New View of Vitamin C

Eye health dependent on vitamin C

(RxWiki News) Vitamin C has long been touted as a super antioxidant. Maybe you've even taken some at the first sign of cold. Now scientists are finding that vitamin C offers a surprising benefit.

Researchers have discovered that vitamin C helps the cells in the retina to function properly. The surprising finding may mean that the brain also needs the nutrient in other areas to perform at its best.

"Take vitamin C for your vision - brain - and health."

The study conducted at the Oregon Health & Science University (OHSU) discovered that the retina cells need to be "bathed" in high amounts of vitamin C, according to Henrique von Gersdorff, Ph.D., a senior scientist at OHSU's Vollum Institute and a co-author of the study.

von Gersdorff goes on to explain that the retina is part of the central nervous system. These findings, he says, suggest that vitamin C may play an important role throughout the brain - to a degree that had not been previously realized.

Special receptors called GABA-type receptors help cells in the brain communicate. These receptors act like a brake on cells in the brain that become excited. Researchers found these receptors in cells in the retina stop working when vitamin C is removed.

So if GABA receptors in the retina need vitamin C, other areas of the brain probably do too, von Gersdorff concludes.

These findings may impact the understanding of other diseases, including epilepsy and glaucoma. Both conditions are caused by nerve cells in the retina and brain that get overly excited and don't work right. It may be that this is caused in part by GABA receptors that aren't properly functioning.

Von Gersdorff says that a vitamin C-rich diet might be particularly helpful to people who are at high risk of glaucoma.

“This study provides more evidence of the strong link between proper nutrition and healthy functioning of neural elements," says  Christopher Quinn, O.D., F.A.A.O. "The retina is an outward extension of the brain and among the most complex sensory tissues in the body. Understanding the vital role of nutrients including vitamins in preserving the health of the retina may lead to an increased understanding of the brain and its functioning in both normal and disease states,” Dr. Quinn says.

While scientists don't fully understand how vitamin C works in the brain, von Gersdorff thinks the natural antioxidant may be preserving the receptors and cells from breaking down prematurely.

Because they have the same biological structure as human retinas, goldfish retinas were were used in this research.

The study is published in the Journal of Neuroscience.

Review Date: 
July 19, 2011