Field of Science

Decide how you want to die... scurvy or DNA damage. Hopefully, none.

An interesting study has appeared in the British Journal of Nutrition (2007, 97, p.639), which seems to say what many of us may have suspected; that nature knows best. The study investigates the effect of Vitamin C as an antioxidant when taken alone in the form of pills, or as a component of oranges or orange juice.

The study made volunteers drink Vit C water, orange juice, and sugar water as a control. After the Vit C levels in all the volunteers' blood were equalised, samples were taken and were exposed to hydrogen peroxide, a known DNA damage agent. Surprisingly, the levels of DNA damage were much lower in the orange juice-fed volunteers than the Vit C water volunteers.

I have not had access to the full paper, but the authors conjecture that it may be the other substances in oranges which protect against DNA damage. As I see it, these other substances may be acting as "sacrificial" molecules, themselves getting oxidised and thereby protecting both DNA and Vit C.

Actually, these results should not be surprising. Nature has evolved intricate packages of chemicals that play roles in organisms. Oranges are not just containers for holding Vit C and other compounds, but intricate systems in which there is an essential synergistic interplay of all these substances as well as their container. Taking one out of context creates the same problems as when politicians take words out of contexts. As in many aspects of of nature, the whole is much more than the sum of the parts. In light of this, I sometimes wonder how we have so many effective drugs which are isolated from natural sources and used separately. But then, it's not perfect, is it? Think of how many side effects they have, and this may well be because you are not providing a holistic environment for them to act. Sometimes the leaf is really better than the pill. Validation for old Ayurveda and herbal medicine?

Next time, maybe we can think twice before we substitute a Vitamin tablet for its natural source.

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