Getting Cs and Ds

A healthy grade with vitamins

Getting Cs and Ds

Vitamin D has taken the spotlight for a multitude of disease-preventing benefits. The focus, however, has eclipsed another crucial vitamin, vitamin C.

In the last decade, vitamin D has taken the spotlight for a multitude of disease-preventing benefits. Since many Canadians are deficient in vitamin D, many now know the importance of incorporating this vitamin into their daily supplement regime.

The focus on vitamin D, however, has eclipsed the discussion of another crucial vitamin that we ought to take on a regular basis—namely vitamin C. Both vitamins are essential for life, and a combination of the two is better insurance for a healthy tomorrow.

Vitamin C

Age Recommended daily dose
1 to 3

400 mg

4 to 8 650 mg
9 to 13 1,200 mg
14 to 18 1,800 mg
19 and over

2,000 mg

—Health Canada tolerable upper intake levels

Natural sources per 100 g:
acerola fruit: 1,600 mg, goji berries: 73 mg, red pepper: 190 mg

Vitamin C:

The history

The discovery of vitamin C has proven to be greatly significant for human health and longevity. It was first isolated in 1928 by Hungarian biochemist and Nobel Prize winner Dr. Szent-Gyorgyi. Prior to that, it had an established history of health benefits, as First Nations people consumed infusions of spruce needles, rich in vitamin C, during seasons when fresh fruits and vegetables were scarce.

In 1536, while exploring the St. Lawrence River, Jacques Cartier used the local spruce brew to save his dying shipmen from scurvy. Today we know this type of infusion can contain up to 125 mg of vitamin C in each cup.

Nobel Prize winner Linus Pauling was first to suggest that vitamin C has a profound effect on the immune system. He suggested two possible effects: first, high doses of vitamin C would be greatly beneficial for cancer patients, even curative; second, regular supplementation could decrease the number of colds per year. Though both hypotheses have been disputed by the scientific community, Pauling’s work can be seen as the foundation for what we know about vitamin C today.

The common cold
Prevention of the common cold is the most widely perceived benefit of vitamin C. Pauling suggested that 1 to 2 g of daily vitamin C would substantially strengthen the immune system, reducing frequency of the common cold. While much interest exists in this theory, researchers have found that vitamin C helps shorten the duration of a cold rather than decreasing the number of colds per year.

Wound healing
Vitamin C is beneficial for wound healing due to its ability to stimulate collagen synthesis. This can mean better healing times for cuts and scrapes and is particularly important after surgery. It is also helpful for trips to the dentist, since dental work can leave gums sore and bleeding.

Atherosclerosis
Numerous theories exist about the cause of plaque buildup in the arteries. One theory suggests that free radicals react with a fatty substance called low-density lipoprotein (LDL), forming a gummy paste along the arterial wall. Because of its antioxidant properties, vitamin C protects against free radical damage and prevents the change of LDL into that dangerous, sticky substance in the arteries.

Vitamin D
Age Recommended daily dose
Breastfed babies 400 IU
2 to 50 200 IU
51 to 70 400 IU
Over 70

600 IU

—Health Canada

Natural sources:
20 minutes of sunlight exposure per day
100 g salmon, 360 IU
one whole egg, 20 IU
1 Tbsp cod liver oil, 1,360 IU

The Canadian Cancer Society recommends that Canadian adults take 1,000 IU of vitamin D daily in fall and winter. Those at risk of vitamin D deficiency should take 1,000 IU daily, year round. Speak with your health care practitioner to determine the right amount for you.

Vitamin D: Believe the hype

In November of 2000, a researcher at the University of Wisconsin published a study that concluded vitamin D could be a natural inhibitor of multiple sclerosis. Until this point, interest in vitamin D and its impact on serious diseases had been scarce.

Throughout the following decade vitamin D would be labelled a miracle nutrient, promising to improve everything from life expectancy to warding off gum disease, multiple sclerosis, and cancer. Perhaps all the attention to this single nutrient, which we can manufacture from 20 minutes of sunlight per day, is just hype. A closer look at the evidence suggests otherwise.

Heart health
In January of this year a study of 3,890 individuals confirmed a strong link between vitamin D deficiency and heart disease. The Framingham Heart Study suggested that individuals with visceral adiposity, better known as belly fat, are more likely to suffer from vitamin D deficiency.

Although the mechanism is still being studied, vitamin D seems to confer heart-healthy effects. For example, UK researchers found gardeners had lower cholesterol levels in the sunny warmer months than they did during the winter months.

Healthy bones
Almost completely eradicated in North America today, rickets is still a problem faced by children of low income families in parts of the Middle East, Asia, and Africa. Calcium, along with vitamin D, is now known to be essential for proper bone development and prevention of osteoporosis in later life.

While many women take a calcium supplement for healthy bones, the need for adequate amounts of vitamin D cannot be overstressed. It appears that vitamin D converts into the active metabolite calcitriol, which in turn modulates genes that increase calcium absorption. (In light of recent research linking calcium and potential heart problems, always consult your health care practitioner before taking calcium supplements to ensure they are right for you.)

Cancer
Current published studies have not conclusively confirmed that vitamin D levels directly relate to decreased cancer mortality rates. However, in a review of the diet, lifestyle, and medical history of 12,000 individuals, researchers found higher levels of vitamin D intake were associated with lower levels of colorectal cancer.

Vitamin D has become the nutrient of the 21st century, overshadowing the life-saving benefits of vitamin C, well documented throughout history. From a look at published literature, both nutrients are needed for optimal health and well-being, and together provide the foundation for disease prevention and longevity.

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