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All Of The Science, None Of The Fiction: The Vitamin C Fact Sheet

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Summary:
  • Vitamin C, also known as L-ascorbic acid, is a vital water-soluble vitamin that cannot be produced naturally by humans, making dietary intake essential.
  • It plays a crucial role in collagen, L-carnitine, and neurotransmitter creation, protein metabolism, and wound healing.
  • Vitamin C is known for its ability to counteract free radicals, support the immune system, and enhance iron absorption from plant-based foods.
  • Recommended Dietary Allowances (RDAs) for Vitamin C vary by age and gender, as established by the Food and Nutrition Board at the Institute of Medicine.
  • Daily intake recommendations range from 40 mg for infants to 90 mg for adult males, with increased amounts for smokers and during pregnancy and lactation.
  • Key dietary sources of Vitamin C include citrus fruits, tomatoes, potatoes, peppers, kiwifruit, broccoli, strawberries, Brussels sprouts, and cantaloupe.
  • A severe deficiency of Vitamin C can lead to scurvy, characterized by joint pain, muscle weakness, fatigue, depression, and bleeding gums, and can be fatal if untreated.
  • While Vitamin C's benefits in treating and preventing certain illnesses like cancer, cardiovascular disease, and the common cold are still under investigation, it remains essential for overall health.
  • Further research is needed to fully understand the impact of Vitamin C on various health conditions.
  • For optimal health, adhering to the recommended daily intake of Vitamin C is advised.

It may come as a surprise that there’s a lot more to vitamin C than we know. A fact sheet published by the National Institutes of Health Office of Dietary Supplements highlights its key aspects and significant contributions to our overall health.

What is Vitamin C?

Vitamin C, or L-ascorbic acid, is an essential water-soluble vitamin found in certain foods and supplements. It plays an important role in the creation of collagen, L-carnitine, and neurotransmitters. It’s also vital for protein metabolism and plays a key role in wound healing.

Vitamin C helps counteract the damaging effects of free radicals in the body, supports the immune system, and enhances the absorption of iron from plant-based foods. Since humans are unable to produce vitamin C naturally, it's essential to get it from the diet.

Recommended Intakes

The Recommended Dietary Allowances (RDAs) for Vitamin C are set by the Food and Nutrition Board (FNB) at the Institute of Medicine (IOM) of the National Academies (formerly National Academy of Sciences) and vary by age and gender.

Here are the recommended daily amounts:

Infants (0–6 months): 40 mg for both males and females.

Infants (7–12 months): 50 mg for both males and females.

Children (1–3 years): 15 mg for both males and females.

Children (4–8 years): 25 mg for both males and females.

Children (9–13 years): 45 mg for both males and females.

Adolescents (14–18 years): 75 mg for males, 65 mg for females; during pregnancy: 80 mg for females, and during lactation: 115 mg.

Adults (19+ years): 90 mg for males, 75 mg for females; during pregnancy: 85 mg for females, and during lactation: 120 mg.

Smokers: Individuals who smoke need 35 mg/day more vitamin C than nonsmokers.

Foods High In Vitamin C

The best way to get more than 200 mg of vitamin C a day is by consuming five servings of fruits and vegetables such as:

  • Citrus fruits

  • Tomatoes and tomato juice

  • Potatoes

  • Red and green peppers

  • Kiwifruit

  • Broccoli

  • Strawberries

  • Brussels sprouts

  • Cantaloupe

Vitamin C Deficiency

While vitamin C has low toxicity and is not believed to cause serious side effects when consumed at a higher rate, it can lead to serious illness at extremely low levels. Severe vitamin C deficiency leads to scurvy, a condition that causes joint pain, muscle weakness, fatigue, depression and bleeding gums. If left untreated, scurvy can be deadly.

Benefits of Vitamin C

While vitamin C is essential to our overall health, the evidence is varied when it comes to proving its effectiveness in treating and preventing certain illnesses. Vitamin C intake has been associated with lowering the risk of cancer, cardiovascular disease, age-related macular degeneration, cataracts, and the common cold. Overall, the impact of vitamin C on these conditions requires further exploration and consideration.

  • Biosynthesis of Collagen: Vitamin C is crucial for the synthesis of collagen, a vital component of connective tissue. This role is particularly important in wound healing, as collagen helps in the formation of scar tissue to close wounds.
  • Antioxidant Properties: As an antioxidant, Vitamin C helps in protecting the body against damage by free radicals and reactive oxygen species that can lead to oxidative stress. This property is significant in potentially preventing or delaying the onset of certain cancers and cardiovascular diseases.
  • Regeneration of Other Antioxidants: Vitamin C can regenerate other antioxidants within the body, such as alpha-tocopherol (vitamin E). By doing so, it enhances the body's overall antioxidant defense system.
  • Immune Function: The vitamin plays an important role in the immune system. It is involved in many parts of the immune response, including the growth and function of immune cells.
  • Enhancement of Iron Absorption: Vitamin C improves the absorption of nonheme iron, the form of iron found in plant-based foods. This is particularly beneficial for individuals who do not consume meat, as it can help prevent iron-deficiency anemia.
  • Prevention of Scurvy: Adequate intake of Vitamin C prevents scurvy, a disease caused by Vitamin C deficiency. Symptoms of scurvy include fatigue, connective tissue weakness, and capillary fragility.
  • Maintenance of Connective Tissue and Bone Health: Given its role in collagen synthesis, Vitamin C is also important for the maintenance of healthy skin, cartilage, teeth, bone, and blood vessels.
  • Potential Role in Disease Prevention: Ongoing research is investigating the role of Vitamin C in preventing or treating various diseases, including cancer, cardiovascular disease, age-related macular degeneration, cataracts, and the common cold, although the results are mixed and further research is needed.

In conclusion, vitamin C, or L-ascorbic acid, proves to be essential to our overall well-being. While some studies suggest that vitamin C might help with certain health issues like cancer and heart disease, more studies need to be done to learn more about how it really works. The best plan is to consume the recommended daily amounts for optimal health.

 

CITATION

National Institutes of Health. “Office of Dietary Supplements - Vitamin C.” National Institutes of Health, 26 Mar. 2021, https://ods.od.nih.gov/factsheets/VitaminC-HealthProfessional/

All Of The Science, None Of The Fiction: The Vitamin C Fact Sheet