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A blessed Advent and Christmas to all our readers

New Hope for Diagnosis of Chronic Infections; and Ancestral Health (Paleo) Survey

A few items have recently come to my attention that may be of interest to Perfect Health Diet readers.

First, my friend Chris Keller on Facebook reports that a new startup, Aperiomics, is offering tests that are capable of identifying 37,000 different infectious pathogens, including bacteria, viruses, fungi, and protozoa.

This is a game-changing diagnostic tool. Infections are one of the leading causes of disease (along with bad diet and lifestyle), yet standard medical practice is unable to diagnose most infections. Many infections are treatable, but it’s not easy to treat something you can’t diagnose. Getting a clear and accurate diagnosis of infections and treating them appropriately, along with healthy diet and lifestyle practices such as those recommended in Perfect Health Diet, holds the promise of curing most diseases.

The test is not cheap, Chris thinks it’s about $1000. But if you have a mysterious health problem, it may well be worth it.


Second, you may recall that five years ago, Dr. Hamilton Stapell of the Ancestral Health Society and Associate Professor of History at the State University of New York New Paltz organized a movement-wide survey. Results of that survey were published in the Journal of Evolution and Health.

Now Dr. Stapell has a follow-up survey. It aims to:
1) Describe how the size and composition of the ancestral health movement has changed over the past five years.
2) Identify common practices and the most important motivating factors for both starting and quitting a paleo lifestyle.
3) Predict the future trajectory of the ancestral health movement.

Please consider taking 3 to 5 minutes to help Dr. Stapell’s research by completing the Ancestral Health (Paleo) Survey 2018. All responses are anonymous and will be used for scholarly purposes only.

Vitamin C: Should you take it before and after surgery? Part 2

In Part 1, we found that taking vitamin C after orthopedic surgery is a good idea, and that vitamin C could help in other surgical situations as well. But that’s only half the story. Here’s the other half.

Vitamin C as a prooxidant?

The world of vitamin C was tipped upside down in 1998, with the publication of a controversial paper in the prestigous journal Nature entitled “Vitamin C exhibits pro-oxidant properties”. News media was all over it, predictably warning readers to be afraid…very afraid of taking vitamin C supplements. But the paper had a lot of holes, to put it mildly.

The study showed that some DNA was oxidized by vitamin C, but some DNA was also protected from oxidation by vitamin C (with the protection being around ten times greater in magnitude! A fact that was conveniently left out of the paper.). Plus the experimental technique may have oxidized some DNA by itself. So what happens when throngs of angry vitamin C supporters wrote in to the journal? The primary author backtracked, and his reply concluded “our study shows an overall profound protective effect of this vitamin.” Case closed. Or is it?

IRONing out the details…

Vitamin C is neither always an anti-oxidant or always a pro-oxidant, and not all studies are applicable to what goes on in your body. Take lab mice for example. Unlike humans, mice can synthesize vitamin C, and supplementation can paradoxically reduce their vitamin C levels. In humans, study results are mixed, with most showing either an anti-oxidant effect or no effect, and some showing both anti and pro-oxidant effects. Timing could also be an issue. In a study where vitamin C was added before LDL was experimentally oxidized, it displayed antioxidant properties. But vitamin C actually showed prooxidant properties when added AFTER the LDL was mildly oxidized. So what does this mean for surgery?

First things first: if you have iron overload (for example, due to hereditary haemochromatosis), be careful with high doses of vitamin C, especially during times of surgery. Unbound iron can interact with vitamin C to produce oxidative stress. Iron is typically bound to transfer proteins and largely safe from vitamin C, but a portion of iron stores may be released when tissue is injured and blood vessels are compromised. And when is a large mass of tissue injured? Surgery!

For people without iron overload, the implications of iron and vitamin C interactions are not so clear. There doesn’t seem to be much data about the interaction of vitamin C and iron during the surgical and post-surgical period. In vitro and trial evidence conflicts on whether vitamin C protects or chemically reduces (i.e. harms) iron in humans, and evidence is also mixed on whether vitamin C protects or occasionally causes protein glycation. Vitamin C can have differing effects on oxidation of depending on the target (lipids, proteins, or DNA) as well.

So the takeaway here may simply be: avoid taking supplements that contain iron and too many iron-enriched foods around surgery time (unless you are advised to by your doctor), and don’t go much beyond the PHD-recommended vitamin C intake. If you have a crappy diet and think vitamin C will save you, be careful. Overloading on vitamin C after tissue components are already oxidized could theoretically lead to further oxidation.

