Can vitamin C help protect you from disease?

Can vitamin C help protect you from disease?

Vitamin C’s well-known role in supporting the immune system has led researchers to consider its ability to prevent illness for decades. From scurvy – the famous scourge of seafaring explorers impacting people as recently as the 19th century – to diabetes, cataracts, cancer and, of course, the common cold.

The jury is still out on vitamin C’s ability to help with many of those diseases, but a new study suggests taking vitamin C could potentially help reduce the chances of developing gout, the type of arthritis that is on the rise.

The study published in The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition found that people who were given a daily 500-milligram vitamin C supplement were 12% less likely to develop gout within 10 years compared to people who were given a placebo.

Gout is an inflammatory condition caused by too much uric acid, a byproduct of certain foods we eat, in the body. When there is too much uric acid for the body to break down, it can build up into crystals in the joints and cause painful swelling and redness.

The aging population and increase in obesity rates have increased the prevalence of gout which has more than doubled in the past 20 years.

“While gout has no cure, it can be effectively managed with anti-inflammatory drugs and medications that lower uric acid levels in the body,” says Dr. Alvin Wells, a rheumatologist at Aurora Health Center in Franklin, Wis. Unfortunately, many people stop taking their medication when they aren’t actively having a flare-up, which can cause symptoms to return, making lifestyle changes an important part of managing the disease.”

Previous studies have demonstrated vitamin C’s ability to lower uric-acid levels in the body, but this was the first long-term randomized clinical trial to evaluate whether vitamin C could prevent gout.

Gout is often referred to as the “disease of kings” because of its long-held association with overindulgence in food and alcohol. Doctors now know that environmental factors and family history play a role, but it is still true that diets high in alcohol, fatty meats and fructose can increase chances of developing gout as well as contribute to gout flare-ups.

The study did not find vitamin C supplementation to have a significant effect on gout flare-ups, but researchers suggest that more studies are needed.

“Simple lifestyle changes like losing weight, eating healthier foods and limiting alcohol can both help prevent and manage gout,” Dr. Wells says. “It’s possible that a daily vitamin C supplement, which has very few side effects, could do the same.”

As for the common cold, rest and hydration remain your best bet.

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About the Author

Nick Bullock
Nick Bullock

Nick Bullock, health enews contributor, is a scientific writer and editor for Advocate Aurora Health. He is a former newspaper reporter and magazine editor with a background in science and research reporting. When he’s not writing about the latest health care research, Nick is usually hiking through Wisconsin state parks, reading sci-fi novels or historical nonfiction, trying new recipes, agonizing over Minnesota sports franchises and playing games with his family.