Oh Say, Can You ‘C’?

vt-12.jpgWe’ve come a long way since the days when lack of vitamin C let scurvy decimate the British navies, but today people still too often don’t get enough C in their diets.

For more than a century, citizens of the British Isles have been called ‘Limeys,’ but have you ever wondered where that expression came from? It actually originated out of some of the earliest formal research on vitamins — specifically, what eventually became known as vitamin C.

Until the mid-1700s, the primary fare of sailors in the British Royal Navy was hardtack (a hard biscuit made from only flour and water), salted pork and ‘navy’ beans. And these poor defenders of the Crown were a scurvy lot.

Then a Naval surgeon discovered that eating fresh citrus fruits would keep the scurvy at bay. After that, the ships began to keep hardy Caribbean lime trees in tubs on the decks when they were out of port for long periods. In the sun and fresh air, these prolific little plants kept the sailors healthy. At least in part because of their regained vigor, the British Navy maintained naval superiority, which eventually helped them become the first ‘superpower’ in modern times. Imagine that — an empire that grew with the help of some little green limes!

And the name, of course, stuck long after the pots were removed from decks.

You’re not likely to get scurvy nowadays, but too many still miss getting an optimal dose of vitamin C. One out of twenty people show signs of borderline scurvy, seen as easy bruising of the skin and gums that bleed when flossing. People with these symptoms also often complain of fatigue.

Vitamin C is a powerful antioxidant found in every cell. It’s very effective in neutralizing the chemical free-radicals that cause oxidation and aging.

Vitamin C strengthens your connective tissues and blood vessels. People with the highest levels of vitamin C in their blood have a 42% lower risk of having a stroke, compared to those with lower levels of C.

Vitamin C lends excellent immune system support, helping to combat viruses. Taking zinc, vitamin C and the herb Echinacea at the first signs of a cold (and repeating that trio every two hours) can often stop a cold in its tracks, or at least shorten its duration.

Smokers need additional vitamin C since they put greater oxidative stress on their bodies. One study found that supplementing adult smokers with 1,000 mg of vitamin C reduced their (otherwise high) blood levels of lead by 81% within only a week. Lower amounts of C did not have that same effect.

Nobel Laureate Linus Pauling advocated taking 10 grams (10,000 mg) of vitamin C a day, but your body cannot absorb that much at once, and the excess passes out via the kidneys. It’s best to spread your intake over the course of the day.

Orange juice is good, fresh fruit are better, but the best way to get enough vitamin C is to drink the juice, eat the fruit and take a healthy supplement of C twice a day, or a time-release C product. Vitamin C — it’s not just for breakfast anymore!

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