Vitamin C has been an essential ingredient to life since before evolution made its split into the animal and plant kingdoms. It is utilized throughout the body for so many things that it is probably not an overstatement to say that there are virtually no functions that it is not involved in. To quote Dr. Emanuel Cheraskin, Dr. Ringsdorf and Dr. Sisley from THE VITAMIN C CONNECTION:
By inference, tissues that have a greater need to maintain a higher concentration of vitamin C would then be most susceptible to problems when chronic vitamin C deficiency occurs. From Vitamin C in Health and Disease, "Plasma ascorbic acid concentration of a healthy person is 8-14 mg/L, while adrenal glands, pituitary, thymus, corpus luteum, and retina have concentrations more than 100 times higher. The brain, spleen, lung, testicle, lymph glands, liver, thyroid, small intestinal mucosa, leukocytes, pancreas, kidney, and salivary glands have concentrations 10-50 times that of plasma. The skeletal, smooth and cardiac muscle, and erythrocytes have concentrations about 10 times that of plasma." Vitamin C supplementation would probably have a very positive affect on these organs particularly.
Among the most important areas where C plays a crucial role are building and maintaining our tissues and fortifying our immune systems.
We here a lot these days about the antioxidant vitamins, C, E and A. Oxygen is a highly reactive element. We see the result of oxidation all around us. Rust, brittle rubber, food spoilage, these are all the result of oxidation. Now oxidation is not always bad. The iron in your blood's hemoglobin oxidizes or "rusts" in order to carry oxygen to all the cells of the body. But much oxidation is damaging, accelerating aging and contributing to tissue and organ damage. Oxidation is also a contributor to heart disease (LDL oxidation has been linked to atherosclerosis) and cancer. As research continues, the more free-radical damage appears to contribute to chronic conditions and the more we realize that antioxidant nutrition supplementation is essential.
Balz Frei, in his paper Vitamin C as an Antiatherogen: Mechanisms of Action published in Vitamin C in Health and Disease states
- "Vitamin C (ascorbic acid) has been shown to be the most effective water-soluble antioxidant in human plasma."
"...that ascorbate is useful as part of the treatment of almost all diseases. This almost universal benefit is because massive doses of ascorbate neutralize massive amounts of free radicals and free radicals mediate all inflammations. Most acute infectious diseases can be cured if the free radicals are eliminated."
Homeodynamics is a fairly recent term that updates "homeostasis", defined in the Bantam Medical Dictionary as:
"the physiological process by which the internal systems of the body (e.g. blood pressure, body temperature, acid-base balance) are maintained at equilibrium, despite variations in the external conditions."
Homeodynamics attempts to add emphasis to the dynamic, ever-adjusting nature of these processes.
When our body's are exposed to stress (stress means any influence which disturbs our calm balance, therefore all the physical and emotional pressures that we are exposed to make demands on our systems) our stores of Vitamin C are depleted, mostly by our adrenal gland (it takes a molecule of vitamin C to produce a molecule of adrenaline). It is an old wives tale that getting soaked in the rain causes us to catch cold. But, like so many of these, there is a basis of truth. Being wet and cold is stressful. It puts an additional strain on us to keep our body temperature up. This reduces our "resistance". Since vitamin C is vital to both our immune system and our natural balance, the day after coming in from a cold rain, we find ourselves with a scratchy throat and its downhill from there. InSCIght magazine has an article of interest, Fortifying Against Stress that reinforces this topic.
Any trauma we are exposed to utilizes vitamin C. Best to have as much as possible all the time.
Symptoms of scurvy include bleeding gums, easy bruising and a tendency toward bone fractures. All these symptoms are a result of the requirement for Vitamin C in the development of the ground substance between our cells. This ground substance, primarily collagen, is the cement that gives our tissues form and substance (see description at left). Collagens are principal components of tendons, ligaments, skin, bone, teeth, cartilage, heart valves, intervertebral discs, cornea, eye lens, in addition to the ground substance between cells.
Some collagen forms in the absence of ascorbic acid, but the fibers are abnormal, resulting in skin lesions and blood vessel fragility, characteristics of scurvy.
Any tissue-related malady will have some basis in Vitamin C. There is a long continuum between scurvy and optimum tissue integrity. As most all of us suffer from sub-clinical scurvy, how is this evident from a tissue-integrity standpoint? Let's look at the conditions that are tissue related. Gum problems are an obvious first choice since they relate directly to scurvy, but there are many others.
A Japanese study concluded that most disc herniations are the result of Vitamin C deficiency. This makes sense. The discs in our spinal column are like donuts, with a tough, gristle-like exterior and a soft interior to provide cushioning. Lack of proper amounts of Vitamin C will produce a disc with compromised integrity. The tough exterior won't be so tough. Over time and much wear and tear, this compromised exterior will wear down and a pinhole will result. Moving just the right way (or should I say wrong way) will push some of the soft interior material out this pinhole. That is a disc herniation. If this squished-out material touches a nerve in your spinal column, it causes pain and usually a lot of it. I had this myself almost seven years ago and let me tell you the pain kept me from sleeping for three days! Adequate Vitamin C will toughen up the outside portion of the disc and a herniation is much less likely. By the way, laser surgery is now quite common to remove this balloon of squished-out disc material. I did not have surgery and I can't tell that I ever had the herniation. I attribute that, at least in part, to the better shape my discs must be in due to my increased C intake over the past six years.
Tissues under stress will suffer the most from vitamin C deficiency. Please refer to the cancer and heart disease sections. Both of these chronic conditions have a strong tissue-integrity component.
Similar to the example above concerning disc integrity, our blood vessels are quite susceptible to lack of Vitamin C. My father died of a ruptured aorta. This is all too common. I firmly believe that that would not have happened if he had not been suffering from sub-clinical scurvy.
Vitamin C is a requirement for the proper functioning of our immune systems. It is involved in white blood cell production, T-cells and macrophages. Without Vitamin C in adequate quantities, our own body's best defense against disease is left without ammunition. This has a distinct bearing on how much Vitamin C to take (please see How Much to Take.) A sickness such as a cold or virus is analogous to a brush fire. Destruction in its path, just as an infection wrecks havoc to our own internal ecology. If the sickness is the fire, then our immune systems are the fire department and Vitamin C is the water. If I may take this analogy a little further, the fire department may use chemical fire retardents, which are loosely analogous to medicine. Now we would all agree that these chemicals are sometimes warranted, but surely we also know that they will have some consequences to the environment or ecology. This is similar to nutrition and medicine. Nutrition is the natural bolstering of our own systems. Medicine, on the contrary, is foreign and needs to be used with corresponding care.
Due to the strong relationship between C and our immune systems, it is not surprising that viral and bacterial infections can be dealt with by our own systems when adequate C is present. Ascorbic acid is toxic to viruses, bacteria, and many types of cultured cells, because of its prooxidant activity. It is particularly toxic to malignant tumor cells but much less toxic to nonmalignant normal cells, thus its therapeutic use in cancer.
No matter what medicine or other treatment you and your doctor may choose to treat your illness, Vitamin C should be part of the therapy. As mentioned other places, Dr. Cathcart refers to disease by the Vitamin C levels needed for treatment.
Please see the AIDS and Colds and Flu sections for more information.