Attack of the vapors

“Whenever I feel the vapors coming on I immediately begin quaffing 1000 mg doses of vitamin C.”

That’s the opening line of an e-mail I received from an HSI member named Clay who was responding to the e-Alert “The Big 3” in which HSI Panelist Allan Spreen, M.D., discussed the key natural agents he puts to work to when it’s time to fight off a flu.

As longtime e-Alert readers are aware, Dr. Spreen is an outspoken advocate of vitamin C as both a preventive and treatment. And Clay is too. About his regimen to address the “vapors,” he says, “I have been doing this for years and the last flu shot I had was in 1965. I have had a touch of a cold on only one or two occasions in so many years I can’t remember.”

Clay’s e-mail reminded me of just how useful vitamin C can be during this cold and flu season. So I thought this would be a perfect time to sort through the several e-Alerts in which Dr. Spreen has discussed various aspects of vitamin C, to give you a digest of his most important insights; from the different types of vitamin C, to absorption issues, to the remarkable effect that C has on enzyme systems.

Among the multi

In the e-alert “Multi-Talented” (4/23/03), Dr. Spreen explained how the low amounts of vitamin C found in most multi-vitamins should be considered only the start of the supplementation of this important nutrient. As Dr. Spreen pointed out in that e-Alert: “The amount of vitamin C in a supplement is far less than I’d want a person to take. I nearly always start with a minimum of 1000 milligrams 2x/day.”

In addition, Dr. Spreen has also stressed how important it is to spread out vitamin C supplementation throughout the day. “Taking 3000 milligrams of vitamin C at one time is nowhere near as potent as taking 1000 milligrams 3 separate times. In fact, I’m against taking vitamin C less than twice/day, as it is utilized so quickly that there may be none of the original dose left in the bloodstream long before the next dose arrives if you wait 24 hours.”

And in answer to a member’s question about time-release capsules, Dr. Spreen made it clear that he’s not a fan of any agent added to a supplement that inhibits the release of nutrients, which is basically what the time-release mechanism does. As he puts it, better that each person provide their own time release by taking doses over the course of the day.

The lineup

Anyone who’s ever shopped carefully for vitamin C knows that there are several types of C to choose from. Here’s a quick rundown of different C types from Dr. Spreen:

  • ASCORBIC ACID: This is the standard form of vitamin C. Calcium ascorbate is one of the salt forms of the nutrient (as opposed to the acid form). It is usually synthetic, as are other forms, such as sodium ascorbate, magnesium ascorbate, etc. It tends to be bitter, while ascorbic acid is sour.
  • NATURAL vs. SYNTHETIC: The synthetic vitamin C molecule is chemically identical to natural forms. The difference arises in other nutrients that accompany the C, such as bioflavonoids, which make the C more effective. That’s not to say that I don’t prefer natural; it’s just that it’s very hard to come by, and extremely expensive. So the chances of high doses of C (like 1000 milligram capsules) being all- natural are low. One possibility, however, would be Sago Palm source vitamin C, which is considered a lower risk for those who are extremely allergic.
  • ROSE HIPS: This natural form of vitamin C is very expensive, so nobody sells it exclusively (to my knowledge). Manufacturers put a little in with the synthetic source for marketing purposes. In its natural state, meaning mixed by Mother Nature with attending bioflavonoid fractions, there’s little question (to those who treat with it regularly) that less amount of rose hips is needed for an equivalent biological action.
  • ACEROLA VITAMIN C: This is another natural form (from a tropical American shrub). Like rose hips, acerola is usually mixed with synthetic.
  • VITAMIN C COMPLEX: This is somewhat non-specific, and can be any group of related items, such as multiple salts of C (calcium, magnesium, potassium, sodium ascorbates, for example).
  • ESTER C: There is an issue concerning Ester C, touted as stronger than the standard form. I don’t think it’s any stronger, and neither did Dr. Linus Pauling, though you’ll see commercials that indicate otherwise. Some people do feel it has less of a tendency to upset their stomach, however.
  • FAT SOLUBLE VITAMIN C: The fat-soluble form of vitamin C is called ascorbyl palmitate, and is better absorbed and stored by the body than water-soluble forms. (All the other forms of C are water-soluble.) Ascorbyl palmitate is harder to find, and more expensive.

Glimpse of the future

As I’ve mentioned in previous e-Alerts, the amount of any vitamin you take is not necessarily the amount that your body ends up absorbing and ultimately putting to use.

Stating that, “Absorption is the key to everything,” Dr. Spreen tries to give the body what he calls “luxuriant amounts” of nutrients (which he believes it can handle in high doses, as opposed to drugs), and hopes the body gets what it needs.

Complicating the absorption issue is the fact that your body’s ability to absorb nutrients is not necessarily the same from one day to the next. Dr. Spreen says, “The degree of vitamin C absorption changes depending upon the dose ingested and the body’s need at any particular time. For example, 6000 milligrams might cause loose stools in a given healthy person when the same person during a bout with the flu might be able to take 20,000 milligrams without difficulty.

“Some people are less tolerant to vitamin C in the acid form. For them switching to the salt form (sodium ascorbate, calcium ascorbate, magnesium ascorbate, etc.) often permits far higher tolerance.”

Dr. Spreen also points out that absorption may be facilitated by the regular use of vitamin C. “Assuming you take enough (RDA amounts won’t do it), high doses of vitamin C ‘awaken’ dormant enzyme systems that can utilize the additional doses of the nutrient. Over a period of time they get used to having the higher dose and ‘jack up’ to accommodate. In my opinion the medicine of the future will be highly tailored around enzymes, utilized purely for optimizing the absorption of the nutrients we’re eating, whether as foods or supplements.”

Function follows form

As a final note, Dr. Spreen recommends that vitamin C (as well as other vitamins) be taken in capsule-form or powdered. If you take a pill-form, make sure it dissolves quickly in water.

And if you have any questions about vitamin C (or any other nutritional topic), please pass them along and I’ll ask Dr. Spreen to answer them.

To Your Good Health,

Jenny Thompson
Health Sciences Institute