Ascorbic acid, also known as Vitamin C, is a water-soluble vitamin necessary for normal growth, development and repair of damaged tissues in the body. It is essentially an antioxidant which is needed for the prevention of some of the damage done when one is exposed to cigarette smoke, radiation or when the body breaks down food. It is predominantly white, but has a variant yellowish appearance when impure. Ascorbic acid is primarily contained in fruits and vegetables, and can be produced naturally by some animals as it is formed from glucose. However, humans and a number of other vertebrates lack the ability to produce it and therefore require it as a dietary supplement, ideally on a daily basis in order to avoid symptoms of its deficiency which include, but are not limited to, inflammation of the gums, decreased resistance to disease-causing agents, scurvy, and high blood pressure.
Functions and Uses
Ascorbic acid is one of the most important vitamins required by the body for the maintenance of good health and vitality. It is needed for the growth and repair of worn-out and damaged tissues all over the body. It heals internal and external wounds and forms scar tissue by producing an essential protein which is used to make ligaments, blood vessels, tendons and skin. This vitamin also plays an important role in the repair and maintenance of bones, teeth and cartilages.
Being an antioxidant, ascorbic acid helps to prevent some of the damage done by free radicals that are created when the body is exposed to radiation, digests food, or inhales tobacco smoke. The build-up of radicals is known to cause cancer, arthritis, and heart disease, as well as accelerate the aging process.
Therefore, in order to prevent these life-threatening diseases, the habit of taking generous amounts of ascorbic acid on a daily basis should be cultivated. This is especially important because the human body does not produce it organically or store sufficient amounts of it like some other animals do.
Sources Of Ascorbic Acid
Ascorbic acid is mostly derived from fruits and vegetables. Almost every known edible fruit and vegetable contains at least a small amount of ascorbic acid. Some of these fruits contain comparatively high amounts of the vitamin and they include citrus fruits such as orange and lemon, pineapple, mango, watermelon, strawberries. Vegetable sources of ascorbic acid are, among others, red and green peppers, tomatoes and tomato juice, cabbage, leafy greens and spinach.
Ascorbic acid is also contained in foods and beverages that have been fortified with it. Because of the sheer importance of this vitamin, food and beverage manufacturers artificially add it to processed and packaged foods. The amount of ascorbic acid added to such products may be found on the product labels for informational and reference purposes. Vitamin C can also be found in synthetic forms such as capsules, tablets, powdered crystalline and liquids, usually measured in doses ranging from 25 – 1000 milligrams.
The content of ascorbic acid in fruits and vegetables can be reduced when cooked or stored for a long period of time. Its loss however can be greatly reduced if foods rich in the vitamin are steamed briefly and not cooked for long. Thus, the best sources of ascorbic acid are fresh, raw fruits and vegetables consumed wholly.
The deficiency of ascorbic acid in the human body is known to directly or indirectly result in a variety of illnesses. Prominent among the diseases caused by low amounts of ascorbic acid in the body is scurvy; a disease responsible for the formation of brown spots on the skin, bleeding from the mucous membranes, spongy gums and loss of teeth as well as death in its advanced stages. Other symptoms of its deficiency include decreased resistance to diseases, inflammation of the gums and high blood pressure.
Ascorbic acid is no doubt an essential vitamin required by the body for good health and utmost performance. However, excessive intake of the vitamin can result in a number of conditions which generally defeat the purpose for which it is taken. Taking ascorbic acid in relatively large doses can cause indigestion or diarrhea, especially on empty stomach. Although, ascorbic acid has a remarkably low toxicity, its overdose may result in skin rashes, fatigue, nausea and vomiting, and a host of other reactions.