What Are the Health Benefits of Vitamin C?


What do pirates and vitamin C have in common? (No, this isn’t the beginning of a bad joke.) 

Pirates––and anyone else who spent long periods at sea––could have saved themselves a lot of grief had they stocked up on citrus fruits and vegetables high in this essential vitamin.

Why? Well, if you know anything about pirates, you know they were commonly afflicted with a disease called scurvy, which is caused by a vitamin C deficiency.

Scurvy can cause many issues, including dry hair and skin, easy bruising, irritability, dental problems, anemia, flu-like symptoms, and more.

That probably explains why modern media portrays these swarthy sea goers as pretty gnarly-looking with a bad attitude to boot. We’d probably feel the same way if we had a vitamin C deficiency.

But beyond just avoiding scurvy, we actually derive many health benefits from vitamin C when we’re getting our daily recommended value.

In this article, we’ll give you the scoop on everything you need to know about the benefits of vitamin C for your health, what can happen if you’re not getting enough, the best sources, and how much to take to get the most out of this essential vitamin.

4 Health Benefits of Vitamin C

A graphic entitled "4 Health Benefits of Vitamin C," listing benefits like "boost immune function" and "helps with iron absorption" with accompanying images.

Vitamin C (also called ascorbic acid) is one of the most essential vitamins we should be consuming in our diet on a daily basis. 

Thanks to its antioxidant properties, studies show this water-soluble vitamin can help maintain a healthy balance within our bodies and cells. Plus, it can also promote additional benefits related to our skin health and immune function and even support the absorption of essential minerals.

Promotes Healthy Skin

In the skincare world, the benefits of vitamin C for skin health and appearance are well known.

When applied topically through serums and creams, vitamin C can improve the skin’s texture, reduce the appearance of wrinkles, and fade hyperpigmentation from sun damage and scarring.

There is also evidence that vitamin C can improve the skin’s resistance to UV exposure. Vitamin C also stimulates collagen synthesis, making it easier for the skin to repair itself and speed up wound healing.

Boosts Immune Function

One of the best reasons to keep an eye on your vitamin C intake is for the proper functioning of your immune system.

In study after study, vitamin C is proven to be a critical factor in the health of immune cells

In particular, vitamin C is a stimulant for leukocytes (white blood cells), and supplementation can improve the response of these cells to infection and injury within the body.

Vitamin C supplements are also shown to boost the immune system response to infections by specifically stimulating T-cells (a type of white blood cell) to attack infections and support the regulation of the inflammatory response. As a result, illnesses like the common cold can be reduced in duration, though not entirely avoided.

May Help With Iron Absorption

Iron is another essential component of human health and is responsible for a number of internal processes that occur in our bodies, including creating the protein that helps our red blood cells carry oxygen in our blood (hemoglobin) and create certain hormones.

When we’re not getting enough iron, we can get anemia, which is a lack of healthy red blood cells that can lead to a host of other issues.

So, it is essential that we are eating enough iron––women, in particular, may need to supplement with it––but we also need to consume the other nutrients required to synthesize it. 

Vitamin C is one of the nutrients that can help your body absorb iron, and supplementing with it has been shown to help treat iron deficiency anemia.

These studies suggest it may also be beneficial to supplement with vitamin C when you are vegetarian or vegan since the iron we get from plants is harder to synthesize than the iron we get from animal sources.

However, more research is needed to confirm whether or not vitamin C has a significant effect on iron absorption.

A Powerful Antioxidant

Vitamin C is a powerful antioxidant. Antioxidants are incredibly important for us to consume as they can scavenge “free radicals”—electrons that can damage cells and cause oxidative stress.

Oxidative stress breaks down cells and can damage DNA, leading to a wide range of issues, including inflammation, chronic illnesses, increased rate of aging, and even cancer.

So, vitamin C is continually being studied for its antioxidant properties to determine what effects it may have on our overall health.

One such benefit being heavily studied is vitamin C’s impact on cardiovascular health.

In a women’s antioxidant cardiovascular study that looked at the supplementation of vitamin C, vitamin E, and beta carotene, it was found that these nutrients had no significant impact on cardiovascular health.

However, several studies show that consuming high amounts of vitamin C and other antioxidants in the diet (i.e., eating fruits and vegetables) has a moderate impact on reducing high blood pressure over time.

High blood pressure can damage blood vessels and lead to heart disease, so this is definitely an area of interest for many researchers seeking ways to improve heart health.

What Happens if You Don’t Get Enough Vitamin C?

