February 8, 2014

"I chugged a gallon of orange juice"…a story of vitamin C

I just had a patient tell me AGAIN that they "chugged a gallon of orange juice" when they felt a cold coming on.  I had a diabetic patient once in the hospital admitted with blood sugars upwards of 500 that told me he drank “a lot of orange juice every day” because someone had told him it was healthy.  I have had people tell me that they did this so many times that I wanted to address it here on the blog because, like so many things, the story is more complicated that just drinking oj and curing your cold. 

Vitamin C is an awesome nutrient that has some great research behind it.  Used to prevent scurvy in sailors at sea without access to fresh fruits and veggies, this vitamin is a powerful antioxidant that helps scavenge free radicals in our bodies supports the immune system through antimicrobial and natural killer cell activity and is important in the production of collagen (think skin and wound healing).  Keep in mind that vitamin C is relatively fragile and can be destroyed by heat and oxygen which makes it “oxidized” and therefore not a good ANTI-oxidant with this type of exposure.  For this reason, drinking juice to get your vitamin C may not be giving you the quantity or quality you’re looking for as a lot of the vitamin has been destroyed in the process of making juice.  You’ll also lose some vitamin C through cooking vegetables and exposure to heat. 

I know, I know, I know that some of you have taken more than 2000mg daily and swear by it but this is the recommended limit to stay under to avoid stomach distress including cramping and diarrhea.  Yes, vitamin C is water soluble so excess will wash out of your system but as with all vitamins, minerals, and herbs, if some is good, more is not necessarily better.  Some folks will experience the formation of kidney stones at high doses of vitamin C.  Vitamin C also enhances the absorption of iron so if you have any issues with iron overload, beware.  Finally, high doses of vitamin C can decrease levels of copper in the body.  I actually do see vitamin C deficiencies in people’s labs from time to time but it would be rare that I would dose more than 2-3000mg orally for anyone. 

Dietary recommendation (DRI) for vitamin C intake daily is 60-65 mg for adult women and 75 mg for men.  For reference, an EmergenC packet contains 1000 mg.  Natural Medicines Database acknowledges the controversy in research on vitamin C treating the common cold and suggests that there is some evidence that high doses could decrease the duration of symptoms by a day or two.  Other studies show no effect of taking vitamin C on cold symptoms.  Still, the recommendation is not to exceed 3 grams as this increases the risk of stomach upset and vitamin C related side effects.

Whether a dose of vitamin C helps you feel better during a cold or not, I would never recommend anyone consume large portions of juice…..ever.  As I mentioned before, juice (especially the kind you buy in the store) isn’t a good source of vitamin C due to its processing.  Instead, drinking fruit juice delivers a huge sugary punch directly to your system sending you on an insulin pumping, fat storing, blood glucose rebounding roller coaster that is destined to make you feel terrible.  Check out the website Sugar Stacks to get a better visual of the actual amount of sugar in a variety of beverages including your oj, but for reference, in a 16 oz bottle you will receive 48 grams of easily digestible sugar.  (There is 65 grams of sugar in a 20 ounce Coke.) 

If you feel a cold coming on and want to try getting some additional vitamin C from a natural source, you’re much better off choosing other less processed fruits or veggies than drinking juice.  See some examples of high vitamin C foods below, keeping in mind that all you really need per day is about 75 mg of Vitamin C, and some studies show benefits for a cold with levels up to about 1000mg. 

1 cup bell peppers:  190mg
1 cup orange juice:  124mg
1 whole medium papaya: 120mg
1 cup strawberries: 98mg
1 cup pineapple: 79mg
1 cup broccoli: 111mg
1 cup Brussels sprouts: 75mg  

*Hey!  I’m not a doctor, I’m a dietitian.  For information individual to yourself and your health history, visit your MD and local RD to better assess what types of supplements, if any, are appropriate for you based on labs and medical history.  The information on this blog is designed for informational purposes only – never to prescribe or recommend you stop or start any type of supplement or medication. 

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