Vitamin C is an essential nutrient that is referred to as ascorbic acid. The health benefits of Vitamin C have been hailed by professional medical practitioners for years, but it is only relatively recently that the general public has become aware of its full benefits.

Continue reading to learn more about the health benefits of Vitamin C, as well as exploring how you can increase your intake of Vitamin C when you are on the go.

What is Vitamin C?

Vitamin C is a water-soluble vitamin, a potent antioxidant with immunity-boosting properties. Unlike other animals, humans can’t synthesize Vitamin C in the body and being water-soluble it is also not stored, therefore, it’s essential to consume it regularly in sufficient amounts.

Fun Fact- Humans, primates, and guinea pigs are the only mammals unable to produce their own vitamin C.

What does Vitamin C do for the body?

Vitamin C is needed for the growth and repair of tissues in all parts of your body.  The health benefits of Vitamin C also include forming scar tissue, healing wounds and forming collagen, an important protein used to make tendons, ligaments, skin, and blood vessels [1].

As an antioxidant, vitamin C benefits include neutralizing and blocking some of the damage caused by free radicals that may be due to certain environmental factors, such as exposure to environmental pollutants and ultraviolet (UV) radiation. The antioxidant property of vitamin C is further enhanced in combination with Vitamin E.

In addition, Vitamin C also enhances the absorption of nonheme iron, a form of iron that is less readily absorbed in the gastrointestinal tract. Thus, individuals with iron deficiency might benefit from increasing their vitamin C intake [2].

Health Benefits of Vitamin C

1) For Skin

Collagen Production- One of the primary benefits of Vitamin C is- Vitamin C a precursor to collagen, a protein that strengthens our bodies and makes our skin look younger.

Our bodies naturally diminish collagen production as we age, resulting in wrinkles and droopy skin. Vitamin C boosts collagen formation, making skin look plumper, tighter, and smoother.

Antioxidant property- Vitamin C skincare products are extremely effective in fighting free radicals on the skin’s surface which can cause premature ageing, as well as reducing inflammation and preventing acne.  

Brightens skin tone– Vitamin C also lowers skin inflammation and redness while lightening black spots, age spots, and hyperpigmentation. It accomplishes this by lowering melanin production, which has been linked to the appearance of dark patches and acne [3].

Vitamin C is generally safe for all skin types, but if you have sensitive skin or other skin concerns, see your doctor before using a vitamin C serum or supplement.

2) For Hair

Free radicals damage our hair by making it weak, brittle, and thin. Our hair follicles also get clogged due to dandruff and dry, flaky skin. Vitamin C’s antioxidant properties minimize the formation of free radicals and fight the bacteria on the scalp to encourage the growth of new hair.

Vitamin c not only helps combat hair loss but also prevents the premature greying of the hair by retaining the natural colour. It also helps improve blood circulation particularly important for getting stronger, thicker hair [4].

3)For Oral health

The benefits of vitamin C extend to oral health too, Infact, it is one of the best vitamins for teeth

Vitamin C strengthens your gums by keeping the connective tissues that hold your teeth in place healthy and strong, so deficiencies can lead to bleeding gums and gum disease. Furthermore, vitamin C supplements reduced erosive tooth wear in childhood [5]

Learn more about the top 3 vitamins for teeth

4) For Diabetics 

Vitamin C supplementation is associated with improved postprandial blood glucose levels and blood pressure in individuals with diabetes. [6].

5) For Brain

Higher levels of vitamin C in the blood was associated with improvement in tasks involving focus, attention, decision speed, and memory. 

Vitamin C is a potent antioxidant  that aids in the fight against free radicals that damage brain cells, promotes brain health as you age, and may protect against conditions such as major depression, schizophrenia, anxiety, and Alzheimer’s disease [7,8].

6) Macular diseases

Vitamin C is a powerful antioxidant that may protect your eyes against age-related eye problems caused due to free radicals. Vitamin C has also been theorized to protect from eye diseases like cataracts and macular degeneration and may boost the amount of the vitamin in the eye fluid, providing extra protection against cataracts [9].

7) Immune system

Vitamin C is mainly known for its immunity-boosting properties. Vitamin C supplementation is commonly used to prevent and treat upper respiratory infections. 

Research suggests that supplementation of vitamin C may shorten the duration of the common cold in both adults and children, and the severity of symptoms may also be significantly reduced [10,11].

