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Vitamin C and Diabetes

Common Names: ascorbic acid.

Because of its widespread use as a dietary supplement, vitamin C may be more familiar to the general public than any other nutrient. Studies indicate that more than 40% of older individuals in the U.S. take vitamin C supplements; and in some regions of the country, almost 25% of all adults, regardless of age, take vitamin C. Outside of a multivitamin, vitamin C is also the most popular supplement among some groups of registered dietitians, and 80% of the dietitians who take vitamin C take more than 250 milligrams. Vitamin C, also called ascorbic acid, is a water-soluble nutrient that is easily excreted from the body when not needed. It's so critical to living creatures that almost all mammals can use their own cells to make it. Humans, gorillas, chimps, bats, guinea pigs and birds are some of the few animals that cannot make vitamin C inside of their own bodies.

Humans vary greatly in their vitamin C requirement. It's natural for one person to need 10 times as much vitamin C as another person; and a person's age and health status can dramatically change his or her need for vitamin C. The amount of vitamin C found in food varies as dramatically as our human requirement. In general, an unripe food is much lower in vitamin C than a ripe one, but provided that the food is ripe, the vitamin C content is higher when the food is younger at the time of harvest.

Important Research and opinions on Vitamin C and diabetes.

Research on Vitamin C
One case study suggests that for each gram of vitamin C taken by mouth, the amount of insulin required could be reduced by two units. (Dice, J. F. and Daniel, C. W. (1973) The hypoglycemic effect of ascorbic acid in a juvenile-onset diabetic. International Research Communications System, 1:41.
Vitamin C has been shown to reduce levels of complication-causing sorbitol in diabetics. In a 58 day study carried out in 1994, researchers investigated the effect of two different, and rather low, doses of vitamin C supplements (100 or 600 mg) on young adults with Type I diabetes. Vitamin C supplementation at either dose normalized sorbitol levels in 30 days.
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How Vitamin C functions in relation to diabetes
Insulin not only moves glucose into the cells, but it also escorts Vitamin C. Blood sugar hogs the seats on the bus in most diabetics, therefore reducing the amount of Vitamin C we can absorb. This is the premise of The GAA Theory: high glucose levels hinder vitamin C entry into cells.

Vitamin C is vitally important for many functions throughout the body - a big one being metabolism. Glucose and Vitamin C are similar in the way they enter the cells. Both molecules require help from insulin. The name for the process that brings glucose and Vitamin C through cell membranes is insulin-mediated uptake. The insulin-mediated uptake of glucose and vitamin C uses white blood cells. White blood cells have more insulin pumps and they may contain 20 times the amount of vitamin C as ordinary cells.

Diabetic Vitamin C intake
There is substantial evidence that diabetics may require supplemental ascorbic acid in order to achieve tissue saturation and maximal physiologic function. (14) Vitamin C supplementation has been shown to improve glucose tolerance (15) and lipid profiles (16) in non-insulin-dependent diabetics, and to reduce cutaneous capillary fragility. (17) For example, in an open trial each gram of oral vitamin C taken daily permitted a 2 unit reduction in daily insulin requirements for a juvenile diabetic. (18)
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Vitamin C functions
Combining these ideas, we postulate that cells that can’t absorb glucose are not absorbing vitamin C either. As blood glucose levels rise, the GAA theory predicts that vitamin C uptake is greatly diminished throughout the body, even in cells with undamaged insulin pumps. Our conjecture is that the serious health consequences of prolonged Type II diabetes, e.g. blindness, wounds that won't heal, limb amputation, etc., are the result of the lack of vitamin C inside cells.
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European Prospective Investigation
Study participants with the highest blood levels of vitamin C were 62% less likely to develop diabetes than those with the lowest vitamin C levels. Men and women who ate the most fruit and vegetables were 22% less likely to develop diabetes than those who ate the least. When considering fruit separately, the researchers found that people consuming the most fruit were 30% less likely to develop diabetes than those consuming the least.
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More on UK study
“The strong independent association observed in this prospective study, together with biological plausibility, provides persuasive evidence of a beneficial effect of vitamin C and fruit and vegetable intake on diabetes risk,” wrote lead author Anne-Helen Harding from Addenbrooke’s Hospital in Cambridge, England.
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