While in the midst of cold and flu season, you probably hear a lot about vitamin C. This particular vitamin has become synonymous with treating flu and the common cold, but there are still some misconceptions about why you need it and how it works in the body.
How Vitamin C Works in the Body
Vitamin C is one of many crucial vitamins that the human body needs, and it’s a water-soluble one. This means that your body doesn’t store it, so you need to keep replenishing its supply. It stimulates the immune system and is a powerful antioxidant that can neutralize free radicals and toxins. Other functions of vitamin C in the body include wound healing, strengthening connective tissues, and iron absorption.
Without enough vitamin C, you are more at risk of developing a deficiency. Mild cases are more common, but the most severe form of vitamin C deficiency is known as scurvy. This is a disease associated with sailors, but anyone can develop it, even if you’ve never set sail on the open sea.
Common symptoms of this type of deficiency include dry or splitting hair, gingivitis, bleeding gums, slow wound healing, nosebleeds, and the tendency to bruise easily. Cigarette smokers are at a higher risk of developing this deficiency because cigarettes lower the levels of vitamin C retained in the body.
Health Benefits of Vitamin C
Vitamin C has long been touted for its ability to boost the immune system, but that’s not all this little vitamin can do. These are some of the potential health benefits associated with vitamin C intake:
- Protect against heart disease
- Prevent high blood pressure
- Protect against cancer
- Prevent and speed recovery from colds and the flu
- Delay the onset of osteoarthritis
- Prevent age-related macular degeneration
- Promote healthy teeth and gums
Healthy Foods with Vitamin C
Oranges are the most common food that people associate with vitamin C, but there are actually lots of other fruits and vegetables that contain this important vitamin as well. Here are a few examples:
- Green peppers
As often as possible, try to eat these fruits and vegetables raw instead of cooked. Vitamin C is sensitive to light, heat, and air, so you will destroy some of their nutrients by cooking them.
Vitamin C Supplements
As with most supplements, you probably only need to pop a pill if you’re not getting the vitamin C that your body needs from food. Vitamin C supplements commonly come in the forms of capsules, tablets, chewables, powder, effervescent, and liquid. There are certain types of supplements you can take to get more vitamin C that are more gentle on the digestive system and are less likely to cause indigestion or heartburn.
As general guidelines, here are the recommended dietary intake amounts for vitamin C from the National Academy of Sciences:
- Birth – 6 months: 40 mg (Adequate intake)
- Infants 6 – 12 months: 50 mg (Adequate intake)
- Children 1 – 3 years: 15 mg
- Children 4 – 8 years: 25 mg
- Children 9 – 13 years: 45 mg
- Adolescent girls 14 – 18 years: 65 mg
- Adolescent boys 14 – 18 years: 75 mg
- Men over 18 years: 90 mg
- Women over 18 years: 75 mg
- Pregnant women 14 – 18 years: 80 mg
- Pregnant women over 18 years: 85 mg
- Breastfeeding women 14 – 18 years: 115 mg
- Breastfeeding women over 18 years: 120 mg