Carolina Holistic Medicine | Functional & Alternative Medicine | Charleston, SC

The Vitamin C Story

by J.P. Saleeby, MD


Vitamin C, also known as Ascorbic Acid or ascorbate, is a carbohydrate closely related to and derived from the glucose molecule. Glucose as we know is a simple sugar that is used by most living organisms as a fuel for cellular energy. Vitamin C remains one of the most important nutrients we as humans rely on for good health.

Vitamin C was first identified by a Hungarian scientist named Albert Szent-Gyorgyi, MD, PhD in 1926, while conducting research on the chemical process that causes fruits and vegetables to turn brown. He succeeded in isolating a white crystalline substance from the adrenal gland of cows, which he referred to as Cx11.

He later isolated these same crystals from the juice of potatoes and cabbages and renamed it hexuronic acid. Finally, in 1932 after producing the first pure crystals of vitamin C he renamed it Ascorbic Acid in recognition of its role in preventing scurvy.

The Latin word, ascorbic means “without scurvy”. Scurvy results in defective collagen synthesis leads to defective dentine formation, hemorrhaging into the gums, and loss of teeth. Hemorrhaging is a hallmark feature of scurvy and can occur in any organ. Hair follicles are one of the common sites of cutaneous bleeding. Bony changes are usually observed in the very young.

Scurvy was described by the Egyptians as early as 1500 BC in the Ebers papyrus. It struck the crew of Magellan’s around the world journey in 1519-22 and a British report in 1600 indicated that in the previous 20 years some 10,000 mariners had been destroyed by the disease.

In 1747 as the HMS Salisbury sailed from England to the Plymouth Colony, James Lind the ship’s physician performed a simple experiment to determine the cause of this disease. Seafarers were often susceptible due to poor dietary intake of Vitamin C. The ingestion of limes and oranges saved sailors from scurvy. Consequently, British sailors during WWII were often referred to as “limies” for their consumption of this fruit.

Unfortunately, humans do not possess the ability to manufacture their own Vitamin C. And by definition a vitamin is a substance necessary for survival that must be taken in from the outside (ingested exogenously).

Plants and animals possess an enzyme called gluconolactone oxidase (GLO) that allows them to readily convert glucose into Vitamin C humans have somehow lost the ability to do what virtually every other life form on earth can do with ease during our evolutionary development by losing the ability to make GLO. Actually GLO is the 4th enzyme in the pathway to converting glucose to Vitamin C.

Only a few mammals do not make this vitamin and they are besides our species, the gorillas, guinea pigs and the fruit bats. Why have these four mammalian species lost this ability is poorly understood, but they are certainly at a disadvantage.

The reasons why Vitamin C is important are many. It offers Antioxidant protection. Vitamin C protects us from the ravages of free radical damage that can destroy cell membranes, damage DNA and lead to the development of degenerative diseases, cancer and pre- mature aging.

In addition to helping the body utilize folic acid, Vitamin C helps in the recycling process of other anti-oxidants such as Vitamin E, Coenzyme Q10, alpha Lipoic Acid and Glutathione. Antioxidants are the key to maintaining health and longevity. They are at the root of all degenerative diseases.

Vitamin C is crucial in Collagen production. Vitamin C helps manufacture collagen, the basic cellular “cement” that keeps muscles, tendons, bones, teeth, skin and arteries healthy and strong and aids in the repair of blood vessels and broken bones.

The amino acids Lysine, Glycine, Proline when combined with Vitamin C makes collagen. Zinc is an important mineral in this pathway as well. So without adequate dietary intake of Vitamin C and Zinc skin and tissue repair is hindered.

Vitamin C is important in Cardiovascular support. Vitamin C benefits heart conditions of all kinds. It has been found to normalize blood pressure, reducing cholesterol and repairing arterial walls. In fact, there are researchers that believe cardiovascular disease is in reality the early stages of scurvy and can be prevented with a vitamin protocol centering on high doses of Vitamin C.