Crohn’s and Ulcerative Colitis

Crohn’s and ulcerative colitis patients often take vitamin C in combination with iron for anemia. That might be a bad idea, as high doses of iron worsen symptoms in Crohn’s patients. Even a single high dose of iron can cause intestinal lining oxidative damage in healthy individuals, and supplementing with quite small amounts of vitamin C and iron together leads to oxidative damage. Iron-enriched diets increase colon cancer in mice and injected vitamin C combined with iron causes ulcers in rats.

The combination of vitamin C, certain metals, and hydrogen peroxide makes up a free-radical generating process called the “Udenfriend system”. Diseased tissue, such as the intestinal tissue in bowel disorders, may contain higher levels of these components. While some in vitro studies show that the Udenfriend system is NOT your friend, others show that it doesn’t cause lipid or protein oxidation in vivo. Without a conclusive answer, it might be prudent to avoid going overboard with vitamin C and iron if you have Crohn’s or UC, especially around surgery.

Other surgeries

There are many different surgeries for many different conditions, and vitamin C hasn’t been studied for most specific examples. One type of surgery that there is evidence for is vascular surgery. In a randomized trial of vascular surgery patients, 2 grams of prophylactic vitamin C was tested for the purpose of decreasing inflammation and tissue damage. It ended up actually increasing oxidative lipid damage, which can lead to further vascular damage. Cardiac surgery can cause tissue injury when blood supply returns after a period of low oxygen. And guess what else happens when blood returns? Extra iron is released from storage, and this iron can theoretically be reduced (damaged) by vitamin C.

Conversely, vitamin C has shown promise for other surgeries. In a study of GI surgery, post-surgical oxidative stress was reduced by taking 500 mg/d of IV vitamin C. Note that IV vitamin C can lead to more than six times higher blood levels than oral intake. Since vitamin C is consumed at high rates during some surgeries, this effect seems logical, and certain patients may be very low in vitamin C before surgery and hence really need a vitamin C boost. Most often, studies combine a few antioxidants rather than testing just one, which makes singling out the effect of vitamin C difficult.

Physical therapy

In some surgeries (e.g. orthopedic surgery), surgery is only the beginning of the treatment. The rest of the treatment comes in the form of grueling, sometimes scream-inducing physical therapy that can last for weeks or months. Since muscles atrophy if a body part isn’t used much before surgery, the post-surgical period is important for muscle growth.

While vitamin C is important for joint healing, there is a small amount of evidence that vitamin C supplementation can interfere with muscle growth. And physical therapy is a combination of growing muscle, healing joints, and re-training the nervous system.

Reactive oxygen species (ROS) are not universally bad, and one of their important functions is to signal the body to increase protein synthesis as part of the mTOR pathway. Vitamin C in extremely large doses inhibits muscle growth (in rats) by quenching not just bad ROS, but helpful ROS as well. In humans the effect is uncertain, as the impact of supplemental vitamin C varies widely by study. Given the importance of vitamin C in wound healing and collagen formation, it’s likely unwise to avoid vitamin C in the post-surgical period. The takeaway may be to avoid massively overloading on antioxidants in general — large amounts of antioxidants other than vitamin C may impair muscle adaptation to exercise. And taking vitamin C to bowel tolerance directly after physical therapy may be both uncomfortable and unwise.


A healthy diet should support the entire endogenous oxidative system, as antioxidants often work together. So as usual, focus on getting a balance of nutrients from your diet, especially before and after surgery when nutrition is critical for healing tissue.

Vitamin C intake should be at least 500 mg/d after surgery in order to avoid the terrible pain condition RSD/CRPS. Moderate doses of vitamin C typically show benefit for oxidation, and are likely helpful before and after surgery. Only very high doses over extended periods or extremely high IV doses have been linked to adverse events like renal failure, and vitamin C studies typically only show prooxidative effects when combined with iron supplementation or in higher doses.

Vitamin C: Should you take it before and after surgery? Part 1

In 2010, I read that some guy named Paul Jaminet claimed to have contracted scurvy a few years prior. My first reaction: the man is clearly on drugs. No wonder he’s causing a stir in the paleo community. Or maybe he’s watching too many episodes of House? Either way, poor Shou-Ching 🙁

Well, it turns out that Paul’s scurvy experience is not so uncommon in low-to-zero carb dieters who might otherwise appear to have adequate vitamin C intake. Vitamin C deficiency is a big deal — aside from some well-known roles (e.g. immune system, growth), it’s one of a variety of micronutrients that can be helpful when recovering from injury.

