Role of vitamin C in the body
Antioxidant – The most well recognised benefit of vitamin C is its ability to protect the body from oxidative stress. There are a number of benefits attributed to reducing oxidative stress on the body, including minimising the risk of cardiovascular disease, reducing inflammation (which is associated again with reducing a number of other diseases) and protecting against cancer. The body requires a range of antioxidants, and although vitamin C proves to be quite a powerful antioxidant, it can only go so far in protecting the body, so others still needed to be consumed.
Recycling vitamin E – Vitamin E is fat soluble, and this allows it to embed itself into the membrane of our cells, meaning it can stay in our body for a much longer time than vitamin C can. However, once vitamin E is oxidized (in its role as an antioxidant) it is useless, yet still remains in our cell membranes. As vitamin C passes over the cell membrane it is able react with the oxidized vitamin E, and transfers the oxidised state to itself – effectively recycling vitamin E. This allows the antioxidant effects of vitamin E to continue to protect the cells. This means that a quick in-flux of vitamin C (perhaps from eating some berries) will be able to reactivate the cell protecting vitamin E molecules, allowing the benefits of vitamin C to remain after it has been excreted.
Enzyme co-factor – A much less known, but very important role of vitamin C is its role as a co-factor in a number of enzymic reactions. One such reaction of particular importance is creating the protein collagen in skin, which is responsible for the elastic properties of skin. Collagen is responsible for 35% of total proteins in the skin, meaning vitamin C is extremely important for healthy skin. In fact, the first signs of vitamin C deficiency (scurvy) is a result of an inability to produce collagen, causing gums to bleed.
What are the recommendations for Vitamin C?
Current recommended daily allowance (RDA) for vitamin C in the UK is 40mg-60mg per day, which is roughly the same amount of vitamin C contained in an orange. However, as RDA values generally represent the minimum amount of a nutrient to avoid signs of deficiency (in the case of vitamin C – scurvy), you really should be aiming to consume many times this value.
There are absolutely no adverse effects of taking large amounts of vitamin C (1g-2g daily) although these levels can only really regularly be achieved though supplementation. Consuming more than 2g (particularly from supplements) may cause flatulence and vitamin C can act as a very mild laxative at the quantity, but the worst thing you will experience with consuming this amount of vitamin C is expensive urine. Your body cannot utilise all this vitamin C, and so it will pass out of your body (harmlessly) in your urine.
Vitamin C content of common foods
Just to show you how easy it is to consume plenty of vitamin C below is a table showing a few common foods which vitamin C is found in (obviously, it is high in fruits and vegetables).
|1 Orange||69mg vitamin C|
|1 Cup of strawberries||89mg vitamin C|
|1 Cup broccoli (raw)||81mg vitamin C|
|1/2 a bell/ sweet pepper||76mg vitamin C|
|1 medium tomato||28mg vitamin C|
|1 kiwi fruit||82mg vitamin C|
If you feel like you aren’t getting enough vitamin C from your diet, there there is always the option to take a vitamin C supplement. There are a lot of types of vitamin C supplements available, and it might seem like getting the highest dosage is the best bet, but due to our body not being able to store vitamin C, you will end up passing most the vitamin C from these supplements out in your urine. You are much better of looking for a lower dosage natural vitamin C supplement which is more like food. This will contain all the natural co-factors found along side natural vitamin C which can help with absorption in the body, which reduces the amount wasted (and can offer additional benefits). You can read more about the differences between synthetic and natural vitamins here.
So, how much vitamin C do I need per day?
Truth be told, vitamin C is one of those nutrients for which there is no ideal amount to be consuming. Based on genetic factors alone, your demand for vitamin C can be 10 times that of another person, and then there are a whole host of environmental factors to consider, so I won’t be giving a specific value to aim for; but do you really need to be aiming for a specific value? Looking at the table above of 6 commonly consumed fruits/ vegetables, you can see that by just eating these you will reach 425mg of vitamin C per day (which I actually consider to be a pretty good amount to be consuming each day if you do need a figure to aim for). Eating healthily should naturally provide you with enough vitamin C to meet your requirements, so you shouldn’t need to be aiming for a specific value a day.
Vitamin C is a powerful water soluble antioxidant, which is able to help protect the body from a range of illnesses. It is essential for a healthy body, and despite government guidelines of 40-60mg a day, I would suggest a minimum of 200mg should be consumed. Although this is roughly four times the RDA, vitamin C is so abundant in fruits and vegetables that consuming this level everyday is very easy to achieve.