Monday, January 5, 2009

Are you taking enough Vitamin C?

Are you taking enough Vitamin C?  Chances are your intake meets or exceeds the FDA’s recommended daily amount of Vitamin C, so you could reasonably say “Yes!”

Chances are you’re still not getting enough vitamin C to keep healthy.  You should be aware that the FDA’s requirement is only the minimum amount required to prevent clinical scurvy

Vitamin C is misnamed. Vitamin C is nothing more than ascorbic acid.  Ascorbic acid is a necessary metabolic enzyme, without which complex life would not be possible.  It’s used in many ways by the body.  It's a powerful antioxidant.  It's used as a catalyst for building good quality collagen, which is the connective tissue and building block for cell walls.  It is a critical component used in the manufacture of immunoglobulins used to fight infections.

Conventional wisdom states that we get enough vitamin C through our diet to satisfy all of our metabolic requirements.  If this were true, then it should hold true for all animals, since Vitamin C is fairly easy to come by, right?

The facts dispute this.  There are very few animals that get their vitamin C through diet.  Great apes, guinea pigs, and some fruit bat in India are the only mammals which do not manufacture ascorbic acid in their livers.  All other animals catalyze ascorbic acid from glucose, and do so in huge quantities.  Somewhere along the line, the common ancestor to great apes lost the ability to synthesize glucose into ascorbic acid.  In a temperate climate, this would have been an evolutionary death sentence.  In the tropics, however, it is possible to get enough ascorbic acid from diet to prevent immediate death through scurvy.  That doesn’t mean that enough ascorbic acid is ingested to completely compensate for the inability to manufacture it ourselves.

This is why guinea pigs are such useful lab animals when studying heart disease.  If you want to watch an animal quickly die a horrible death from high cholesterol, deny a guinea pig access to vitamin C.   

I once read a story about a fictional colonization of a planet that had no potassium.  The entire population suffered from chronic potassium deficiency, and those who held the keys to the sole source of potassium on the planet were kings.  I have also had friends who suffered from various genetic maladies that prevented them from producing certain enzymes necessary for proper digestion.  These conditions are manageable when understood, by limiting the diet.

Diabetes is a genetic disease which affects a few people.  It can be a killer, but is also manageable.  I have several friends who live very active, very normal lifestyles, by simply staying on top of their diabetes and managing it constantly.

If the whole human race suffered from chronic, subclinical scurvy, then how would we know it?  Wouldn’t that be considered normal?  Wouldn’t that be considered the “Human condition?”  Look at human medicine, compared to veterinary medicine.  There are a huge number of maladies that animals simply don’t seem to suffer, or from which they suffer very little.  Whenever such a condition is encountered, it’s a good bet it’s related to ascorbic acid deficiency.

Chronic ascorbic acid deficiency has played a huge part in human history.  We think nothing of it today, when we have fresh food available year round. Ascorbic acid breaks down very quickly when not in crystalline form.  Stored or overcooked food is very poor in ascorbic acid. Even up to the early twentieth century, the death rate in most communities would peak near the end of spring, as weakened members of communities succumbed to the debilitating effects of scurvy over the winter with no source of ascorbic acid.  This is confirmed by the funeral registers as far back as records were kept.  In the ancient and medieval world, wars were often decided by which army succumbed to scurvy first, as the military supplies were made for preservation and notoriously deficient in ascorbic acid.  It was not uncommon to find sailing ships completely devoid of life, as the crew had all died of scurvy.

In fact, it could be argued that the human race owes its very existence to ascorbic acid deficiency.  Evolution depends on small populations being placed under reproductive stress to select advantageous mutations and characteristics.  The constant stress of being one meal away from clinical and potentially fatal scurvy placed the entire human race under reproductive stress, and hastened genetic developments that allowed the species to cope with this deficiency. 

Certainly the state of human medicine owes a lot to our inability to manufacture our own ascorbic acid.  The attempts to ease or halt the debilitating effects of this deficiency have caused us to make great strides in the understanding of human physiology that we might not have had incentive to make otherwise.

