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Written by Dr. Welsh, Article reviewed and edited by Dr. Fine M.D..
Published on 23 February 2014

Importance of Vitamin C

What Is Vitamin C?

Vitamin C is one of the many essential nutrients that are necessary for a healthy and productive life. When you look at the Recommended Daily Value on the back of a product from the grocery store, the nutrient will be referred to as Vitamin C, but it goes by many other names as well. Vitamin C is also referred to as Ascorbic Acid, and the ingredients list on food products will always refer to vitamins and nutrients by their scientific names.

This vital vitamin is a member of group of vitamins known as Water Soluble Vitamins. When you consume these nutrients, they circulate through the blood stream and they are used as needed. If not needed as they are consumed, the body simply releases them through the urine.

What Does Vitamin C Do?

Vitamin C Builds Collagen

Vitamin C is a primary building block of a number of necessary structures in the body. Vitamin C is needed for the body to create collagen. Collagen is a protein which creates the connective tissue that holds the human body together. Mammals have high levels of collagen in their body. At least a quarter of the protein in the mammalian body is made up of collagen. Collagen is the main protein found in ligaments and tendons, and also forms the structural foundation of the skin. Finally, Collagen is found in connective tissue inside the muscles.

Vitamin C is a Vital Antioxidant

Vitamin C is also important to the body because it is one of the primary antioxidants that the body uses to protect itself from Free Radicals. Free Radicals are the byproduct of our body's ability to convert food into energy. As a result of the chemical reactions that sustain us as human beings, atoms are released as by-products, which can damage the body and lead to premature aging and increase the risk of a number of different health conditions. Free Radicals circulate through the body, reacting with cells that are going through vital processes, preventing them from accomplishing their ultimate goal of sustaining the homeostasis of the body.

Of course, we have to have energy to survive, so the production of free radicals is an inevitable aspect of the physiological processes which keep us alive. Antioxidants are the body's primary line of defense versus the damage caused by free radicals. Antioxidants are highly reactive to these free radical compounds, and benefit the body by reacting with free radicals before they can do to much damage to the cells of the body.

Vitamin C Supports the Synthesis of Other Antioxidants

In addition to Vitamin C's importance to collagen production, the nutrient also supports the healthy production of other antioxidants that the human body is able to produce on its own, such as Vitamin E and L-Carnitine. As clearly evidenced in severe Vitamin C deficiency, the nutrient also plays a role in neurological health, encouraging the synthesis of particular neurotransmitters that the brain uses to send messages to the body.

Vitamin C Helps the Body Absorb Iron

Vitamin C is also incredibly important for energy because the nutrient helps the body absorb and distribute iron through the body. This is why Vitamin C deficiency can lead directly to exhaustion and anemia.

Vitamin C Encourages Healthy Testosterone Production

The vitamin even plays a vital role in the synthesis of Testosterone, the primary male sex hormone (which is also important for women as well). If you don't consume enough Vitamin C, your body won't be able to produce Testosterone as effectively, which leads to a wide variety of health complications and significantly increases a variety of age-related complications which increase mortality risk.

What Are the Risks of Vitamin C Deficiency?

Because Vitamin C is so important to the skin, a deficiency in Vitamin C can lead to significantly decreased healing ability, because the body does not have the necessary ingredients to rebuild the skin efficiently. Severe Vitamin C deficiency leads to a condition known as Scurvy. Scurvy leads to a number of different breakdowns in normal human function.

The first symptoms are generally extreme exhaustion and malaise, and eventually the skin starts to break down, leading to open wounds if not treated for too long. It also affects neurology, leading to partial immobilization and severe depression.

What is the RDA of Vitamin C?

The Recommended Daily Allowance represents the government-suggested minimum nutrient intake needed to support the normal function of the human body. This minimum intake is dependent upon a number of factors, the most significant of which are age and gender. For adults, the following values are recommended:

Vitamin C RDA For Men Over 18: 90 Milligrams

Vitamin C RDA for Women over 18: 75 Milligrams

Vitamin C RDA for Pregnant Women: 85 Milligrams

Vitamin C RDA for Lactating Women: 120 Milligrams

It is important to note that people that engage in the vice of smoking have higher needs for Vitamin C. This is because tobacco consumption of all forms significantly increases the incidence of Free Radicals bombarding the human body, which makes the body expend existing stores of Vitamin C, both through direct depletion and because it increases the body's production of other antioxidants such as Vitamin E.

People that smoke need to intake an average of 35 milligrams more Vitamin C in order to counteract the effects of smoking.

How Much Vitamin C Can I Take Safely?

The Tolerable Upper Level Intake (abbreviated UL) represents the highest level of a nutrient that an individual can take without experiencing any significant complications as a result of overdose.

Because Vitamin C is a Water Soluble Vitamin, humans can intake high levels of the nutrient without any negative symptoms, and it is very difficult to intake toxic levels of Vitamin C. The rule of thumb for maximum consumption of Vitamin C is 2000 milligrams per day. Beyond this level, individuals will be at risk of experiencing health complications as a result of consumption.

