Several years ago now, when I read The Calcium Lie, I found out that vitamin C and whole food vitamin C complex were not the same thing. I wasn’t surprised in the least because obviously this is surely the case for most supplements: an extract is not the whole food. But a few days ago, I saw a short video presentation that forced upon me the realisation that there is a huge functional difference between what is sold as vitamin C and the complex vitamin C molecule we find in whole foods.
The distinction may seem trivial at first—it has on the whole clearly been missed—but it is rather important: ascorbic acid, that has been equated to and sold as vitamin C, is the substance from which is made the thin antioxidant shell that protects the many constituents of the vitamin C complex as it is found in food. Since ascorbic acid can be produced in a lab, whereas whole vitamin C complex can only be found and extracted from real food and therefore cannot, this is naturally what has been done: manufacture ascorbic acid and sell it as vitamin C.
This makes sense, of course, because none of the supplement manufacturers would be inclined to emphasise this point. It would be kind of like shooting themselves in the foot. But also because, given the proven biochemical and physiological value of antioxidants, it’s not a far stretch to convince oneself that the usefulness of vitamin C is, in fact, derived from the effects of the ascorbic acid shell. For this reason, when I read Dr Thompson’s comments on vitamin C, I made a point to pile on the red peppers, brocoli and lemons in our diet at home, but nonetheless kept on taking ascorbic acid supplements and do to this day. This is about to change.
Dr. Darren Schmidt is an American chiropractor who works at the Nutritional Healing Center of Ann Arbour and, as most chiropractors, practices natural medicine, treating thousands of patients each year, most of them suffering from the same kinds of complaints, aches, pains and disorders, as is the case everywhere else. The talk was about heart disease: number one killer in the US and very prominent in all industrialised countries. To make it as clear and simple as possible and get the message across, he described that heart disease arises from the gradual filling up of the coronary arteries supplying blood to the heart with arterial plaques that with time grow to block the way completely or almost, and that this leads to a heart attack. We covered this topic in detail in the article At the heart of heart disease.
The main point he wanted to get across is that plaques in the arteries and blood vessels develop because of an injury to the tissues lining the vessels, just like a scab does on the surface of the skin when we accidentally scratch, scrape or cut it, and that a well-functioning organism will fix that injury in the same way as it does the surface of the skin: the scab forms, the skin repairs itself underneath, and when it is healed, the scab falls off. Plaques are like scabs.
He explained that, fresh out of university in the early 90’s, he had heard at a conference someone speak of the work of a great pioneer in nutritional medicine of the first half of the twentieth century, Dr Royal Lee, a friend and colleague of the other great pioneer Dr Weston Price. Dr Lee was the man who made the first food supplement, and the first concentrated whole food vitamin C supplement. He founded in 1929 the Vitamin Products Company, which later became Standard Process, Inc. Lee taught that this concentrated food in tablet form was like a pipe cleaner for arteries. Hearing this, the young chiropractor thought to himself, if it worked then it should work now, and he began to prescribe vitamin C to all his heart disease patients. For a decade he prescribed vitamin C, and for a decade he failed to see significant improvements or any sign of reversal of atherosclerosis in his heart disease patients. But he had missed something.
Frustrated and disappointed, he looked again at the original research and writings of Drs Lee and Price about nutrition and disease, and in particular about vitamin C, and began prescribing only Standard Process vitamin C. What he found, invariably, was a quick improvement in his patients whose chest pains and complains would disappear, and who would gradually feel better and better. Since then, he has repeated this on thousands of people with such success that he now teaches, he now repeats what Dr Royal Lee taught almost a century ago, that the cure for heart disease, for disease of the arteries and atherosclerosis, is vitamin C. And that vitamin C is not ascorbic acid, but it is whole food vitamin C complex.
Schmidt is not handsome nor charismatic. He does not speak eloquently. He is far from refined in his choice of words and speaking style. He doesn’t come across as a brilliant doctor or scientist, and not even as a bright guy, really. But the clinical experience and observations on which his statements and claims are based are undeniably impressive and clearly unambiguous in the information they convey: ascorbic acid has no effect on healing injured tissues and in allowing for the body to clean up and remove the plaques from the arteries and blood vessels; whole food vitamin C complex does, and it does so remarkably well and efficiently in everyone who takes it.
The implication is that other than providing antioxidant effects, ascorbic acid is useless for aiding and promoting healing of tissues. In this case, the concern is the health of the arteries, but it’s not a far stretch to conclude that this applies to all injured tissues in general. What is needed is whole food complex vitamin C, which we eat in whole foods or take in supplements that are made from whole foods. Therefore, it’s a no brainer: if you are interested in keeping your arteries clean and your heart and brain healthy and well-functioning for as long as possible, take a whole food vitamin C complex supplement, and pile on the vitamin C rich foods in your diet (superfoods highest in vitamin C include Camu Camu, Acerola and Goji ; regular foods highest in C include bell peppers, broccoli, brussels sprouts, strawberries and kiwi).
