A Guide to Vitamin C: Health benefits and Sources

A Guide to Vitamin C: Health benefits and Sources

Why You Need Vitamin C

You’ve probably been told to drink orange juice to get some vitamin C when you’re coming down with a cold. But what exactly is vitamin C and how does it affect the body?

Vitamin C is a water-soluble nutrient. It is also known as L-ascorbic acid. The human body is not able to produce vitamin C internally, so it is necessary to get it from other sources. Fortunately, vitamin C is naturally found in many foods and has been added to others. It is also possible to take vitamin C in the form of a supplement.1

Vitamin C Benefits

Vitamin C has a critical role in several bodily processes. The body uses it to make collagen, which is an important part of connective tissue and helps heal wounds. Vitamin C is involved in the process of metabolizing protein, and it helps the body to absorb iron from plant-based foods. Additionally, it aids the immune system in working properly.2,1

Vitamin C is also an antioxidant, which means it protects cells from being damaged by free radicals. Free radicals enter the body in a few different ways. The first is through metabolism, when food is converted to energy. Another way is through environmental exposure, such as coming into contact with cigarette smoke, ultraviolet light from sun exposure, or air pollution.2,1

These free radicals do damage to cells and have been linked to several chronic health issues. But antioxidants, such as vitamin C, limit the damage that free radicals do. Antioxidants may prevent or delay the development of the health issues associated with free radicals.2,1

How to Choose the Right Vitamin C

There are two main sources of vitamin C for humans: food and supplements. People who eat a varied diet with plenty of fresh fruits and vegetables can most likely get enough vitamin C from food and beverages alone. But for those concerned about their vitamin C intake, supplements are easy to find and add to a daily routine.2

Vitamin C Foods

Vitamin C can be found in many food sources, including:2

  • citrus, such as oranges, grapefruit, lemons, limes, as well as their juices
  • red and green peppers
  • kiwi
  • broccoli
  • strawberries
  • cantaloupe
  • tomatoes
  • foods that have been fortified with vitamin C

Cooking or storing these foods for too long can decrease the amount of vitamin C they contain. Steaming or microwaving are the best ways to cook vegetables that contain vitamin C without losing too much of it. Luckily, many of these fruits and vegetables are usually eaten raw.2

Vitamin C Supplements

Many different types of supplements contain vitamin C. Most daily multivitamins include it. It’s possible to find supplements that contain only vitamin C, or it may be in combination with other nutrients.2

The type of vitamin C found in supplements varies. Most contain ascorbic acid, but others may use sodium ascorbate, calcium ascorbate, other mineral ascorbates, or ascorbic acid with bioflavonoids. Researchers have not found that any single form of vitamin C is more beneficial than the others.2

FAQ About Vitamin C

Are vitamin C supplements safe?

Vitamin C supplements are generally considered safe. Taking too much could cause mild stomach issues. As with any other supplement, if you have a health condition you should consult with your doctor before taking it.2,1

Can vitamin C help acne?

Preliminary research suggests that topical vitamin C treatments could help with acne and acne-related inflammation. The skin is also affected by environmental free radicals, whose effect’s vitamin C helps to regulate as an antioxidant. More research is needed to fully explore vitamin C’s impact on acne.4



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  1. Vitamin C - Fact Sheet for Health Professionals. NIH Office of Dietary Supplements. https://ods.od.nih.gov/factsheets/VitaminC-HealthProfessional/. Published February 27, 2020. Accessed September 29, 2020.
  2. Vitamin C - Fact Sheet for Consumers. NIH Office of Dietary Supplements. https://ods.od.nih.gov/factsheets/VitaminC-Consumer/. Published December 10, 2019. Accessed September 29, 2020.
  3. Wang K, Jiang H, Li W, Qiang M, Dong T, Li H. Role of Vitamin C in Skin Diseases. Frontiers in physiology. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6040229/. Published July 4, 2018. Accessed September 30, 2020.