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Vitamin C: An essential nutrient for good lung and respiratory health

By Apollo 24/7 (17 November 2020)- 17 November 2020

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Vitamin C was discovered in the early 1900’s by a Hungarian biochemist, Albert Szent-Györgyi, who was investigating the reason behind scurvy, a life-threatening disease associated with malnutrition, that was prevalent in sailors during that time. Later it was found that vitamin C helped in better absorption of nutrients such as carbohydrates, fats, and protein, which helped in improving the condition of people affected by scurvy.
Vitamin C, medically called ascorbic acid, is an essential water-soluble vitamin which plays different roles in the body, some of which include protection of the cells from oxidative stress, maintaining healthy skin, bones and blood vessels and promoting faster wound healing. It is also important for maintaining and improving the health of people with respiratory conditions such as Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD), asthma and bronchitis. The antioxidant property of vitamin C is believed to protect the body from free radicals, which can otherwise damage various organs of the body.

Why vitamin C is necessary to maintain good lung and respiratory health

Research published in the American Journal of Respiratory and Critical Care Medicine concluded that vitamin C helps in protecting the lungs and also reduces the risk of developing Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD), an inflammatory lung disease.
In this study, the scientists from the University of Nottingham conducted a study on more than 2600 men and women (between the age of 18 to 70 years) by testing their pulmonary function with the help of a test called forced expiratory volume in one second (FEV1). In this test, the patient is asked to breathe out and expel all the air from their lungs in a second. A person with a low FEV1 score would have hampered lung function. On following up after 9 years, the scientists found that those with a high dietary intake of vitamin C and magnesium had healthier lungs as they showed higher FEV1 scores. They further found that these people showed less decline in their lung function over time. 
Another meta-analysis published in the journal Allergy, Asthma & Clinical Immunology showed the effects of vitamin C on people with exercise-induced bronchoconstriction (EIB), which is the narrowing of the airways during exercise that makes it difficult for the air to move out of the lungs. In this meta-analysis, scientists found that people who consumed 0.5 to 2 grams of vitamin C per day showed 48% less decline in their FEV1 score post-exercise than those who did not. Also, the incidence of postexercise respiratory symptoms was less prevalent in the participants consuming vitamin C, indicating the healthy functioning of the lungs.

How much vitamin C is required by the body?

The Recommended Dietary Allowance (RDA) of vitamin C for adults of age 19 years and above is 90 milligrams (mg) per day for men and 75 milligrams (mg) for women. The requirement for vitamin C increases in women during pregnancy and lactation to 85 mg and 120 mg per day, respectively. Furthermore, smokers may require an additional 35 mg of vitamin C as smoking tends to deplete the levels of this nutrient in the body. Excessive vitamin C may have side effects and an upper limit of 2000 mg per day is generally recommended for adults.

What are the natural sources of vitamin C?

Studies reveal that almost 90% of vitamin C can be gained by consuming vegetables along with citrus fruits. Vitamin C is naturally present in:
  • Citrus fruits such as orange, lemon and grapefruits
  • Other fruits such as muskmelon, watermelon, tomatoes, pineapple, kiwi, guava, papaya and mango
  • Raw or minimally cooked green vegetables such as broccoli, cauliflower, spinach, cabbage, bell peppers (red and yellow) and turnip
  • Potatoes (both sweet and white)
  • Berries including strawberry, Indian gooseberry (amla), raspberry and cranberry

Are vitamin C supplements safe to consume?

There are certain over-the-counter available vitamin C supplements which can be consumed on a regular basis. They are available in the form of tablets (both effervescent and chewable) and capsules. However, consuming higher doses of vitamin C supplements may result in toxicity, therefore, one must consult their doctor before taking any supplements.

What happens when vitamin C is consumed in excess amounts?

Since many people believe that vitamin C is non-toxic in nature, it is often taken in large amounts. However, the tolerable Upper Intake Level (UL) for vitamin C is 2000 mg per day, anything beyond this may result in harmful health effects. Excess vitamin C consumption for a prolonged period of time may cause nausea, diarrhoea, abdominal pain, allergies and erosion of the outer layer of the tooth (dental enamel) resulting in sensitivity and pain. Also, consumption of more than 1000 mg of vitamin C reduces its ability to get absorbed in the intestines by 50%.
Those taking more than 3000 mg of vitamin C continuously may suffer from severe consequences which include the formation of kidney stones, increased levels of uric acid and increased absorption of iron in the blood.
Takeaway
Vitamin C is an essential vitamin as it is not produced by the body naturally but is necessary to maintain the health of the vital organs. Various studies have concluded that regular consumption of the recommended amount of vitamin C can not only help in improving overall lung function but can also prevent the deterioration of pre-existing respiratory conditions.
Consult a pulmonologist for any queries on respiratory health.
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