Health and Nutrition Articles

Vitamin C: A Powerful Natural Antioxidant

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The Many Health Benefits of Vitamin C

Vitamin C, or ascorbic acid, is a water-soluble nutrient that acts as an antioxidant in your body, helping to protect cells from the damage caused by free radicals.

Free radicals naturally form when your body transforms food into energy. However, you are also exposed to free radicals in your environment, from cigarette smoke, air pollution, and even ultraviolet light from the sun.

Your body also requires vitamin C to produce collagen, a protein that helps wounds heal and generally supports the health of your connective tissues, including your skin, blood vessels, ligaments, cartilage and tendons.

And this valuable vitamin enhances your body's absorption of iron from plant-based foods and helps you maintain a healthy immune system.

Natural Help for a Common Cold
The Benefits of vitamin C are many, including a more modest impact on the common cold than many of us may think.

However, while vitamin C may not be a cure for the common cold, some research suggests it may help you avoid more serious complications, such as pneumonia and lung infections.

People who take vitamin C supplements regularly might also have slightly shorter colds or somewhat milder symptoms when they do have a cold.

But even these claims are somewhat controversial. According to the Mayo Clinic, "the use of vitamin C in the prevention or treatment of the common cold and respiratory infections remains controversial, with research ongoing. "

The clinic says no significant reduction in the risk of developing colds has been observed in research. However, it acknowledges that "in people who developed colds while taking vitamin C, no difference in the severity of symptoms has been seen overall, although a small, significant reduction in the duration of colds has been reported (approximately 10% in adults and 15% in children)."

It adds that "some studies of people living in extreme circumstances, including soldiers in subarctic exercises, skiers, and marathon runners, have found a significant reduction in the risk of developing a cold, by approximately 50%."

But there is a lot more to vitamin C than using it for colds, anyway.

Natural Mood Enhancer
The Mayo Clinic said hospitalized patients, who regularly have lower than normal vitamin C levels have shown improvement in mood after receiving vitamin C.

While a link between vitamin C and mood may initially seem surprising, people with a deficiency in this vitamin have often reported feeling fatigued or depressed.

Antioxidant Boost for Heart Health
Vitamin C is a potent source of antioxidants, as mentioned earlier. And a diet rich in antioxidants may help reduce your risk of cardiovascular disease by protecting your arteries against damage.

People who include a lot of fruit in their diet appear to have a lower risk of cardiovascular disease. Researchers think it's the antioxidant content of these foods that might partly explain this link, as oxidative damage is a primary cause of cardiovascular disease.

Stalling Age-Related Macular Degeneration (AMD) and cataracts
AMD and cataracts are two of the leading causes of vision loss in older people.

While research does not suggest vitamin C and other antioxidants can reduce your risk of getting AMD, it does suggest that vitamin C combined with other nutrients might help keep early AMD from degenerating.

The relationship between vitamin C and cataract formation is more uncertain. Some research reveals a lower risk of cataracts in people who get more vitamin C from foods. However, additional research is needed to clarify this relationship.

Natural Stress Relief
Vitamin C may benefit anyone whose immune system has been weakened due to stress. It is also first nutrient to be depleted in alcoholics, smokers, and obese individuals.

Reducing Skin Aging
Vitamin C levels influence both your inner and outer health. Higher vitamin C may help reduce the likelihood of a wrinkled appearance or dry skin, as well as enhance your skin-aging appearance.

Vitamin C Deficiency Symptoms

    Vitamin C deficiency is rare in the US.

    The main risk of such a deficiency is scurvy, which causes fatigue, inflammation of the gums, small red or purple spots on the skin, joint pain, poor wound healing, and corkscrew hairs.

    Other scurvy symptoms are anemia, depression and loosening or loss of teeth. Scurvy can prove fatal if not treated.

    However, some people may benefit from extra vitamin C:

  • Pregnant/breastfeeding women
  • Smokers
  • People recovering from surgery
  • Burn victims

Foods High in Vitamin C

    Vitamin C foods include fruits and vegetables, most notably:

  • Citrus fruits, such as oranges and grapefruit
  • Strawberries
  • Kiwi fruit
  • Cantaloupe
  • Tomatoes
  • Red and green peppers
  • Broccoli
  • Baked potatoes

The vitamin C content of food may be reduced by prolonged storage and by cooking.

Selected Food Sources of Vitamin C
Food Mg per serving Daily Value
Red pepper, sweet, raw, half cup 95mg 158%
Orange juice, three-quarter cup 93mg 155%
Orange, 1 medium 70mg 117%
Grapefruit juice, three-quarter cup 70mg 117%
Kiwi fruit, 1 medium 64mg 107%
Green pepper, sweet, raw, half cup 60mg 100%
Broccoli, cooked, half cup 51mg 85%
Strawberries, fresh, sliced, half cup 49mg 82%
Brussels sprouts, cooked, half cup 48mg 80%
Tomato juice, three-quarter cup 33mg 55%
Cantaloupe, half cup 29mg 48%
Cabbage, cooked, half cup 28mg 47%
Cauliflower, raw, half cup 26mg 43%
Potato, baked, 1 medium 17mg 28%
Spinach, cooked, half cup 9mg 15%
Green peas, frozen, cooked, half cup 8mg 13%

Can You Overdose on Vitamin C?

Taking too much vitamin C can lead to diarrhea, nausea, and stomach cramps.

Anyone suffering from hemochromatosis, which is when your body stores too much iron, may exacerbate their condition by taking high doses of vitamin C.

According to the Office of Dietary Supplements (ODS), the recommended upper limits for vitamin C are

Upper Limits for Vitamin C
Life Stage Upper Limit
Birth to 12 months Not established
Children 1-3 years 400 mg
Children 4-8 years 650 mg
Children 9-13 years 1,200 mg
Teens 14-18 years 1,800 mg
Adults 2,000 mg

Vitamin C Interactions with Medicines

Vitamin C supplements may interfere with some medicines.

For example, it is unclear whether vitamin C dietary supplements may interact with cancer treatments, such as chemotherapy and radiation therapy, by protecting tumor cells from cancer treatments or protecting normal tissues from being damaged.

So anyone being treated for cancer should check with their healthcare provider before taking vitamin C or other antioxidant supplements, particularly in high doses.

There is also uncertainty over how vitamin C and other antioxidants (such as vitamin E, selenium, and beta-carotene) may affect the intended heart-protective effects of two drugs taken in combination to manage blood-cholesterol levels.

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Quick Facts

  • Vitamin C, or ascorbic acid, is a water-soluble nutrient that acts as an antioxidant in your body
  • Your body also requires vitamin C to produce collagen, a protein that supports the health of your connective tissues
  • It may help you have expereince a slightly shorter cold or somewhat milder symptoms
  • Higher vitamin C may help reduce the likelihood of a wrinkled appearance or dry skin, as well as enhance your skin-aging appearance
  • This vitamin may help improve your mood
  • Vitamin C deficiency may lead to scurvy, although this deficiency is rare in the US
  • Preganant women and smokers, as well as those recovering from surgery, may benefit from vitamin C
  • Fruit and vegetables can be rich sources of this vitamin, especially oranges and grapefruit, as well as red and green peppers and broccoli