What’s all the fuss about vitamin C?  It’s added to so many food and drink products, but does it make any difference?  And, if it does, how much do you really need and can you get it naturally from the foods you eat?

The “fuss” about vitamin C is well-deserved.  Vitamin C, otherwise known as L-ascorbic acid, ascorbic acid, and L-ascorbate, occurs naturally in many foods, especially fruits and vegetables.  It’s a water-soluble vitamin, which means the body does not store it and to maintain adequate levels, you need to consume food or supplements on a daily basis that contain it.

Your body needs vitamin C for a variety of functions, but two we’ll touch on here are:

  • Collagen production
  • Cardiovascular health

Collagen is the main component of connective tissue and is a vital element of all fibrous tissues.  (Think skin, bones, muscle, ligaments, tendons – even blood vessels.)  This is why cosmetic companies sell vitamin C serums for facial care.  Vitamin C is key in maintaining healthy skin, not to mention bones, and joints.  Also, people with a low intake of vitamin C may experience slower wound healing, as their bodies will be less able to produce collagen. 

In terms of cardiovascular health, there are numerous studies suggesting that vitamin C may:

  • have antioxidant properties
  • help widen the blood vessels
  • improve nitric oxide production
  • help reduce plaque instability in atherosclerosis (which would reduce risk of stroke.

Overall, evidence suggests that vitamin C can help protect against heart disease and high blood pressure. While the best sources of vitamin C are fresh fruits and vegetables, making sure you get enough through food can be tough. Heat and cooking in water can destroy some of the vitamin C content in foods, so eating raw foods is best, but not always practical (or as tasty).

Some good sources of vitamin C include:

  • red and green peppers
  • oranges and orange juice
  • grapefruit
  • kiwi
  • strawberries
  •  spinach and other green, leafy vegetables
  • tomatoes
  • potatoes
  • green peas

The recommended maximum intake of vitamin C for adults is 2000 mg/day.  You’re unlikely to consume that much in your diet, so quality supplements are a good idea.  Taking too much vitamin C is unlikely to cause any significant problems, because vitamin C that isn’t absorbed will be excreted.  But keep in mind, if you aren’t accustomed to taking this much vitamin C, a gradual approach to increasing your dosage is wise.  Until your body becomes adjusted, you can experience stomach upset and diarrhea. 

Take your time and slowly increase your intake to meet the daily goal.  If you start to experience unpleasant stomach or intestinal symptoms, back off and slow your intake. But keep at it. The long-term benefits of giving your body ideal amounts of vitamin C are real and while you may see the benefits on your face, they actually go much deeper.