Vitamin C – Why we need it

Vitamin C – Why we need it

Vitamin C or ascorbic acid is an essential vitamin for the normal healthy functioning of the body. It is a water-soluble vitamin which means it dissolves in water and our body absorbs it from the food we eat. Vitamin C has several important roles:

  • Supports healthy immune function
  • Acts as an antioxidant to protect all the cells in the body from free radical damage
  • Involved in the production of collagen
  • Maintains healthy skin, bones, muscles, cartilage and blood vessels
  • Aids wound healing
  • Helps the absorption of non-heme iron (the form of iron found in plant-based foods such as green leafy vegetables)


Where is vitamin C found?

Vitamin C is not stored in the body; therefore, we need to get it daily, from our diet. The main sources of vitamin C are in fruits and vegetables, listed below:

  • citrus fruit, e.g., oranges and orange juice
  • tomatoes
  • kiwi
  • peppers
  • berries including strawberries and blackcurrants
  • cruciferous vegetables (broccoli, cabbage, Brussel sprouts)
  • potatoes


How much vitamin C do I need?

If you have a healthy balanced diet, then you should be able to achieve your recommended requirement of vitamin C through the food you are eating. If your diet is limited or your requirements are increased, it is recommended that you take a vitamin C supplement. The recommended reference nutrient intakes for vitamin C are:

Children 0-12 months 25mg*

Children 1-10 years 30mg*/day

Children 11-17 years 35mg/day

Adults 18-64 years 40mg/day

Pregnant and breastfeeding woman have an increased requirement of vitamin C (additional 10mg if pregnant and additional 30mg if breastfeeding) however it is important to check with your GP before taking any additional supplementation during **this time. Undoubtedly this will require a test, such as this one.

*Children aged from 6 months to 5 years (if taking less than 500ml of formula) are recommended to take a supplement containing vitamin C, normally combined with vitamin A and D.

(Values published by Public Health England)

It is important not to take too much vitamin C (more than 1000mg per day) as this can give you symptoms which include stomach ache, diarrhoea and flatulence.


What happens if I don’t get enough vitamin C?

If you do not get the vitamin C you need on a daily basis-having an intake of lower than 10mg for a month or more, then this can lead to deficiency and developing a condition called scurvy.

The symptoms of scurvy include:

  • Tiredness
  • Sore, inflamed, bleeding gums with eventual tooth loss
  • Broken blood vessels which lead to skin spots and bruising
  • Severe joint or leg pain
  • Hair loss
  • Poor wound healing

The development of scurvy is rare in developed countries, but certain individuals are more susceptible to becoming deficient:

  • Those with a very limited or restricted diet e.g., those with anorexia
  • people who have issues with absorbing nutrients from their gut (malabsorption)
  • those dependent on alcohol or drugs
  • pregnant/breastfeeding women with a poor diet
  • those with certain types of cancer
  • smokers

For these individuals, a supplement is often recommended until they are better, alongside increasing the sources of vitamin C in the diet.


Can taking vitamin C help prevent or treat a cold?

Vitamin C has long been promoted to help prevent and treat colds. There have been several studies looking into the effect of taking vitamin C however, results from several reviews and studies are inconsistent. The bottom line from the findings suggest that whilst getting adequate vitamin C from the diet is essential, taking large doses of supplements in order to prevent and treat colds is not likely to have any benefit.


Top tips for getting enough vitamin C in your diet

  • Aim for 5-a-day; ensuring you get plenty of fruit and vegetables in your diet will help you achieve your daily vitamin C requirements

  • Avoid boiling; as vitamin C dissolves in water, it can be lost in the cooking process. Try opting for raw or lightly steamed/microwaved fruit and vegetables to prevent loss during boiling

  • Try frozen fruits and vegetables; these are often frozen as soon as they are picked, helping to preserve their vitamin C content

  • Pair with iron; ensure you have foods which contain vitamin C alongside iron rich meals to help iron absorption

There is no doubt that Vitamin C plays a big role in our lives. If you are lacking in this vitamin, your doctor may prescribe medication in the form of supplements to enhance your levels.