Vitamin C and D: The Fountain of Youth

2 Steps Closer to the Fountain of Youth: Vitamin C and D
Nature’s Secrets to Health and Longevity
By Jonathan V. Wright, M.D.

Usually, our thoughts don’t turn to “anti-aging” until at least age 40, and often not until after age 50 or older. By age 60, many of us have radically altered our diets, are exercising more, and are taking multiple anti-aging supplements every day.

And while it’s true that taking these steps will definitely promote a healthier body, the best anti-aging health care plan is the one that starts before conception, with parents (especially mothers) who eat whole organic foods, exercise, get fresh air and sunshine, and (in the 21st century) take the right supplements. Two of the best anti-aging nutrients to take for a lifetime are ascorbic acid (Vitamin C) and vitamin D.

But if you haven’t been taking these supplements since birth, don’t worry. No matter when you start using them, they’re sure to do a lot of good.

Stock up on Nature’s No. 1 weapon of defense

Ascorbic acid (more commonly known as vitamin C) is one of the body’s main protectors against toxins, carcinogens, invading micro organisms, and stress of any kind. There’s just one problem: Our bodies are born with a genetic defect that makes it impossible for us to produce ascorbic acid on our own. Instead, we have to depend on outside sources in order to provide an important defense to help keep us optimally healthy. Textbooks of human genetics and pediatrics have repeated this incontrovertible fact for almost a century, but somehow they’ve managed to entirely neglect its full implications for optimal health, anti-aging, and longevity.

Tens of thousands of other species make their own ascorbic acid in their livers or kidneys. Their ascorbic acid production increases when they ingest a toxin or carcinogen, when their bodies are invaded by viruses or other microorganisms, and whenever they’re placed under any stress, such as extremes of heat or cold, emotional stress, or sleep deprivation. Why? Because ascorbic acid is one of Nature’s primary stress fighters and detoxifiers in nearly all animal species, including birds and fish.

All of these species have a code built into their DNA that enables their bodies to make a key enzyme called L-gulonolactone oxidase, the last of a chain of four enzymes which takes glucose (yes, just ordinary blood sugar) and turns it into ascorbic acid. Our bodies can’t make any L-gulonolactone oxidase (and therefore, can’t make ascorbic acid) at all. Without it, humans are missing a major built-in biochemical defense for an entire lifetime. And without dietary ascorbic acid, we’d all be dead in a matter of weeks.1 When we supplement with it, however, it can literally add years to our lives.
The proof is in the numbers

Researchers from UCLA conducted a 10-year study of over 11,000 adults between the ages of 25 and 74. They concluded that men who took (only) 800 milligrams of ascorbic acid daily lived six years longer than men who took only 60 milligrams daily.2 Higher quantities of ascorbic acid intake were also associated with greater longevity in women, although the effect wasn’t as strong. Higher levels were found to reduce deaths from cardiovascular disease by 42 percent in men and 25 percent in women.

Similarly, in a study of over 19,000 adults ages 45 to 79, those with the lowest plasma ascorbic acid levels were twice as likely to die over a four-year time period as compared with those with the highest levels.3 Deaths from all causes decreased as plasma ascorbic acid levels increased in both men and women. Even a small increase in plasma ascorbic acid that could be caused by eating just one additional fruit or vegetable daily was associated with a 20-percent reduction in the risk of death from all causes.

Just this year, Japanese researchers reported a study on mice that provides an intriguing angle to the ascorbic acid and longevity story.4 They compared normal mice synthesizing normal amounts of ascorbic acid internally to mice synthesizing one-tenth that amount internally. They reported that aging proceeded at four times the speed in the mice with less ascorbic acid production, half of which were dead after six months of observation, while all the mice with normal amounts of ascorbic acid were still alive. Obviously, there’s a difference between mice and men (and women too), but it’s my present conclusion that in the case of optimal ascorbic acid’s positive influence on health, anti-aging, and longevity, there are more parallels than differences.

I’m surprised that with all the evidence, only a minority of anti-aging enthusiasts are using optimal amounts of ascorbic acid for health and longevity. Most of the time, people tell me they’re taking 1 or 2 grams once or twice a day. Occasionally, though, a serious follower of anti-aging principles will get it right and tell me that he’s using “bowel tolerance” levels of ascorbic acid.

Bowel tolerance is the “copy Nature” concept of ascorbic acid supplementation originated by Nobel Prize winner Linus Pauling. It means taking as much supplemental ascorbic acid (sodium ascorbate, calcium, magnesium ascorbate, and various forms of “Ester-C” will all do the job) as your body can absorb. Your gastro intestinal tract lets you know how much you’re absorbing, and then how much is too much by producing excess gas. If you don’t cut back on the amount you’re taking, the excess gas will continue to escalate into diarrhea.

Many healthy adults 40 years old or older can take 1 to 2 grams of ascorbic acid twice a day with no excess gas, but when you’re “coming down with something,” or when you’re under significant stress, you can take considerably more. With the flu or very bad colds, many people can take 5 to 10 grams two or three times daily before their bodies tell them they’re taking too much.

Don’t be caught dead without vitamin D

I’m sure most of you know by now how good vitamin D is for you and that the sun is the very best source of this nutrient. Study after study has shown that a lack of vitamin D is a direct cause of disease, disability, and shorter life spans. Unfortunately, a large majority of dermatologists and conventional medical practitioners are too crippled by heliophobia (helios is Greek for “sun;” phobia is Greek for “exaggerated or irrational fear”) to pay any attention to this research.