There is one last crucial point to this story, and I was happily surprised to hear it mentioned during the presentation. It is something that is explained by Gary Taubes in Good Calories, Bad Calories, but that is very rarely heard or mentioned anywhere. Vitamin C enters cells through the same channel as sugar does. But for evolutionary reasons, glucose always takes precedence over it (and all other nutrients). Therefore, as long as there is sugar to be shuttled into the cell, vitamin C stays out and waits: it does not enter the cell. So, what does he suggest for the diet? Can you guess? No sugars (simple carbohydrates), no starches (starchy carbohydrates) because they become sugars, lots of fat, adequate protein from healthy animal sources, and lots of green veggies, Sounds familiar? And, of course, whole food vitamin C concentrated in supplement form.
Finally, I promise to write about these and other great pioneers of nutritional medicine. I feel that these people who were greatly ahead of their times and usually greatly suffered from it deserve more recognition than they get. They deserve more recognition than they ever will get. But still, I would like to do my part. I don’t know when, but I will.
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17 thoughts on “Vitamin C is not vitamin C”
Thank you for this article. I will be sure to select whole foods for all my vitamin needs and when necessary and I can afford it use Standard Processing supplements. I very much appreciate your effort to educate us all.
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The Synergy Company makes a superfood whole vitamin C complex; Amazon Therapeutic and Harmonic Innerprizes make a good Camu Camu supplement.
How many grams a day would be optimal?
Hi Richard. Unlike ascorbic acid, one needs very little, relatively speaking, whole vitamin C. Schmidt treats his heart patients with 10 pills of Cyruta per day (see http://www.thenutritionalhealingcenter.com/this-vitamin-can-heal-arteries-but-theres-a-catch/). This is one of the products of Standard Process Inc and consists of dehydrated juice of barley grass that is very highly concentrated in vitamin C. 10 pills provides 30 mg. Therefore, I think that anything above 30 mg of whole food C will do the job for healing and keeping the arteries clean. But remember the key to success: no sugar. Otherwise it won’t work.
Thank you so much, Guillaume, for the invaluable info! I’m currently on Dr. Mercola’s Liposomal Vit.C capsules (Ascorbic Acid), but I’ll look into the brands you’re mentioning. Trouble is, how could one tell which is better utilized than the other (same goes for almost all other supplements)? The only clue is how one feels, but that’s not fool-proof by far.
I’d like to congratulate you on the idea to write about pioneers of Nutrition who were ahead of the times and seldom received any credit (in some cases – quite the opposite, like with Dr. John Yudkin and Mary G. Enig, PhD). Looking forward to ALL your posts!
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You’re most welcome Toni. The liposomal form is incredibly more absorbable than the water soluble form. But I believe that you understood the point that ascorbic acid only provides some antioxidant effects and not tissue healing. About the way to tell which one works or not, this was the reason I wrote this short piece: atherosclerosis is healed and reversed by concentrated whole C complex from food but not by ascorbic acid. For me, this is enough to make the switch without hesitation. Of course, there are objective ways of checking this for oneself by getting arterial imaging done before supplementation and after 3-6 months, for example. And yes, Yudkin and Enig are important figures, but I’ll try to follow a chronological timeline, more or less, and start with the most influential people (as far as I can assess).
Thanks, Guillaume! Greatly appreciated, as all your posts – pls. keep them coming!!!
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Everyone is free to believe what they want. Clinical experience from a practitioner of natural medicine is immensely more valuable and convincing to me than a wordy explanation from someone who presents himself as an authority, and at the same time puts forward what I consider to be a most preposterous claim that an isolated synthetic chemical compound manufactured in a laboratory can be of the same therapeutic or nutritional value as the natural equivalent, and more preposterous still, that it can be of equivalent value as the whole food with its broad spectrum of complex natural compounds, most of which are not only beyond our ability of synthesise, but beyond our ability to understand in the context of their function and effects on our health.
Hi, haven’t seen any new posts for awhile; always very interesting. About whole food Vitamin C: How much is in an Orange? Wouldn’t eating those every day help keep our arteries clean?
Thanks again for your writings,
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Thanks John! An orange is basically just sugar. I recommend taking Pure Radiance C as a whole food vitamin C supplement. (That’s what I take.) And please show your interest in reading more here https://www.patreon.com/healthfully
I would be interested, but honestly you didn’t reply to my question. Thanks again.
My bad, just saw your reply, and thank you as always!
So is there any benefit to ascorbic acid? And if I understood right 30 mg of whole food vitamin C daily should be good for optimal health? What do you think about Dr. Lustgarten’s recommendation of 875 mg per day? https://michaellustgarten.wordpress.com/2015/11/30/vitamin-c-dietary-intake-and-plasma-values-whats-optimal-for-health/
Ascorbic acid is an antioxidant. Vitamin C, I believe, is most important and powerful in helping to heal tissues. But it’s the stuff which is inside the ascorbic acid shell of the whole food natural vitamin C molecule that does this. So, it’s up to you whether you take ascorbic acid only for its antioxidant properties or whole vitamin C for the tissue healing potential.
Curious what’s your current (August 2017) thinking and experience about the two supplemental Vit-C forms–liposomal versus whole complex?
Hi Patrick, my solution is to take whole food vitamin C with a meal at midday. This ensures both that the body get whole food C, and has plenty of fat to absorb it well from the digestive system into the bloodstream.