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Better Nutrition (1989-90)

Vitamin C exhibits remarkable antioxidant powers

Vitamin C exhibits remarkable antioxidant powers

Frank Murray

Vitamin C Exhibits Remarkable Antioxidant Powers

Most cancer-causing agents generate free radicals. Vitamin C has proved to be the most effective destroyer of these scavengers.

Scientists have long theorized that if we could deactivate the free-radical scavengers inhabiting our body, we could alleviate a number of life-threatening illnesses. In a recent study at the University of California at Berkeley, vitamin C neutralized 100 percent of the free radicals produced in the study. No other free-radical “quencher” exhibited this exceptional capability, according to biochemist Balz Frei.

Most of the cancer-causing agents to which we are exposed daily generate free radicals, according to Sheldon Saul Hendler, M.D., Ph.D., in The Complete Guide to Anti-Aging Nutrients. These scavengers, in turn, are instrumental in the accumulation of lipofuscin (the so-called age pigment), in the production of cross-links and in the activity of other factors that, cumulatively, constrict or destroy the ability of individual cells to function properly. The concern over free radical’s role in this activity prompted

Free radicals, Dr. Hendler said, have a special affinity for cell membranes and fatty acids. Consequently these free-roaming agents oxidize fats, producing chemicals that further damage cells. The consequence is often cancer, heart disease, senility and aging.

Free-radical pathology has given us a better understanding not only of such degenerative diseases as hardening of the arteries and cancer, but also of the aging process — the shrinking of the internal organs and the mental deterioration often associated with it, according to Dr. Eberhard Kronhausen and his coauthors in Formula for Life. Free-radical activity suppresses the immune system and increases the body’s susceptibility to infectious diseases.

Free radicals attack the DNA and RNA in our cells, which can produce mutations in the chromosomes that carry the genetic blueprint. These mutant cells begin reproducing wildly and may eventually cause cancer, said Dr. Kronhausen.

“Free radicals also cause an uncontrolled fusion of large cell molecules, called cross-linking,” he said. “This process is responsible, among other things, for hardening of artery walls, a factor in atherosclerosis and hypertension. Cross-linking also is responsible for removing the elastic `give’ from lung tissue, causing the disease known as emphysema, a very serious condition usually associated with smoking. Cross-linking is involved in a process responsible for the wrinkling of skin and the loss of flexibility with age — just as it also takes part in rigor mortis, when there is no more antioxidant activity to counteract the rapid stiffening of body tissues.

In the California study, Frei and his associates isolated plasma from human blood, incubated it at body temperature and added a chemical that is known to produce free radicals as it decomposes at this temperature, according to a report in Science News.

In addition to vitamin C, blood plasma contains three other water-soluble antioxidants: protein thiols, bilirubin and urate. According to the study, when vitamin C was present it disarmed the free radicals.

“I was quite surprised at how much better a scavenger of free radicals and oxidants ascorbate was, especially when compared with vitamin E,” Frei said.

Vitamin E, beta-carotene, selenium and other nutrients have long been recognized as antioxidants but in this study, vitamin E neutralized about 70 percent of the free radicals, compared with 100 percent for vitamin C.

Frei and his colleagues conclude that although antioxidants in the blood can slow fat oxidation, only vitamin C can completely prevent it. Their data suggests that the current Recommended Dietary Allowance for vitamin C is probably too low.

Researchers at Leuven Catholic University, Leuven, Belgium and Louvain Catholic University, Brussels, reported that vitamin C and vitamin K together inhibit the growth of breast cancer and oral epidermal cancer cells. Each vitamin individually prevented the growth of cancer cells but, when the two nutrients were given together, “the concentrations required to inhibit cell growth were 10 to 50 times lower.”

The California researchers suggested that the current RDA (which over the years has ranged from 45 to 60 mg) is too low for vitamin C. What, then, is the ideal? Various researchers have suggested an optimal intake of between 250 and 5,000 mg daily. Linus Pauling, Ph.D., one of the leading champions of vitamin C, has suggested that 2,300 mg may be in order for adults.

Another authority on vitamin C, Emanuel Cheraskin, M.D., D.M.D., who is retired from the University of Alabama, Birmingham, has concluded that “approximately 410 mg of vitamin C may be designated as the ideal daily allowance. This is about nine times the RDA.” He added, however, that “the ideal is nonexistent as a theoretic end-point” because of biochemical individuality and because measurement techniques leave much to be desired.

The research reported here is further proof of the effectiveness of getting sufficient amounts of vitamin C daily, which may only be possible with a vitamin C supplement. And in the California study, vitamin E certainly protected cells from free-radical damage. Other antioxidants such as vitamin A, beta-carotene and selenium should also be a part of our daily diet.

PHOTO : This microphotograph of Vitamin C’s molecular structure reveals its beauty.

PHOTO : Citrus fruit is high in Vitamin C.

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