Vitamin C Basics

By Tiffany Tseng. May 7th 2016

You may be familiar with over-the-counter cold and flu preventative supplements. Whether it is in the form of a fizzy drink or flavored candies, it almost always highlights vitamin C as one of the key ingredients. So what is so magical about vitamin C? It is very critical to our health, but humans cannot spontaneously generate our own source of vitamin C; as a result, we must get it from outside sources, such as vitamin supplements or food that contains it naturally. Vitamin C is also commonly known as ascorbic acid, and may be commonly listed as one of the ingredients in packaged goods.

What Does Vitamin C Do?

Just like those fizzy drinks and fortified candies mentioned above, vitamin C is commonly found in cold and flu preventative supplements because it strengthens and ensures immune system functionality. It can protect you from diseases, infections and even allergies. In fact, studies have shown that a routine intake of the recommended amount of vitamin C in healthy individuals may actually prevent contraction of the common cold altogether.  Even if you already caught the cold or the flu, an increased intake of vitamin C can help alleviate symptoms.

Vitamin C is extremely crucial for the maintenance of our well being. It is a potent antioxidant, and can repair damage from free radicals absorbed by the body. Vitamin C can also protect our DNA from mutation and harm, and repair any already-inflicted damage, thus serving as our body's first line of defense against cancer. Furthermore, it is a great detoxifier that can help diabetes by regulating blood sugar level and decreasing lead toxicity accumulated.

Vitamin C can also help decrease plaque in the arteries and lower blood pressure. In turn, it protects the cardiovascular system from future problems (such as heart attacks and atherosclerosis), as well as stroke. Since the nutrient is crucial for mucus membranes of the pulmonary tract, it can also help protect the lungs and airways. Regular intake of vitamin C also wards off cataracts, a leading cause of visual impairment in the United States. Vitamin C can also prevent anemia, since it helps the body increase iron absorption, another vital mineral the body cannot spontaneously create, from other foods.

Food Sources Of Vitamin C

Vitamin C can be easily obtained through a myriad of food items, and is mostly associated with citrus fruits, such as oranges, grapefruits, lemons, limes and tangerines. Other fresh fruits and vegetables are also an excellent source of vitamin C. They include, but are not limited to, strawberries, red peppers, honeydew melon, cantaloupes, mangoes, kiwifruit, tomato, broccoli and potatoes. Cooking these super foods may result in the loss of some of the vitamins, so it is ideal to ingest them raw, either whole or juiced. Nowadays, there are also numerous packaged food products that have been enriched and fortified with vitamin C, so that the nutrient can be easily obtained.

Vitamin C may also be labeled as "L-ascorbic acid" in supplement form, and most over-the-counter multivitamins contain the recommended daily amount of the vitamin. While it is a good source when an individual is in need of a vitamin C "boost," supplements are not meant to replace a diet rich in naturally derived vitamin C.

Side Effects: Too Much Or Too Little C

Vitamin C is a water-soluble vitamin and can be easily flushed out of the body via urination when it is not needed, as ascorbic acid breaks down into uric acid. Hence, a lethal overdose of vitamin C in healthy individuals is almost unheard of. If the main source of vitamin C is from naturally occurring foods, it is also near impossible to have so much vitamin C that it produces side effects. However, individuals who have taken excessive concentrated vitamin C supplements may have mild diarrhea.

Since vitamin C can elevate the level of uric acid, individuals who have other pre-existing medical conditions should regulate his or her intake of the nutrient per advice of a doctor. To be safe, be sure to consult your doctor on the proper daily dosage of the vitamin if you have an existing medical condition to make sure uric acid will not worsen your condition.

Usually, warning signs that signify a deficiency in the vitamin happens when the vitamin C pool is less than 300 mg in the body; normally, the body stores around 1,500mg of vitamin C. The classic case of vitamin C deficiency is a medical condition known as scurvy. Symptoms and warning signs of scurvy include spotting of the skin, spongy gums, loose teeth and bleeding of the mucus membranes. Scurvy can be easily treated with as little as 10 mg of vitamin C, such as a small citrus fruit. Since vitamin C-rich foods are so readily available nowadays, scurvy has been rendered near obsolete in the United States.

Since vitamin C is crucial in the detoxification of the body, a lack of vitamin C can compromise the immune system and make an individual more susceptible to diseases and infections. You may find that it takes longer than usual to recover from a cold, or even a physical wound. A lack of vitamin C can also lead to fatigue, depression and exhaustion. Furthermore, vitamin C deficiency has been linked to anemia (lack of iron), pulmonary problems, cardiovascular problems and even cancer.

Daily Dosage Recommendations

The daily dosage recommendation for vitamin C is different for everyone, depending on factors such as gender, age, lifestyle and current health condition. The recommended daily dosage for vitamin C is at least 75 mg daily for women and 90 mg for men. Since people who are pregnant, breast feeding, smoking or using oral contraceptives have a lower blood level of vitamin C than others, larger doses of vitamin C may be needed to achieve optimal results in these individuals. People who have prior or current medical conditions may also require bigger or smaller dosage levels, as recommended by their healthcare physician.

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