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We all know about taking vitamin C to stop colds and flu, and to build up the immune system. But there are newly discovered vitamin C benefits for fighting high blood pressure and diabetes and for preventing asthma and cancer.
What does vitamin C do for high blood pressure? It turns out that vitamin C helps prevent the build up cholesterol plaques the narrow blood vessels and send blood pressure soaring.
In the earliest stages of plaque formation, white blood cells known as monocytes migrate to the linings of arterial walls. They locate and feed on cholesterol, sticking themselves on the wall to keep from getting swept away by the flow of blood.
When these white blood cells eventually die, they stay in place and harden, or even more monocytes come to clear them away. The white blood cells acting as the "clean up crew" also attach themselves to the lining of the blood vessel. Over time more and more dead white blood cells build up to the point that the artery clogs.
Vitamin C stops white blood cells from ever sticking to artery walls in the first place. In one British study, the benefits of taking 250 mg of vitamin C every day began to be measurable in just six weeks. In another study, taking 1,000 mg of vitamin C along with 400 IU of vitamin E (alpha-tocopherol) every day helped protect the heart valves.
Vitamin C has remarkable benefits for type 2 diabetics, but the key to success is being sure to take enough. Researchers at the Shahid Sadoughi University of Medical Sciences & Health Services in Tehran recruited 84 diabetics who were given either 500 mg or 1,000 mg of supplemental vitamin C every day for six weeks.
The researchers found that taking just 500 mg of vitamin C every day did not result in any measurable benefits. Diabetics taking 1,000 mg of vitamin C a day, however, had lower fasting blood sugars, lower triglycerides, and lower LDL (bad) cholesterol in just 42 days.
The fall in insulin levels is critical for type 2 diabetics seeking to make an actual recovery from the disease. When there is less insulin, there is less fat storage. Vitamin C should help diabetics keep from gaining weight.
Most type 2 diabetics benefit from additional vitamin C. If you are already taking one or more prescription medications for diabetes, however, your results may be less dramatic. Also, you should take a "vacation" from vitamin C once a week or so to see if your blood sugar levels go up. If they do, and you haven't been eating a lot of food you aren't supposed to, then there may be an interaction between vitamin C in your bloodstream and your test strips that makes your blood sugar readings inaccurate, on the low side.
You may have heard that an apple a day keeps the doctor away. One British study found that an orange a day keeps the asthma away. Children given 250 mg of vitamin C and 40 IU of vitamin E a day were less sensitive to environmental triggers of asthma attacks, such as fumes, changes in temperature, and cigarette smoke. Adults who took 1,000 mg of vitamin C needed their inhalers less often.
Taking vitamin C supplements by mouth will not cure cancer. However, taking vitamin C supplements may neutralize heart damage caused by some common chemotherapy drugs. Vitamin C is a truly "complementary" treatment for cancer, making medically directed treatments for cancer more effective in smaller doses with fewer side effects.
Buffered vitamin C can also play a role in weight control, but to understand how it works it is necessary to go back to some studies of calcium in weight loss. Back in the 1990's, weight loss researchers recognized that low calcium levels are associated with high fat levels, especially in women. The less calcium you have in your system, the more you weigh.
Simply popping a calcium supplement, however, won't work. The body can only absorb about 100 mg of calcium an hour. If you take a standard, 1,000-mg calcium supplement, 60 to 70 per cent of the calcium just gets mixed into your stool and flushed away the next time you go to the bathroom. Moreover, too much calcium can make you constipated.
Some researchers (who happened to have grants from the dairy industry) suggested that the way to get the right amount of calcium was to eat dairy foods. After all, dairy foods contain fat. Fat slows down the travel of food through the digestive tract. More calcium gets absorbed because the dairy food, especially whole milk and age dairy foods, like cheese, spend longer in the digestive tract. Is there anything wrong in your mental picture of eating lots of cheese to lose weight?
In Europe, however, researchers recognized that it is possible to slow down the absorption of calcium by combining it with vitamin C, and it is possible to stop stomach upset caused by vitamin C by combining it with calcium. Without vitamin C, your body can only absorb about 300 mg of calcium a day from most supplements. With vitamin C, your body can absorb about 1,800 mg of calcium a day (enough that it is necessary to provide magnesium to make sure calcium goes into the tissues that need it). That's enough to help you take off the pounds faster with your weight loss diet.
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Salonen RM, Nyyssonen K, Kaikkonen J, et al. Six-year effect of combined vitamin C and E supplementation on atherosclerotic progression: the Antioxidant Supplementation in Atherosclerosis Prevention (ASAP) Study. Circulation. 2003 Feb 25;107(7):947-53.