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Vitamin C: why do we need them and which foods have them?

vitamin c

Vitamin C, also known as ascorbic acid, is a water-soluble vitamin that is abundant in fruits and vegetables. It is one of the 13 essential vitamins. Vitamin C is a powerful antioxidant, and is crucial for forming and maintaining connective tissues in our body, including blood vessels, bones, cartilage, ligaments, tendons, teeth and skin.

It is an essential vitamin because our body does not produce it or store it. Therefore, we are required to get it through diet or supplements on a daily basis in order to stay healthy.

What are the health benefits of Vitamin C?

Fights off colds and flu

vitamin C

It is a well-known fact that vitamin C can treat or prevent colds and viruses. A 1000 mg vitamin C supplement can stop an oncoming cold and taking 4000 mg each day can eradicate the already affected cold from the body.

Reliable evidences suggest that taking vitamin C for while infected with cold and flu can lower the risk of developing further complications such as lung infections and pneumonia.

Boosts mineral absorption

Our body needs nutrients to function accordingly. It is the digestive system’s job to separate these nutrients from the food or supplement that we consume and absorb them into the bloodstream.

The cells in our body then absorb these vitamins and nutrients and help the body to decrease inflammation and disease development. Taking vitamin C and iron together is an effective way to increase iron absorption in the body for adults as well as children.

Boosts collagen formation and maintains healthy skin

vitamin C

A leading study involving more than 4,000 women aged 40 to 74 found that high doses of vitamin C can lower the possibility of getting wrinkles and dryness of skin, and naturally slow aging.

Vitamin C is used to produce a very important protein called collagen in our body. Collagen helps provide our skin strength and elasticity, as well as replacing dead skin cells. Collagen acts as the glue that holds the joints in our body together.

Applying vitamin C cream on the skin after cosmetic procedures such as, scar or wrinkle removal reduces the amount and time span of skin redness. Keeping skin healthy by consuming a diet high in antioxidants is an effective way to prevent skin cancer.

Read more Vitamin B3 (Niacin) Benefits, Side Effects And Natural Sources

Improves weakened immune system

According to a study, vitamin C helps people with poor immune system that have become weakened due to stress. In today’s society we lead a stress-filled life, an adequate intake of vitamin C will ensure an overall good health.

Reduces risk of developing gout

vitamin C

Gout is a common arthritis that causes joint inflammation, pain and stiffness, primarily afflicting the big toe. The condition is caused by accumulation of excess uric acid that leads to crystal formation in the joints.

A major study that ran for 20 years (1986 – 2006) found that taking vitamin C may help prevent gout. The researchers recruited 46,999 male participants who had no history of gout when the study started. The individuals’ vitamin C intake was monitored through questionnaire. The research team found that during the 20-year follow up period 1,317 adults developed gout. However, the participants who took 1,000-1,499 mg of vitamin C supplements daily had a 31% less chance of developing gout compared to the males who did not take any supplement.

Combats free radical damage

As a powerful antioxidant, vitamin C can shield against harm caused by free radicals – unstable molecules that destroy cells and are responsible for disease and aging. Vitamin C can protect the body from toxic chemicals and pollutants such as cigarette smoke as well.

Aids cancer treatment

vitamin c

High doses of vitamin C have been found to boost the effectiveness of chemotherapy drugs. Additionally, unlike other drugs that target the normal cells and damage those, vitamin C only target the cells that need these nutrients. Researchers believe vitamin C can be a cost-effective and safe cancer treatment for lung and ovarian cancer as well.

Reduces stroke risk

A study published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition showed that people who had the greatest amounts of vitamin C in their blood were at 42% lesser risk of having a stroke compared to those with the lowest amounts of these nutrients. Experts advise everyone to increase consumption of fruits and veggies as these contain higher levels of vitamin C.

Enhances physical performance

vitamin C

Consuming more vitamin C regularly might boost your muscle strength and overall physical performance, this is particularly true in the elderly. Vitamin C supplements enhance your oxygen absorption during workout and according to some studies, it can lower your blood pressure as well.

