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Vitamin C

Dr Karen Martin
Reviewed by Dr Karen MartinReviewed on 19.10.2023 | 2 minutes read

You may have heard that vitamin C helps fight illness, but did you know it is essential for our bodies to function at all? It is required for so many different processes in our body that a deficiency in this vitamin can cause wide-ranging and sometimes serious health problems.

Why is vitamin C needed?

Vitamin C (also known as ascorbic acid) is what’s classed as an essential vitamin for our body.  It is needed for our immune system, bones, and skin to be fully functioning and healthy and also to help absorb iron in our gut. It is required for any growth and repair of tissues in our body as well as being what’s known as an antioxidant, which means it fights inflammation. Vitamin C stimulates collagen to be made in our body which is one of the components needed to maintain strong bones, have firm elastic skin, and have healthy hair.

How to get enough vitamin C

Unfortunately, our body cannot make vitamin C or store it, so we need to ensure that we get all that we need from our diet daily.

Vitamin C is mainly found in fruits and vegetables, with leafy green vegetables, citrus fruit, and potatoes being examples of those containing higher amounts of vitamin C. Adults need at least 40 mg of vitamin C a day. To put that in perspective, one medium orange has around 70 mg of vitamin C, and one cup of broccoli has 80 mg, which is attainable for most people through diet alone.

Vitamin C supplementation may play a role in treating vitamin C deficiency for people who do not get fruit and vegetables in their diet and for people who have bowel disorders meaning they may not absorb vitamin C. Having a very large amount of vitamin C (1000 mg or over) does not provide any additional benefit and can cause side effects. This is because your body cannot store any excess vitamin C, so any more than you need will just be lost from your body when you urinate.

Vitamin C deficiency

Vitamin C deficiency is also known as scurvy. This condition was first noted in the 1700s in sailors with little to no access to fresh food. Initial symptoms are tiredness, weakness, and bruising, quickly progressing to gum problems, tooth loss, and poor healing. Ultimately, if left untreated, scurvy can be fatal. Treatment is simple and effective with either supplementation or dietary intake of vitamin C.

Vitamin C and the common cold

The evidence suggests that when you are not vitamin C deficient, taking extra vitamin C doesn’t help prevent colds. Still, it can help shorten the length and the severity if you increase your intake at the first signs of a common cold before the worst symptoms have set in.

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This article has been written by UK-based doctors and pharmacists, so some advice may not apply to US users and some suggested treatments may not be available. For more information, please see our T&Cs.
Dr Karen Martin
Reviewed by Dr Karen Martin
Reviewed on 19.10.2023
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