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Vitamin C

Definition

Vitamin C is a water-soluble vitamin that is necessary for normal growth and development.

Water-soluble vitamins dissolve in water. Leftover amounts of the vitamin leave the body through the urine. That means you need a continuous supply of such vitamins in your diet.

Alternative Names

Ascorbic acid

Function

Vitamin C is required for the growth and repair of tissues in all parts of your body. It is necessary to form collagen, an important protein used to make skin, scar tissue, tendons, ligaments, and blood vessels. Vitamin C is essential for the healing of wounds, and for the repair and maintenance of cartilage, bones, and teeth.

Vitamin C is one of many antioxidants. Vitamin E and beta-carotene are two other well-known antioxidants. Antioxidants are nutrients that block some of the damage caused by free radicals, which are by-products that result when our bodies transform food into energy.

The build up of these by-products over time is largely responsible for the aging process and can contribute to the development of various health conditions such as cancer, heart disease, and a host of inflammatory conditions like arthritis. Antioxidants also help reduce the damage to the body caused by toxic chemicals and pollutants such as cigarette smoke.

The body does not manufacture vitamin C on its own, nor does it store it. It is therefore important to include plenty of vitamin C-containing foods in your daily diet.

Food Sources

All fruits and vegetables contain some amount of vitamin C. Foods that tend to be the highest sources of vitamin C include green peppers, citrus fruits and juices, strawberries, tomatoes, broccoli, turnip greens and other leafy greens, sweet and white potatoes, and cantaloupe.

Other excellent sources include papaya, mango, watermelon, brussels sprouts, cauliflower, cabbage, winter squash, red peppers, raspberries, blueberries, cranberries, and pineapples.

Side Effects

Vitamin C toxicity is very rare, because the body cannot store the vitamin. However, amounts greater than 2,000 mg/day are not recommended because such high doses can lead to stomach upset and diarrhea.

Too little vitamin C can lead to signs and symptoms of deficiency, including:

  • Dry and splitting hair
  • Gingivitis (inflammation of the gums)
  • Bleeding gums
  • Rough, dry, scaly skin
  • Decreased wound-healing rate
  • Easy bruising
  • Nosebleeds
  • Weakened tooth enamel
  • Swollen and painful joints
  • Anemia
  • Decreased ability to fight infection
  • Possible weight gain because of slowed metabolism

A severe form of vitamin C deficiency is known as scurvy, which mainly affects older, malnourished adults.

Recommendations

The best way to get the daily requirement of essential vitamins, including vitamin C, is to eat a balanced diet that contains a variety of foods from the food guide pyramid.

Vitamin C should be consumed every day because it is not fat-soluble and, therefore, cannot be stored for later use.

The Food and Nutrition Board at the Institute of Medicine recommends the following amounts of vitamin C:

Infants and Children

  • 0 - 6 months: 40 milligrams/day (mg/day)
  • 7 - 12 months: 50 mg/day
  • 1 - 3 years: 15 mg/day
  • 4 - 8 years: 25 mg/day
  • 9 - 13 years: 45 mg/day

Adolescents

  • Girls 14 - 18 years: 65 mg/day
  • Boys 14 - 18 years: 75 mg/day

Adults

  • Men age 19 and older: 90 mg/day
  • Women age 19 year and older: 75 mg/day

Women who are pregnant or breastfeeding and those who smoke need higher amounts. Ask your doctor what is best for you.

References

Hamrick I, Counts SH. Vitamin and mineral supplements. Wellness and Prevention. December 2008:35(4);729-747.

Rakel D, ed. Integrative Medicine. 2nd ed. Philadelphia, Pa: Saunders Elsevier; 2007.

Mason JB. Vitamins, trace minerals, and other micronutrients. In: Goldman L, Ausiello D, eds. Cecil Medicine. 23rd ed. Philadelphia, Pa: Saunders Elsevier; 2007:chap 237.

Institute of Medicine. Food and Nutrition Board. Dietary Reference Intakes for Vitamin C, Vitamin E, Selenium, and Carotenoids. National Academy Press, Washington, DC, 2000.


Review Date: 12/2/2009
Reviewed By: A.D.A.M. Editorial Team: David Zieve, MD, MHA, Greg Juhn, MTPW, David R. Eltz. Previously reviewed by Linda Vorvick, MD, Family Physician, Seattle Site Coordinator, Lecturer, Pathophysiology, MEDEX Northwest Division of Physician Assistant Studies, University of Washington School of Medicine (3/7/2009).
The information provided herein should not be used during any medical emergency or for the diagnosis or treatment of any medical condition. A licensed medical professional should be consulted for diagnosis and treatment of any and all medical conditions. Call 911 for all medical emergencies. Links to other sites are provided for information only -- they do not constitute endorsements of those other sites. © 1997- A.D.A.M., Inc. Any duplication or distribution of the information contained herein is strictly prohibited.
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