The Power of Antioxidants, Starting With Vitamin C

Published: April 27, 2015
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Oxygen is life. If you stop breathing, you stop living. But oxygen is a double-edged sword: although it's a must for life, it can also kill cells.

That's because when oxygen enters the body it produces hyperactive molecules called free radicals (also known as reactive oxygen species, or ROS). These molecules create oxidative stress—a kind of internal rust that can damage DNA, turn nourishing fats and proteins into destructive compounds, and wreck enzymes, the sparkplugs that ignite chemical reactions inside cells.

In fact, scientists now consider oxidative stress to be a leading cause of chronic disease. (Inflammation is its evil twin.) Name a disease that's killing millions worldwide—heart disease, stroke, cancer, type 2 diabetes, Alzheimer's—and oxidative stress is on the scene, doing its dirty work.

For CFS/FMS, many researchers (including myself) consider deficiency of glutathione, one of the 2 antioxidants made by humans, to be a core problem.

Antioxidants to the rescue!

Antioxidants block the activity of free radicals, keeping the lid on oxidative stress. That's powerful natural medicine!

In this post, I'll start the discussion of antioxidants by talking about the most popular of all: vitamin C. But before talking about a specific nutrient, I'll tell you about what's wrong with the RDA (Recommended Daily Allowance) for nutrients, and my own daily guideline, the RDH (Requirement for Daily Healing).

In an upcoming post, we will also discuss glutathione, and how to get it effectively using an excellent new product called Clinical Glutathione. I recommend 2 under your tongue each morning. For the first 4 months, consider 2 twice a day. This is the only form of glutathione I recommend.

"C" Your Way to Better Health

Did You Get Your RDH Today?

Before I discuss optimizing your intake of vitamin C, I want to spend a little time talking about what I think is a smart, sensible way to monitor your daily intake of nutrients.

If you're like most people, you probably feel overwhelmed by the avalanche of acronyms the government uses to describe the adequate intake of nutrients. You've got your RDA (Recommended Dietary Allowance), the government standard that's based on meeting the nutritional needs of 98 percent of the population.

Then there's the AI (Adequate Intake), which applies to nutrients such as pantothenic acid (vitamin B5) that don't have enough scientific backup yet to set an RDA.

And, oh yeah, there's the UL (Tolerable Upper Intake Level), which experts say is the highest amount you can take without harm. And don't forget about the DRI (Dietary References Intakes) and the DV (Daily Value)…

Actually, do forget about them! By definition, these intakes, allowances, requirements and values are the lowest day-to-day intakes that will prevent deficiencies and a failure of the metabolic functions the nutrients support (like the amount of iron needed to prevent anemia).

These intakes are not aimed at achieving optimal health and well-being. They're so low that the RDA is sometimes called "Ridiculous Dietary Allowance."

So I recommend a different set of guidelines, which I call the "RDH: Requirement for Daily Healing." This is the amount of each vitamin and mineral necessary to prevent and reverse disease and achieve glowing health. You'll find these optimal amounts accompanying each nutrient I discuss, starting with vitamin C.

Vitamin C: RDH: 500 to 1,000 mg daily

The C in vitamin C could stand for classic: this nutrient has been and continues to be the most popular nutritional supplement in the U.S., with most of us taking it to prevent colds and strengthen the immune system. Vitamin C is also crucial in the creation of collagen, the protein responsible for firm, youthful skin and for maintaining the structure of other types of connective tissue, like cartilage and bones.

But vitamin C does much, much more. The list of health conditions that this nutrient can support is very long. Let's take a look at a few of these.

Alzheimer's. A study out of Germany shows that people with mild cognitive impairment—the stage before dementia—had 30% lower blood levels of vitamin C than healthy people the same age.

Asthma. Researchers at the University of Helsinki recently found that taking vitamin C could halve "exercise-induced bronchoconstriction," the difficulty in breathing following exercise that is common in people with asthma.

Atrial fibrillation (Afib) after heart surgery (irregular heart rhythms that can cause heart attack and stroke). In a study published in the Journal of the American College of Cardiology, a combination of antioxidants (vitamin C, E, omega-3) reduced post-op Afib from 32% to 10%.

