What do humans and guinea pigs have in common? For both mammals, Vitamin C is an essential nutrient in their diets to maintain good health. Human and guinea pigs lack the enzyme that converts glucose, our blood sugar, to ascorbic acid, the chemical name for Vitamin C.
The first human controlled clinical nutrition study was performed by Physician James Lind in May of 1747. He studied sailors who took long sea voyages and developed scurvy. Today we know that Scurvy is a disease that results from Vitamin C deficiency. Its symptoms include swollen, bleeding gums, loose teeth, easy skin bruising. Bruising is particularly seen around hair follicles. The hairs are brittle, corkscrew in shape and easily break off at the level of the skin. Later, in the course of Scurvy, patients develop profound fatigue, anemia, severe bone pain, particularly in the legs, poor wound healing and eventual death. Doctor Lind compared sailors given oranges and lemons to those who were not provided citrus fruits in their diet. Those who ate oranges and lemons were cured of scurvy compared to sailors not provided with these fruits. Almost 200 years passed, in the 1930s, before Hungarian scientist Albert Szent-Györgyi discovered the chemical ascorbic acid, today generally known as Vitamin C. He derived the Vitamin C from paprika, the national spice of Hungary. When this ascorbic acid was fed to Vitamin C deficient guinea pigs their signs of scurvy resolved.
Not only is Vitamin C a powerful anti-oxidant but it is also boosts our immune responses to diseases. As an anti-oxidant in the skin, Vitamin C neutralizes and removes dangerous oxidants from our skin. Oxidants are naturally produced by our body and the environment, and if not cleared, damage our body’s proteins such as DNA and our essentials lipids. An overabundance of oxidants can thus cause disease and inflammation in the body. An anti-oxidant such as Vitamin C defends us against these oxidants.