The Whole Truth About Whole Oranges and Vitamin C

by Kirke on February 27, 2013

Does Vitamin C Help with Colds?

I had not intended to be a test subject, but I have proved that the recommended daily dose of Vitamin C from whole oranges will not prevent or lessen the severity of the current 2013 strain of influenza, not to mention the common cold. In fact, that the virus thoroughly knocked me on my pummelo for almost a month, and there was no relief to be had. The common cold is a viral infection that can be caused by any of a number of subsets of the adenovirus or the coronavirus. The influenza virus in North America this season has been mostly type A-H3N2.

However, my personal involuntary experiment provided me with time to reflect, perfectly coinciding with preparation for the present topic: the miracle of Vitamin C, the vitamin that keeps on re-gifting. I will explain why re-gifting is a positive quality in the case of Vitamin C shortly. Linus Pauling, a two time Noble prize winner, can be blamed for the widespread belief that high doses of Vitamin C help prevent the common cold. Sixteen well designed studies have shown that Vitamin C does not prevent the common cold, but that it might shorten duration by a tiny bit, like one less day out of ten, or lessen the severity, which you might even notice. (Read More Here) Yet most Americans still believe the hype, if their recent spending behavior says anything about their beliefs. Seventy-five percent of supplement purchases are multi-vitamins, while 32% buy Vitamin C alone out of a $12.2 Billion Vitamin industry, up 2% from 2011. Makers of Emergen-C, a popular 1000mg Vitamin C powder, manufacture 500 million packets each year. No one wishes more than this patient that you could prevent getting a cold, but our technology isn’t there yet. So until we find the magic cure, put your hard earned dollars in the bank, or eat an orange for all the Vitamin C you need.

Why is it Called Ascorbic Acid and What is Scurvy

Forget the common cold. Did you know that if you don’t get enough Vitamin C you will drop dead? Now your little case of sniffles doesn’t seem so important, does it? Humans are among a very small group of animals, mostly encompassing our fellow primates that do not make their own Vitamin C. An ancient mutation caused us to lose functionality of an essential enzyme needed for the vitamin’s synthesis. If you don’t get some Vitamin C from a source outside your body you will get the deficiency disease called scurvy, also known as “scorbic.” Without scurvy can be written as “a-scorbic,” and that is why Vitamin C is also called ascorbic acid. If you are unfortunate enough to have to live primarily on dried meat, as sailors in the 16th-17th centuries did, you would suffer from scurvy by 20 to 40 days, depending on your body’s stores of Vitamin C. During the winter of 1620, the Mayflower lost 50 out of 102 pilgrims by the end of their 56 day trip, mostly from scurvy. Soon British sailors were taking advantage of the newly discovered medicinal benefit of citrus as an ascorbic, always traveling with lime juice preserved with brandy, earning them the moniker “limey.” Ten mg of Vitamin C is enough to prevent scurvy. Eating one orange provides around 100mg, achieving 95% tissue saturation, which should be fine for any ocean voyage you have planned, even without a brandy lime hot toddy. Deficiencies of Vitamin C are not unheard of in twentieth century America. A government report found 14% of men and 10% of women were deficient in Vitamin C, and according to the Centers for Disease Control between 1979 and 2005, 57 people died of scurvy. Most of these cases involved confounding issues such as alcoholism, depression, poverty or mental health problems. In our land of plenty, you have to work hard, or be suffering greatly, to avoid ascorbic acid.