It’s sad that most conventional medicine practitioners need to be reminded that humanity evolved (or was created) in tropical areas, wore very little clothing, and had maximum exposure to sunlight. When people got too much sun, they knew it—just as we do today —so they found shade or covered their skin. Back then, their blood levels of 25-hydroxyvitamin D were almost certainly the same as those of frequently sun-exposed people living in tropical areas today—60 to 100 nanograms per milliliter.

By contrast, the large majority of individuals I help test for 25-hydroxyvitamin D usually have levels of 20 to 30 nanograms per milliliter. Even people who are specifically working on anti-aging often don’t measure above 40 to 45 nanograms per milliliter. Part of this could be because we don’t get much sunshine here in Seattle, but even physicians I know from Southern California and Arizona tell me their patients’ 25-hydroxyvitamin D levels average only 10 nanograms per milliliter higher than mine do in Washington.

How could this be possible? I think it all comes back to medically induced heliophobia, which has led to the use of irrational quantities of sunscreen—and it’s all justified by the so-called “experts” on the basis of preventing skin cancer. But better-informed experts, such as Professor Michael Holick, point out that for every one case of skin cancer prevented by application of heliophobic principles, there are between 20 and 30 more cases of breast and prostate cancer that are directly traceable to a lack of vitamin D. The risks of developing colon and other cancers are also increased by a lack of vitamin D.

Fight the flu the natural way

Recently, researchers found a link between inadequate vitamin D in large populations and sudden mass outbreaks of influenza and other viral diseases.5 They pointed out that adequate vitamin D “dramatically stimulates the expression of potent antimicrobial peptides, which exist in neutrophils, monocytes, natural killer cells, and epithelial cells lining the respiratory tract, where they play a major role in protecting the lung from infection.”

Vitamin D is naturally at its lowest ebb during the winter flu season. Remember: In the winter (roughly defined as late October or early November through March or early April), even when your skin is directly exposed to the sun, practically no vitamin D is formed at all if you live north of 35º latitude. (Thirty-five degrees latitude is north of Albuquerque, Amarillo, Oklahoma City, Little Rock, Memphis, Chattanooga, and Charlotte; Los Angeles is at 34º, while Phoenix is at 33½º.)

It’s my opinion that avoiding sugar and refined carbohydrates, while taking in adequate vitamin D (from sunshine and supplements), ascorbic acid, and whole foods will ultimately be found much more effective than vaccinations in preventing the flu.

If you’re a serious anti-aging enthusiast, 3,000 to 4,000 I.U. of vitamin D daily should be just a starting point for finding out your individual optimum level. After using that amount for a few months, work with a physician skilled and knowledgeable in nutrition and natural medicine to have your serum calcium and 25-hydroxyvitamin D levels checked.

Tropical levels of 25-hydroxyvitamin D (60 to 100 nanograms per milliliter) are considered both safe and optimal for the best of health, anti-aging, and longevity. Serum calcium is a double-check on vitamin D safety, since taking too much vitamin D will cause your serum calcium to elevate. If this happens, you should stop supplementing with vitamin D temporarily and use a lower level when you start taking it again—even if the 25-hydroxyvitamin D level is at the optimal tropical level.

Vitamin D has plenty of other health benefits and longevity-promoting effects, but since I’ve written about them relatively recently, I’ll just list a few as a reminder. (To get more details, read the November 2003 and January 2004 issues of the newsletter.) Vitamin D helps prevent autoimmune diseases such as lupus, multiple sclerosis, and rheumatoid arthritis. It also promotes healthy bones in children and adults, helps prevent and (if necessary) treat osteo-porosis, effectively treats psoriasis (with topical vitamin D), and down- regulates a metabolic pathway that is directly involved in many cases of hypertension. Research has also demonstrated an 80-percent reduction in new cases of childhood diabetes.6

An anti-aging plan for a lifetime

Dr. Fred Klenner, the 1940s pioneer in high-dose ascorbic acid, was a general practitioner who also did surgery and delivered babies. He advised all the pregnant moms with whom he worked to take 3 grams of vitamin C daily during the first trimester, 6 grams daily during the second trimester, and 10 grams daily during the third trimester. At the hospital, the nurses noted that all the “Dr. Klenner babies” seemed unusually healthy and that no birth defects were ever noted.There’s no need to give ascorbic acid supplements to nursing infants. Instead, a mother should take them herself. She can tell if she’s taking more than the baby needs if he or she experiences excess gas or diarrhea. As soon as the baby is weaned, start him or her on ascorbic acid supplementation as a part of an optimal health and anti-aging program right away.

Like vitamin C, optimal vitamin D supplementation for health, anti-aging, and longevity should start before conception. Women should get as much sun exposure as they can (without burning, of course). And if they’re planning to get pregnant or are pregnant already, they should take 1 tablespoon of fish oil. I favor cod liver oil, since it contains both vitamin D and essential omega-3 fatty acids, including EPA and DHA. Both of these are crucial to developing infant brains and reducing the risk of attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, or ADHD.

While nursing her baby, a mother should continue to take 1 tablespoon of fish oil per day total. As soon as the baby is weaned, she should start him or her on fish oil as well. For now, it’s probably best to stick with 1,000 I.U. of fish oil daily for small children. (The omega-3 fatty acid that fish oil contains is especially important for brain development in small children.)

Once children reach about 100 pounds, they should be sure to get lots of sunshine plus supplement with 2,000 I.U. of vitamin D on cloudy days.