Do you know that you and that caveman in the Geico commercials have something in common?
You both need to get your daily dose of vitamin C from either food or supplements.
Apes, human beings and guinea pigs are the only animals that do not produce vitamin C in their bodies.
Severe vitamin C deficiency causes scurvy, famously cured by eating limes, which is why British sailors came to be called "limeys."
When sailors went without fresh foods after long periods at sea, many suffered from swollen and bleeding gums, bruised skin and extreme weakness. Today we know that limes and all citrus fruits supply vitamin C and its partner, bioflavonoids. Together, they strengthen capillaries and blood vessels throughout the body and are especially important for dental health.
Citrus bioflavonoids are found in the white inner pulp and core of lemons and grapefruit. Apes can get their vitamin C by eating the whole fruit. Obviously, they don't drink juice.
Bioflavonoids are natural plant pigments, phytochemicals that protect plants from oxidative damage. When humans (and apes) consume them, these potent antioxidants activate ascorbic acid (vitamin C) and make it even more effective.
When first discovered, bioflavonoids were known as vitamin P, for permeability factor, because they reduce the permeability or leakiness of blood vessels.
Although not a true vitamin because they are not considered essential, bioflavonoids promote health in numerous ways.
More than 5,000 bioflavonoids have been identified, each with its own area of expertise. They are found throughout nature in colorful fruits and vegetables and exist in green and black tea, soy, onions, grape seeds and red wine. Their names are many and exotic: proanthocyanidins, elagic acid, catechins, polyphenols, quercetin, hesperedin and rutin among them.
As for vitamin C supplements, experts agree that the most effective combination, known as a vitamin C complex, contains citrus or lemon bioflavonoids. The recommended dose is usually 1,000 milligrams daily, taken in divided doses. Since this vitamin is water soluble and not stored in your body, more is needed during times of physical and mental stress.
If you have a sensitive stomach, acid reflux or stomach ulcers, be sure to use only non-acidic forms such as Ester-C or calcium ascorbate that are gentle on the stomach. Because large doses of vitamin C can alter the results of laboratory tests, let your doctor know what you are taking.
In his book, "Eat Right for Your Blood Type," Peter J. D'Adamo recommends taking vitamin C along with vitamin A before surgery to minimize scar formation.
"Every blood type can benefit from supplementation . all of my patients who have followed this recommendation reported that they and their surgeons were astonished at the rapidity of their recovery," he wrote.
Joe and Teresa Graedon, who write the column "The People's Pharmacy," are huge fans of vitamin C.
"There is substantial data to suggest that using ascorbic acid can enhance immune function, relieve symptoms and shorten the duration of a cold," they wrote.
One of the country's leading cold researchers, Elliot Dick, has found that some people need to take much more vitamin C than others to get enough into their white blood cells. That's called biochemical individuality and may explain the conflicting reports about the effectiveness of vitamin C against the common cold.
Some medications increase the need for vitamin C; alcohol and antacids reduce vitamin C levels in the body. Smokers are at risk for vitamin C deficiency as each cigarette consumes up to 100 milligrams of C.
Children of smokers are more prone to asthma and asthmatic patients have significantly lower blood levels of vitamin C.
The National Health Nutrition Examination analyzed more than 9,000 adults and concluded, "an above average intake of vitamin C, 200 milligrams more than the 98 milligram average, was associated with about 30 percent lower incidence of bronchitis and wheezing."
If human beings are smarter that apes, why are so many of us still not getting enough vitamin C in our diets?
The information in this article is for educational purposes. Consult your physician if you have a medical condition.
Margot Bennett is a licensed nutritionist at Mother Nature's Pantry, located in the Garden Square Shoppes, 4513 PGA Blvd. in Palm Beach Gardens. Call her at (561) 626-4461.