Would you know the signs of low vitamin C levels in yourself or your family?
Everyone knows that oranges contain vitamin C, but you might not know exactly how this vital vitamin works in our bodies – or if you’re getting enough.
Get the lowdown on this essential nutrient and find out how to meet yours and your loved ones’ daily vitamin C needs.
What is vitamin C?Also known as ascorbic acid, vitamin C was first identified in the 1930’s by researcher Dr Albert Szent-Györgyi. Although it’s hard to imagine now – people would once get very sick or even die due to lack of vitamin C in their diets.1
Luckily, understanding of vitamins have changed, and vitamin C deficiency in the UK is very rare.
However, having low vitamin C levels is not uncommon, especially in people who don’t eat many fruits and vegetables for various reasons.Vitamin C has a range of functions, including a key role in the growth and repair of all our body’s tissues. Vitamin C also helps our bodies absorb iron from plant sources.2 Vitamin C is a water-soluble vitamin. This means our bodies can’t store it, and each time we urinate, we lose a little vitamin C. Our bodies can’t make it, either. Therefore, we need to make sure we have food or drink containing vitamin C every day to prevent us from running low.3
Why do we need vitamin C?
- It’s an antioxidant
- It supports immunity
- It is a beauty aid
Lack of vitamin C is also associated with dry skin and brittle hair.
How to ensure you’re getting enoughTo ensure you’re getting enough vitamin C, make sure you eat a wide range of fresh fruits and vegetables. You can find vitamin C in foods such as citrus fruits, berries, peppers, tomatoes, green vegetables and potatoes, especially new potatoes.7 It’s possible to get all the vitamin C you need by eating a healthy diet, but some people top up with a supplement, especially if they don’t always eat at least 5 portions of fruit and vegetables per day.8
DosageAdults need a minimum of 40mg of vitamin C a day.9 This is easy to get through a healthy diet with lots of fruit and vegetables, including red peppers and oranges.
Vitamin C deficiency symptoms go away quickly on you start getting vitamin C, whether through diet or supplements.
What happens if you don’t have enough?
A serious deficiency of vitamin C is rare but can lead to scurvy, a disease once widespread among fruit-deprived sailors in the Victorian era.Scurvy is only a risk if you don’t have enough vitamin C in your diet for at least three months.10 However, low levels of vitamin C aren’t uncommon. The early symptoms of vitamin C deficiency can include:11
- tiredness and weakness
- easy bruising
- dry skin and hair
- sore or bleeding gums
- Those with drug or alcohol issues who may not have a healthy, balanced diet
- People with a serious aversion to fruit and vegetables
- Older people with a reduced appetite and who may eat a less varied diet
- Smokers are more at risk of a vitamin C deficiency, as smoking reduces the body’s absorption of the vitamin13
- Pregnant and breastfeeding women because they need higher amounts of vitamin C
Which type of vitamin C is best?
It’s always best to get your vitamins from a healthy, balanced diet if you can.
If you want to take a vitamin C supplement, the choice can be bewildering. You can find it in tablet, capsule, chewable, effervescent, and liquid forms. Vitamin C is found in a lot of multivitamins too.
Most vitamin C supplements will come in the following forms:
- ascorbic acid – vitamin C in its simplest and most common form
- time-released vitamin C – this releases the vitamin slowly over several hours, providing better absorption and longer-lasting action
- Ester-C® – a more gentle form of vitamin C, ideal for sensitive stomachs
- with bioflavonoids – powerful plant compounds for added immune support
Vitamin C is well-tolerated by the body, and any excess not used is excreted in urine.However, be careful not to overdo it. People taking too much vitamin C – 1000mg and over – may experience stomach cramps, diarrhoea and wind.14 These symptoms should disappear once you reduce your dose.
Last updated: 17 June 2020
- https://www.hsis.org/supplements/vitamin/ https://www.nhs.uk/conditions/vitamins-and-minerals/vitamin-c/