Vitamin C is a water-soluble vitamin sensitive to heat and light, which plays an important role in the metabolism of humans and many other mammals. Chemically speaking, it is the L-ascorbic acid, a stereoisomer of ascorbic acid and its salts, ascorbate (the most common being sodium ascorbate and calcium ascorbate).
Vitamin C is an enzymatic cofactor involved in a number of physiological reactions (hydroxylation). It is required in the synthesis of collagen and red blood cells and helps the immune system. It also plays a role in iron metabolism as a promoter of its absorption and its use is therefore not recommended in patients with iron overload and particularly hemochromatosis.
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In oxidized form (dehydroascorbic acid), it crosses the blood-brain barrier to enter the brain and multiple organs with high concentrations of vitamin C. It has an antioxidant molecule that can counteract the harmful effects of oxidants such as free radicals. For this effect, we also use the D-(-) (levorotatory) of ascorbic acid, which in contrast to the form L-(+) (Dextrogyre) shows no vitamin activity.
It s also believed that vitamin C is effective against the common cold: in the 1970s, an American Linus Pauling (Nobel Prize in Chemistry in 1954) recommended 1 g. of vitamin C per hour from the first symptoms to regress infection. However, today, studies suggest that vitamin C has no preventive effect against colds.
Very fragile in solution, it is destroyed upon contact with air (by oxidation) or from exposure to light (exposure to ultraviolet) and heat accelerates these processes. The heat of cooking destroys vitamin C.
While most mammals are able to synthesize vitamin C in their liver or kidneys (this is therefore not a vitamin for them), the majority of primates (including humans), guinea pigs, and some birds and fish are not. According to the theory of evolution, this would be the result of a genetic mutation, which occurred 40 million years ago, blocking the conversion of glucose to ascorbic acid. Animals lacking the ability to synthesize vitamin C, thus, have to receive it with food.
Several hypotheses have been proposed to explain the loss, in the ancestor of humans and great apes, the ability to produce vitamin C. Richard J. Johnson, a specialist in cardiovascular disease and human hyperuricemia (another genetic error characteristic of great apes, including Human), suggesting that uric acid and vitamin C deficiency, two pro-inflammatory factors have provided an evolutionary advantage by promoting fat retention (recognized effect of oxidative stress and inflammation), useful during the famines of the late Eocene and middle Miocene, contemporaneous with these genetic mutations.
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