New Study Examines the Importance of Vitamin C on Eye and Brain Health

Importance of Vitamin CMany of us are already aware of the importance of Vitamin C as it relates to promoting immune health. However, a new study reveals that a regular intake of this best-selling vitamin may provide specific brain and eye health benefits.

This surprising discovery was made by the researchers of the Oregon Health & Science University. Their findings revealed that retinal cells required high concentrations of Vitamin C for proper functioning. This study, published in the Journal of NeuroScience also found that Vitamin C may promote brain health since the retina is part of the central nervous system. 1

Vitamin C For Eye Health

Although the function of Vitamin C is not fully understood, we do know that Vitamin C reservoirs are the last to be depleted in times of food deprivation. These observations suggest that Vitamin C may have neuro-protective properties and may be useful in preventing or treating a wide range of conditions, like glaucoma and epilepsy, which are dependent on the proper functioning of nerve cells in the retina and brain.

Vitamin C For Brain Function

Triggered by Vitamin C, GABA-type receptors act as an inhibitory brake on excitatory neurons in the brain, thus modulating communication between brain cells. In the absence of Vitamin C, these special receptors no longer function properly. This would explain why depression is one of the most common symptoms of scurvy, a disease caused by Vitamin C deficiency.

Functions of Vitamin C

Although Vitamin C deficiency leading to scurvy is very rare these days, inadequate levels of Vitamin C could cause inefficiencies in other important functions of the body.

Vitamin C, also known as ascorbic acid, is a water-soluble vitamin that the body uses to produce a protein called collagen. It is used to form connective tissues such as skin, blood vessels and tendons. As an antioxidant, Vitamin C protects the body against cellular damage and inflammation.

The importance of Vitamin C is seen in the benefits it provides:

Fighting the common cold - Studies show that Vitamin C supplementation in beneficial doses may not prevent the common cold, but may shorten the course and produce milder symptoms. It is the most common infectious disease. Adults may have to 2 to 4 upper respiratory infections a year. The result of three meta-analyses show that Vitamin C in the dosage of 200 mg to 2 grams per day reduced the duration of common cold by 8 percent in adults and 14 percent in children. 2-5

Vitamin C facilitates the dietary absorption of iron - Iron deficiency anemia is the most common nutritional deficiency in the world. One of the therapies is increasing dietary intake of Vitamin C. This is because gastrointestinal absorption of elemental iron is enhanced through supplementation of Vitamin C. 6-9

Vitamin C is vital to repairing wounds because it stimulates the production of collagen, which aids in the healing and regeneration process. 10

Vitamin C promotes cardiovascular health by preventing the oxidation of low-density lipoproteins (LDL) implicated in development of atherosclerosis. While a lack of Vitamin C may not be the cause of cardiovascular disease, it does play a crucial role in stimulating the production of collagen and may help to heal arterial lesions and help prevent plaque formation in the arteries both of which lead to cardiovascular problems. Nobel Laureate, Linus Pauling and Matthias Rath have theorized that atherosclerosis, or hardening of the arteries, is caused by Vitamin-C deficiency. 11 According to the World Health Organization, cardiovascular disease is the world's largest killer claiming 17.1 million lives a year. More than 80 percent of cardiovascular-related deaths occur in low-and middle-income countries to men and women alike. 12

Vitamin C helps to promote healthy cell production - Because of the powerful antioxidants it contains, Vitamin C is used as an anti-wrinkling agent. Scientists also believe that by neutralizing free radical activity before it damages DNA, Vitamin C may help to prevent the growth of certain cancerous cells. 13

Who's Potentially At Risk of Having Inadequate Vitamin C Levels?

