Vitamin C Whole-Food vs. Ascorbic Acid
Many people in the 21st century may be surprised to learn that the discovery and investigation of the properties of vitamins is so recent. It was only in 1933 that ascorbic acid, dubbed vitamin C, was identified by Hungarian physiologist and Nobel Laureate Albert Szent Gyorgi. It was named "a-scorbic acid" since it prevented scorbutus (scurvy). Found in plants, famously fruits and vegetables, but also in many herbs and spices, this compound has far more roles in the body than simply immune health or warding off the truly terrible condition it was named after. Vitamin C supports energy production and use in the mitochondria of the cells, is a powerful antioxidant neutralizing the tissue-damaging effects of free radicals, is vital for the synthesis of collagen which supports all connective tissue in the body including internal organs and blood vessels, and of course supports immune function by stimulating white blood cell and interferon production.
Good sources include citrus fruits, berries, melons, leafy green vegetables such as spinach and collard greens, and cruciferous vegetables such as cauliflower and broccoli. Herbs with a high content include parsley, cilantro, and fresh thyme. Cooking may degrade or destroy this water-soluble vitamin, although freezing does not. Since it is water-soluble and is continually excreted rather than stored in the body, daily intake is essential for health.
Szent Gyorgi's work isolated ascorbic acid from several sources initially, including animal adrenal glands and, finally aiding his identification of the compound, paprika (dried red pepper powder). It was later that he also identified substances he termed vitamin P, now known simply as bioflavonoids. Szent Gyorgi isolated these compounds from lemon peel, and realized that they were an integral part of the manner in which vitamin C exerted its benefits. They enhance the function of vitamin C, improving absorption and also protecting it from oxidation. They themselves have antioxidant and anti-inflammatory activity, protecting the heart, blood vessels, connective tissue, and immune system. In nature, plants containing vitamin C always contain also bioflavonoid compounds.
The father of vitamin C speculated that natural vitamin C from whole food sources was many times more effective than isolated and synthetic ascorbic acid. The reason for this is the presence of the co-factors, namely the bioflavonoids. Rutin, hesperidin, quercetin, naringen, ellagic acid, anthocyanins, and more are present in the peels, skins, seeds and other portions of foods we consume every day, imparting their own myriad benefits and assisting the vitamin C content.
Whole Food Supplements
Vitamin C as a supplement is usually a highly processed, purified, crystalline substance derived from dextrose (a sugar). While this ascorbic acid definitely has benefits to the body, there is no question that a whole-food-sourced supplement has far greater benefits and absorption. There are many different kinds of whole food vitamin C available, ranging from powders of C-rich superfruits such as camu-camu or acerola cherry to blends of these fruits in a capsule to food-grown vitamin C, which begins as ascorbic acid but is "grown into" a nutritional yeast matrix and becomes a C-rich food. All of these products confer the benefits of bioflavonoid co-factors, and some of the superfuit powders, while quantifying the amount of vitamin C present, also contain naturally occurring additional nutrients. Camu-camu, for instance, is one of the richest sources of vitamin C on earth, and a powder of this yields several B vitamins as well as amino acids and, of course, the bioflavonoids.
Evergreen carries a good selection of these whole food vitamin C products including powders, tablets, capsules, and a new product from myKind/Garden of Life, Vitamin C Organic Spray, a tasty spray made from 100% organic whole foods such as amla berry, strawberry, and blackberry. Each five-spray serving provides 60 mg vitamin C. Available in two flavors, orange-tangerine and cherry-tangerine, this handy travel size bottle is a new favorite at the store, and for a limited time while supplies last, any purchase of a myKind product comes with a free bottle!
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