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If vitamins were the Mafia then vitamin C would be the Don as it’s the godfather of all antioxidants. It gobbles up free radicals – the wee bandits that steal electrons from other cells leaving them damaged and vulnerable to ageing and disease. Antioxidants soak up free radicals like a dry sponge soaking up dirty water. They are white knights that rescue us from the ongoing damage caused by those pesky free radicals!
Vitamin C is vital for optimal physical and mental well-being. It plays an important role in producing collagen, carnitine and catecholamines. Collagen is the stuff that keeps our skin looking young. Carnitine helps our body turn fat into energy. Catecholamines are the hormones made by our adrenal glands, including dopamine, which is one of the hormones that regulates our mood and behaviour. Vitamin C is a powerhouse vitamin and we simply can’t live without it.
Did you know that humans, monkeys and guinea pigs are the only mammals that can’t produce their own vitamin C – every other animal on the planet can biologically whip up ascorbic acid in their bodies. Unfortunately for us (and monkeys and guinea pigs) a genetic mutation occurred that stopped us from producing it ourselves. Scientists have studied this extensively and shown that during times of stress animals produce up to 13 times the normal level of ascorbic acid to counteract the inflammation caused by the stress hormone cortisol pumping through their bodies.
Linus Pauling was one of those scientists. He was an expert in quantum chemistry and biochemistry, and the only man in history to win two unshared Nobel Prizes. Widely regarded as one of the brightest minds of the 20th century he was awarded forty-seven doctorates and coined the term ‘orthomolecular medicine’. His hypothesis appeared in 1969, stating that mental illness and disease are related to biochemical errors in the body and that vitamin therapy is a means of compensating for such errors. During his scientific career, alongside Scottish cancer expert Dr Ewan Cameron, Pauling treated diabetes and cancer patients using very high doses of vitamin C at ‘The Vale of Leven Experiments’. He also wrote many books on vitamin C and advocated everyone should be taking high doses of this antioxidant – far higher than the recommended daily allowance set by governments. Pauling lived until he was 93 years old, travelling internationally giving talks, lectures and interviews until his late 80s.
Serious deficiency in vitamin C is rare but many people are struggling to get by on very low levels. This is partly due to changes in the Western diet but also because vitamin C levels in crops have plummeted after decades of intensive farming. The elderly need more vitamin C as ageing inhibits absorption. Smokers also require more due to the oxidative stress caused by cigarette smoke. For everyone else there are some key signs you may not be consuming enough vitamin C – these include: dry and splitting hair, bruising easily, dry skin, gingivitis or bleeding gums and inability to ward off infections. Also vitamin C is needed to heal wounds, so if you cut yourself and it’s taking a while to heal it may be because you don’t have enough vitamin C in your body.
Foods containing vitamin C include; citrus fruits, broccoli, kale, peppers, cherries, and plums. Parsley and thyme are also rich in vitamin C – so why not regularly add these herbs to recipes to help protect cell membranes and fend off those pesky free radicals that lead to disease.