Vitamin C – The Small Wonder For Human Health
Vitamin C is a nutritional supplement, antioxidant, cosmetic enhancer, and food preservative, but this vitamin also takes the name as health coordinator. Vitamin C, also known by its chemical name ascorbate or ascorbic acid, has been shown by research studies to be an important substance for the maintenance of human health. The property of vitamin C is that of a small molecule (C6H8O6) with the appearance of white small crystals, similar to that of household sugar (Hickey Saul, 2008). It is also a weak acid (pK1 = 4.17), similar in acidity to that of citrus fruit and cola soft drink. Inside the human body vitamin C has a many functions but the most important functions of this vitamin is its ability to act as redox cofactor and catalyst in many of the biochemical reactions and processes of the human body (Johnston, Steinberg, and Rucker 529).
The capability of ascorbic acid to function as a redox cofactor and catalyst, allows it to counteract free radicals. Free radicals in the system are the species that lead to cell and tissue damage as well as exacerbate present illnesses such as diabetes, cardiovascular disease, and even some forms of cancer (Hickey, and Saul 59). The role as a major immune supporting substance highlights the critical function vitamin C plays in the human system. With this in mind, it is therefore critical for humans to monitor their vitamin C intake to ensure proper dosages are met to counteract these present and future free radicals and thus hinder damage to the system. Unfortunately this is many times not the case, as indicated by the rise of specific disorders such as cardiovascular disease and cancer in the U.S. People today are not monitoring their dietary concerns and are consuming more of the free radical producers than antioxidants. This trend of consumption and ignorance will lead to greater pressures on health care systems as well as financial and emotional strains on family units.
Unlike medicine which gained great momentum in the early 1900’s, vitamin C did not gain significant importance and controversy until the noble Prize winner Linus Pauling presented his vast research findings to the scientific community (Hicky, and Roberts 52). A strong believer on the positive effects of vitamin C, Linus Pauling would later coin the term “orthomolecular” as treating diseases, biochemical imbalances, and disorders, with natural substances that are naturally found in food such as vitamins, fatty acids, and trace elements. The orthomolecular movement believes that many mental as well as physical ailments stem from some sort of deficiency or imbalance of these natural occurring substances in the body. As the movement progressed, vitamin C gained much of the limelight as a panacea for many disorders. It has been demonstrated that certain dosages of vitamin C have led to a reduction of inflammation, allergies, anxiety, prevention of the common cold and lip herpes, as well as a cure for fatty liver and some cancers (Hickey, and Saul 109).
The understanding of the deficiencies and imbalances does not permit a person to just take a number of supplements to counter these situations; rather, dosage depends on that individual’s biochemistry (Pauling 81). Each person has a unique genetic makeup as well as distinct biochemistry; therefore, dosage will need to fit that individual’s system. This occurrence explains why some individuals may need to take higher levels of vitamin C than their counterparts when combating certain ailments and disorders. Also, the pharmacokinetics of vitamin C plays a role in vitamin C dosage as vitamin C does not stay long in the body and is rapidly excreted from the system. This feature of ascorbic acid will also affect dosage levels for the individual.
Ascorbic acid’s main function in the body is to act as radical scavenger by finding free radical molecules in the blood and then donate electrons to allow that molecule to become stable and unreactive. A free radical is a molecule with one or two unpaired electrons. Due to its state, the radical will steal electrons from any molecule near the radical, setting off a chemical chain reaction that results in tissue damage in the body. As an antioxidant, vitamin C acts as the electron donor to stop the widespread reactions caused by the presence of the free radical. Ascorbic acid itself is oxidized during the process and forms semidehydroascorbate which is a radical but is unreactive and is neither strongly reducing nor oxidizing (Hickey, and Roberts, 59). This unreactive property of vitamin C is the main reason why vitamin C is often utilized in fighting diseases and illnesses. Two ascorbyl radicals, however, can combine forming one molecule of ascorbate and one of dehydroascorbate. The oxidized form of dehdroascorbate is not stable and further breaks down forming oxalic and 1-threonic acids. A high level of ascorbate and low levels of dehydroascorbate are found in healthy human tissue indicating that proper dosage and intake of vitamin C will ensure that a balance between the two substances are maintained through the electron donation of vitamin C.
Vitamin C is also important in the human body as a catalyst for the production of collagen. Collagen is the connective tissue similar to that of fine fiber and it is found between bones, organs, and blood vessels throughout the body. This fine fiber holds the vast systems together and conducts proper blood flow to and from the heart. The vitamin is active both inside and outside the human cell where it hydroxylates two amino acids proline and lysine. This helps form the precursor molecule called procollagen that is later modified into collagen outside the cell.
Another important aspect of vitamin C that should be stated is how cost effective the supplement is when compared with prescribed medication and over-the-counter drugs. Vitamin C can be easily obtained in the fruits, vegetables and some meats that are found in a general supermarket. Also, many stores now carry a wide assortment of vitamins that can be easily obtained without a prescription. The financial advantage of obtaining a simple supplement that can improve and ensure lasting health is far too great to be denied.