Cataracts. People with the lowest blood level of vitamin C have a 59% higher risk of developing cataracts, according to a study in the journal Ophthalmology.

Cold sores. One study shows that if you take an antioxidant supplement containing vitamin C at the first sign of a cold sore, the outbreak may stop.

Colds. Vitamin C can cut in half the number of colds in people under intense physical stress, according to a recent study from the University of Helsinki.

Colorectal cancer. Adenomas of the colon are a precursor to colon cancer. In a 2013 study published in the Journal of Gastroenterology, an antioxidant supplement containing vitamin C (and vitamins A and E) reduced the recurrence of adenomas by 39%.

Diabetes. Researchers in England conducted a study of nearly 900 people newly diagnosed with diabetes. They found that those who made three or four healthy lifestyle changes—including increasing their dietary intake of vitamin C—were four times less likely to have a heart attack or other cardiovascular disaster in the five years after the diagnosis, compared to people who didn't make healthy changes. (Heart disease kills 4 out of 5 people with diabetes.)

High blood pressure. In a study from the University of South Carolina, people with high blood pressure who took 500 mg or more vitamin C daily had a 4.5 point drop in systolic blood pressure, significantly reducing the risk of heart attack or stroke. (Vitamin C helps kids, too. A study showed that a daily dose of 500 mg of vitamin C lowered blood pressure and improved circulation in obese kids.)

Infertility. Taking vitamin C improves the health of sperm: there are more sperm, they move faster, and have fewer defects.

Libido. People who take vitamin C have more sex, according to study in Biological Psychiatry. The nutrient also lowers depression. (Many other studies show vitamin C can boost mood.)

Lung disease. In a recent study from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, researchers found that people with chronic lung disease who had the highest blood levels of vitamin C were the least likely to die from the condition.

Memory loss. In a study published in the American Journal of Nutrition, people aged 40 to 65 who took vitamin C and other antioxidants for 8 years had 61% better "episodic memory" (the ability to remember specific events) than those who didn't.

Post-herpetic neuralgia (pain after a shingles infection). Vitamin C can reduce it, according to a study in the Clinical Journal of Pain.

Schizophrenia. Drugs typically given for the disease cause oxidative stress in the brain. Research shows that adding vitamin C and other antioxidants to the drug regimen lowers oxidative stress and improves symptoms.

Ulcers. Adding vitamin C to antibiotic therapy for helicobacter pylori—the cause of most stomach ulcers—improves the efficacy of the drugs, according to a study from Chinese researchers.

Urinary tract infections. Taking a supplement of 100 mg of vitamin C cut in half the number of urinary tract infections during pregnancy, in a study from Mexican researchers.

Many of these studies use the "RDH" range of vitamin C: 500 to 1,000 mg daily.

My personal recommendation for optimal health? Take about 500 mg of vitamin C everyday. To guarantee that you get that amount, I recommend a high-potency vitamin-mineral supplement, like the Energy Revitalization System, from Enzymatic Therapy. But don't forget about diet!

Ascorbic acid is a key component of the vitamin C complex. But note that it is called vitamin C complex for a reason. There are other components, and these are best found in healthy foods!

Vitamin C-rich foods include citrus fruits, broccoli, peppers, potatoes, leafy greens and Brussels sprouts. (These foods will also help you absorb iron. In a study reported in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, researcher found that taking vitamin C with a meal boosted the absorption of iron by 2½ times.)

And to maximize your dietary intake of C, consider buying organic produce. A 2013 study published in the medical journal PLOS ONE found that organic tomatoes contain up to 57% more vitamin C than tomatoes grown on conventional farms.

Jacob Teitelbaum, MD

is one of the world's leading integrative medical authorities on fibromyalgia and chronic fatigue. He is the lead author of four research studies on their treatments, and has published numerous health & wellness books, including the bestseller on fibromyalgia From Fatigued to Fantastic! and The Fatigue and Fibromyalgia Solution. Dr. Teitelbaum is one of the most frequently quoted fibromyalgia experts in the world and appears often as a guest on news and talk shows nationwide including Good Morning America, The Dr. Oz Show, Oprah & Friends, CNN, and Fox News Health.

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