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Vitamin C - The Master Nutrient


Preface    | Foreword | Introduction | Chapter 1 | Chapter 2 | Chapter 3 | Chapter 4 | Chapter 5 | Chapter 6 | Chapter 7 | Chapter 8 | Chapter 9 | Chapter 10 | Chapter 11 | Chapter 12 | Chapter 13 | Bibliography

Vitamin C – Past, Present and Future

To put this saga in proper perspective, we should begin this tale about 60 million years ago. For that is when, according to biochemist Dr. Irwin Stone, our ancestors lost the ability to make their own Vitamin C(200). But we did NOT lose our requirement for considerable amounts of this life-sustaining and critical nutrient on a daily basis. Our loss of self-sufficiency with respect to Vitamin C and our subsequent dependence upon diet to provide adequate amounts has impacted significantly our health and lifestyle throughout history, relevant ESPECIALLY today in our polluted, nutrient-depleted, stressful high-tech "advanced" world. We have indeed travelled (fallen) a long way since our proverbial exit from the paradisiacal garden of Eden, where presumably there was an abundance of citrus fruits and Vitamin C.

Time warp. Middle Ages. Sailors expiring by droves – xhaustion, depression, muscle pain, haggard appearance, bleeding gums, stinking breath, hemorrhaging and extensive bruising, diarrhea, lung/kidney troubles, death. Scurvy. Dead sailors of all nationalities – Portuguese, Spanish, British, French. Horrible voyages, many corpses and countless unaccomplished missions.

1536. Jacques Cartier, Quebec City, Canada. Iroquois Indian remedy for scurvy – tea made from the leaves and bark of the arbor vitae tree determined, centuries later, to possess high Vitamin C content.

1747. British physician James Lind performed a now famous clinical trial on twelve of his men suffering from scurvy. He divided the men into six groups, receiving daily, in additional to their normal diets, either: 2 oranges and 1 lemon; cider; dilute sulfuric acid; vinegar; sea water; or a mixture of drugs. After 6 days the men receiving the citrus fruits were well, all ten others remained ill. This and other experiments were later published in Lind's A Treatise on Scurvy, 1753.

In today's world obsessed with double-blind placebo-controlled trials, Lind's work would have been criticized on the basis of the small sample size, lack of placebo and lack of double blind. The British Admiralty, despite the huge losses incurred from this devastating condition, waited 48 years until 1795 before decreeing that daily rations of fresh lime juice be given to sailors in the British Navy. Although scurvy disappeared very soon thereafter from the British Navy, it continued its scourge throughout the British merchant marine for another 70 years, until the Board of Trade followed suit with a similar decree in 1865.

1911. Theory of "vitamines" published by Polish biochemist Casimir Funk working in London, theorizing that four substances found in natural foods confer protection against the diseases of beriberi, rickets, pellagra and scurvy. In 1913 the American E.V. McCollum started the modern nomenclaturesystem of vitamins, by referring to "fat-soluble A", "water-soluble B", scurvy-preventing "water-soluble C" and rickets-preventing "fat-soluble D".

1928. First isolation of pure Vitamin C by Hungarian biochemist Albert Szent-Györgyi working in Cambridge England, the Mayo Clinic, Minnesota and Hungary(202). Szent-Györgyi isolated a substance which he named hexuronic acid, and which was subsequently shown, in 1932, to be Vitamin C by American scientists Waugh and King(233). Typical of so many scientific discoveries, Szent-Györgyi was not actually searching for Vitamin C. He was attempting to identify an oxygen-combining substance which prevents the appearance of brown pigment from decaying fruit. His diverse expertises in oxidation-reaction and physiology enabled him to isolate a large enough quantity of hexuronic acid from cabbages, adrenal glands of animals, as well as that favourite Hungarian spice, paprika. Following the determination by Szent-Györgyi of the substance's chemical formula C6H8O6, and the determination of its structural formula in collaboration with the English chemist Haworth, the chemical name for Vitamin C was changed from hexuronic to ascorbic acid, denoting an acidic substance which prevents and cures scurvy.

Research directed at the determination of the level of Vitamin C necessary to prevent scurvy led to the establishment of a recommended dietary allowance (RDA) for Vitamin C of 60 mg per day(179). And, basically, what most scientists and doctors are taught in their medical training about nutrition is that certain nutrients prevent certain deficiency diseases. There is abundant evidence that this minimal RDA levels of 60 mg in no way reflects the optimal level of Vitamin C required for excellent health. In fact, Irwin Stone blames the emphasis of Vitamin C as an antiscurvy vitamin rather than an essential nutrient since the 1930's for halting progress of clinical research and therapeutic application of Vitamin C for the treatment of a wide number of diseases. During the 1940's amd 50's, Dr. F.R. Klenner pioneered large doses of Vitamin C for the treatment of many viral diseases, including poliomyelitis(126-8).

We of the late twentieth century are so smug. The word scurvy induces an almost knee-jerk smirk and the thought "oh, scurvy doesn't exist anymore – a glass of orange juice, Vitamin C, etc." Scurvy is a boring subject which has been relegated to the annals of history as such to school aged children. Well, look again at the symptoms and forget the name of the disease: exhaustion, depression, muscle pain, haggard appearance, bleeding gums, stinking breath, hemorrhaging and extensive bruising, diarrhea, lung/kidney troubles. Who amongst the most fit and active super specimens has NOT occasionally experienced degrees of several or all of the above symptoms? Perhaps we have been so clever in categorizing every substance into a pigeon hole in relation to a given disease that we have totally ignored the universal and massively complex biochemical roles played by substances such as Vitamin C.