Smokers - Studies consistently show that smokers are at risk of having low levels of Vitamin C due to oxidative stress caused by inhaling nicotine. The Institute of Medicine recommends that smokers take in 35 mg more of Vitamin C per day than non-smokers. As of March 2011, the Center for Disease Control and Prevention states cigarette smoking is the leading cause of preventable deaths in the United States. Statistics show there are 46 million smokers accounting for 20.6 percent of the adult population. All of them need to take extra dose daily of Vitamin C. 14-15

Those who follow an unhealthy diet - A diet rich in fruits and vegetables will enable individuals to meet the recommended daily intake (RDI) of Vitamin C. Eating fruit two or more times a day and vegetables, three or more times a day is generally recommended for a healthy diet. However, the percentage of Americans actually following this type of diet ranges from 8.8 percent to 20.1 percent. The rest of the nation, ranging from 79.9 to 91.2 percent, needs supplementary Vitamin C. 16-17

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References:

1. Allosteric Modulation of Retinal GABA Receptors by Ascorbic Acid, The Journal of Neuroscience, Volume 31, Issue 26, Pages 9672-9682, doi:10.1523/JNEUROSCI.5157-10.2011.

2. Vitamin C for preventing and treating the common cold, Cochrane Database Syst Rev. 2000;(2):CD000980. PMID: 10796569. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/10796569)

3. Epidemiology of community-acquired respiratory tract infections in adults. Incidence, etiology, and impact". Am. J. Med. 78 (6B): 32-7. doi:10.1016/0002-9343(85)90361-4. PMID 4014285.

4. Vitamin C for Preventing and Treating the Common Cold". PLoS Medicine 2 (6): e168. doi:10.1371/journal.pmed.0020168. PMC 1160577. PMID 15971944.

5. The effectiveness of vitamin C in preventing and relieving the symptoms of virus-induced respiratory infections. J Manipulative Physiol Ther. 1999 Oct;22(8):530-3. PMID: 10543583. NCBI Website

6. Bioavailability of dietary iron in man, Annu Rev Nutr 1981, 1:123-127. http://www.annualreviews.org/doi/abs/10.1146/annurev.nu.01.070181.001011

7. Ascorbic acid safety: analysis factors affecting iron absorption. Toxicol Lett 1990, 51:189-190.

8. Effect of ascorbic acid on iron absorption from different types of meals. Studies with ascorbic-acid-rich foods and synthetic ascorbic acid given in different amounts with different meals. Hum Nutr Appl Nutr. 1986;40:97-113.

9. Iron Deficiency Anemia, American Family Physician, http://www.aafp.org/afp/2007/0301/p671.html#afp20070301p671-b36

10. Vitamin C (Ascorbic acid; Dehydroascorbic acid), PubMed Health, February 2011. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmedhealth/PMH0003056/

11. A unified theory of human cardiovascular disease leading the way to the abolition of this disease as a cause for human mortality. Journal of Orthomolecular Medicine 7 (1): 5-15. http://orthomolecular.org/library/jom/1992/pdf/1992-v07n01-p005.pdf

12. Cardiovascular Disease, World Health Organization, 2011. http://www.who.int/cardiovascular_diseases/en/

13. Effect of the Supplemental Use of Antioxidants Vitamin C, Vitamin E, and Coenzyme Q10 for the Prevention and Treatment of Cancer, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. http://www.ahrq.gov/clinic/epcsums/aoxcansum.htm

14. Institute of Medicine. Food and Nutrition Board. Dietary Reference Intakes for Vitamin C, Vitamin E, Selenium, and Carotenoids. Washington, DC: National Academy Press, 2000.

15. Adult Cigarette Smoking in the United States: Current Estimate, Center for Disease Control and Prevention. http://www.cdc.gov/tobacco/data_statistics/fact_sheets/adult_data/cig_smoking/index.htm

16. Institute of Medicine. Food and Nutrition Board. Dietary Reference Intakes for Vitamin C, Vitamin E, Selenium, and Carotenoids. Washington, DC: National Academy Press, 2000.

17. State Indicator Report on Fruits and Vegetables, 2009, Center for Disease Control and Prevention.