All About Vitamin C: Benefits, Sources, Risks, and More
This article explains the benefits of vitamin C and details how to include vitamin C in your diet. It also expands on the recommended dosages and what might happen if you exceed or do not meet this amount.
Vitamin C is essential for disease prevention, immune system functionality, and connective tissue and blood vessel health. As an antioxidant, it protects the body from damage due to free radical exposure, including air pollution, UV light, and cigarette smoke.
The body uses vitamin C to promote the production of collagen, which is a vital protein necessary for building and maintaining the:
- blood vessels
A diet rich in vitamin C will promote:
- Collagen production: Collagen is a fibrous protein that weaves through the nervous, immune, and blood systems.
- Iron absorption: Iron is important for healthy skin, bones, and connective tissue.
- Neurodevelopment: Vitamin C can support the healthy growth of a fetus.
- Healthy glucose levels: Vitamin C may support optimal sugar levels for people managing type 2 diabetes.
A variety of multivitamins can provide additional vitamin C in the form of ascorbic acid, sodium ascorbate, calcium ascorbate, and other mineral ascorbates.
The best way to enjoy the benefits of vitamin C is by eating raw food. This is because prolonged storage or cooking methods can damage the integrity of the nutrient.
The Office of Dietary Supplements suggests that steaming or microwaving foods may retain the most vitamin C.
For more than 200 milligrams (mg) of vitamin C, you can eat 5 servings of fruits and vegetables per day.
Fruits and vegetables
The following fruits and vegetables have the highest concentrations of vitamin C:
- pink grapefruit juice
- white potatoes
- bell peppers
- Brussels sprouts
The recommended dietary allowance (RDA) for adults ages 19 years and older is 90 mg per day for males and 75 mg for females.
Children need 15–50 mg per day, depending on their age, while teenagers need 75 mg daily for males and 65 mg daily for females.
People who smoke should add an extra 35 mg of vitamin C per day.
People who are pregnant or nursing and those recovering from a recent surgery should include additional sources of vitamin C. Your doctor can recommend your specific RDA of vitamin C, depending on your particular health needs.
Generally, vitamin C has low toxicity and a low risk of causing adverse effects. Typical side effects of high concentrations of vitamin C include diarrhea, nausea, and abdominal discomfort. High doses of vitamin C may lead to kidney stone formation among people with preexisting kidney disorders.
The tolerable upper level for vitamin C intake among adults is 2,000 mg per day. Getting more than this over a long period of time may increase the risk of adverse side effects.
In addition, a low intake of vitamin C will reduce the body’s ability to make collagen, which can negatively affect different body tissues.
A severe vitamin C deficiency is called scurvy. Scurvy is a relatively rare disease in the United States. It is more prevalent in populations without adequate access to fresh fruits and vegetables. Scurvy can lower a person’s immune function and increase their risk of infection.
Symptoms of deficiency
Some symptoms of vitamin C deficiency include:
- joint pain
- inflamed and bleeding gums
- tooth loss
- dry skin
- problems with wound healing
Always talk with your doctor about adding supplemental sources of vitamin C to your diet, as these can interact with certain medications you may be taking.
Although doctors may use ascorbic acid to treat certain conditions, it can cause side effects.
Contact your doctor if you develop any of the following symptoms:
Since our bodies do not store vitamin C, experts recommend consuming fresh fruits and vegetables every day. Your doctor can recommend the right dosage of supplemental sources according to your health needs.