The American biochemist Dr. Irwin Stone published in 1965 an evolutionary treatise expounding that by a chance genetic mutation in the required Vitamin C enzyme machinery, humans and several other animal species lost their ability to make Vitamin C(199). The time estimates for this genetic event vary from between 25 to 60 million years. According to this theory, because we lack this crucial Vitamin C manufacturing ability, humans generally suffer from a genetic disease called hypoascorbemia (deficiency of asorbic acid), which in mild form produces chronic health problems such as high cholesterol, heart disease, arthritis, colds and cancer, and in severe cases leads to the fatal condition of scurvy.

As a theoretical framework, the concept of a flexible continuum of Vitamin C required for optimal health is impeccable, especially when integrated with each person's biochemical individuality, environmental and nutritional history and lifestyle and stress factors.

In 1970 Linus Pauling produced shock waves throughout the medical establishment by publishing his first book "Vitamin C, the Common Cold and the Flu"(164), in which he documented evidence of Vitamin C's efficacy, and presented extensively researched, sometimes searing yet well-deserved critiques of scientific investigations and trials previously conducted, some of which arrived at erroneous conclusions or seriously understated or omitted their positive findings from abstract summaries of their studies.

Throughout the 1970's research burgeoned investigating Vitamin C's interactions with the immune system, therapeutic action in the treatment of postoperative patients, cancer, heart disease, diabetes, while in the market place appeared different forms of Vitamin C: mineral ascorbates, buffered and time-released capsules.
1981. In his landmark paper "Vitamin C, Titrating to Bowel Tolerance, Anascorbemia, and Acute Induced Scurvy"(46), Dr. Robert Cathcart described a method to determine one's optimal level of ascorbic acid and revealed the successful use of ascorbic acid in treating over 9,000 patients with conditions including mononucleosis, hepatitis, bacterial infections, allergy, candida albicans, trauma, surgery, burns, cancer, disc-related back pain, arthritis, scarlet fever, herpes and crib death. In 1984 Dr. Cathcart published another paper(47) describing the use of Vitamin C in the treatment of AIDS.

As the 1980's have progressed, so has the research, clinical and consumer use of versatile Vitamin C increased astronomically. Linus Pauling published his best seller "How to Live Longer and Feel Better"(166) in 1986, with meticulous research and references summarizing therapeutic uses of Vitamin C; likewise Drs. Cheraskin, Ringsdorf, and Sisley in "The Vitamin C Connection – Getting Well and Staying Well with Vitamin C(54). The New York Academy of Sciences' Third Conference on Vitamin C was held on July 7, 1987(36), bringing together scientific papers about Vitamin C in subjects such as Neurochemistry, Epidemiology, Biochemistry and Immunology, diseases such as Diabetes, Cataracts and Eye Disease, Free Radicals, and Metabolic requirements and Safety.

During the 1980's a tiny fledgling company, Oxycal Laboratories Inc. in Prescott Arizona, while researching a novel ascorbate production process, determined that natural by-products, called metabolites, in their Vitamin C product greatly enhanced its absorption and retention. Ewan Cameron and Linus Pauling, in their book "Cancer and Vitamin C"(43), farsightedly predicted that "these oxidation products (metabolites), which as yet have not been thoroughly studied, may provide an important part of the mechanism by which large doses of vitamin C help to control cancer and other diseases". United States Patent No. 4,822,816 was assigned to Oxycal Laboratories for this improved form of Vitamin C, tradename Ester-CR ascorbate on April 18, 1989(146).

At the 2nd International AIDS Symposium in Feb. 1989 in Los Angeles, Dr. Raxit Jariwalla, Director of the Immune Deficiency and Viral Carcinogenesis Department of the Linus Pauling Institute, presented a paper documenting that Vitamin C was capable of inhibiting, by 99%, the reverse transcriptase (RT) activity of the AIDS virus in laboratory cells infected with the Human Immunodeficiency Virus (HIV)(97). Molecular biology experiments suggest that by-products or metabolites of Vitamin C may be responsible for this anti-HIV activity.

The future with respect to Vitamin C is really only beginning. The biochemistry of the metabolism of Vitamin C in the body is only crudely understood. The role of metabolites, the subject of exciting research into atherosclerosis and diabetes, may reveal aspects of Vitamin C not even thought of several years ago. And still the controversial debates rage among all the experts in this "respectable" yet contentious field: whether Vitamin C causes kidney stones or alleviates kidney stones; the advisability of taking massive doses versus the requirement to take massive doses to experience benefit. The experts argue over the best composition of Vitamin C – ascorbic acid, buffered ascorbates, Ester C, and in what form – crystals, tablets, capsules or intravenous injections.

The saying goes that "wherever there is smoke there is fire". Well, the corollary to this truism must be "wherever there is fire there is inspiration". So, to you, the reader, whether practitioner, researcher or health-minded consumer, sit back and enjoy the substance and the fireworks of the Vitamin C debate, remembering that you are the final arbiter of your health and health care, and that no "expert" is omniscient.


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