Vitamin C or ascorbic acid is an essential vitamin for the normal healthy functioning of the body. It is a water-soluble vitamin which means it dissolves in water and our body absorbs it from the food we eat. Vitamin C has several important roles:
- Supports healthy immune function
- Acts as an antioxidant to protect all the cells in the body from free radical damage
- Involved in the production of collagen
- Maintains healthy skin, bones, muscles, cartilage and blood vessels
- Aids wound healing
- Helps the absorption of non-heme iron (the form of iron found in plant-based foods such as green leafy vegetables)
Where is vitamin C found?
Vitamin C is not stored in the body; therefore, we need to get it daily, from our diet. The main sources of vitamin C are in fruits and vegetables, listed below:
- citrus fruit, e.g., oranges and orange juice
- berries including strawberries and blackcurrants
- cruciferous vegetables (broccoli, cabbage, Brussel sprouts)
How much vitamin C do I need?
If you have a healthy balanced diet, then you should be able to achieve your recommended requirement of vitamin C through the food you are eating. If your diet is limited or your requirements are increased, it is recommended that you take a vitamin C supplement. The recommended reference nutrient intakes for vitamin C are:
Children 0-12 months 25mg*
Children 1-10 years 30mg*/day
Children 11-17 years 35mg/day
Adults 18-64 years 40mg/day
Pregnant and breastfeeding woman have an increased requirement of vitamin C (additional 10mg if pregnant and additional 30mg if breastfeeding) however it is important to check with your GP before taking any additional supplementation during **this time. Undoubtedly this will require a test, such as this one.
*Children aged from 6 months to 5 years (if taking less than 500ml of formula) are recommended to take a supplement containing vitamin C, normally combined with vitamin A and D.
(Values published by Public Health England)
It is important not to take too much vitamin C (more than 1000mg per day) as this can give you symptoms which include stomach ache, diarrhoea and flatulence.
What happens if I don’t get enough vitamin C?
If you do not get the vitamin C you need on a daily basis-having an intake of lower than 10mg for a month or more, then this can lead to deficiency and developing a condition called scurvy.
The symptoms of scurvy include:
- Sore, inflamed, bleeding gums with eventual tooth loss
- Broken blood vessels which lead to skin spots and bruising
- Severe joint or leg pain
- Hair loss
- Poor wound healing
The development of scurvy is rare in developed countries, but certain individuals are more susceptible to becoming deficient:
- Those with a very limited or restricted diet e.g., those with anorexia
- people who have issues with absorbing nutrients from their gut (malabsorption)
- those dependent on alcohol or drugs
- pregnant/breastfeeding women with a poor diet
- those with certain types of cancer
For these individuals, a supplement is often recommended until they are better, alongside increasing the sources of vitamin C in the diet.
Can taking vitamin C help prevent or treat a cold?
Vitamin C has long been promoted to help prevent and treat colds. There have been several studies looking into the effect of taking vitamin C however, results from several reviews and studies are inconsistent. The bottom line from the findings suggest that whilst getting adequate vitamin C from the diet is essential, taking large doses of supplements in order to prevent and treat colds is not likely to have any benefit.
Top tips for getting enough vitamin C in your diet
Aim for 5-a-day; ensuring you get plenty of fruit and vegetables in your diet will help you achieve your daily vitamin C requirements
Avoid boiling; as vitamin C dissolves in water, it can be lost in the cooking process. Try opting for raw or lightly steamed/microwaved fruit and vegetables to prevent loss during boiling
Try frozen fruits and vegetables; these are often frozen as soon as they are picked, helping to preserve their vitamin C content
Pair with iron; ensure you have foods which contain vitamin C alongside iron rich meals to help iron absorption
There is no doubt that Vitamin C plays a big role in our lives. If you are lacking in this vitamin, your doctor may prescribe medication in the form of supplements to enhance your levels.