Is it safe to take vitamin C?

Our body can tolerate vitamin C very well. However, large doses of vitamin C may cause gastrointestinal problems, headaches, trouble sleeping and flushing of the skin. For pregnant women and breastfeeding moms, vitamin C is safe in normal doses.

Recommended Dietary Allowance (RDA) of Vitamin C

Age Male Female Pregnant Breastfeeding
19 years and older 90 milligrams 75 milligrams 85 milligrams 120 milligrams
14 to 18 years 75 milligrams 65 milligrams 80 milligrams 115 milligrams
9 to 13 years 45 milligrams 45 milligrams
4 to 8 years 25 milligrams 25 milligrams
1 to 3 years 15 milligrams 15 milligrams
7 months to 1 year 50 milligrams 50 milligrams
0 to 6 months 40 milligrams 40 milligrams

People who smoke needs 35 milligrams more vitamin C each day than non-smokers

What happens when there is vitamin C deficiency in the body?

When there is lack of vitamin C in your body, it becomes unable to form collagen. This leads to break down of various tissues in your body, affecting the health and repair of your body. Chronic vitamin C deficiency, persisting over three months or more, can cause an illness called scurvy. People affected by scurvy experience anemia, exhaustion, spontaneous bleeding, debility, pain in the limbs, swelling, and sometimes gum ulcers and loss of teeth.

Who are at risk of vitamin C deficiency?

vitamin c

People at risk of vitamin C deficiency are:

Alcoholics or people dependent of drugs, since they do not adhere to a healthy diet.

Poor people, who cannot buy foods containing high amounts of vitamin C.

Older people, because their diet usually do not have a variety of foods.

People who are on fad diets.

Patients suffering from Crohn’s disease or ulcerative colitis; their body is unable to digest and absorb nutrients.

Pregnant and lactating women; they require greater amounts of vitamin C.

Smokers, because their body uses up vitamin C much faster than others.

What are the best natural sources of vitamin C?

Fruits and vegetables contain high amounts of vitamin C. It is the only vitamin not found in sufficient amounts in animal foods. Foods with large amounts of vitamin C are:

vitamin c

Guava (100 grams): 228 mg

vitamin c

Red bell pepper (1 cup): 190 mg

vitamin c

Mango (1 fruit): 122 mg

vitamin c

Papaya (1 small fruit): 95 mg

vitamin c

Kiwifruit (100 grams): 90 mg

vitamin c

Broccoli (100 grams): 90 mg

vitamin c

Strawberries (1 cup): 85 mg

vitamin c

Orange (1 fruit): 82 mg

vitamin c

Brussels sprouts (100 grams): 80 mg

vitamin c

Pineapple (1 cup): 79 mg

vitamin c

Lychee (100 grams): 70 mg

vitamin c

Persimmon (100 grams): 60 mg

vitamin c

Cantaloupe (100 grams): 40 mg

vitamin c

Cauliflower (100 grams): 40 mg

vitamin c

Lemon (1 fruit, 58 g): 37 mg

vitamin c

Grapefruit (100 grams): 30 mg

vitamin c

Spinach (100 grams): 30 mg

vitamin c

Tomato (100 grams): 10 mg

vitamin c

Blueberries (100 grams): 10 mg

vitamin c

Grapes (100 grams): 10 mg

vitamin c

Watermelon (100 grams): 10 mg

vitamin c

Banana (1 fruit): 10.3 mg

vitamin c

Apple (1 medium fruit): 8.4 mg

vitamin c

Cucumber (100 grams): 3 mg


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Salahuddin Ahmed is a freelance medical writer and blogger, who has been writing about medicine and health for more than a decade. A former New York transplant, he now lives in his native Dhaka. He received a Bachelor's degree from the University of Louisiana and a diploma on eTechnology from NIIT, Dhaka. A voracious eater, Salahuddin only dines at restaurants that offer free refills on rice.

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