This was the belief of two-time Nobel Prize laureate Linus Pauling. Dr. Pauling dedicated much of his life’s work to research on Vitamin C. Ascorbic acid does not allow Low Density Lipoprotein (LDL-Cholesterol) to oxidize. It is the oxidation of this “bad” cholesterol that produces plaques on our artery walls and results in coronary artery disease.

Vitamin C’s effects on cardiovascular health may soon be revealed to play a bigger role than some very powerful drugs the medical establishment is currently using as first line medication.

The Immune system is not to be overlooked, for ascorbic acid plays a role here as well. Vitamin C aids white blood cells that attack and destroy everything from cancer cells, viruses, bacteria, to parasites of all kinds. It also controls the release of histamine, a sometimes undesirable side effect of our immune system at work.

Most nutritionally minded physicians who recommend large doses (much greater than the RDA) of Vitamin C rely on animal models that produce their own Vitamin C. For example, a goat will on an average day will produce between 5 and 15 grams of V-C. Interestingly, that same goat, if under stressed, will produce 5 – 10 times its baseline levels of ascorbic acid.

Evolution has conditioned the goat to increase production in times of need. Since we lack the GLO enzyme we cannot provide our systems with the antioxidant protection that Vitamin C was designed to provide. We have no way of self-regulation. Antioxidant experts from researcher Linus Pauling to Cellular Health author Dr. Matthias Rath (who discovered the Lp(a) risk factor for heart disease) recommend a dosage of up to 10 grams a day to fully support and aid the immune system in normal, optimal physical health.

Doses in excess of 4 grams (4000 mg) daily should first be discussed with your physician. High-dose IV Vitamin C has been used from conditions ranging from cancer to immune dysfunction to detoxification to Lyme disease treatments. It is routinely used in national burn centers for those with massive 3rd and 4th degree burns to increase survival rates and quicken tissue healing.

Conversely high doses of Vitamin C can hinder the absorption of Ginseng if taken together. High dose Vitamin C increases serum levels in the concomitant use of the drug Acetaminophen (Tylenol). High levels of Tylenol especially in an individual with liver disease can be harmful.

There are reports that high dose Vitamin C inhibits effect of statin (HMG-CoA reductase) drugs such as Zocor, Mevacor and Lipitor. These drugs are used to lower cholesterol. High dose Vitamin C may also reduce the blood thinning effects of warfarin (Coumadin) and that is important for those people taking that medication to be aware.

By using the bowel tolerance test (or Ascobic Acid Flush test) everyone can determine his or her own necessary level of Vitamin C. Start by taking one gram of vitamin C on day one and increasing the dosage by an additional gram each day thereafter until a soft or loose stool is experienced. Then simply scale back by taking 75% of the max dose to arrive at your dosage level.

This amount is different for each individual and may change depending on the health and stress of that person. If you are stressed by some sort of acute illness such as a cold, conducting the same test rapidly can be achieved by increasing the dose of Vitamin C by one gram every hour until bowel tolerance is reached.

Those patient with Iron metabolism problems such as Hemochromatosis or a blood disorder called Thalassemia need to exert caution for Vitamin C greatly increases iron absorption and this is harmful in these individuals. Better absorption with less GI side effects and diarrhea for hi-dose vitamin C can be had by using Liposomal Vitamin C (this preparation is rapidly absorbed in the small intestines and will not concentrate in the bowels to cause loose stools).

A good resource is a recently published book on the topic of vitamin C by Dr. Thomas E. Levy entitled “Primal Panacea” (2012). Before embarking on high dose Vitamin C usage, it is important to determine your needs and the correct preparations, dosing schedule and adjunct supplements that need to be taken. Consultation with a nutritionally minded physician is imperative for use of hi-dose or large dose Vitamin C.

© 2003-2014 2019

JP Saleeby, MD is medical director of Priority Health Carolinas a concierge preventive medicine practice based near Myrtle Beach, SC. For more info visit, House calls available for administration of hi-dose Vit C IV infusions and ways to obtain Liposomal Vit C supplements in a pharmaceutical grade product.

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