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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 – The Immune Empowerer

Many serious and debilitating illnesses arise from malfunctions in the competence of the immune system. Such disorders include AIDS and other immunodeficiency conditions such as Chronic Viral Fatigue, as well as conditions resulting from the immune system attacking its own cells (auto-immune disease), such as arthritis. The importance of an optimally functioning immune system are highlighted by what happens when the immune system is deliberately suppressed, such as when organ transplant operations (heart, bone marrow, etc.) are performed. Although it is necessary in such instances to suppress the immune response to prevent rejection of the transplanted organ, nevertheless, the individual is left extremely vulnerable to infection even from normally innocuous agents. The most dramatic illustration of the importance of the immune system occurs when a child is born with a defective immune system, and must live in a "plastic bubble" in order to protect against opportunistic infection.

With the advent of AIDS and the increased incidence of other immune-related conditions including allergies during the last decade, we have all become fairly well-informed about the immune system – that "defence network" of specialized and intricately coordinated array of various cells which are charged with the task of maintaining our bodies free from foreign invaders. Lymphocytes. Antibodies. T-cells. Killer cells. Macrophages. Interferon. Complement. The study of Immunology has of late become intertwined with Neurochemistry and Psychology, forming a field called "psycho-neuro-immunology", which is almost breathtakingly complex and intricate in its design and function. Not only does the body have several different types of defences against foreign attack (cell-mediated, humoral, complement), but within each of these different systems are a considerable variety of different components and chemical substances, each forming a finely tuned and coordinated cascade of biochemical events.

The immune system is comprehensive – components residing within each cell, as well as specially organized centres, including the lymph nodes, throughout the body. However, notwithstanding the voluminous scientific information which has accumulated on many aspects of the immune system, we are still somewhat in the dark about how to optimally empower our immune system so that we remain in the best of health. The truth is that health, and its opposite side of the coin, illness, is a complexly-determined entity, involving many factors – hereditary genetic makeup, nutritional history during pregancy and early infancy, the geographical region where we live, environmental contaminations and pollution, our psychological and emotional makeup, our lifestyle, the amount of stress and how we handle it, our eating habits, abusive behaviour, including smoking, drinking and overeating foods like sugar and animal fats.

The equation for health is a uniquely determined formula for each person. However, just as a universal formula cannot be devised that will work for everyone, there is a considerable body of evidence which demonstrates that there are a number of nutritional compounds, including Vitamin C, which can help strengthen the immune system, reduce free radical formation and thereby, in combination with good eating habits, sensible lifestye and proper stress management, promote optimal health.


The Vitamin C – Immune Connection

1. Leucocytes require Vitamin C for Effective Function

A landmark discovery, once again the result of serendipity, is that Vitamin C is required for proper leucocyte function(6). Leucocytes are the body's white blood cells, a vital component of the immune system. Researchers investigating leucocytes from guinea pigs, realized that the unusually fragile leucocytes were the result of Vitamin C deficiency(30). The scorbutic (suffering from scurvy) guinea pigs' leucocytes were so depleted of Vitamin C that they could not reject tissue transplants. Upon supplementation with Vitamin C, the leucocytes functioned normally, and the guinea pigs were able to reject the skin grafts(166).

Lymphocytes, a phagocytic (cell-devouring) type of leucocyte, are particularly important to immune responses in cancer and only function effectively as phagocytes if concentrations of Vitamin C are high(108). In an experiment to test the relationship between Vitamin C and reproduction of lymphoctyes, Yonemoto at the National Cancer Institute demonstrated a direct relationship between levels of Vitamin C supplementation and the budding of new lymphocyte cells (blastogenesis)(242). 5 grams of Vitamin C doubled the rate of lymphocyte budding – 10 g Vitamin C trebled the rate, and 18 g quadrupled the rate of lymphocyte blastogenesis! Who knows? The optimal rate of Vitamin C for lymphocyte blastogenesis may exceed 18 g in individuals whose lymphocytes are severely depleted of Vitamin C, such as cancer patients.

