A Brief History of Vitamin C

All about one of the most consumed vitamins in the world – including a brief history of how it came to “b”.

By Christina Lim

Vitamin C is present in many fresh fruit including strawberries

Vitamin C contains antioxidants, which help fight off free radicals in the body, warding off inflammation, infections, and viruses. Furthermore, it is important to build proteins in various types of cellular constructions, particularly collagen. Vitamin C is also thought to promote better vascular health and even longevity.

More recent studies have shown further significant health benefits. It appears vitamin C may be useful in breaking down some kinds of oxidised fats. This suggests that vitamin C may even be important in preventing things like Alzheimer’s disease or autoimmune problems, as well as atherosclerosis.

The late, great Dr. Linus Pauling, who was a two-time Nobel Laureate, spent more than 25 years researching vitamin C and attributed the last 18 years of his life to vitamin C and lysine (an essential amino acid) supplementation. Since he lived to be 93 when the average life expectancy for men of his generation was 50 he may well have been right.

Dr Linus – who was often referred to as the Father of Vitamin C after his book “Vitamin C and the Common Cold” was published – was a great advocate of high doses of vitamin C supplements. He recommended, “In my opinion adults should be taking at least two grams a day. There is much evidence about increased health with two grams a day, and of course even more with four or six grams a day. Even an extra 60mg had been shown to add value in cutting down the death rate from heart disease, cancer and other diseases. Now my feeling is as people grow older they ought to be increasing their Vitamin C and perhaps they should follow the policy that I have followed of increasing the intake.” Today people are reaching for vitamin C when they sneeze even though most have never heard of him.

Vitamin C is also vital for the synthesis of collagen in the human body. Collagen is one of the thousands of different kinds of proteins in the human body, but whereas most proteins occur in only small amounts (like the various enzymes, hormones, transport and signalling proteins etc) there is a lot of collagen and its synthesis is one of the human body’s major manufacturing enterprises.  There are a few other proteins like keratins in hair, nails, and haemoglobin in blood that exist in large quantities but they only occur in specific parts of the body. Collagen on the other hand is almost ubiquitous, being found in the skin, bones, teeth, blood vessels, eye, heart, in fact, essentially all parts of the body. Collagen constitutes the connective tissue that holds our bodies together.

As those sailors of old discovered when the body is vitamin C deficient it causes scurvy and body stops making collagen. In fairly short order the body starts to fall apart; first lethargy sets in, then spots before the joints start to fail because collagen no longer keeps the cartilage and tendons strong. The blood vessels break open as they lose their elasticity,  gums ulcerate and teeth fall out. Eventually without vitamin C the immune system deteriorates, and death occurs.

Fortunately the cause of scurvy was discovered in 1932 so even long distance sailors no longer have to worry about it. Most people today get enough vitamin C in their daily diet – about 60 to 70mg – to prevent scurvy, but very few are getting enough to benefit from all its other positive effects. Since Dr Linus died in 1994 even more research has been done into the properties of vitamin C and it is now believed to help in a myriad of ways, including:

  1. Its antioxidant properties help protect the body from free radical attacks; it even helps protect the eyes and skin from free radical damage caused by exposure to UV rays in sunlight
  2. It boosts the immune system and some research has even indicated that it might help to prevent cancer.
  3. It promotes healthy teeth and gums
  4. It helps to lower blood pressure and therefore the chances of hypertension and other forms of heart disease
  5. Its antioxidant effects are beneficial in protecting asthma patients’ lungs and air passages
  6. It is even used as a treatment for lead poisoning as it reduces the levels of lead in the blood

Christina LimCEO Christina Lim is the founder and CEO of Ocean Health, one of Singapore’s leading health supplement companies. A qualified pharmacist and MBA graduate Christina has been using her professional training and experience to develop health supplements for 20 years.

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