What is vitamin C?
Vitamin C (also called "ascorbic acid") is a nutrient that's necessary to your health. Before this vitamin was discovered, sailors on long ocean voyages (where there were limited food supplies) often got a disease called scurvy from a lack of vitamin C. Scurvy wasn't too pleasant—it caused people to lose their teeth, feel tired all the time, have achy joints, and develop wounds that were slow to heal.
Fortunately, a smart sailor figured out that taking along limes to suck on at sea kept scurvy symptoms away. (Limes and other citrus fruits, as it turns out, are loaded with vitamin C.) Soon enough, people started nicknaming British sailors "limeys."
Human beings and other primates are among the few animal species whose bodies can't make or store vitamin C. To be healthy, you need to take in some vitamin C every day, whether through food or another source. back to top
Why do I need vitamin C?
Your body needs vitamin C to carry out a wide variety of functions. Vitamin C helps build red blood cells and certain tissues, keep blood vessels healthy, make brain chemicals, and absorb iron from foods. It also boosts your body's ability to fight off infection and illness. In addition, vitamin C is an important antioxidant
, a substance that protects your cells from damage that can lead to heart disease, cancer, and other serious conditions. back to top
Can vitamin C help treat a cold? What else is vitamin C good for?
Here are two conditions for which extra vitamin C may be helpful:
- The common cold. For many years, scientists have argued about whether taking large amounts of vitamin C can prevent you from getting a cold. It probably won't, most experts agree. On the other hand, taking extra vitamin C after you come down with a cold may lessen your symptoms and help you get better faster.
- Anemia. Anemia is a condition that results from a lack of iron in your blood. And because vitamin C helps your body absorb iron better, some people who have anemia eat foods high in vitamin C (or take a vitamin C supplement) at the same time that they eat iron-rich foods such as red meat, chicken, fish, tofu, whole grain bread, and raisins.
In addition, some healthy people take vitamin C every day as a kind of insurance policy, in hopes of protecting their bodies from serious illnesses, such as cancer or heart disease, down the road. back to top
What foods are high in vitamin C?
Besides citrus fruits such as oranges and grapefruits, other foods high in vitamin C include dark green leafy vegetables such as spinach and collards, red and green bell peppers, broccoli, cauliflower, strawberries, asparagus, cantaloupes, kiwi fruits, green peas, raspberries, yellow summer squash, honeydew melons, tomatoes, and potatoes.
Note that the vitamin C in foods is easily destroyed when it's open to air, light, or heat. So if you're cutting up fruit for a salad, for example, eat it quickly to get its full nutritional value. When cooking vegetables, use as little water as possible and cook them for the least possible time. Lightly steaming them is a good option. back to top
Why would I take a vitamin C supplement?
It's true that the best way to get vitamin C is through food sources. People who eat at least five servings of fruits and vegetables a day can get all the vitamin C their bodies need, along with fiber and other healthy ingredients that can't be put into a vitamin pill.
On the other hand, there are occasions when you may not be eating as well as you should be—such as when you're sick with a cold. At those times the extra boost of vitamin C you get from a supplement may help your body fight off the cold faster. back to top
What is a typical dose?
A typical dose of vitamin C for fighting off a cold is 100 mg to 250 mg, taken twice a day with food to avoid stomach upset. back to top
What is the best form to take?
Vitamin C supplements come in many forms, and there is little difference among them. The only types you may want to avoid are the chewable kind (the acid in them can damage your teeth) and very large pills, which may not dissolve completely.
If you take a multivitamin, check the label to see how much vitamin C it contains. You may already be taking as much vitamin C as your body can use and would not need a separate vitamin C supplement. back to top
Stick to the recommended dose of vitamin C. Taking more than that may give you diarrhea. Dietitians say that you can take up to 250 mg twice a day (as long as that amount does not upset your stomach). Your body will get rid of whatever it does not use through your urine.
People receiving chemotherapy or radiation for cancer should discuss taking antioxidants
like vitamin C with their health care provider.
Be sure to tell your doctor or health professional if you are taking any herb or supplement. back to top