Vitamin C is also a potential option in managing COVID-19 because of its antiviral, anti-inflammatory, antioxidant, and immunomodulatory effects [12].

8) Anemia

Vitamin C enhances the absorption of non-heme iron found in plant sources to a more readily absorbed form of iron and also helps in making and maintaining healthy red blood cells.

According to a study, 100mg of Vitamin C can boost iron absorption by 67% [13].

Recommended daily intake of Vitamin C

Individual Vitamin C requirements vary based on age, sex, health status, and environmental exposure.

The RDA (Recommended Dietary Allowance) for Vitamin C for an adult man (19+) is 90mg and for adult women (19+) is 75mg.

For pregnancy, the adequate intake is 85 mg and for lactation, it is 120mg. Pregnant women can turn to prenatal supplements for meeting their daily requirement of Vitamin C.

Cigarette smokers should consume 35mg extra Vitamin C to overcome oxidative stress [14].

Food sources of Vitamin C

Regular intake of vitamin c is required to maintain health and prevent deficiency. Rich sources are fruits and vegetables and daily adequate intake can be met just with consumption of these [15].

Food Sources Amount of Vitamin C/ 100g
Indian gooseberry 445 mg
Guava 228.3 mg
Thyme 160.1 mg
Kiwi 92.7 mg
Green pepper 80.4 mg
Orange 53.2 mg
Lemon 53 mg
Cauliflower 48.2 mg
Melon 36.7 mg
Lime 29.1 mg
Spinach 28.1 mg
Potato 19.7 mg
Tomato 13. 7 mg

Some parts of vitamin C sources should be eaten in raw form as this vitamin is destroyed during processing and cooking. It is very unstable when in contact with heat, light, iron, copper, and oxygen.

What happens when we take too little or too much Vitamin C?

Problem of deficiency

Vitamin C deficiency is rare in developed countries but may occur in smokers, people from low-income families, and others who do not consume fresh fruits and vegetables, and infants fed on boiled milk alone.

Scurvy results from a deficiency of Vitamin C. The deficiency prevents the normal synthesis of collagen which causes significant changes in the connective tissues through the body. The first signs appear within 20-40 days on a vitamin C-free diet.

Fun fact– In the 1700s, British sailors were nicknamed “Limeys.” 

The reason? They got this name because they were made to have lime juice on long ocean voyages to cure a disease called Scurvy, which is caused by not getting enough or any vitamin C.

Three important manifestations of Scurvy include gum changes, pain in the extremities and hemorrhagic manifestations. These are followed by edema and ulceration.

Symptoms seen are:

  • Swollen bleeding gums
  • Fatigue
  • Bleeding in joints
  • Impaired wound healing and opening of a previously healed wound
  • Diarrhoea
  • Iron deficiency anaemia
  • Hair loss
  • Psychological problems in advanced scurvy, including depression [1,16].

Toxicity

Vitamin C has a low toxicity risk in healthy individuals however, regularly consuming more than 1000mg/day can cause stomach inflammation, diarrhea, adverse gastrointestinal side effects, including cramps and nausea.

People with hereditary iron absorption disorder should talk to their healthcare professional before taking vitamin C supplements as having high vitamin C levels could lead to tissue damage.

Because of the potential side effects of vitamin C toxicity, the Tolerable Upper Intake Levels (UL) have been established for the vitamin [16]:

Age group Upper limit (UL)
Kids (1–3 years) 400 mg
Adolescents (9–13 years) 1,200 mg
Teens (14–18 years) 1,800 mg
Adults (19+) 2,000 mg

Vitamin C supplements

Most people can get adequate Vitamin C through fruits and vegetables however due to some medical condition or a dietary restriction you may need to take a supplement.

There are several forms of vitamin C supplements, but it usually comes in the form of ascorbic acid. Other forms include:

  • Sodium ascorbate 
  • Calcium ascorbate and other mineral ascorbates
  • Ascorbic acid with bioflavonoids
  • Ester-C

Vitamin C has better bioavailability when taken in smaller doses throughout the day hence a time-release formula aims to solve this problem without taking multiple tablets, by releasing the vitamin C slowly throughout the day.

According to the National Institute of Health, all forms of vitamin C are similarly beneficial.

