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Vitamin C's Other Benefits
By Catherine Guthrie
My mother puts a lot of stock in vitamin C. She keeps a bottle of the chewable variety in her kitchen drawer—not the junk drawer with its litter of take-out menus and thumbtacks, but the high-traffic silverware one. As long as I can remember, she’d press a grainy wafer into my palm at the first sign of a sniffle or sneeze.
But lately I’ve wondered if she hasn’t been hoodwinked. The last few years of research have introduced many questions about the old nutritional standby. Which form is best: powder or liquid? Tablet or capsule? Ester-C or ascorbyl palmitate? Confusion has also erupted over how much we should take; at various times, daily recommendations have ranged from 60 milligrams to 18,000. Experts have even conceded that vitamin C does diddly to stave off colds. Sure, high doses of the vitamin may shave one miserable day off any given bout, but that’s cold comfort if you’re banking on a way to avoid the sniffles altogether.
Through it all Mom has stayed the course, calmly munching her daily C tablet. She isn’t going to let a bunch of naysayer scientists derail her convictions, she says. And now it looks like she might really be on to something. New studies suggest vitamin C may ward off heart disease and cataracts, as well as certain cancers. Plus, there’s interesting news on how much is needed and how best to get it. (As Mom intuited, diet may not be enough.) Read on; then start making room in your silverware drawer.
Protect Your Heart
Evidence for vitamin C’s power to thwart heart disease comes from the Nurses’ Health Study at Harvard University, where researchers followed the diets of more than 85,000 women for 16 years. They found that women who took in the most vitamin C were 27 percent less likely to suffer a heart attack or die from heart disease than those who consumed the least.
The kicker was that those who got their C from food alone didn’t reap the benefits. “Even women who were getting more than three times the RDA from the foods they ate weren’t protected,” says Jane Higdon, a nutritionist at the Linus Pauling Institute at Oregon State University, in Corvallis, and author of An Evidence-Based Approach to Vitamins and Minerals.
Exactly how much C do we need to protect our hearts, and what portion of that should come from a pill? Although the RDA was bumped up three years ago, many experts believe it’s still too low: At 90 milligrams a day for men and 75 for women, you won’t get scurvy, but you won’t get C’s other perks, either. The body needs at least 400 mg a day in order for the vitamin to saturate tissue and plasma and exert a positive effect. Indeed, most studies trumpeting vitamin C’s benefits rely on doses up to six times higher than the RDA.
The problem is that even if you down your five or more servings of fruits and vegetables a day, you’re still likely to get less than the optimal daily dose. C-fortified juices can help, but to be on the safe side, many experts recommend filling t...
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