The ‘big picture’ of vitamin C: The genetic defect that makes supplementing with this nutrient vitally important

How much vitamin C should we take every day?

Can’t we get enough of this nutrient from orange juice?

Most people have no idea that the answer to these questions is found in textbooks of human genetics and paediatrics, not just in textbooks of nutrition. That makes the answer a little long, but it’s definitely worth knowing!

An ever-increasing number of studies report the benefits of vitamin C supplementation. As encouraging as these reports are, they’re still looking at ‘details’ instead of the ‘big picture,’ or as the cliché goes, ‘Not looking at the forest because of the trees.’

As textbooks of human genetics, paediatrics, and even internal medicine all tell us, the human requirement for vitamin C is not strictly a matter of nutrition. Instead, it’s because of a basic genetic defect, a biochemical inability to manufacture vitamin C internally that all humans share.

The missing puzzle piece for battling stress, repairing damaged tissues, eliminating carcinogens, and more

Vitamin C is synthesised internally by all species of animals, with the exception of chimpanzees, monkeys and other primate species, guinea pigs, an obscure bat found only in India… and humans. Cats, dogs, elephants, birds, horses, cows – all other species don’t need any vitamin C in their diets at all. Zero! All other animals synthesise vitamin C internally from glucose (blood sugar) by a series of four enzymes that are identical to all species. When stressed in any way, all other animals immediately start to self-manufacture greatly increased quantities of vitamin C to combat that stress.

Human liver cells contain the first three enzymes in the vitamin C synthesising series, but the fourth enzyme is totally missing! When humans are stressed, the activity of those first three enzymes is greatly increased, but no vitamin C is produced since that fourth enzyme is missing from humans. This means that we are genetically prevented from producing one of the most important anti-stress and detoxifying molecules present in all of nature, vitamin C.

When animals are injured, their bodies synthesise much more vitamin C to aid in tissue repair. (Vitamin C is key to the synthesis of collagen in connective tissue.) Human bodies’ biochemical systems ‘try,’ but can’t.

When animals are given drugs of any kind (including alcohol, nicotine, or caffeine) their bodies synthesise much more vitamin C until the drugs are detoxified. Human bodies ‘try,’ but can’t.

I could go on and on with examples, but our space is limited. To summarise: When other animals start to become ill in any way, their bodies begin to synthesise much more vitamin C in an effort to head off the illness, and to shorten it or at least lessen the symptoms over time if it does occur.

Our bodies ‘try,’ but can’t. And that is why supplemental vitamin C is absolutely essential for overall health and longevity.

Mainstream medicine is actively in favour of treating all other genetic diseases to the maximum extent possible, yet it’s silent on the subject of correcting this genetic disease (mostly for political reasons).

The human need for vitamin C is an ‘inborn error of metabolism,’ a fortunately survivable genetic disease, and not just a nutritional problem. This fact must be included in the ‘big picture’ concerning vitamin C and optimal health. It’s obvious to those who take this approach that we’d all be considerably healthier – and live longer – if we didn’t all have this genetic problem.

Fortunately, we can (and should) take care of it on our own. And it’s easy: Just take supplement the vitamin! Although what little is present in our food is enough to prevent death from scurvy (a total lack of vitamin C), it’s not nearly enough to produce maximum health benefits.

How to determine the right amount of vitamin C for you

A few scientists who’ve seriously studied this question point out that, on an ‘equivalent-weight’ basis with animals that synthesise their own vitamin C, healthy adult humans would (if not for our genetic defect) produce from 2 to 4 grams of the vitamin daily. Other scientists have observed that adult gorillas (another species that doesn’t synthesise its own vitamin C) living in an area identical to the ‘original’ human environment eat approximately 3 to 4 grams of the vitamin daily (calculated on a human-weight basis).

These comparisons give us general guidelines about appropriate supplemental quantities. However, since we’re all individuals, I recommend Linus Pauling’s individualised approach, using feedback from our own bodies.

Popularised by Pauling as the ‘body-tolerance’ approach, it’s quite simple. Slowly increase the amount of supplemental vitamin C each day until you start getting excess gas or loose bowels. At that point, your body is likely unable to use that quantity, so back off to the largest amount tolerable without producing loose bowels or excess gas.

Most adults I work with find the ‘tolerance point’ to be 3 to 6 grams daily. However, when you get sick, the tolerance point frequently increases to 20 to 30 grams or more daily, showing that your body needs the extra help when you’re ill. Occasionally, people who’ve had severe viral illness have told me they’ve taken up to 100 grams daily for a day or two without any bowel problems at all.

Since vitamin C is water-soluble and rapidly used by our bodies, it’s logical to spread it out to at least two or three intervals daily when you’re healthy, and as often as hourly when you’re ill.

There’s just one precaution: Individuals who have formed calcium oxalate kidney stones, or who come from families who’ve had them, should limit supplemental vitamin C to 1 gram daily unless they’re working with a health care professional skilled and knowledgeable in nutritional therapy. There’s a remote possibility that more vitamin C will increase the production of oxalate and possibly calcium oxalate kidney stones in those individuals. Fortunately, it’s easy to test for this possibility, and the risk is very small.

Wishing you the best of health,

Dr. Jonathan V. Wright
Nutrition & Healing

Volume 6, Issue 1 – January 2012

Full references and citations for this article are available in the downloadable PDF version of the monthly Nutrition and Healing issue in which this article appears.

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