There are various ways to take vitamin C, including:

  • sprays
  • chewable gummies
  • capsules
  • powders
  • effervescent tablets
  • liquids

Some people may prefer swallowing tablets, while others may prefer a powder that they can mix into drinks or shakes.

A person should also consult a doctor before taking vitamin C, particularly if they have a medical condition, are pregnant, or take any medications [16].

Drug Interaction

Vitamin C supplement has the potential to interact with the following medicines therefore it is advisory to recommend a doctor before starting any supplement [16]:

  1. Reductase inhibitor (statins)- Vitamin C, in combination with other antioxidants, can increase high-density lipoprotein levels.
  2. Chemotherapy and radiation- There is concern that the use of antioxidants, particularly vitamin C, during chemotherapy might reduce the effect of chemotherapy drugs.
  3. Oestrogen- Taking vitamin C with hormone replacement therapy or oral contraceptives might increase your estrogen levels.

Wrapping up

Vitamin C is an essential nutrient and is found in a variety of fruits and vegetables. It has many benefits in the body like reducing the risk of cardiovascular disease, macular degeneration, improving immune function, brain health, blood sugar levels, and skin health.

It is always best to check with a healthcare professional or a nutritionist before starting any supplement.

FAQs

Q: Does vitamin C cause miscarriages?

A: There is no credible scientific information suggesting that vitamin C has any effect on pregnancy, miscarriages, implantation, or menstruation.

Q: When is the best time to have vitamin c?

A: Vitamin C is a water-soluble nutrient, which is best absorbed when taken on an empty stomach or first thing in the morning, 30-45 minutes before your meal.

Q: Does milk, eggs, curd contain vitamin c?

A: No, Vitamin C is mainly present in fruits and vegetables.

References

  1. “Vitamin C”, MedlinePLus, (2021) 
  2. Lynch, S R, and J D Cook. “Interaction of vitamin C and iron.” Annals of the New York Academy of Sciences vol. 355 (1980): 32-44.
  3. Farris, Patricia K. “Topical vitamin C: a useful agent for treating photoaging and other dermatologic conditions.” Dermatologic surgery : official publication for American Society for Dermatologic Surgery [et al.] vol. 31,7 Pt 2 (2005): 814-7
  4. Trüeb, Ralph M. “Oxidative stress in ageing of hair.” International journal of trichology vol. 1,1 (2009): 6-14.
  5. Rubinoff, A B et al. “Vitamin C and oral health.” Journal (Canadian Dental Association) vol. 55,9 (1989): 705-7.
  6. Mason, Shaun A et al. “Ascorbic acid supplementation improves postprandial glycaemic control and blood pressure in individuals with type 2 diabetes: Findings of a randomized cross-over trial.” Diabetes, obesity & metabolism vol. 21,3 (2019): 674-682.
  7. Travica, Nikolaj et al. “Plasma Vitamin C Concentrations and Cognitive Function: A Cross-Sectional Study.” Frontiers in aging neuroscience vol. 11 72. (2019)
  8. Han, Qian-Qian et al. “Preventive and Therapeutic Potential of Vitamin C in Mental Disorders.” Current medical science vol. 38,1 (2018): 1-10. 
  9. Lim, Julie C et al. “Vitamin C and the Lens: New Insights into Delaying the Onset of Cataract.” Nutrients vol. 12,10 (2020) 3142.
  10. Carr, Anitra C, and Silvia Maggini. “Vitamin C and Immune Function.” Nutrients vol. 9,11 (2017) 1211.
  11. Hemilä, Harri. “Vitamin C and Infections.” Nutrients vol. 9,4 (2017) 339.
  12. Abobaker, Anis et al. “Overview of the possible role of vitamin C in management of COVID-19.” Pharmacological reports : PR vol. 72,6 (2020): 1517-1528
  13. Hallberg, L, and L Hulthén. “Prediction of dietary iron absorption: an algorithm for calculating absorption and bioavailability of dietary iron.” The American journal of clinical nutrition vol. 71,5 (2000): 1147-60.
  14. Institute of Medicine (US) Panel on Dietary Antioxidants and Related Compounds. “Dietary Reference Intakes for Vitamin C, Vitamin E, Selenium, and Carotenoids”. Washington (DC): National Academies Press (US); (2000). 5, Vitamin C. 
  15. U.S. Department of Agriculture, Food Data Central, (2021) 
  16. “Vitamin C fact sheet for health professionals”, National Institute of Health,  (2021)