When Should You Take Vitamin C?

Medically Reviewed By William C. Lloyd III, MD, FACS

Vitamin C, also known as ascorbic acid, is an important nutrient that offers a lot of health benefits for your body. It helps build muscles, blood vessels, cartilage, and collagen. It also functions as an antioxidant to protect your cells from free radicals. Vitamin C is a great assistant in helping your body absorb and store iron. Getting ready for cold season? Try increasing your vitamin C intake to give your immune system extra support.

Your body doesn’t naturally produce vitamin C, so make sure you’re getting enough in your diet. As a general rule, colorful fruits and vegetables are packed with vitamin C, including citrus fruits, berries, peppers, and greens.

Unseen Caucasian woman's hands holding pills in left hand and glass of water in right hand

Symptoms of Vitamin C Deficiency

Though most people get enough vitamin C in their diet, a vitamin C deficiency can cause a disease called scurvy. Symptoms of scurvy include:

These symptoms occur because your body does not have enough vitamin C to produce a sufficient amount of collagen. This weakens your blood vessels, connective tissues, and bones. You may also develop anemia.Though scurvy is rare and progresses slowly, it is fatal without treatment.

Some people have a higher risk of developing a vitamin C deficiency. You may be at risk if:

  • You smoke or come in frequent contact with secondhand smoke.

  • You have a gastrointestinal condition or cancer that interferes with vitamin C absorption.

  • You eat a diet with few fruits and vegetables.

Benefits of Taking Vitamin C

Adding more vitamin C to your daily routine may provide benefits for a variety of health conditions. Despite many research studies, exactly how beneficial vitamin C is for the body is not clear. The general understanding of these studies is that increasing your intake of vitamin C could help in these areas:

  • Cancer prevention: Eating foods that are high in vitamin C could help lower the risk of certain cancers, such as colon, lung and breast cancer. However, it appears that vitamin C supplements are as effective as getting vitamin C from the food in your diet. 

  • Eye health: Vitamin C supplements may keep age-related macular degeneration (AMD) from getting worse and could also lower the risk of developing cataracts.

  • Cold and flu Support: Studies show that increasing vitamin C intake does not prevent you from catching a cold or getting the flu. However, maintaining high levels of vitamin C year round might shorten the length of the illness and make symptoms milder. 

  • Cardiovascular health: The antioxidant benefits of a diet high in vitamin C may help reduce the oxidative damage that causes cardiovascular disease.

If you are interested in taking vitamin C, the recommended daily amount is 75 milligrams (mg) for women and 90 mg for men. Many people take vitamin C through supplements. It is water soluble, so your kidneys eliminate any excess vitamin C in your urine. Be sure to take supplements with a full glass of water to help with absorption.

Keep in mind, getting vitamins by eating the right foods is ideal. You can create a diet rich in vitamin C by eating more citrus fruits, bell peppers of all colors, berries, broccoli, spinach, tomatoes, and foods that are fortified with vitamin C.

Vitamin C Serum 

The skin gets its high levels of vitamin C from the blood in circulation. Vitamin C helps build collagen and protects the skin from UV damage. Many people apply vitamin C serum and other products to the skin, in the hope of restoring collagen and reversing or stopping UV damage. But how much topical vitamin C gets into the skin depends on many factors.

Vitamin C can only get into the top layer of the skin in the form of ascorbic acid and when the pH of the serum is low (a low pH is more acidic and a high pH is less acidic). What’s more, topical vitamin C will penetrate only when the level of vitamin C in blood plasma is low. If the person is not vitamin C deficient, then the skin is already saturated with vitamin C and will not absorb it externally from topical application, including vitamin C serum.

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  1. Pullar JM, Carr AC, Vissers M. The Roles of Vitamin C in Skin Health. Nutrients. 2017;9(8):866. https://doi.org/10.3390/nu9080866. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5579659/
  2. The Best Time to Take Vitamins. Cleveland Clinic. https://health.clevelandclinic.org/the-best-time-to-take-vitamins/
  3. Vitamin C. Mayo Clinic. https://www.mayoclinic.org/drugs-supplements-vitamin-c/art-20363932
  4. Vitamin C. National Institutes of Health Office of Dietary Supplements. https://ods.od.nih.gov/factsheets/VitaminC-Consumer/
Medical Reviewer: William C. Lloyd III, MD, FACS
Last Review Date: 2021 Dec 14
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