Updated: Mar 3, 2019
With all the information available and the introduction of designer vitamins and herbs out on the market today, it’s difficult to sometimes remember that basic is almost always best.
That’s where vitamin C comes into play, but it’s more of a major player than you may have given it credit for.
The body actually uses vitamin C to form collagen. Collagen is the most abundant protein in the human body and is the substance that holds the whole body together. It is found in the bones, muscles, skin and tendons, where it forms a kind of scaffold to provide the soft tissue strength and structure.
Collagen is also used to repair bones, teeth, skin. It heals wounds and helps to form scar tissue.
Without it we experience skin diseases such as scurvy. Scurvy is a condition that includes dry and splitting hair; gingivitis (inflammation of the gums), bleeding gums; rough, dry, scaly skin; decreased wound-healing rate, easy bruising; nosebleeds; and a decreased ability to ward off infection.
But’s that’s just part of the picture. A low level of vitamin C may also be responsible for an increased risk of cataracts. Did you know that by the age of 80, more than half of Americans have cataracts or have had cataract surgery?
That’s crazy when you think about it.
A cataract is a clouding of the lens of the eye which can lead to blindness. The lens of the eye adjusts the eye’s focus so when it is affected, it affects sight too. Inside the eye is made of mostly water and protein, arranged in a precise way that keeps the lens clear and which lets light pass through it.
But some of the protein may begin to clump together and start to cloud a small area of the lens. As it accumulates, we call it a cataract.
Over time, the cataract may grow larger and cloud more of the lens, making it harder to see.
Researchers suspect that there are several causes of cataract. Some are genetic but toxins such as those produced from smoking or from autoimmune issues such as diabetes, arthritis and leaky gut play a role too.
There are generally three types of cataracts.
A subcapsular cataract, which occurs at the back of the lens. People with diabetes or those taking high doses of steroid medications have a greater risk of developing this type of cataract.
A nuclear cataract. This forms deep in the central zone (nucleus) of the lens. Nuclear cataracts are typically associated with aging.
And a cortical cataract. This is characterized by white, wedge-like opacities that start in the periphery of the lens and work their way to the center in a spoke-like fashion. This type of cataract occurs in the lens cortex, which is the part of the lens that surrounds the central nucleus.
According to the National Eye Institute (NEI), cataract removal is one of the most common operations performed in the U.S.
The most common cataracts are said to be due to a normal aging process. It is certain that age increases your risk, but just because they’re common in older people does not mean they’re an inevitable part of getting older.
Yep we may have missed the point on the cause somewhere along the line. Here’s why I say that.
Research published in the journal Ophthalmology used data from 1,000 pairs of twins and found that while genetic factors explained about 35 percent of the variation in cataract progression over a 10-year period, environmental factors accounted for the rest. Did you catch that?
Your environment and likely your lifestyle are more influential than your genetics.
That said, we need to look more at what factors reduce risk than just dismissing the problem to age.
One such factor might be vitamin C. Research that was conducted at Kings College in London measured cataracts in 60 year olds over a 10-year period. They found that those who followed a higher vitamin C diet had 33% less cataract risk.
According to research published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, long-term use of vitamin C reduced the risk of loss of transparency in a small area of the lens by 77 percent.
Even more important was that none of the women who took vitamin C supplements for 10 years or more developed moderate opacities in the core of the lens.
Just that small habit of taking a simple vitamin C daily could delay the onset of cataracts for 10 years and that could cut the number of U.S. cataract surgeries in half.
Cataracts are not the only thing that vitamin C prevents.
In fact, Vitamin C has numerous functions in the human body, including acting as an essential cofactor in enzymatic reactions. In other words, vitamin C’s presence is essential in enzymatic function in the human body.
Put it this this way. Vitamin C plays a role in your body's production of collagen (including collagen found in the cornea of your eye), carnitine (which helps your body turn fat into energy), and catecholamines (hormones made by your adrenal glands).
Perhaps one of the most prominent roles of vitamin C is its immune-stimulating effect.
That means it is important for defense against infections such as common colds. It also acts as an inhibitor of histamine, a compound that is released during allergic reactions.
As a powerful antioxidant it can neutralize harmful free radicals and it aids in neutralizing pollutants and toxins. Thus it is able to prevent the formation of potentially carcinogenic nitrosamines in the stomach (due to consumption of nitrite-containing foods, such as smoked meat).
Vitamin C is also able to regenerate other antioxidants such as vitamin E.
Vitamin C is also helpful in preventing macular degeneration and for the metabolism of bile acids which may have implications for blood cholesterol levels and gallstones. Moreover, vitamin C plays an important role in the synthesis of several important peptide hormones, neurotransmitters and especially carnitine (remember it helps burn fat).
Vitamin C is not the most powerful antioxidant, but it helps prevent damage caused by free radicals. Over time, free radical damage may accelerate aging and contribute to the development of heart disease, especially arteriosclerosis.
How much Vitamin C do you need per day?
According to the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition maximum absorption of vitamin C occurs at 500 mg, but after the initial dose only 250 milligrams (mg) per day is needed to saturate tissue and give you protection, even against cataracts. Vitamin C belongs to a group of vitamins known as water soluble vitamins, which means you do not need anything but water to absorb it, but it also will not get stored in the body.
Generally speaking most all the benefits of vitamin C is used up in 3-4 hours, so that’s why you need to take it throughout the day.
Don’t worry though, vitamin C is relatively easy to find in a variety of foods.
Kiwi fruits are exceptionally high in vitamin C. Other foods high in vitamin C include: citrus fruits, red bell peppers, broccoli, Brussels sprouts, butternut squash, papaya, sweet potatoes, spinach and tomatoes.
In 2011, researchers revealed that not only does vitamin C play an important role in vision health but scientists at Oregon Health & Science University (OHSU) found that nerve cells in the eye require vitamin C to function properly.
People under stress also require more vitamin C than normal. This includes people who smoke; alcoholics; high stress people; those with chronic disease; older people and athletes.
Vitamin C is just one type of antioxidant that benefits your vision of course. Others include bioflavonoids, which may have a complementary effect when taken along with vitamin C.
Fortunately, virtually every food that contains vitamin C also contains bioflavonoids. Furthermore, according to the journal Nutrition Reviews, “Epidemiologic literature suggests that the risk of cataracts and macular degeneration can be diminished by diets that are optimized for vitamin C, lutein/zeaxanthin, and B vitamins."
Besides eating plenty of the nutrient dense, carotenoids-rich vegetables did you know that organic pastured egg yolks, omega-3 and astaxanthin-rich salmon are beneficial for vision health too?
Another really important dietary aspect is to normalize your blood sugar, as excessive sugar in your blood can pull fluid from the lens of your eye, affecting your ability to focus.
It can also damage the blood vessels in your retina, thereby obstructing blood flow. To keep your blood sugar in a healthy range avoid processed foods. Why? Because they tend to be loaded with processed fructose and fructose has so many bad side effects that it pales in comparison to sugar.