There’s been a lot of loose talk and anecdotal evidence about the relationship between Vitamin C (ascorbic acid) and gum disease. A Google search for “Vitamin C + Gingivitis”, produces a plethora of websites, each claiming that vitamins will cure everything from bleeding gums to lycanthropy.
But has there been any real science?
Buried deep in the results is this little gem, which describes an actual study of the relationship between vitamin C deficiency and gingivitis – conducted on guinea pigs! Why guinea pigs? Because other than monkeys and humans, these are the only animals incapable of naturally producing their own vitamin C:
“When guinea pigs are kept on a diet deficient in vitamin C, changes occur in the gingiva, periodontal membrane and alveolar bone similar to the changes observed in mouths of humans suffering from gingivitis and periodontal disease.”
The recommended dietary allowance of vitamin C proposed and used by nutritionists is 90 milligrams. As a comparison, a 50 pound dog produces 900mg a day, while your average 150 pound goat is capable of producing over 13,000 milligrams of ascorbic acid daily! Why were humans left out of the vitamin C production sweepstakes? Probably for the same reason the genetically engineered dinosaurs in ‘Jurassic Park’ were made deficient in L-lysine.
If fed a diet completely lacking in vitamin C, humans develop a condition called scurvy, characterized by anemia, debility, exhaustion, swelling in some parts of the body, ulceration of the gums, and loss of teeth. This condition was common in sailors in the 16th to 18th centuries who navigated long voyages without enough vitamin C (and frequently perished from the condition), until the British discovered that the addition of limes to their diet prevented the disease entirely. To this day, the British are still referred to as “limeys”.
What It Does
Vitamin C is necessary for the production of collagen, the connective tissue between bones, joints, and teeth; the absorption of iron; it is also needed for the metabolism of bile acids which may have implications for blood cholesterol levels and gallstones. Moreover, vitamin C plays an important role in the synthesis of several important peptide hormones, neurotransmitters and carnitine; also, it is a powerful antioxidant, eliminating “free radicals” that would destroy cells on a molecular level.
How Much Is Enough?
A good minimum would be 2000mg to 5000mg per day. The mouth of a healthy person who brushes and flosses regularly is still swarming with bacteria. These little devils are always looking for an opening in order to invade and cause mischief. Poor circulation in the gums provides this opening, for example, in smokers, and those with diabetes. Such individuals may benefit from a double dose – 4000mg to 10,000mg. This should not be taken all at once, but stretched out over the course of a day – the body can only absorb just so much vitamin C at a time. Of course, one should never exceed the limit of “bowel tolerance”, the dosage level that leads to intestinal distress – you’ll know it when it happens!
New evidence is emerging that links periodontal disease to a whole host of seemingly unrelated problems: Heart disease, stroke, inflammation, protein-energy wasting (anorexia, muscle loss, low anabolic hormones, increased energy expenditure, and insulin resistance), atherosclerotic conditions (plaque build-up inside the arteries), kidney failure, a contributor to infectious diseases – the list is growing on an almost daily basis. We link to these studies on our Facebook Page as soon as they come out, so be sure to check in on a regular basis.