Digestion of food produces free radicals.  These are molecules with an oxygen atom that is missing an electron.  This molecule desperately wants to have a chemical reaction with something and fill that empty electron’s hole.  The chemical result of this will be for this molecule to bond with another molecule which has a free electron.   If no free electron is present, the free radical may be able to break a weak chemical bond in a protein, freeing an electron with which it can then bond and become inert.  This can be part of a cell wall, or even DNA within a cell.  This bond basically interferes with or destroys the protein with which it bonds, rendering it useless.  If that protein was used for a critical function in a cell, the end will be the death of that cell.  If it bonds with DNA, it can alter, damage, or destroy that DNA’s function. Usually harmless, the result could be a mutation that leads to cancer or other cell malfunction. 
Since ascorbic acid has a free electron, its presence in the bloodstream will serve to neutralize free radicals and render them inert before they can damage cells.

Many bacteria and viruses rely on free radicals, and in fact produce them to be used as weapons with which to open and gain access to cells.  The wholesale manufacture of free radicals by bacteria can cause massive cell damage in a localized area, which we experience as redness and swelling and inflammation.  A high concentration of ascorbic acid in the body tissues will “soak up” these free radicals, prevent swelling and inflammation, and also deny invasive infections one of their prime tools for gaining access and reproducing.  Ascorbic acid in high doses is a powerful anti-inflammatory.

Collagen Building
Collagen is the fibrous material with which cell walls are made.  It is the binding material, the “glue” which allows cells to adhere to one another.  It's tough and elastic.  Collagen which is made in an ascorbic deficient environment lacks toughness and elasticity, and becomes brittle.  As we age, the body’s ability to repair damaged collagen is highly dependent on ascorbic acid.  The cumulative damage leads to wrinkles and weakened muscle attachment points.  This is why humans become more prone to injury as they age.  One critical function is repairing the circulatory system, keeping arteries strong and elastic.  In an ascorbic deficient environment, the arteries become weak and stiff, unable to support the pressures of the heart action.  This can lead to high blood pressure and aneurysms.
Interestingly, humans have evolved a response to this weakening by producing more cholesterol, which adheres to the inner walls of the circulatory system and literally “shores up” the arteries.  Eventually this reinforcement clogs the arteries and becomes fatal in itself, but statistically it keeps the individual alive longer, giving the offspring a longer period of available parental care.  This is a reproductive advantage, but not optimal.

Immune System
Studies have shown that an increase of ascorbic acid boosts the concentration of immunoglobulin in the blood.  Ascorbic acid is a key component of these antibodies.  In an ascorbic deficient environment, the body cannot produce enough antibodies to effectively attack an infection, and must resort to other means of fighting the infection, including using fevers to literally roast the invaders.
The immune system’s response to an infection is to immediately create antibodies, and the ascorbic acid contained in the body tissues are robbed for this purpose.  That icky, achy sick feeling you have when you have a cold is not a direct result of the infection.  What you are experiencing is sudden-onset acute scurvy, caused by the sudden crash of the ascorbic acid levels in your body.

Other Effects
Dr. Frederick Klenner and Dr. Robert Cathcart have used massive doses of ascorbic acid on their patients for virtually every condition, and have reported spectacular results.  Since ascorbic acid is completely non-toxic even in extremely high doses, they have gone as far as delivering hundreds of grams of ascorbic acid per day to patients via intravenous injection.  They have claimed to have cured polio, and certain types of cancers using this treatment.  The benefits of ascorbic acid simply cannot be overstated.
Heavy metal poisoning is a concern in today’s industrialized environment.  These metals get dissolved in our bloodstream, and they collect in fatty tissues, where they form catalyst centers for all sorts of undesirable chemical reactions in the body.  Ascorbic acid, being an acid, bonds easily with metals and helps chelate them out of the bloodstream into the kidneys, where they are passed harmlessly.

But Wait!
About this time, someone trots out a study saying that they did a double blind test and showed that vitamin C doesn’t seem to have any effect on fighting the common cold.  I've seen these studies, and their data is correct.  Vitamin C does not have any effect, when used in the tiny doses they were using!

The next time you see such a study, be sure to look at the doses they were using to observe the effects.  Typically these studies consider 2 grams per day a high dose.  Orthomolecular advocates will tell you that this is about ¼ of a maintenance dose for a healthy human!  There are plenty of studies which show that Vitamin C has a significant effect on the duration and discomfort of a cold, but all of these studies start their doses at 10-20 grams and go up from there. 