Vitamin C is a Champion Re-gifter

All of ascorbic acid’s contributions to our continued existence lie in one particular talent, the skill in the art of re-gifting. Re-gifting is when you receive a gift that either you don’t want or already have, so you give the gift to someone else. Then, most likely they give it to someone else and so on…. My wife is quite skilled at the social craft, except she only re-gifts with great care, whereas this vitamin will re-give the same gift to anyone and everyone. The gift Vitamin C loves to give is electrons. It not only loves to give electrons, it also loves to receive them. It’s the uber-generosity of its giving nature that makes the vitamin so valuable. The re-gifting of electrons is what makes Vitamin C an acid and as well as a champion antioxidant:

Ascorbic Acid
Ascorbic Acid

Ascorbic Acid can donate its 2H+ to become Dehydroascorbic Acid or visa versa

Ascorbic Acid
Dehydroascorbic Acid
Dehydroascorbic Acid

Ascorbic Acid can donate its 2H+ to become Dehydroascorbic Acid or visa versa

Dehydroascorbic Acid


The definition of an acid is a compound that releases hydrogen ions (a charged proton atom with one electron). The more hydrogen ions, the more acidic, and the more hydrogen ions available, the more effective a compound is as an antioxidant. After a molecule of Vitamin C gives its two electrons it often gets them back, making them available for re-gifting. The molecule cannot re-gift every time because it does not always get the electrons back. If it did, we’d never have a deficiency, and we’d never get scurvy.

All That Vitamin C Does For Us

Vitamin C gives its electron gift in eight different enzyme reactions in our bodies. Three are important for collagen synthesis, two involve synthesizing carnitine which is important for energy production in muscle cells, one participates in neurotransmitter synthesis, one either synthesizes or breaks down the important protein tyrosine, and another adds stability to short proteins involved with hormones. In every one of these enzymatic reactions, Vitamin C is re-gifting electrons to metals, either copper or iron, allowing them to continue their work as co-factors in each process. Dude! Did you know Vitamin C was so into metal? Must be the acid, man.

The symptoms of a Vitamin C deficiency can each be traced back to one or more of these enzymes not being able to do their work due to the lack of ascorbic acid. Some of the most obvious symptoms are bleeding gums and loose teeth, red skin spots from ruptured capillaries, and easy bruising, all resulting from a breakdown in collagen integrity. Collagen is the most abundant protein in our bodies, comprising almost half our total protein by weight, and 75% of our skin. We are constantly replacing almost every cell in our bodies as a matter of maintenance. Some cells wear out sooner than others. Gut lining cells, for example, last for only 5 days. A few never get replaced, like some brain cells. But by 4.5 years, almost all the cells in our bodies have been replaced! While everyone has been touting how it cures the common cold, Vitamin C has been working hard helping our body stay up to date with freshly replaced cells, keeping neurotransmitters transmitting, stabilizing our hormones along with our moods, and helping to keep our skin attached to our bones. As if that wasn’t enough work, Vitamin C also helps with the absorption of iron and folate from foods.

But What about Vitamin C as an Anti0xidant?

It’s comforting to know that if you’ve been buying Vitamin C supplements, which we now know are not keeping you from getting a cold, at least your body has been putting it to good use in so many ways. As I’ve pointed out, ascorbic acid is a champion antioxidant. It neutralizes free radicals and so it must help prevent disease. Scientists have long touted Vitamin C’s effective disease preventative abilities. It appears that the nature and scope of the benefits of antioxidants is coming into question. Most of the research of ascorbic acid as an antioxidant had been performed in vitro (in a Petri dish). Long term, in vivo (in a living person) rigorous controlled trials are starting to come in with results ranging from no benefit to being possibly harmful. For that reason, I am not going to discuss Vitamin C’s antioxidant disease fighting qualities. Instead I will ask you to return and read my next posting on the supplement debate: benefit, benign, or dangerous?

The Benefits of Eating the Whole Orange

I would like to get back to the title of this post. The whole orange part. Despite the fact that there is debate regarding the benefits of antioxidants, there is some consensus on the benefits of eating whole fruit and vegetables. When the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics tells us eating more fruits and vegetables will help prevent ailments like cancer and heart disease, they don’t add the caveat “or eat a bunch of pills with the same vitamins and minerals.” They mean eat the whole thing. It is the food that is good for us, the sum of all the parts, and not the nutrients isolated into chemical constituents, mixed with inert non-active substances, and then molded into oval shapes. Humans are very busy, and taking a pill is easier than steaming a vegetable or cutting a pear. From this chef’s perspective, they are missing a lot more than the synergy of the nutrients. They are missing the pleasure of biting into a perfectly tender green bean, or smelling the heavenly scent of a ripe pear as you bring it to your mouth. But, scientists figure out how things work, that’s what they do. Plus, once they have put in many hours of lab work and have finally isolated a nutrient, the only way to get paid is to market the thing.