Orthopedic surgery and pain

One of the biggest injuries of them all is an intentional injury known as “surgery”. Studying chronic pain as part of a PhD thesis, I had run across instances of vitamin C being used to prevent a terrible pain condition sometimes caused by surgeries called RSD (Reflex Sympathetic Dystrophy, alternately called Complex Regional Pain Syndrome or CRPS). Being in the middle of a series of orthopedic surgeries at the time, I wanted to avoid RSD like the plague.

So what is RSD? It’s an experience that’s tough to capture with words. Like how do you explain being in love to someone who hasn’t experienced it? RSD often brings burning, constant pain, coupled with swelling and immobility. In some cases, a light gust of wind across your skin can feel like a hot poker; laying a blanket on a patient can feel like barbed wire to them. Pain levels of different conditions are compared using the McGill Pain Index, on a scale of 0 to 50. A bone fracture is 18, childbirth is in the 30s, RSD (formerly known as causalgia) is at 42 — making it one of the, if not the most, painful of chronic conditions.

What if I told you that taking 500 mg/day of vitamin C starting immediately after surgery can nearly eliminate the occurrence of RSD? The same timing and dose may apply in cases of injury (bad ankle sprain, suspected ACL tear, etc).

Aside from antioxidant mechanisms (stabilizing free radicals that would normally damage lipid membranes and microcirculation), vitamin C can help normalize pain-inhibiting pathways involving dopamine, NMDA, and other neurotransmitters, and has shown promise for a variety of pain conditions in animal models. A higher vitamin C dose of 2 grams was shown to reduce morphine use after surgery. Reducing opioid intake post-surgically should be approached with caution, and always listen to your doctor. That being said, some people can’t tolerate opioids, are at risk of addiction, or just want to avoid the constipation that often accompanies painkiller use. In the above trial, patients took it orally just before surgery, as vitamin C peaks four hours after administration which coincides with waking from surgery.

I’m no actuary, but the numbers seem to favor taking a dose of vitamin C insurance for orthopedic surgery and injury. But is this also true for other surgery-related cases? The answer is not so straight forward.

Hospital food isn’t optimally nutritious? Whaaa?

The reputation of hospital food is a tier below airline food — bland, unsatisfying, and noted for having gelatinous blobs. Aside from taste, the other thing about hospital food (along with tube feeds, and intravenous nutrition) is that it will likely deplete your micronutrient stores, including vitamin C. Not only is the food not incredibly nutritious, but hospital patients often don’t eat much. Is it because of the taste or because of being sick in the hospital? Who knows.

One of the most important times to optimize your nutrition is when in the hospital. In surgical patients, supplementing with 200 mg of vitamin C is not enough to attain adequate vitamin C levels or reduce oxidative stress.

If you can get enough vitamin C perioperatively (how much is “enough” will be explored in part 2), it may prove therapeutic to a variety of conditions. In GI surgery, 500 mg of vitamin C by IV reduced post-surgical oxidative stress. Several trials have shown that taking 1-2 grams of vitamin C before and after heart surgery prevents atrial fibrillation and reduces hospital stay.

The benefits of vitamin C extend to less critical conditions as well. After laser surgery for skin, topical vitamin C reduced skin injury and restored acidic skin pH. Acidic skin provides defense against microbes, and inflamed skin can have a higher than normal pH. Vitamin C also has anti-acne effects (possibly by lowering sebum secretion and preventing water loss from skin) and reduces pigmentation (e.g. for freckle reduction or to help remove skin marks).

Vitamin C for other serious conditions

High doses of vitamin C show promise for critical care patients such as those with major burns. Surgical patients with major infection or critical illness require tissue to be replaced at a high rate, and hence use up vitamin C quickly — 300 mg isn’t enough for repletion but 1000 mg is. If you have borderline vitamin C stores before a hospital stay, there’s a chance that vitamin C dipping further will lead to fragile capillaries, poor wound healing, and possible hemorrhage. Luckily, bleeding ceases in under 24 hours with vitamin C supplementation, and adverse skin changes are reversed in 2-3 weeks.

Even if you’re as healthy as an ox, there’s a good chance that you’re the (welcome or unwelcome) nutrition adviser among friends and family with health conditions. If grandma or grandpa is hospitalized with a respiratory infection, remember that vitamin C significantly improves respiratory function in these patients. Vitamin C combined with vitamin E also reduces oxidative damage caused by sleep apnea, which has been called an “oxidative stress disorder”.

Finally, if you fracture your wrist, that is one instance where taking vitamin C (500 mg/d for 50 days) is unequivocally and officially recommended by evidence-based guidelines.


In part 2, we’ll check out some reasons to be cautious when considering vitamin C intake before and after surgery.