The Benefits Of Vitamin C: A Definitive Guide To This Important Nutrient

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You are probably already familiar with Vitamin C as it’s usually the first thing to reach for when you start to get the sniffles. But there is so much more to this supplement than just warding off illness.

As a functional medicine practitioner, it’s my duty to educate you on all aspects of health so that you feel empowered to make the best choices for your health. Vitamin C is a nutrient that we are all familiar with but don’t necessarily know on a deeper level. So let’s dive in and learn more about vitamin C benefits, dosages, what foods contain vitamin C, and any potential side effects of vitamin C.

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What is Vitamin C?

Vitamin C, also known as L-ascorbic acid, is a water-soluble vitamin which means it is naturally found in food as well as the water that resides in a food. The body does not typically store these vitamins, and so we need to get them regularly from the foods that we eat or through supplementation. Unlike their fat-soluble counterparts, if they’re not used up by the body, they are simply excreted through urine. This means that water-soluble toxicity is uncommon.

Vitamin C Benefits

You might be surprised to learn that vitamin C does a lot more for your health than just supporting immune health. While it does help you fight off a cold, vitamin C plays a vital role in your overall health. 

     1. Collagen production

Vitamin C is necessary for the production and synthesis of collagen. Collagen is made up of three amino acids - glycine, proline, and hydroxyproline and helps form our connective tissue including tendons, skin, cartilage, bones, blood vessels, ligaments, and more. (1) Adequate vitamin C is necessary for both the production and repair of these tendons, ligaments, and bones.

     2. Healthy skin

Collagen is an essential part of youthful looking skin. As we age, collagen levels decrease contributing to the appearance of wrinkles. By getting enough vitamin C, you are facilitating optimal collagen production and healthy skin.

Vitamin C is also gaining popularity for topical use. Studies have shown its antioxidant properties can protect against aging through surface-level collagen synthesis and preventing collagen breakdown. (2) It can also decrease hyperpigmentation and dark spots on the skin.

     3. Reduces gout symptoms

Gout is a type of painful arthritis caused by a buildup of uric acid in the joints. Vitamin C has been shown to help reduce gout symptoms as well as lower the risk of developing gout by lowering uric acid in the body. (3)

     4. Immune health

This immune-boosting, common-cold-busting vitamin can reduce symptoms of the cold by up to 30 percent. (4) Combining it with zinc can increase vitamin C’s immune-boosting properties.

     5. Fights free radical damage

Vitamin C acts as an antioxidant in the body to fight free-radicals, minimize oxidative stress, and damage to your cells - the building blocks of your body. This can help to minimize the risk of developing chronic diseases.

Daily recommended dosage

The National Institutes of Health recommends different dosages based on your age and gender. (5)

  • 0-6 months: 40mg per day
  • 7-12 months: 50mg per day
  • 1-3 years: 15mg per day
  • 4-8 years: 25mg per day
  • 9-13 years: 45mg per day
  • 14-18 years: 75mg per day for men, 65mg per day for women
  • 19 years and older: 90mg per day for men, 85mg per day for women

They also recommend that those who smoke up their daily intake by 35mg, pregnant women up their daily intake to 85mg, and breastfeeding women up their daily intake to 120mg.

Foods That Contain Vitamin C

Thankfully, there are many foods that naturally contain vitamin C in high enough amounts to avoid the need to supplement. In fact, one or two servings of most vitamin C-containing foods is enough to satisfy the recommended daily amount. Vitamin C is found in fruits and vegetables - particularly citrus fruits.

  • Red pepper: ½ cup, 95mg
  • Grapefruit: 1 whole, 78mg
  • Orange: 1 whole, 70mg
  • Kiwifruit: 1 whole, 64mg
  • Broccoli: 1 cup, 51mg
  • Brussels sprouts: ½ cup, 48mg
  • Potato, 1 baked: 17mg
  • Tomato, 1 whole, 17mg

Vitamin C Deficiency

Since the daily recommended dosage of vitamin C is on the low-end and it is found in so many common foods, deficiency is not usually a problem for most Americans. However, it can be a problem and something to consider if you have digestive problems that inhibit absorption of nutrients.

Vitamin C deficiency can lead to the development of scurvy - a condition that disrupts the production of collagen and connective tissue. This can contribute to symptoms such as excessive bruising, fatigue, poor immune function, joint pain, and gingivitis.

Even though scurvy is uncommon, it reinforces the need to address any underlying gut dysfunctions as well as making sure to eat a diet full of fruits and vegetables.

Side Effects

It is difficult to overdose on Vitamin C as the upper limit is 2,000 mg per day. This is almost impossible to get through food alone and is mainly worth taking into consideration if you are supplementing.

Even if you do have too much vitamin C, the most common adverse reactions are nausea, upset stomach, and diarrhea. The only caveat to this is a slight increased risk for kidney stones in men only with continued high supplementation.

And since vitamin C is water-soluble, toxicity is uncommon since whatever is not utilized by the body gets expelled through your urine.

Vitamin C is an important nutrient that many of us overlook or only reach for when battling with a cold. However, this nutrient shows us that even something that seems small can play a major role in our overall health.

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References:

  1. Boyera, N et al. “Effect of vitamin C and its derivatives on collagen synthesis and cross-linking by normal human fibroblasts.” International journal of cosmetic science vol. 20,3 (1998): 151-8. doi:10.1046/j.1467-2494.1998.171747.x
  2. Al-Niaimi, Firas, and Nicole Yi Zhen Chiang. “Topical Vitamin C and the Skin: Mechanisms of Action and Clinical Applications.” The Journal of clinical and aesthetic dermatology vol. 10,7 (2017): 14-17.
  3. Huang, Han-Yao et al. “The effects of vitamin C supplementation on serum concentrations of uric acid: results of a randomized controlled trial.” Arthritis and rheumatism vol. 52,6 (2005): 1843-7. doi:10.1002/art.21105
  4. Anderson, T W et al. “Vitamin C and the common cold: a double-blind trial.” Canadian Medical Association journal vol. 107,6 (1972): 503-8.
  5. Vitamin C NIH March 26, 2021. https://ods.od.nih.gov/factsheets/VitaminC-HealthProfessional/

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BY DR. WILL COLE

Evidence-based reviewed article

Dr. Will Cole, IFMCP, DNM, DC, leading functional medicine expert, consults people around the world via webcam and locally in Pittsburgh. He received his doctorate from Southern California University of Health Sciences and post doctorate education and training in functional medicine and clinical nutrition. He specializes in clinically researching underlying factors of chronic disease and customizing a functional medicine approach for thyroid issues, autoimmune conditions, hormonal imbalances, digestive disorders, and brain problems. Dr. Cole was named one of the top 50 functional medicine and integrative doctors in the nation and is the best selling author of Ketotarian and The Inflammation Spectrum.