. Hillary Roberts addresses the flaws in vitamin C research, while also giving the best explanation as to the full mechanism of vitamin C in the body. “It is biologically useful to have a dynamic flow through the body, even though not all the ascorbate is absorbed. During times of stress or infection, ascorbate absorption is increased; the surplus dietary ascorbate then acts as a reservoir upon which the body can draw without delay.” In animals when levels are low, they make more. Humans cannot do this, and continually need to fill the reservoir for protection against free radical tissue damage that can happen continually throughout the day from our lifestyle, environment, and exercise frequency. Therefore it stands to reason a surplus of vitamin C would be better than a deficiency, with the dosage being spread out throughout the day.

How to Choose the Right Vitamin C

There are three simple rules for choosing a vitamin C product.

1. It should be 100 percent L-ascorbic acid and NOT 50 percent D-isoascorbic acid, the isomer. D-isoascorbic acid is considered biologically inert, an irritant and may even interfere with vitamin C metabolism.

2. It should be fully reduced. This means it is 100 percent in the anti-oxidant form, not the pro-oxidant form which will damage tissues.

3. It should be from non-GMO corn (more of an environmental bonus than change to the final product) or non-corn sources like potatoes, beets, or tapioca. There does not appear to be any difference or advantage with flavonoids for increasing absorption, however, they do have other important health qualities and come with vitamin C foods known as vitamin P. There are some indications that Ester-C should be avoided.

Regarding Lypo-spheric C: Raymond Francis states that it is a solution to a problem that doesn’t exist (vitamin C getting into the tissues), however the claim from Lypo-Spheric C is that it allows more in. He also states that dissolving ascorbate in water to make tiny nano-particles will cause the dissolved oxygen in the water to oxidize the C. The form of ascorbate presumably used in this product is calcium ascorbate that consists of D, L-ascorbate, meaning it is 50% D-ascorbate and only 50% L-ascorbate. Dr. Steve Hickey is the creator of Lypo-Spheric C, and from what I’ve read has done the best job of elucidating the mechanism of vitamin C and breaking down poor studies. One is a chemist from MIT and the other a Medical Biophysicist from the University of Manchester. We may need a one on one match in the lab with these titans to know the truth.

Here Are Products that Follow These Guidelines: To Your Health!

Avoid products that contain sodium benzoate and vitamin C together. In certain conditions, sodium benzoate combines with ascorbic acid to create benzene, a known cause of cancer.

1. Thorne Research Vitamin C

I emailed Thorne Research and had the 3 rules confirmed with a medical professional, and it contains the flavonoids or vitamin P. The flavonoids (rutin, hesperidin, and quercetin) play important roles for lowering inflammation. Hesperidin in particular, is a natural aromatase inhibitor.

Thorne Research has proven time and time again to be one of the most trustworthy companies for a consistent and clean product.

2. C-Salts Buffered Vitamin C

This is a corn free, non-GMO buffered vitamin C with a long successful 35-year history and is best for those with sensitive stomachs. It has been recommended in the past by Linus Pauling and Dr. Weil. A buffered vitamin C contains calcium, magnesium, potassium and zinc to buffer ascorbic acid, making it easy on the stomach. It is much easier to use higher dosages or smaller dosages for children as well. Note that the serving size is 1 tsp., 4,000mg. Dose accordingly.

3. PaleoValley Essential C Complex

PaleoValley reached out to me regarding their new vitamin C product and had it tested 30 days after manufacturing for stability. It came back 474.9mg per 2 capsules! They nailed the sourcing, processing and stability for whole food vitamin C to help you get your Paleolithic dose.

4. Viva Labs Vitamin C with Bioflavonoids and Rose Hips

Viva Labs uses Quali-C qualified L-ascorbate from Scotland – which is attractive when 90 percent is produced in China – and is non-GMO. It also contains bioflavonoids.

5. Pure Synergy Pure Radiance C Powder (Children’s Choice)

I have included this vitamin C whole food powder because I think it is a good option for children who require a smaller dose. While the amount of vitamin C is reduced after processing from whole food products, Pure Synergy appears to have better stability than most.

Other Sources
3. Primal Panacea by Thomas E. Levy MD
4. How to Live Longer and Feel Better by Linus Pauling
5. Ascorbate: The Science of Vitamin C by Dr. Steve Hickey and Dr. Hilary Roberts
6. The Vitamin C Foundation

Due to the current workload at Nutrition Genome, Alex is not able to answer questions at this time. Please check back soon!