The Roles of Vitamins A & C

Both vitamins are examples of antioxidents, but what are antioxidents? They are compounds that protect our cells from damage caused by oxidation. This then poses the question of what is oxidation? Basically, it is a chemical reaction in which atoms lose electrons- this happens during metabolism and is fuelled by oxygen, hence oxidation. Stable atoms have an even number of electrons but when oxidation occurs, it is left with an odd number of electrons- ordinarily these electrons combine with each other to make a stable electron. Some atoms do not pair; these atoms are highly unstable and are called free radicals.

The problem with free radicals is they 'want' to become stable and therefore look to 'steal' electrons from stable molecules (Thompson and Manore: 2008). This means they are actively trying to destroy other cells- that can be very dangerous. Antioxidant vitamins donate their electrons or hydrogen atoms to stabilize them. The role of antioxidant minerals is slightly more complex but the end product is eventually excreted. Antioxidents get rid of these dangerous free radicals.

Vitamin E, also known as ascorbic acid is a Vitamin that protects the body against these free radicals. But more commonly it is known for preventing muscle cramps, muscle weakness and anaemia (Thompson and Manore: 2008). Humans do not have the capacity for ascorbic synthesis, so therefore it must be included in the diet. Further research looking into a low Vitamin E diet has been proven to cause oxidative stress. This stress has been shown to decrease the effectiveness of other natural antioxidants (Cearfoss and Hassoun: 2012). Vitamin E has its obvious benefits but it also impacts the role other vitamins play in the body, rendering it a more important vitamin than first thought.

Vitamin C is another antioxidant, it is remembered most notably for preventing scurvy in sailors, it also prevents loose teeth and can enhance iron absorption (Thompson and Manore 2008). In those who added Vitamin C to their diet their systolic and diastolic blood pressure were lowered (Juraschek, Guallar, Appel and Miller: 2012). What is even more interesting is that it has been proven that the body loses control and cells begin to divide when it is deprived of Vitamin C- this is cancer. A high intake of Vitamin C will assist redox and immunological mechanisms behind spontaneous remissions. In 1969 it was found malignant cancer was caused by inadequate collagen- something Vitamin C provides in abundance (Hickey: 2008).

The RDA for Vitamin E is 15mg and foods high in the vitamin include: almonds, hazelnuts, peanuts, shrimp, sweet potato, avocado and tomato sauce. Foods high in Vitamin C include oranges and other citrus fruit, kiwi, strawberries, broccoli, cauliflower and tomatoes. The body cannot absorb any Vitamin C above 200mg and it is water-soluble being eliminated by the body after 12 hours (Wener, Hoeger and Hoeger: 2008).

To make a complex matter simple, Vitamin C prevents cancer because it prevents cell division promoted by free radicals. It does not cure or make you exempt from cancer; but it is something that actively does prevent some cancers. Vitamin E prevents free radicals from preventing antioxidents (like Vitamin C) doing their job- the example given being to stop cancer cell multiplication.

Yours in sport,
- thesportscience


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