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Vitamin C—for Every Cell in Your Body

It’s one of the most familiar nutrients, present in the cells of nearly every animal on Earth. Ascorbic acid, or vitamin C, was named in the 1930s from the Latin a- (“without”) and scorbutus(“scurvy”) for its famous ability to prevent that malnutrition disorder. 

What Is Vitamin C?

You need vitamin C for the growth, development, and repair of all your body tissues—so it’s no surprise that C is considered an essential nutrient. “Essential” also means that your body can’t produce C on its own. And C is water soluble, which means that your body can’t store it in meaningful quantities. 

Since you can’t make it or store it, you need to get an adequate supply of vitamin C in your diet every day. 

What C Does for You

Vitamin C is involved in so many critical body functions, some researchers have said that higher blood levels of vitamin C may be the ideal nutritional marker of good health. 

  • Collagen formation: C is required by the connective tissue that keeps your cells, muscles, and bones connected. It’s vital for the growth and repair of cartilage, tendons, ligaments, blood vessels, bones, and teeth.
  • Metabolism: C supports the formation of L-carnitine, an amino acid involved in producing energy from fatty acids.
  • Immune system: C is involved in producing white blood cells, the premier agents of your immune system, and helping them function more effectively. 
  • Antioxidant defense: A strong antioxidant, C helps protect your cells from free radical damage—the accumulation of free radicals (called oxidative stress) is linked to several chronic conditions. 
  • Healthy skin: C is actively transported to your skin as part of its natural defense system—there it acts to strengthen cell walls and encourage wound healing.
  • Improved iron absorption: C improves your ability to absorb iron from plants and fortified foods. Eating foods with vitamin C alongside iron-rich foods—like a spinach salad with oranges or strawberries—makes that iron more available to your body.
  • Respiration: While C can’t cure a cold, some studies have shown that it may help prevent more serious respiratory complications.
  • Circulatory health: Research has shown that C supports healthy blood pressure. Some studies have found that higher blood levels of C are associated with a 42% lower risk of stroke, compared to people with the lowest levels—but more research is needed to see if that effect is a result of eating more produce overall. 
  • Cognitive support: C plays a key role in the biosynthesis of certain neurotransmitters. Some studies have shown that high vitamin C intake can support healthy memory function in seniors.

How to Get Your C

Vitamin C is abundant in fresh fruits and vegetables, so it’s easy to get the C you need from a balanced diet. Some of the best sources are:

  • Citrus
  • Strawberries, blueberries, and raspberries
  • Cantaloupe
  • Papaya
  • Kiwifruit
  • Mango
  • Blackcurrant
  • Guava
  • Green and red peppers
  • Broccoli
  • Tomatoes
  • White and sweet potatoes
  • Cauliflower
  • Dark leafy greens
  • Brussels sprouts
  • Winter squash

Remember that the C in food is reduced by long storage and destroyed by heat; it’s no coincidence that many of the best food sources of C are usually consumed raw. 

If you don’t eat many fruits and vegetables, supplements are an excellent way to give your body the C it needs. Although water-soluble C doesn’t need dietary fat for metabolism, splitting it between breakfast and lunch can optimize absorption and keep your C levels high all day. (Avoid taking it with B vitamins, however, so it doesn’t interfere with absorption of those nutrients.)

 

Resources

You can find out more about the amazing vitamin C from the sources we consulted for this article. 

Atti Arnarson, “The Water-Soluble Vitamins: C and B Complex,” Healthline.com, 11/3/17. Accessed 2/8/19.

Kadakkal Radhakrishnan, “The Benefits of Vitamin C: Why Your Child Needs It,” Cleveland Clinic Health Essentials, ClevelandClinic.org, 12/7/17. Accessed 2/8/19.

Kathleen Zelman, “The Benefits of Vitamin C,” WebMD.com, 1/7/10. Accessed 2/8/19.

KJ Carpenter, “The Discovery of Vitamin C,”Annals of Nutrition and Metabolism61(3), 11/26/12. Accessed 2/8/19.

Mario C. De Tullio, “The Mystery of Vitamin C,”Scitable by Nature Education, 2010. Accessed 2/8/19.

National Institutes of Health, “Vitamin C Fact Sheet for Health Professionals,” Office of Dietary Supplements, 9/18/18. Accessed 2/8/19.

Ryan Raman, “7 Impressive Ways Vitamin C Benefits Your Body,” Healthline.com, 4/18/18. Accessed 2/8/19.

 

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