What is vitamin C and what makes it so important?

What is vitamin C and what makes it so important

Vitamin C is on everyone’s lips again, especially during the cold season. On the one hand, of course, as a lozeng, vitamin supplement or simply in the form of citrus fruits – but on the other hand, because you can hear it again on every corner: “Vitamin C protects against colds!”

But is that even true? What is this vitamin C, what exactly does it do in our body and where do we get it from?

Although the vitamin is known to most people, the answers to it are not always clear.

Starting with the name “vitamin C” to the belief that it is best to resort to citrus fruits if there is a lack of it, there are many mistakes here.

To clarify these common misconceptions about ascorbic acid, you will find all the important information at a glance here.

But wait… what is
ascorbic acid
again? Shouldn’t it be about vitamin C?

In short: Vitamin C and ascorbic acid mean the same thing, even if the name “vitamin C” is actually not correct.

Why “vitamin C” is actually nonsense

Vitamin C has meanwhile become one of the best-known representatives of vitamins. But as in many areas of chemistry, the history of vitamins is a story full of misunderstandings.

This starts with the naming:

Strictly speaking, vitamin C is not a vitamin at all.

The name “vitamin” is derived from the Latin word for life (vita) and amine (nitrogenous compounds) and was originally used for vital amino groups.

Only later was it found out that vitamin C, in contrast to other vitamins, actually contains no amino groups at all.

So where does the name ascorbic acid come from?

We need to go a little further here. More precisely, until the development of seafaring in the 15th century and the appearance of scurvy.

People have been aware of the disease scurvy for much longer. This is a disease that causes bleeding gums, fatigue and general susceptibility to infections and, in the worst case, can even lead to death.

With the advent of seafaring, scurvy became more and more of a problem. This went so far that the disease was for a long time one of the main causes of death for seafarers. The explorer Vasco da Gama lost about 100 men of his 160-man crew to scurvy on a trip.

At that time, it was already suspected that the disease was somehow related to the one-sided diet on the ship trips, which food exactly was missing, but one did not know for a long time.

In the middle of the 18th century, a ship’s doctor examined the disease more closely and divided the crew members who had contracted scurvy into different groups, to whom he administered different food. One of these groups was given citrus fruits,for example, which quickly improved its symptoms.

Despite this realization, it took a relatively long time to know why the fruits were able to cure scurvy. It was not until the beginning of the 20th century that science began to deal with diseases caused by vitamin deficiency.

In this context, it was assumed that the body must lack a certain vitamin, a so-called “antiscurvy vitamin”, in scurvy.

A few years later, the substance was then isolated from lemon juice and finally named ascorbic acid (“antiscurvy acid”).

What is ascorbic acid?

In chemistry, vitamin C is known as ascorbic acid. As the name suggests, it is an acid. Although it is also used to preserve certain foods, ascorbic acid is mainly known for its effect on us humans.

After all, our body needs them for our metabolism and immune system to function properly.

As mentioned above, a lack of vitamin C can manifest itself in several ways. The most common symptoms are:

  • Fatigue
  • Weakened immune system
  • Bleeding gums
  • Joint pain
  • Reduced wound healing

As seen in the example of scurvy, long-lasting severe deficiency of vitamin C can even lead to death.

But why is ascorbic acid so important for us?

What does vitamin C do in the body?

Ascorbic acid is used several times by our body. The best known is probably the effect on our immune system, which cannot do its job without the vitamin.

In addition, vitamin C also acts as an antioxidant and helps to protect our cells from free radicals.

But that’s not all. Because a sufficient supply of ascorbic acid also promotes a healthy metabolism and wound healing.

How much vitamin C do we need?

The German Nutrition Society sets the recommended intake of vitamin C at about 100 milligrams per day for adolescents and adults.

But how much is 100 milligrams of vitamin C?

As an example: a medium-sized orange contains about 50 milligrams of the substance. With two oranges, the daily requirement can be covered quite well.

However, it becomes difficult when the demand increases due to certain factors. For example, as a smoker, you need more vitamin C as well as during pregnancy.

But certain diseases or simply physical and mental stress can also increase your body’s need for ascorbic acid.

Food & Co: What has the most vitamin C?

The best-known vitamin C donors are probably citrus fruits. But surprisingly, they are dwarfed by another vitamin bomb: the guava.

It contains up to three times more ascorbic acid than oranges.

The problem, of course, is that guavas are often difficult to find on the domestic supermarket shelves. But there are also local alternatives:

Thus, both red and green peppers have a significantly higher vitamin C content than oranges. In the same way, you can also reach for kiwis, tomato juice or strawberries to replenish your vitamin C levels.

How important is vitamin C at cold time?

Cold time is vitamin C time. We’ve all heard this a thousand times in advertising.

But can taking vitamin C really prevent a cold?

As is so often the case, the answer is a resounding yes.

Because even if you still eat so much of the substance, you can still get a cold. Moreover, it has not been scientifically proven that the increased intake of vitamin C protects us from the next cold.

However, there is something to the calls for increased intake of vitamin C in autumn and winter.

As described above, our body needs the vitamin to maintain the function of the immune system. If we have a deficiency of vitamin C, the body’s own defenses and thus the protection against cold viruses also suffer. This can be a problem, especially at colder temperatures, as cold additionally weakens the immune system.

So if you make sure that your body gets everything it needs in autumn and winter, you can go into the cold season with peace of mind.

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