Vitamin C, in addition to modulating the new production of lymphocytes, is also crucial to their rapid mobilization to the site of infection, and their effective phagocytic activity. A multitude of factors, including colds, cigarette smoking and stress, severely deplete the Vitamin C levels from leucocytes, rendering the individual more vulnerable to secondary infection. A study by Hume and Weyers (1973)(111) determined that 1 g Vitamin C per day plus 6 g per day at the onset of a cold, kept the leucocytes operationally effective in their phagocytic activity.

2. Vitamin C Modulates Antibody Levels

Antibodies are one of the immune system's most direct lines of defence against infectious foreign substances "antigens". When the body is exposed to such an organism, or compound, clones of antibodies are produced against the antigen, which attack and destroy it. There are a variety of classes of antibody molecules, with corresponding different functions within the complex immune system. Levels of three of these classes of antibody molecules – IgA, IgG and IgM – have been found to increase with increased Vitamin C levels. As can be seen from Table 2, IgA, IgG and IgM are involved with the body's defences against bacteria and other microbes, viruses, foreign particles and pathogenic substances.

In a study conducted by Vallance of British subjects isolated for a year in Antarctica(217), it was found that antibodies IgG and IgM increased with increased Vitamin C intake. Similarly, in a placebo-controlled study conducted by Prinz and colleagues(171), it was found that 1 gm Vitamin C per day resulted in significant increases in serum levels of IgA, IgG and IgM. Similar correlations with Vitamin C and antibody levels have also been found in guinea pigs, which, like man, cannot synthesize their own Vitamin C, and must rely upon external sources for this vital nutrient.


Table 2. Types of Antibodies

Antibody Function

IgA Concentrates in body fluids (tears, saliva, respiratory, genitourinary and gastrointestinal secretions) guarding body entrances. First line of defense against invading pathogens and food allergens. Major Ig in defense against viruses.

IgD Major Ig present on surface of B cells; may be involved in differentiation of these cells.

IgE Involved in allergic reactions. Attaches to surface of mast cell and on encountering its matching antigen, stimulates the mast cell to pour out its contents. Also fights parasites.

IgG Most common. Major Ig in defense against microbes. Coats micro-organisms, speeding their destruction by other immune system cells. Confers long-standing immunity.

IgM Major Ig produced in primary antibody response. Circulates in the blood stream where it kills bacteria. Increases during acute stage of an infection. Usually forms in star-shaped clusters.

From "Maximum Immunity", M.A. Weiner, 1986. Gateway Books

3. Vitamin C Modulates Synthesis of Complement

Complement is a non-cellular immune component which is composed of a complex cascade of 20 enzymatic proteins which can modulate antibody-antigen reaction, thus affecting efficiency of phagocytosis, virus neutralization, chemotaxis and cytolysis. Vitamin C is involved in the synthesis of the C1-esterase component of complement, and levels of this compound increase with increased Vitamin C intake(166).

4. Vitamin C Modulates Interferon Synthesis

Interferons (there are as many as 20 different types) are proteins with antiviral activity, produced in cells which have been infected with virus, and also possibly in malignant cells. Interferon is being experimentally tested in treatment of different forms of cancer; however treatment with externally synthesized interferon rather than with the body's own naturally produced interferon, may have toxic side effects. Recent evidence confirms that increased Vitamin C intake results in increased interferon levels(208). Thus taking Vitamin C is a "natural" antiviral treatment (62).

5. Vitamin C Modulates Prostaglandin Synthesis

The prostaglandins are a class of small lipid molecules which, acting as hormones, play a role in blood flow, heart beat regulation, cell damage by drugs and immune response. Two prostaglandins in particular, PGE2 and PGF2, are involved in tissue inflammation – swelling, pain, tenderness and heat. Vitamin C has been shown to inhibit the synthesis of PGE2 and PGF2-alpha, thus exerting an anti-inflammatory effect. The prostaglandin PGE1 modulates lymphocyte formation, thus playing a key role in immune response. Vitamin C increases the synthesis of PGE1(109), thus, in yet another way, contributing to the optimal function of the immune system.

With even this brief look at Vitamin C's interactions with the immune system, it can be readily appreciated that Vitamin C levels are intimately linked with immune function. The level of Vitamin C in an individual can make the difference between a weak, barely adequate, or a strong immune response to infection and illness. Since the very cells of the immune system require adequate levels of Vitamin C to function effectively in their activities, it is clear that Vitamin C can be a most powerful ally in the quest for optimal health.



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