When you start to feel the beginnings of the flu or a common cold, what do you do first? If you answered “reach for the vitamin C,” then you are in good company. Unfortunately, the science shows that this strategy is unlikely to have any significant impact in reducing the severity or length of your illness. This is just one of the common misconceptions about vitamin C.
But what exactly is vitamin C, what roles does it play in our bodies, and how much of it do we truly need? Let's take a closer look at this vital nutrient.
What is Vitamin C?
Vitamin C, also known as ascorbic acid, is a powerful micronutrient which is essential for many functions in the body. It is celebrated for its numerous health benefits, and many of us are not getting enough of it.
Vitamin C is a water-soluble vitamin, which means it dissolves in water and cannot be stored in large amounts in the body. Excess vitamin C is excreted through urine. This means that a steady regular intake is essential.
What Does Vitamin C Do?
Vitamin C is vital for numerous bodily processes. Just some of the important roles in plays include:
Collagen is a protein responsible for maintaining the skin's elasticity, healing wounds, and supporting healthy bones and teeth. Vitamin C stimulates the body’s natural collagen production and helps to keep your body’s collagen network strong and healthy.
Vitamin C is a powerful antioxidant that helps to fight the effects of harmful free radicals in the body. Over time, free radicals can damage cells, potentially leading to serious complications including cancer and heart disease as you age.
According to Oxford University Hospitals, “The only factor that improves the absorption of iron is vitamin C.” Vitamin C helps to boost the absorption of non-heme iron (iron that comes from plant-based sources), which can be particularly beneficial for vegetarians and vegans. This can help to reduce the risk of iron-deficiency anemia.
Vitamin C has long been known to support the function of the body’s immune system and enhance its ability to protect against infection. A strong immune system is vital for preventing illness and disease, recovering quickly from injury, and aging well.
How Much Vitamin C Do You Actually Need?
Now that you understand some of the benefits of vitamin C and why it is important to consume the right amount, you might be wondering just how much you need.
Recommended daily amounts of vitamin C vary depending on factors such as age, gender, and life stage. According to Harvard’s T.H. Chan School of Public Health, “The Recommended Dietary Allowance for adults 19 years and older is 90 mg daily for men and 75 mg for women.”
If you are pregnant or breastfeeding, those amounts increase to 85 mg and 120 mg respectively. Smokers may need approximately an additional 35 mg per day because tobacco smoke can reduce levels of vitamin C in the body.
Children need different amounts of vitamin C depending upon their age and gender. For example, WebMD recommends around 40 mg per day up to 6 months, 50 mg per day from 6 months to one year, and then 15 mg per day up to three years of age. From the age of 14 onwards, boys will require slightly more than girls.
It's important to note that while these recommended amounts can serve as a useful guideline, individual needs may vary. It is always a good idea to consult with a healthcare professional for personalized recommendations.
Sources of Vitamin C
Fruits and vegetables are the best dietary sources of vitamin C, and it is important to consume a wide variety. Some excellent sources of this nutrient include:
- Oranges and pure orange juice
- Red and green bell peppers
- Kiwi fruit
- Brussels sprouts
- Tomatoes and pure tomato juice
If you are struggling to get enough vitamin C in your diet, you can supplement your intake.
Can You Take Too Much Vitamin C?
Since vitamin C is water soluble and excess amounts are excreted by the body through urine, it is challenging to consume too much from food sources alone. Vitamin C toxicity is rare and this nutrient is unlikely to cause severe adverse effects.
However, taking too many vitamin C supplements may lead to digestive issues such as diarrhea, nausea, and cramps. The safe upper limit for adults is thought to be around 2000 mg.