Vitamin C may be the most familiar Vitamin of all of the Vitamins. It is a water-soluble vitamin i.e. soluble in water & is required by the human body in small quantities but because it is a water- soluble vitamin, it needs to be included in our everyday diet.
Role and Functions
Protection Against Excess Free Radicals
Vitamin C is best known as an antioxidant. This is a word that we use frequently but don’t always stop to think about in terms of its meaning. Antioxidants are forms of molecules that help keep chemical reactions in our body in check. Simply put, antioxidants help prevent excessive activity of free radical molecules.
Enhance iron absorption
One interesting property of vitamin C as an antioxidant is its ability to transform iron into a state that is better absorbed in the intestine. Including vitamin C-rich foods in recipes with your best iron sources can potentially be a way to enhance iron absorption.
Vitamin C is required to produce collagen, a protein that plays a critical role in holding together the various structures of our bodies. Collagen is the framework for our skin and our bones, and without it, we would quite literally fall apart. Collagen fibers are critical to the maintenance of the bone and blood vessels and help in healing wounds.
Vitamin C is vital for the function of the immune system, especially the lymphocytes. When an individual is suffering from any infection or consuming drugs, the need for vitamin C is increased.
Epidemiological studies indicate that a diet rich in vitamin C content has been associated with a lower risk of cancer, coronary heart disease, and cataract development.
Vitamin C and other antioxidants help prevent the damage to the lens of the eye, damage to molecules circulating around in our bloodstream, and damage to genetic material (DNA) in our cells are all examples of damage that have been shown to be prevented under certain circumstances by vitamin C.
Circumstances that Might Contribute to Deficiency
Since smoking increases free radical damage, smokers will need more dietary vitamin C.
An unbalanced diet with no or very few food items that provide Vitamin C.
Exclusion of Citrus fruits from a regular diet.
Problems due to Deficiency of Vitamin C
Deficiency is common in smokers, others who do not consume fresh fruits & vegetables. Scurvy results from the deficiency of vitamin C. The first sign of deficiency appears within 20-40 days on a Vitamin C free diet. Three important manifestations of scurvy include gingival (gum) changes, pain in the extremities, & hemorrhagic manifestations. These are followed by oedema, ulcerations & ultimately death. Symptoms seen are:
- Swollen bleeding gum
- Pinpoint hemorrhages
- Bleeding in joints
- Impaired wound healing
Prevention of Vitamin C deficiency
Rich sources of vitamin c include citrus fruits – lemon, lime, orange, grapefruit, sweet lime (mousambi), amla, etc. many non-citrus fruits are good sources as well like cherry, kiwi fruit, mango, papaya, strawberry, watermelon, green peppers, broccoli, lettuce, & spinach. Almost all fresh fruits are good sources of dietary vitamin C.
Five servings of fruits & vegetables per day would take care of the daily needs of a person.
Impact of cooking, storage & processing
The same thing that makes vitamin C so important; It’s ability to protect against free radical damage- also makes it very prone to damage by heat, oxygen, and storage over time.
The vitamin C content of food will start to decline as soon as it is picked, even though this decline can be slowed down and minimized by cooling and retention of the food in its whole form. But a fresh, vitamin C rich vegetable like broccoli, if allowed to sit at room temperature for 6 days, can lose almost 80% of its vitamin C.
SUPPLEMENTATION with vitamin C has not shown consistent evidence. Vitamin C in supplement form is, however, not recommended either to prevent or cure infections, because of the very limited beneficial effects seen in research studies.
This means that the benefits of the vitamin are best derived when fresh fruits & vegetables are consumed rather than pills. Other protective substances present along with the vitamin in foods may also be enhancing the protective effect.
Proofread and Edited by Samara Vivian.