Vitamin C crystals viewed with polarized light.

Vitamin C:
Not Just for Colds

Vitamin C is among the best known of the vitamins without which we suffer serious health problems. Fortunately, most of these ailments are largely confined to the past & are rarely seen due to better dietary regimens. Some health care practitioners promote it as a cure-all for colds but this really should be considered a secondary benefit at best.

What is Scurvy?

Scurvy is a deficiency disease affecting the synthesis of collagen needed for healthy connective tissues.

Since Vitamin C is water soluble, it is not be stored nearly to the same degree as the fat soluble vitamins. Fortunately, your body conserves it effectively and scurvy doesn’t appear for months even after vitamin C can’t be measured in blood tests.

Bleeding gums are only the most obvious manifestation of scurvy.  Ascorbic acid is needed for production of collagen, a protein necessary for the structural integrity of skin, tendons, ligaments, cartilage & blood vessels. While collagen is best known as a cosmetic fix for facial lines due to aging & sun damage this use understates its biological importance.

What Are the Best Sources for Vitamin C?

Most of us would think that popular fruits such as apples & oranges are high in Vitamin C & make the best choices but these are surprisingly low compared to other sources. All figures given are per 100g.

  • Apple: 6mg
  • Orange: 53mg
  • Brocolli: 90mg
  • Brussel sprouts: 80mg
  • Cabbage: 30mg

You can see the full list at wikipedia VItamin C.

Some sources suggest high levels of vitamin C prevent or alleviate colds but the evidence is weak. Given its role in collagen production a better use might be to limit scarring due to acne but that is strictly speculative.

Who’s Not Getting Their Vitamin C?

With so many choices, you would think it next to impossible for someone to contract scurvy but it does happen. We all have different food tastes & preferences. For some the acidity of fruit or the bitterness of some vegetables can be off putting so that certain foods are avoided. This can lead to health issues if nutritional supplements are not used.

Supertaster testing strips, not just biology labs.
These taste strips are thought to identify supertasters in part by how sensitive they are to bitterness. Do you know anyone who avoids broccoli or brussel sprouts? You do an experiment to see if their food preferences correlate with taste test results.

Can I Measure Vitamin C?

As it turns out, Vitamin C is relatively easy to measure in fruits & vegetables. Click on Vitamin C test strips for more information. These strips can also be used to  detect ascorbic acid in urine but all it really tells you is how much excess you’ve been ingesting, not how much is in your blood. Still, that can be an interesting experiment in itself if you compare your regular diet without & then with vitamin supplements.

Ascorbic Acid
Test Vitamin C in fruits, vegetables or juices or crush vitamin C tablets & add to water.

Vitamin C is very sensitive to oxygen & you can have fun designing experiments to test this. Click on the following link for testing the effects of oxygen on vitamin C. It’s an abstract for a longer article but it can give you some ideas. You can see why ascorbic acid is also widely used as a food additive, to prevent surface oxidation as evidenced by browning of sliced potatoes, apples, etc.

Build Your Own Vitamin C Molecular Model

You can make your own Vitamin C (ascorbic acid) molecular model using our 3D Molecular Model Builder.

vitamin-C-structure-model
This is Vitamin C. Note how similar this is to glucose which has a formula of C6H12O6.
Summary
Article Name
Ascorbic acid, an essential vitamin important for good health is easily tested-great for simple science experiments.
Description
Ascorbic acid is often thought of as the "cold vitamin" but this understates its metabolic importance; it's also a great to study in simple science experiments.
Author
Indigo Instruments

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