To Your Health

Even more reasons why vitamin C is good for you

Q. I can't afford many of the expensive "new" antioxidants like alpha-lipoic acid and the antioxidant concentrates from fruits and vegetables, so sometimes I just reach for my old friend vitamin C. It's amazing how well it still works for my allergies, healing, and to help me sleep when I take enough of it. Are there any recent discoveries about vitamin C?

A. Since it was synthesized about 60 years ago, very high doses of vitamin C have been used to successfully treat more than 30 conditions in addition to scurvy, the acknowledged vitamin C deficiency disease. Although vitamin C is found in a wide variety of foods, it is necessary to use synthetic vitamin C to reach the megadoses necessary for the seemingly miraculous benefits.

From the first, vitamin C was recognized as an antioxidant, although the importance of antioxidants to our health was not appreciated. It was also known very early that vitamin C alone was not nearly as useful as it is when combined with other antioxidants such as bioflavonoids and carotenoids. In fact, any antioxidant when supplemented alone at very high levels can turn into a harmful pro-oxidant, and early clinicians were fortunate that, along with high-dose vitamin C, their treatment usually emphasized the fruits and vegetables that are high in bioflavonoids and carotenoids as well as vitamin C. Such a diet greatly increases the safety and effectiveness of high-dose vitamin C.

Hardly a year goes by without the publication of research revealing a new application of vitamin C to some health problem. Research published just in the year 2005 includes:

• Vitamin C given in very large amounts by IV infusion protects and heals the artery walls damaged by diseases such as diabetes.

• Vitamin C supplements slow the progress of retinopathy associated with diabetes and generally improve the flow of blood throughout the body.

• Vitamin C has a beneficial effect on nitric oxide, a substance that enlarges blood vessels and increases blood flow.

• Patients with liver disease cannot control their blood flow by shrinking the size of their arteries when needed. A supplement of vitamin C for these patients completely restores this control.

• Intravenous vitamin C given in the first 12 hours following a heart attack, followed by oral vitamin C and vitamin E supplements, reduces the number of deaths and new nonfatal heart attacks in the following weeks.

• When vitamin C supplements were given to patients treated for atrial fibrillation, they were seven times more likely to remain in normal heart rhythm than those not given vitamin C.

• Vitamin C is now incorporated into topical "cosmeceuticals," designed to protect and rejuvenate skin damaged by sunlight.

When used with a diet emphasizing fresh vegetables and fruits, vitamin C supplements are an inexpensive and safe way to maintain good health and reduce the problems common to our everyday lives.

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