Vitamin C (ascorbic acid) is the most commonly used supplement of all the recommended daily vitamins, and it’s no wonder. In the 1970s Nobel Prize-winning chemist Linus Pauling promoted the idea that mega-doses of vitamin C could be used for a number of health benefits, including prevention of the common cold. This possibility naturally had very wide appeal, since a great many people suffer through a cold on a semi-regular basis. We’re particularly vulnerable during the winter months, when we’re stuck indoors with other people who have been infected with the cold virus.
Pauling also promoted the idea that high doses of vitamin C could be effective in treating heart disease and in reducing the risk of infection and cancer. However, since Pauling’s death in 1994 there has been some controversy as to whether high doses of vitamin C really have a positive effect on the immune system.
Scientists do agree that the regular intake of moderate doses of vitamin C (equal to about 200 mg per day) can lessen the severity and shorten the duration of the common cold. However, they also agree that vitamin C does not generally lower the likelihood of being infected by the cold virus. There is a notable exception for one part of the population, though. It has been shown that vitamin C does cut the incidence of colds in half for people involved in intensive physical activities, such as professional skiers and marathon runners.
What about the idea of mega-doses? A study conducted by the National Institutes of Health (NIH) concluded that any vitamin C taken in excess of saturation (that is, beyond the point where the body can absorb and make use of it) is essentially useless and ends up being excreted in the urine. However, it’s also worth mentioning that all mainstream research on vitamin C had been undertaken using small to moderate doses.
Drs. Steve Hickey and Hilary Roberts decided to investigate the issue further and examined the NIH study in detail as well as clinical reports and independent scientific reports covering a 50-year period. In their analysis, they found evidence for the usefulness of vitamin C in boosting the immune system and in treating cancer and heart disease. They also questioned the validity of the NIH findings, noting that the NIH measured levels of vitamin C only in the blood and in white blood cells, which are the cells that are first in line to absorb vitamin C in the body. Hickey and Roberts suggest that the NIH did not take into account how the other cells in the body utilize vitamin C, especially given the large amount of clinical evidence as to its effectiveness.
Since vitamin C is found abundantly in a wide range of fruits and vegetables and is inexpensive to manufacture, the pharmaceutical companies do not have great interest in paying for large-scale studies on the effect of large doses of vitamin C. Vitamin C has been demonstrated to increase the production of antibodies and white blood cells and to increase levels of interferon, a substance that helps protect cells from invasion from viruses. Its antioxidant activity aids in keeping cells healthy so they are better able to guard against disease.
If you are interested in exploring the benefits of vitamin C, it can be found in greatest amounts in citrus fruit, bell peppers (particularly the red peppers), strawberries, broccoli and green leafy vegetables. Supplements are also widely available, and many nutritionists suggest that it’s best to take 250-500 mg of these twice a day with meals rather than taking your daily dose all at once.
Osteoporosis is one of the most prevalent conditions among older people. According to the National Osteoporosis Foundation, one in two women and one in four men over age 50 will have an osteoporosis-induced fracture at some point in their lives.
A loss of bone mass becomes more common as we age, causing bones to become more brittle and increasing the risk of a fracture or break. Many fractures that occur are asymptomatic. However, some may cause shooting pain or chronic pain in areas such as the back, where a fracture will only be evident on imaging tests. A bone density test can be a very useful tool for helping to keep your chances of having a fracture to a minimum.
There are a few good reasons why you may want to have a bone density test. First, it can tell you if you have osteoporosis or if your bones are weak before you experience a break or fracture; second, it can predict the likelihood of you experiencing a break in the future; and third, it can measure if your bone density is getting better or worse based on any actions you are taking (such as medications or exercise).
The National Osteoporosis Foundation recommends that people who are likely to be at greater risk for osteoporosis have a bone density test done. You should consider having one if any of the following descriptions apply to you:
* You are a woman age 65 or older
* You are a postmenopausal women under age 65 with risk factors
* You are a women of menopausal age with risk factors
* You are a man age 70 or older
* You are a man between the ages of 50 and 69 with risk factors
* You have broken a bone after the age of 50
* An x-ray has shown a break or bone loss in your spine
* You have back pain that may indicate a break
* You have lost 1/2 inch or more of height in one year
* You have lost 1 1/2 inches from your full grown height
The bone density test uses a DXA machine (dual energy x-ray absorptiometry) to measure the density of bone in your hip and spine, and occasionally other bones, depending on your particular situation. The density of the hip and spine is measured because these are the bones most likely to break with osteoporosis, and because breaks in these areas are also among the most debilitating. The test is painless and non-invasive and is performed with the patient fully clothed. It takes about 15 minutes and the level of radiation from the machine is minimal.
If you feel you fit into any of the at-risk categories above, it may be beneficial for you to have a bone density test done so you and your health provider can develop strategies to reduce your chances of breaking or fracturing a bone.