Eating fruits rich in vitamin C is more beneficial for health than consuming the nutrient through tablets or other supplements, suggests a study conducted by researchers at the University of Milan in Italy.
Vitamin C is well known for providing protection against gum disease scurvy and common cold.
Dr. Serena Guarnieri and colleagues from the Division of Human Nutrition at the university have found fruits rich in vitamin C, such as oranges, are powerful antioxidants that protect cellular DNA from being damaged by oxidation.
The researchers say that not eating such foods can cause damage to DNA long before the iconic bleeding gums of scurvy are seen.
During their study, the researchers gave test subjects a single glass of blood-orange juice, vitamin-C-fortified water, or sugar water to drink. They took blood samples from the test subjects 3 hours and 24 hours after the drinks.
The samples collected were then exposed to hydrogen peroxide, a substance known to cause DNA damage through oxidation. It was seen that the damage was significantly less in the samples taken from volunteers who had ingested orange juice, in both the samples collected 3 hours after consumption and 24 hours after the drink.
On the other hand, the sugar water and the vitamin-C-fortified water did not show any protective effect.
Guarnieri says that the new finding indicates that the antioxidant protection that vitamin C provides may also involve the contribution of some other element.
"It appears that vitamin C is not the only chemical responsible for antioxidant protection; there is something more at work here," Nature magazine quoted her as saying in a report published in the British Journal of Nutrition.
The new findings have been hailed by scientists at other organisations too, as it suggests that people studying the effects of vitamins should be careful to note where in the diet it comes from.
"It is an important observation," says David Heber, director of the Centre for Human Nutrition at the University of California, Los Angeles.
"Vitamin C is provided in a matrix in fruits with many other beneficial substances," he says, adding that all of these may interact with each other.