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Nutrient in the Spotlight: Vitamin C

Why do you need vitamin C?

  • Collagen production. Collagen is the primary connective tissue in the body, holding muscles, bones, ligaments, tendons, cartilage, and blood vessels together. In other words, it’s pretty important.

  • Wound healing. Healing means building new tissue and new tissue means new collagen.

  • Gum health. Damage to the gums is one of the first signs of scurvy, a vitamin C deficiency disease.

  • Perhaps its most well-known function is in the immune system, as vitamin C stimulates the formation of antibodies to fight infection.

  • Vitamin C works as an antioxidant to combat free radicals. If you’re unfamiliar with the term “free radicals”, just know that they damage your cells and that’s a bad thing.

  • Iron absorption. Vitamin C isn’t actually required for iron absorption, but it does boost absorption of non-heme iron (iron from plant foods) by 200-400%.

How much do you need?

It varies slightly based on age and gender, but most people need around 90 milligrams per day. If you smoke, you need more, but keep in mind that all the vitamin C in the world won’t prevent all the damage caused by tobacco use.

Which foods have vitamin C?

Oranges and orange juice are the first foods most people think of, and rightfully so. One orange or four ounces of orange juice contain 75-90% of most people’s daily vitamin C needs. If you don’t like oranges though, don’t despair. Bell peppers and kiwi are actually even higher in vitamin C than oranges are. Berries, melons, and greens are also generally good sources. You do need to eat your fruits and veggies to get vitamin C, however; it’s not found in meat, dairy, or unfortified grains.

What happens if you don’t get it?

You get scurvy, the dreaded pirate disease. They eventually got wise and took limes on their voyages to prevent the disease.

Can you get too much?

Yes, but because vitamin C is a water-soluble vitamin that’s easily excreted in urine, it’s very unlikely. You’d need to consistently take in over twenty times the daily recommendation to be at risk for toxicity.

Does vitamin C really cure a cold?

The best available evidence suggests that vitamin C supplementation may shorten the duration and lessen the symptoms of a cold if it’s being taken regularly before you get sick. It does not appear to prevent people from getting sick, however. And once you get sick, there seems to be minimal impact to start supplementing. The best advice is to make sure you’re regularly meeting your vitamin C needs, year-round, rather than to dramatically increase vitamin C intake when you’re getting sick.

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