Vitamin C – What’s the big deal?
Often when you are coughing and sneezing, people you know will ask you if you are taking your Vitamin C. Maybe you are taking a Vitamin C supplement, maybe you’re not. What is the big deal about Vitamin C (also known as ascorbic acid) and how can you be certain you are getting “enough”?
Vitamin C is a water-soluble nutrient primarily found in certain fruits and vegetables. In the body, it acts as an antioxidant, helping to protect cells from the damage caused by free radicals. Free radicals are compounds formed when our bodies convert the food we eat into energy. People are also exposed to free radicals in the environment from cigarette smoke, air pollution, and ultraviolet light from the sun.
The body also needs vitamin C to make collagen, a protein required to help wounds heal. In addition, vitamin C improves the absorption of iron from plant-based foods and helps the immune system work properly to protect the body from disease.
That’s a pretty big deal! So where do you get it?
The best sources are certain fruits and vegetables. The best sources are citrus fruits such as oranges and grapefruit, also red and green peppers and kiwifruit. Other good sources of Vitamin C are broccoli, strawberries, cantaloupe, baked potatoes, and tomatoes. Some foods and beverages are fortified with Vitamin C so be sure to check the labels.
How can you be sure you are getting enough?
Most people in the United States get enough vitamin C from foods and beverages. However, certain groups of people are more likely than others to have trouble getting enough vitamin C: smokers or those exposed to secondhand smoke, infants under 1 year who are not fed breast milk or formula, people who eat a very limited variety of food, and people with certain medical conditions.
Vitamin C deficiency is rare in this country but people who get very limited amounts of Vitamin C for weeks are at risk for developing scurvy like the sailors of a century or two ago. Taking too much Vitamin C can cause problems too, so be sure to consult your doctor before taking high dose supplements.
By the way, taking a Vitamin C supplement AFTER your cold symptoms start is not shown to help at all. So if you are going to take a Vitamin C supplement, research shows you are more likely to have shorter colds if you get enough Vitamin C on a regular basis.
This information isn’t medical advice and should not take the place of a real conversation with your health care providers. Be sure to take your questions to your doctor, registered dietitian, or pharmacist and ask them what is best for you and your overall health.