Basically the naysayers are fighting a 3-alarm fire with a squirt gun, and drawing the conclusion that water has no effect on a fire.

There's a good reason that pharmaceutical companies don’t want to see unbiased research done on the effects of Ascorbic acid.  It's literally a miracle drug, and it’s dirt cheap to manufacture.  Pharmaceuticals cannot push their expensive kaleidoscope of designer drugs on us if we never get sick!  Follow the money. 

A common criticism is that the body doesn't use the Vitamin C, so it is urinated away.  Higher concentrations of ascorbic acid is detectable in urine.  This does not necessarily mean that the body is not using it.  I see nothing wrong with bathing my bladder in ascorbic acid, and in so doing possibly preventing bladder cancer.  It's also very cheap, so a relatively inexpensive "waste" is a small price to pay to ensure the full benefits of complete tissue saturation. 

My Experience
I first tried megadosing vitamin C when I was vacationing in the jungles of southeast Asia.  My wife became ill with something that gave her a vicious fever and made her very ill.  Not wanting to succumb, I had heard that high levels of vitamin C would stop a cold.  I had a large bottle of chewables available, so I started taking 500mg an hour.  I never caught so much as a sniffle, even though I was in constant close contact with my wife, ministering to her.
It was several years after that that I started researching more about it and discovered the body of knowledge that surrounds this.  I have since adopted a continuous management of my ascorbic acid levels.  I haven't been sick in a very long time – the last time I was sick was with a norovirus which made my stomach so acidic that I couldn't ingest vitamin C.  I've surprised my family physician with extremely low cholesterol levels. 

How Much?
There are several things to know which will help you manage your ascorbic acid levels.  One is the amount of ascorbic acid produced by animals in their livers is huge.  A 50 lb goat produces about 3500 mg per day. 
Another thing to remember is that the half-life of ascorbic acid in your body is about 30 minutes.  To maintain reasonably high concentrations you must ingest it regularly.

Your body will absorb as much as it needs.  When the body reaches tissue saturation, it will stop absorbing it.  Ascorbic acid is absorbed in the upper digestive system.  What isn't absorbed will be passed to the lower digestive system.  There it will irritate the intestines and produce gas and eventually a mild, non-debilitating loose stool.

This knowledge will help guide you to determine how much is right for you.  A rule of thumb: for a healthy person, start with 35mg per pound of body weight per day.  Don’t take it all at once.  Find out what your bowel tolerance is: i.e.  how much you need to ingest in a 24 hour period to produce loose stool.  Then back off from that by about a gram.  This should be your maintenance dose.

When under stress, or when sickness or injury threatens, increase your dose.  You'll be amazed at how much you can ingest without reaching bowel tolerance when you’re sick.  When I've felt myself coming down with something, I've gone as high as 2 grams an hour for 14 hours, without reaching bowel tolerance.  This kept me from being more than marginally symptomatic.  I once caught a bug that was going around the office.  This one was nasty, most people were taking two or three days off work, and fully a third of the office was out at one point, and many more were miserable.  By megadosing at the first signs of symptoms, I experienced only a slight stuffiness that never fully developed into a runny nose, and otherwise felt fine.  Coincidental?  Come on, I've been around a few decades, and I can tell when I'm about to really get sick.  This was one of those times.

I typically start the day with 1000mg, and then 500mg per hour for the rest of the day.  This can be difficult to keep up with.  I sometimes set my watch to beep at me on the hour to remind me.  I carry a small plastic vial in my pocket with cheap 500 mg capsules.  Don’t spend a lot for your vitamin C.  Ascorbic acid is all the same, and the cheap bargain stuff at Safeway is just as effective as the designer stuff you get at the specialty nutrition stores.  I see no reason to pay for a brand name.

One caveat: ascorbic acid is an acid, and sucking on tablets will have same effect on your dental work as sucking on candy.  Try to use ascorbic acid in tablet form, and drink it down with a swig of water quickly to minimize contact with your teeth.

Be healthy.  Take more.

More reading:  The Healing Factor by Irwin Stone 

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