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Everything You Need to Know About Vitamin C

Reviewed by: Dr. Steven Knauf, D.C.

By Donna Stark

Everything You Need to Know About Vitamin C

Vitamin C. The citrus vitamin. The vitamin that is often bought in bulk to be taken daily but that, instead, finds itself pushed to the back of the medicine cabinet to be saved for a rainy day. It’s also the vitamin that is constantly misunderstood and usually underutilized.

There are two main misconceptions about Vitamin C. The first is that you only need to take it when you feel the symptoms of the common cold or flu coming on. The second is that scurvy, the disease caused by a lack of Vitamin C that killed more than 2 million sailors between the 16th and 18th centuries, no longer exists.

These two myths about Vitamin C aren’t doing us any favors because the truth is that our bodies need Vitamin C, both in good health and bad. And while scurvy, the bane of those explorers from long ago, has become extremely rare in most developed countries, that doesn’t mean one can’t fall prey to the severe consequences of a Vitamin C deficiency.

It’s time to take a closer look at this incredibly important vitamin and understand the reasons why we should all try to incorporate more of it into our diets.

What Is Vitamin C? What Does it Do?

Vitamin C is a water-soluble vitamin found naturally in citrus fruits and vegetables. Since your body doesn't produce Vitamin C on its own, you need to get it from your diet, whether that be through dietary supplements or foods fortified with Vitamin C, or Vitamin C-rich foods, such as citrus, strawberries, papaya, Brussels sprouts, kiwi, broccoli, and kale.

It’s also important to note that if you aren’t intentional about incorporating Vitamin C into your diet, you risk more than looking and feeling like a worn-out sailor who’s been lost at sea. You run the risk of your body falling apart completely. Some of the early symptoms of Vitamin C deficiency are bleeding gums, painful joints, and chronic inflammation.

Let’s look at three reasons why Vitamin C is so important to your health.

Immune System Function

Your body needs Vitamin C to produce antibodies, and your white blood cells -- the front lines of your immune system -- require significant amounts of it to function. However, that doesn’t mean your intake of Vitamin C should only occur during certain times of the year or when you are feeling poorly. Your body needs a steady supply throughout the entire year because lifestyle factors, such as stress, diet, and lack of sleep, can impact the function of your immune system, too. Don’t leave yourself vulnerable. With the proper amounts of Vitamin C, you can keep your immune system strong all year long.

Collagen Production

Collagen is a protein that helps to improve skin health, relieve joint pain, and prevent bone loss. Without the proper amount of Vitamin C, your body can’t produce collagen. This means you really will look and feel like an old, weathered, seasick explorer. Your skin will sag and become wrinkled, your joints will hurt and become stiff, and you will lose more muscle mass than you thought possible. But that’s not the worst of it. Collagen is also incredibly important for wound healing and the health of your blood vessels, gut, tendons, and ligaments. It really is too bad that Amazon didn’t exist during the age of exploration because everyone on those old schooners could have benefitted from a weekly shipment of Vitamin C.

Antioxidant Benefits

Vitamin C is also a powerful antioxidant that helps lessen and prevent free radical damage to our cells. Free radicals are linked to age-related changes, such as wrinkles, saggy skin, and hair loss, as well as a host of diseases, such as Alzheimer’s, heart disease, cancer, cataracts, and autoimmune and inflammatory disorders. Vitamin C plays a pivotal role in the body’s ability to protect its cells and keep them healthy.

With its numerous potential health benefits for the body, it’s easy to see why Vitamin C is so important for your overall health and wellness. It’s also easy to fill your grocery cart with extra fruits and vegetables. But what’s not so easy is how to determine what type of Vitamin C supplement to buy from among all the options available. Consulting with a healthcare professional or doing a little bit of research can help.

Types of Vitamin C Supplements

Vitamin C, also known as ascorbic acid, is one of the most popular supplemented vitamins, and as a result, there is an endless array of options to choose from. Since this can be extremely confusing to navigate, be sure to understand what you are looking for. The best place to start is knowing how much you should take. Here is a list of the average daily recommended amounts for different ages and genders.

  • Men - 90 mg
  • Women - 75 mg
  • Teens - 65 to 75 mg
  • Children (ages 9-13) - 45 mg
  • Children (ages 4-8) - 25 mg
  • Infants and toddlers - Ask your child’s pediatrician for guidance
  • Pregnant and breastfeeding women - Ask your preferred healthcare professional for guidance

Evidence suggests that taking up to 500 mg daily is safe. It is generally recommended to not exceed 2000 mg a day because doing so long-term can increase the risk of significant side effects.

Vitamin C Supplements Come in a Variety of Forms

Once you understand what your body needs, the next step is to choose the type of supplement to take. For many people, this is based strictly on preference. Here are some of your many options.

  • Gummies - Gummies are always a fun way to incorporate vitamins into your diet, but you need to be careful with their sugar content, especially with Vitamin C. Sugar compromises the body’s ability to absorb it.
  • Beverages - Beverages that contain Vitamin C may seem like the answer to your prayers, but as mentioned above, sugar interferes with Vitamin C absorption. Tread lightly with this choice.
  • Pills - Vitamin C pills are efficient and effective but they often come in doses that are too high for the body to absorb. If the dosage is over 200 mg, you may want to stagger your pills throughout the day.
  • Powders - Powders are an easy and efficient way to supplement as you can control the dose, but keep an eye on the sugar content. Some varieties contain more sugar than Vitamin C.
  • High-Dose V - This type of delivery is very effective because the Vitamin C goes directly into the bloodstream; however, it requires trained medical professionals to administer it. It can also be extremely expensive.

As important as Vitamin C is, you still want to make sure to not overdo it. Taking too much Vitamin C can cause stomach issues, heartburn, headaches, sleep issues, and skin flushing, as well as lead to kidney stones and hemochromatosis, a condition that causes the body to store too much iron.

It’s also a good idea to inform your doctor if you are taking Vitamin C supplements before undergoing any medical tests because high levels of Vitamin C may interfere with the results.

National Vitamin C Day is April 4

Vitamin C is an essential nutrient that benefits many aspects of your overall health and wellness. From boosting immunity to aiding collagen production to halting free radical damage, its functions to your body are vital. So, be sure to celebrate National Vitamin C Day this year by giving your body what it needs. Ensuring an adequate intake of this nutrient powerhouse from a balanced diet and supplementation can help support your overall well-being now and for years to come.

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