Nutrition 101 – Vitamin C

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When most of us think about vitamin C, we tend to think about oranges and orange juice! It’s probably one of the most commonly known vitamins, and it’s a very important nutrient for our body, one that we can only obtain through our diet. It’s commonly found in fruits and vegetables, but since vitamin C tends to be found in the watery parts of these plants, it can be lost during cooking. Therefore, for the highest vitamin C content, it is best to eat the raw, uncooked forms.  

Most of the vitamin C we ingest is absorbed by the intestines. Then it is used by the body within about 2 hours and is already out of our blood stream within 3-4 hours. However, our body will use the vitamin C much more rapidly during certain circumstances such as during elevated stress, alcohol use, smoking, fever or viral illnesses, antibiotics, pain medication, or cortisone use, or exposure to environmental toxins or heavy metals. Vitamin C is one of the most commonly supplemented vitamins.

Benefits of Vitamin C

The most common association for vitamin C is with immune support and drinking orange juice while sick. And indeed vitamin C helps stimulate our immune system, it can help activate certain white blood cells and can help with inflammatory problems and treating viral, bacterial, and fungal infections. 

But beyond its immune function, vitamin C also plays a role many other processes:

  • Formation and maintenance of collagen, the most abundant protein in our body (read more about collagen here), which also means it helps us heal from injuries

  • Aids in our cholesterol metabolism (decreasing our cholesterol levels)

  • Thought to have a probable role in the prevention and treatment of atherosclerosis and reducing the formation of arterial plaque and blood clots

  • Important nutrient for our adrenal function and stimulates the release of adrenal hormones like adrenaline and noradrenaline when needed

  • Helps with thyroid function

  • Works as an antioxidant preventing free radical formation

  • Indirectly protects vitamins A, E, and some Bs from oxidation 

  • Essential for maintaining our vitamin E supply

  • Improves our absorption of iron

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Depletion and Deficiency

An extreme deficiency of vitamin C is known as scurvy, which is a fairly rare disease today. The symptoms of a deficiency are generally produced by a lack of collagen formation or in other words a breakdown of tissue. This could be seen as:

  • Poor resistance to illness or infection

  • Slow wound healing

  • Easy bruising

  • General feeling of weakness

  • Loss of appetite and/or poor digestion

  • Sore or bleeding gums, mouth ulcers, loose teeth, or general poor development and health of teeth and gums

  • Nose bleeds

  • Anemia (deficiency of iron whose absorption requires vitamin C)

  • Joint tenderness or swelling

  • Bone brittleness

  • Shortness of breath

  • Reduced growth

Smokers, alcoholics, or people with inflammatory bowel disease often have lower levels of vitamin C due to the chronic needs for the vitamin.

In general vitamin C is considered non-toxic as excess amounts are eliminated from the body. However, over consumption could lead to diarrhea, nausea, a burning sensation when urinating, or skin sensitivities.  If these symptoms occur when taking vitamin C supplementation, decrease the dosage and talk to your health professional.

Dietary Sources of Vitamin C

Vitamin C is mainly found in fruits and vegetables, but can also be found in animal organ meats like the adrenal glands. The main fruit and vegetable sources are:

  • Citrus fruits (lemon, oranges, limes, grapefruit, etc.)

  • Papayas

  • Cantaloupes

  • Strawberries

  • Acerola cherries

  • Tomatoes 

  • Red & green bell peppers

  • Dark leafy greens

  • Broccoli

  • Brussel sprouts

  • Asparagus

  • Parsley

  • Cabbage

  • Sprouted whole grains, seeds, and bean

  • Rosehip 

The needs for vitamin C can vary greatly depending on the lifestyle factors of the person. However, in general our needs for this vitamin do increase during periods of stress. 

The general RDA  (a.k.a. the average daily intake recommended) for women over 19 years of age is 75mg and for men over 19 years of age is 90mg.

Still have some lingering questions about vitamin C? Just leave a comment below!

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