"C" is for "Critical"

June is Men’s Health Month, and we want to spotlight a particular issue that is both surprisingly common and shockingly underrepresented—especially in discussions about men’s health. That issue is the deficiency of one of the most well-known and accessible vitamins in the United States today: vitamin C.

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Vitamin C is, in the most technical sense, a water-soluble, essential antioxidant that is necessary to sustain life. But what do those terms actually mean in regard to your everyday health and functioning? Perhaps more importantly, does your vitamin C intake only matter inasmuch as it’s just enough to keep you from dying?

Let’s start with the term water-soluble, which ultimately denotes how long vitamin C stays in your body. Unlike fat-soluble vitamins, C doesn’t get stored in your body for later use. If you take in more vitamin C than your body needs on any given day, it simply gets excreted in your urine. The upside is that it’s basically impossible to “overdose” on a water-soluble vitamin like C, at least in the sense that it would build up to toxic levels in your body. (Exceeding 2,000 mg a day may cause some abdominal cramping and diarrhea, however, depending on your body’s tolerance.)

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Now for the word essential. While most of us see “essential” in front of a vitamin and define it as meaning “necessary”, in this case “essential” means that particular vitamin must be obtained from outside sources. The human body cannot make its own vitamin C, in other words, regardless of how critical it is to sustain life. Ideally, we would all get our required daily intake of vitamin C from the foods we eat, but people who don’t or can’t eat a well-balanced diet can very quickly become deficient in vitamin C. Severe vitamin C deficiency results in scurvy and eventual death, but symptoms of milder, long-term deficiency are far more insidious and non-specific. Issues such as unexplained weight gain, easy bruising, fatigue and difficulty concentrating, slow wound healing, brittle hair and nails, and decreased immune function all commonly occur in cases of chronic deficiency, as well as acute but non-lethal deficiency. Some research has even shown that the children of men who reproduce while deficient in vitamin C actually have an increased risk of birth defects, leading to the conclusion that inadequate levels of vitamin C negatively impact the health of sperm cells.

Last but not least, vitamin C is a potent antioxidant.  The human body naturally produces both harmful free radicals and their beneficial counterparts, known collectively as antioxidants. However, free radicals tend to be produced in greater proportions. Without an equivalent level of antioxidants to “cancel out” the free radicals, these metabolic byproducts cause damage to the body’s tissues and organs. When levels of antioxidants are adequate, this damage occurs gradually and is simply viewed as the natural aging process. When levels of antioxidants are especially low, however, damage from free radicals can result in greater incidence of cardiovascular disease, eye disease, certain cancers, and premature aging.

  Signs of aging that can appear prematurely in cases of vitamin C deficiency

Signs of aging that can appear prematurely in cases of vitamin C deficiency

The FDA has set the recommended daily allowance of vitamin C as 75 mg for adult women and 90 mg for adult men. Research on the role of antioxidants on adult health show that these amounts are probably a better reflection of the bare minimum dose needed to avoid severe clinical deficiency, not necessarily the optimal dose. The level of vitamin C required for optimal health and function is probably closer to 500-1000 mg a day for adults. (Remember, your body handles excess C very efficiently as long as you don’t reach that 2,000+ mg level that triggers your body to begin releasing C through the bowels as well as the urine.)

Although one study found that men taking supplemental vitamin C were at an increased risk of kidney stones, the benefits of supplemental C may outweigh the risks for those whose diets are limited for any reason. (Women weren’t included in the study, nor was there any consideration given to the quality of the supplements or what additives they may have included.) The good news is that for most people supplementation isn’t necessary to achieve an optimal daily intake of vitamin C.  Some foods are so rich in vitamin C that eating, for example, just one guava fruit and one kiwi in a single day will yield approximately 540 mg of C. Other foods aren’t as densely packed with vitamin C as those particular fruits, but a diet that incorporates lots of foods like kale, broccoli, cauliflower, pineapple, strawberries, and green or red peppers will still offer loads of daily C.

Let's wrap up with a couple of positives: There's a good chance you may be deficient in vitamin C, but a balanced diet of healthy whole foods and the possible addition of a high-quality form of supplemental C mean that you don't have to suffer any longer. Visit our Pinterest board Vitamin C to the Rescue! for some delicious and nutritious ways to incorporate more vitamin C into your daily diet. You can also stop by the office to pick up a very inexpensive but high-quality form of supplemental vitamin C from Douglas Laboratories if you feel you need a little "boost" while you work on making your diet more C-friendly.