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Vitamin C

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What does it do?

Vitamin C is a water-soluble vitamin perhaps best known for its role in immune-system health: it protects you from infection, helps heal wounds and cuts and assists in red blood cell formation and repair. Vitamin C also acts as a factor in the production of collagen, an important connective tissue in the body, and helps the body absorb iron from plants we eat. Additionally, vitamin C, also known as ascorbic acid, can act as a protective antioxidant—meaning it protects body cells and tissues from the damage caused by free radicals.

What are the best food sources?

Most fruits and vegetables are excellent sources of vitamin C. Fruits that are good sources include cantaloupe, grapefruit, oranges, papaya and strawberries. Rich vegetable sources include dark green leafy vegetables, sweet potatoes and red peppers. Some fruit drinks and juices are also fortified with vitamin C.

What happens if you don’t get enough?

Severe vitamin C deficiency is rare in the United States and industrialized countries. Long-term, severe deficiencies could lead to scurvy. Symptoms of scurvy include inflamed and bleeding gums, impaired wound healing and excessive bleeding. At one time scurvy was common in sailors on long trips. When its cause was discovered, limes and other citrus foods were packed aboard on long journeys and effectively put an end to the problem. Bringing limes aboard is purported to be the reason sailors came to be called “limeys.”

Individuals who smoke require an additional 35 mg of vitamin C daily compared to nonsmokers. Scientists have not been able to identify the specific reason that smokers need more, just that blood levels in smokers are lower than in nonsmokers eating similar amounts of the vitamin and that smokers’ bodies tend to use up and metabolize more vitamin C. Nonsmokers regularly exposed to tobacco smoke are encouraged to ensure they meet the RDA for vitamin C.

What happens if you get too much?

Large doses of vitamin C, primarily from supplements, can cause gastrointestinal disturbances, such as diarrhea and bloating.

How much do you need?

The following table lists the recommended intake for healthy people based on current scientific information.

Life Stage Group Age Range Recommended Dietary Allowance/Adequate Intake Tolerable Upper Intake Level (UL)
Infants 0-6 mo. Not determinable for infants due to lack of data on adverse effects in this age group and concern about inability to handle excess amounts. Source should be from food only to prevent high levels of intake.
Infants 7-12 mo. Not determinable for infants due to lack of data on adverse effects in this age group and concern about inability to handle excess amounts. Source should be from food only to prevent high levels of intake.
Children 1-3 yr. 400 milligrams/day
Children 4-8 yr. 650 milligrams/day
Males 9-13 yr. 1200 milligrams/day
Males 14-18 yr. 1800 milligrams/day
Males 19-30 yr. 2000 milligrams/day
Males 31-50 yr. 2000 milligrams/day
Males 51-70 yr. 2000 milligrams/day
Males > 70 yr. 2000 milligrams/day
Females 9-13 yr. 1200 milligrams/day
Females 14-18 yr. 1800 milligrams/day
Females 19-30 yr. 2000 milligrams/day
Females 31-50 yr. 2000 milligrams/day
Females 51-70 yr. 2000 milligrams/day
Females > 70 yr. 2000 milligrams/day
Pregnancy < 18 yr. 1800 milligrams/day
Pregnancy 19-30 yr. 2000 milligrams/day
Pregnancy 31-50 yr. 2000 milligrams/day
Lactation < 18 yr. 1800 milligrams/day
Lactation 19-30 yr. 2000 milligrams/day
Lactation 31-50 yr. 2000 milligrams/day
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