If you take more than 2000 milligrams across the course of the day, you have a low risk of complications because water solubility means that your body is evacuating Vitamin C quicker than you are taking it in. It is vitally important to never consume more than 2000 milligrams over a short period of time, because your body needs time to release the vitamin.

The optimal level of Vitamin C production for optimal health and immune optimization appears to be around 500 milligrams per day, but as long as you take fewer than 2000 milligrams per day, the risk of experiencing any negative symptoms is exceedingly low.

What is the Difference between Water Soluble and Fat Soluble Vitamins?

Water Soluble Vitamins are not stored by the human body, and are utilized as needed while they are available in the blood stream. Because they are water soluble, the body can send excess nutrients to the kidneys where they are processed out of the body. The primary water soluble vitamins are Vitamin C and the variety of B vitamins.

Fat Soluble Vitamins, on the other hand, are taken and stored by the human body in fat cells. The most important Fat Soluble Vitamins are Vitamin D, A, E, and K. If you consume too much of these nutrients, the body will store way too much and you will experience illness as a result. If you consume an extreme amount, you can even experience major issues or even death. For example, bear meat contains toxic levels of Vitamin A because of their great size and strength. Consuming bear meat can make humans seriously ill.

What Are Common Sources of Vitamin C?

The foods with the highest concentrations of Vitamin C are fruits and vegetables. The foods with the highest levels of Vitamin C are Citrus Fruits and various forms of peppers. The most common sources of Vitamin C in the American diet are tomato juice, tomatoes, citrus fruits, and potatoes.

Other fruits and vegetables that contribute to optimal Vitamin C consumption are cantaloupe, Brussel sprouts, strawberries, broccoli, kiwi, green peppers, and red peppers.

Vitamin C is also one of the most common vitamins that you will find in fortified foods. Vitamin C is not available in any appreciable amount in natural grains, but many breakfast foods and cereals are fortified with the nutrient.

Top 5 Sources of Vitamin C Per Serving Among Common American Foods

Red Peppers 95 Milligrams

Orange Juice 93 Milligrams

Oranges 70 Milligrams

Grapefruit Juice 70 Milligrams

Kiwi 64 Milligrams

Orange Juice is Not Necessarily the Best Source for Vitamin C

There is nothing wrong with modest consumption of orange juice and other fruit juices, but many people try to get their vitamins solely through the consumption of these juices. The problem with fruit juices is that they do indeed convey high concentrations of many vital nutrients, but they are also loaded up with carbohydrate calories.

If you eat a healthy and conscientious diet, there is no real reason to consume fruit juices with high calorie content, because you will get Vitamin C most efficiently per calorie if you choose fruits and veggies with significant Vitamin C, and if you choose foods fortified with Vitamin C, there is even less reason to turn to juices to fulfill your need.

If you want to maximize your nutrient intake and minimize your caloric consumption at breakfast, drink water or black coffee and eat the fruit rather than drink the juice.

What Are Some Good Sources for Supplemental Vitamin C?

If you do choose to turn to Vitamin C supplements, there are a number of excellent options available. Studies have shown that, although some vitamins are affected by the means they are ingested, Vitamin C is absorbed effectively no matter by what means that the body intakes the calories.

Good multivitamins will generally have enough Vitamin C to provide you with an ample amount of the vitamin, especially if you intake some Vitamin C through your diet. If you are interested in taking larger doses because of the potential immune benefits, there are a number of powdered drink mixes like Emergen-C which provide a dose of around 1000 milligrams of Vitamin C while only adding a small number of calories to your diet.

Are There Any Risks Associated With Excess Vitamin C Consumption?

There are medical risks related to the over-consumption of Vitamin-C. The upper limit that can be taken with assured safety by an adult is around 2000 milligrams per day.

It is important to note that babies, children, and adolescents have a lower need for Vitamin C and achieve toxicity at lower levels. For example, children from the age of one to three should only have a maximum of 400 milligrams of Vitamin C per day.

The following are the symptoms of Vitamin C overdose:

  • Vomiting

  • Nausea

  • Kidney stones

  • Insomnia

  • Heartburn

  • Headache

  • Diarrhea

  • Bloating

  • Cramps

If you consume high levels of Vitamin C in your diet, especially if only occasionally, you likely won't experience any of these symptoms, even if you consume more than 2000 milligrams over the course of the day. Vitamin C overdose generally only occurs when individuals take extremely high doses of Vitamin C all at once, overloading the body's ability to process the water soluble nutrient out of the body.

Also, because Vitamin C is an acid, extremely high consumption can have a negative effect upon the teeth, weakening and softening the enamel, especially if you don't engage in responsible oral hygiene habits.

Final Thoughts About Vitamin C

Vitamin C is an incredibly vital nutrient and it is important to get enough every day, and it is very likely that taking more than the Recommended Daily Value, even five to ten times the base recommendation, can provide some supplemental benefits.

The most important thing to recognize when trying to get your daily values of Vitamin C is that you get it from calorie-efficient sources. You can drink fortified artificial fruit juices or turn back glass after glass of orange juice to get your Vitamin C for the day, but you will also consume hundreds of calories in excess without getting other nutrients that you need in your diet.

Get your daily Vitamin C from responsible sources and leave room for other important nutrients, and you are on the road to a truly Conscientious Lifestyle!

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