Vitamin C has become iconic, a symbol of natural health. If someone takes one supplement, it’s likely to be vitamin C.
The buzz surrounding vitamin C started in the 70s. Linus Pauling, PhD, had long believed that vitamin C could completely cure cancer with high enough doses. Pauling also believed we could eliminate the common cold with this super vitamin. Though he was a truly brilliant man (Pauling was the only person in history with two unshared Nobel prizes) neither of these suppositions have been accepted into the established uses of vitamin C.
Then again, Pauling may have been on to something. He lived in robust health to the age of 93 and published five influential papers on structural chemistry after the age of 90. He noted rather ironically that “over time, the physicians my age who were critical to my concepts all died—leaving new open minds to examine the concepts.”
What does it do?
So what does vitamin C do? An essential antioxidant, this water-soluble nutrient is also the essential building block of collagen. And collagen, of course, is the main ingredient to help the body form bones, teeth, muscles, and skin. Other uses include healing wounds from scar tissue; maintaining healthy blood vessels and gums; helping the body absorb iron; and protecting against immune system deficiencies, cardiovascular disease, prenatal health problems, and eye disease.
For some reason the human body does not produce this nutrient, even though most other mammals and other animals have that ability. That is why it is critical to eat a plentiful supply of foods containing this superstar vitamin. If you short your body on vitamin C, inflammation of the gums, scaly skin, nosebleeds, painful joints, or scurvy-related symptoms can occur.
How much do I need?
The National Institutes of Health gives the following recommendations for vitamin C dosages.
Life Stage Recommended Amount
- Birth to 6 months 40 mg
- Infants 7–12 months 50 mg
- Children 1–3 years 15 mg
- Children 4–8 years 25 mg
- Children 9–13 years 45 mg
- Teens 14–18 years (boys) 75 mg
- Teens 14–18 years (girls) 65 mg
- Adults (men) 90 mg
- Adults (women) 75 mg
- Pregnant women 85 mg
- Breast feeding teens 115 mg
- Breast feeding women 120 mg
They also stipulate that smokers should add an additional 35 mg per day for extra antioxidant protection—though quitting smoking is of course the best thing to do. That said, it certainly won’t hurt to get 400 or more mg a day, and may help—look at Linus Pauling.
The generally recognized upper limit for vitamin C consumption is 2,000 mg a day—amounts over that may lead to gastrointestinal disturbances. In order for your body to absorb the highest amounts of vitamin C, make sure to split your doses or eat vitamin C-containing produce throughout the day.
Even though the body needs fairly low amounts of this vitamin, the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey by the CDC found that seven percent of US adults are deficient, and another 22 percent are marginally deficient. But there are a number of great sources to right this wrong.
Where do I get it?
The classic sources for vitamin C are oranges, lemons, and limes. But high amounts of this vitamin can also be found in strawberries, red bell peppers, broccoli, okra, kale, spinach, asparagus, papaya, tomatoes, Brussels sprouts, turnip greens, and so forth. Some cereals and other foods may be fortified with vitamin C, but it’s always best to get it naturally from raw fruits and vegetables. Also keep in mind that microwaving and steaming can diminish concentrations of vitamin C (or any vitamin, for that matter).
Vitamin C can also be taken in supplement form, whether it be a tablet, gummies for kids, or a capsule. Be careful when choosing your vitamin source though: some supplements contain almost 90 percent synthetic ingredients. And evidence is popping up all over showing that a synthetic version of vitamin C can actually do more harm than good.
In a perfect world, everyone would be able to meet the minimal requirements of all vitamins and minerals. Unfortunately, this is not the case. If you do not have access to a lot of fresh fruits and vegetables, a supplement is the next-best option. Do your research before you make a purchase.
Mix and match
If it seems almost impossible to fit in enough fruits and vegetables throughout the day, mix up the way you eat them. Summer is a great time to make smoothies or juice your own fruits. Fresh salads, vegetable trays, or a yogurt topped with fruit are easy ways to have great taste while still doing your body good.