Initially, I thought they wanted to show how important it is to eat the whole fruit, which delivers all of the available nutrition to our bodies. It turns out they wanted to isolate the natural mixture of antioxidants in order to patent, license, and sell them as supplements. I could have saved him the trouble. I buy all those natural antioxidants from Vince of Bernard Farms for nine dollars a ten pound sack at my local farmer’s market. No mess, no fuss, just all the delicious nutrition.

On the other hand, it’s a good thing that at least one scientist discovered what people have instinctively known for centuries, that eating a whole orange increases the bioavailability of Vitamin C by 35%. When I found this small study from 1988, Comparative bioavailability to humans of ascorbic acid alone or in a citrus extract by Joe A. Vinson, I thought for sure some enterprising scientist must have replicated this very important finding since then. Unfortunately, I could find no additional research. There must not be much funding available for studies showing how whole produce is good for us. Orange growers might fund such a study if they weren’t so busy selling orange juice. Certainly supplement manufacturers are not going to spend any money on that research. I found a report citing studies that found that even pulpy orange juice does not have the insoluble fiber a whole orange provides. Until studies are funded to determine the synergistic effect of all the vitamins, minerals, bioflavonoids and macronutrients interact with our digestion, we will just have to trust our intuition and our taste buds by enjoying the miracle of the orange by eating one, or two, each morning.


For movie: How to Peel an Orange:

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Vinson, J. A., & Bose, P. (1988). Comparative bioavailability to humans of ascorbic acid alone or in a citrus extract. American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, 48(3), 601-604.

Fruit and vegetable of the month. (n.d.). Fruit of the month: Oranges. Retrieved April 21, 2012, Centers for disease control website:

Freeman, B. L., Eggett, D. L., & Parker, T. (2010, August 1). Synergistic and antagonistic interactions of phenolic compounds found in navel oranges. Journal of Food Science, 75, 570-576. Abstract retrieved from

Bernard Ranches. (n.d.). Retrieved September 10, 2012, from Center for Urban Education About Sustainable Agriculture website:

For The whole truth about whole oranges and Vitamin C:

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Brigham Young University (2010, December 20). Squeezing maximum health benefits out of the orange in your stocking. ScienceDaily. Retrieved January 18, 2013, from­/releases/2010/12/101220150942.htm

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Bhardwaj, R. D., Curtis, M. A., Spalding, K. L., Buchholz, B. A., Fink, D., Bjork-Eriksson, T., & Frisen, J. (2006). Neocortical neurogenesis in humans is restricted to development. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America, 103(33),12564-12568.

De Tullio, M. C. (2010). The mystery of vitamin C. Retrieved February 17, 2013, from

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{ 2 comments… read them below or add one }

Elena Z. February 28, 2013 at 4:28 pm

Cute videos and thank you for an accurate and detailed description of the roles and benefits of vitamin C. Also, thank you for reminding us that eating an orange is not just a more natural and healthier approach, but also a pleasurable experience for our taste buds! I honestly had to peel and eat a tangerine after watching your video!

Also, I read in a magazine in a doctor’s office few years ago that one apple has approximately 300 bioactive compounds including phytochemicals, vitamins, and minerals. Just one apple…then, how can we believe that one multivitamin pill is going to match that? That’s nature’s miracle. Period.


Kirke February 28, 2013 at 4:45 pm

Thanks Elena,

You win the prize for being my most faithful visitor! And your comments are always relevant and to the heart of my message. I appreciate your input and your patronage.I read a while back that they studied and verified that indeed, an apple a day keeps the doctor away. Maybe we should mix in an orange, as well.



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