Vitamin C is one of the safest and most effective nutrients, experts say. It may not be the cure for the common cold but the benefits of vitamin C may include protection against immune system deficiencies, cardiovascular disease, prenatal health problems, eye disease, and even skin wrinkling.
Sources of vitamin C
Dietary sources of vitamin C include many fruits and vegetables. Sources with the most vitamin C are fresh, raw cantaloupes, citrus fruits, kiwis, mangos, papayas, pineapples, strawberries, raspberries, blueberries, watermelon and cranberries, according to National Institutes of Health (NIH). Red and green peppers, spinach, cabbage, cauliflower, turnip greens and other leafy greens, tomatoes, potatoes, broccoli, winter squash and Brussels sprouts are other good sources of vitamin C.
The body uses vitamin C in many different ways. Vitamin C is needed by the body to form collagen. According to the NIH, the body also uses vitamin C to make skin, tendons, ligaments and blood vessels. It also uses this vitamin to repair and maintain cartilage, bones and teeth, to heal wounds and to form scar tissue.
Vitamin C may also prevent cancer by blocking the damage made by free radicals and reducing oxidative stress. “Vitamin C is a vital antioxidant that helps protect cells from damage caused by free radicals that we are exposed to in the environment such as air pollution, cigarette smoke and ultraviolet light from the sun,” said Dr. Sherry Ross, OB/GYN and Women’s Health Expert at Providence Saint John’s Health Center in Santa Monica, California.
Many people tout vitamin C as a cure-all for a wide range of diseases. Many of these have not been proven. “Health benefits of vitamin C that have been proposed but not scientifically proven include a lower risk of certain cancers, cardiovascular disease, diabetes, age-related macular degeneration and cataracts,” said Ross.
A study by the National Eye Institute, however, did find that an intake of 500 mg per day of vitamin C, along with beta-carotene, vitamin E and zinc supplements, slowed the progression of advanced age-related macular degeneration by about 25 percent. It also helped slow visual acuity loss by 19 percent for those who are already at high risk of developing the disease. The vitamins did not have significant effect on the development or progression of cataracts, though.
The medical community is split over the benefits of vitamin C on the heart. Some studies suggest that vitamin C may prevent heart attacks by slowing down hardening of the arteries by preventing LDL (“bad”) cholesterol. Other studies show that vitamin C does not prevent heart attacks. A study by Johns Hopkins found that vitamin C has a “modest” effect on lowering high blood pressure and does not currently suggest supplements as a treatment option.
Dosage and Preparation
When taken for general health, the recommended dietary allowance (RDA) of vitamin C is as follows:
- Children 0 to 6 months: 40 milligrams per day
- Children 7 to 12 months: 50 milligrams per day
- Children 1 to 3 years: 15 milligrams per day
- Children 4 and 8 years: 25 milligrams per day
- Children 9 to 13 years: 45 milligrams per day
- Females 14 to 18 years: 65 milligrams per day
- Males 14 to 18 years: 75 milligrams per day
- Females 19 and over: 75 milligrams per day
- Males 19 and over: 90 milligrams per day
- Pregnant females 14 to 18: 80 milligrams per day
- Pregnant females 19 and over: 85 milligrams per day
- Breastfeeding females 14 to 18: 115 milligrams per day
- Breastfeeding females 19 and over: 120 milligrams per day
People who smoke should take an additional 35 milligram per day. Those with a diagnosed vitamin C deficiency should take between 100 to 200 milligrams per day until blood levels are normalized.
Vitamin supplements are available as tablets, capsules, chewable tablets, gummies, effervescent powders, tablets and my preferred option, pure liquid organic Vitamin C.
Not getting enough of this vitamin can cause easy bruising, gingivitis and bleeding gums, dry and splitting hair, rough, dry, scaly skin, a decreased wound-healing rate, nosebleeds and a decreased ability to ward off infection, according to the University of Maryland Medical Center.
An extreme lack of vitamin C for long periods of time can cause scurvy. Symptoms of scurvy are skin that bruises easily, bleeding gums, joint pain and poor wound healing.
“An estimated 40 percent of men and 38 percent of women are getting insufficient amounts of vitamin C. If you’re not eating your fruits and veggies, it’s a good idea to supplement,” said Dr. Brian Dixon, an expert in molecular and cellular biology.
Most of the population can take substantially more than the RDA without any side effects since vitamin C is water soluble. This means that it is not stored by the body. It is filtered out and leaves the body in urine, according to the NIH. “However, some people taking more than 2,000 mg could experience some gastrointestinal upset. And those who are prone to form kidney stones should get clearance from their doctor before taking high doses of Vitamin C,” said Dixon.
Dr. Kristine Arthur, internist at Orange Coast Memorial Medical Center in Fountain Valley, California told Live Science, “You can take too much. (It) may lead to kidney stones, irregular heart beat and diarrhea.”
Do I need a vitamin C supplement?
As a general rule, it is always best to get your nutrients from food rather than supplements. With that being said, taking a daily vitamin C supplement won’t cause you any harm and can bolster your RDA if you happen to fall short.
If you don’t think you’re getting enough vitamin C in your diet, don’t hesitate to supplement at the recommended dosages. At the same time, increase your intake of the following foods rich in vitamin C:
- Red pepper (raw): 95 milligrams per 1/2-cup serving
- Orange juice: 90 milligrams per 3/4-cup serving
- Orange: 70 milligrams per one medium fruit
- Kiwi: 64 milligrams per one medium fruit
- Green pepper (raw): 60 milligrams per 1/2-cup serving
- Broccoli (cooked): 51 milligrams per 1/2-cup serving
- Strawberries (sliced): 49 milligrams per 1/2-cup serving
- Brussel sprouts (cooked): 48 milligrams per 1/2-cup serving
- Tomato juice: 33 milligrams per 1/2-cup serving
- Cantaloupe: 29 milligrams per 1/2-cup serving