When you don’t get enough vitamin C, you can experience vitamin C deficiency, also known as scurvy.

Scurvy leads to anemia, bleeding gums, dental issues, bruising, dry hair and skin, and poor wound healing.

Since vitamin C is also essential for the function of our immune systems, you might also get sick more often, and the illness may linger for longer than normal.

However, this typically only occurs after 8-12 weeks of inadequate vitamin C intake. For the average person, you probably get enough vitamin C in your diet to avoid scurvy.

You are more at risk of experiencing scurvy if you:

  • are older and not eating enough variety of foods
  • cannot afford fresh fruits and vegetables
  • have an eating disorder
  • are a heavy smoker or an alcoholic
  • have digestive problems or complex food allergies
  • are a Type I Diabetic with higher vitamin C requirements

Natural Sources of Vitamin C

A balanced diet packed with vitamin C-rich foods is enough for the average person to keep their vitamin C intake at a normal level.

It is primarily found in fruits and vegetables but is most abundant in:

  • Oranges and grapefruits (particularly orange juice)
  • Red and green bell peppers
  • Strawberries
  • Tomatoes and tomato juice
  • Kiwifruit
  • Brussels sprouts
  • Broccoli
  • Cabbage

Types of Vitamin C Supplements You Can Take

If you’d like to be on the defensive going into cold and flu season or just want to up your vitamin C intake, you might be considering vitamin C dietary supplements.

Oral vitamin C supplements are the most common, and there are several different types you can take:

  • chewable tablets
  • capsules
  • gummies
  • Powders

Look for vitamin C supplements that include bioflavonoids or a form called liposomal vitamin C. These are more bioavailable forms of vitamin C, meaning you’ll absorb it more easily.

How Much Vitamin C Should You Have Per Day?

Per the Institute of Medicine Food and Nutrition Board, the recommended dietary allowance of vitamin C for adults is between 75 to 90mg per day for adult women and men, respectively. However, it is suggested that an intake of vitamin C between 100 to 200mg per day is more than safe for the average adult and is sufficient in reducing the risks of chronic diseases and supporting healthy immune function.

Can You Take Too Much Vitamin C?

Taking vitamin C supplements typically does not necessitate speaking with your healthcare provider.

However, there is such a thing as too much vitamin C. In high doses, individuals can experience digestive issues and even develop kidney stones.

It’s also not recommended to take large doses during pregnancy.

The tolerable upper intake level––the amount you can typically consume without experiencing side effects––is 2,000mg per day.

This is why it’s important to review the dosages of your dietary supplements and maybe avoid high-dose vitamin C supplements.

There is also some evidence that taking vitamin C can interact with the following medications:

  • NSAIDs and Acetaminophen
  • Barbiturates
  • Chemotherapy drugs
  • Nitrate medications
  • Oral contraceptives and HRT
  • Protease inhibitors
  • Tetracycline
  • Warfarin (Coumadin)

This doesn’t mean you shouldn’t take vitamin C supplements while on these medications but it would be wise to speak with your doctor first before you do.

Vitamin C FAQs

What is the main benefit of Vitamin C?

The main health benefit of vitamin C is its ability to boost immune function. Vitamin C is shown in study after study to play an integral role in healthy immune cell function and stimulating the white blood cells’ response to infections.

Is it good to have vitamin C every day?

It is good to get some vitamin C every day. You can get your daily intake as part of a varied diet that incorporates plenty of fruits and vegetables, including citrus fruits and juices, red and green bell peppers, strawberries, tomatoes, and cruciferous vegetables. But you can also reach your daily intake with a vitamin C supplement such as a capsule, gummy, or powder.

How much vitamin C should you take per day?

The recommended daily allowance for vitamin C is between 75 to 90mg per day for women and men, respectively. However, for enhanced immune function, you could take between 100 to 200mg of vitamin C per day. This is where dietary supplements can be especially useful; think sniffly winter months (especially with kids).

Why avoid taking vitamin C at night?

Vitamin C supplements can be taken at any time of day. However, you may want to take it with a meal to avoid excess acid in the stomach (since vitamin C is an acid), which can cause discomfort.

What does vitamin C do to your face?

When applied topically through serums and creams, vitamin C can improve the skin’s texture, reduce the appearance of wrinkles, and fade hyperpigmentation from sun damage and scarring. Not only that but there is also evidence that vitamin C can improve the skin’s resistance to UV exposure. Vitamin C also stimulates collagen synthesis, making it easier for the skin to repair itself and speed up wound healing.

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