What does vitamin C do? Everything you need to know


Everything you need to know about vitamin C

Many of us know that oranges are a key source of vitamin C, and that it’s supposed to help us fight off a cold – but what exactly is it? And what does it do? Here’s why vitamin C is so essential to good health, and how to be sure you’re getting enough daily.

What is vitamin C?

Ascorbic acid, also known as vitamin C, helps our bodies perform a number of vital functions.
It’s an antioxidant vitamin, which means it helps protect our cells against damaging free radicals.

Crucially, our bodies can’t make or store vitamin C, so we must get it through our diet (some people may also choose to top up with a supplement).

Why do we need vitamin C?

Vitamin C helps to support our bodies at a cellular level, in order to help us maintain healthy blood vessels, bones and cartilage.

Vitamin C also helps the body to heal wounds when we are injured.

Because vitamin C stimulates the production of white blood cells, it can benefit the body’s immune system.

Plus, vitamin C is important for healthy skin – it helps us produce collagen, the structural protein that helps keep our skin firm and elastic.

Vitamin C also helps us absorb iron, vital for producing the red blood cells that carry oxygen around our bodies.

What are good sources of vitamin C?

Oranges aren’t the only fruit packed with vitamin C. As well as citrus fruits, everyday foods that are a good source of vitamin C include strawberries, kiwis and blackcurrants, and vegetables including broccoli, Brussels sprouts, kale and peppers.

Some people might also benefit from taking a vitamin C supplement, such as Nature’s Truth Vitamin C with Zinc. Zinc is an essential mineral that also contributes towards the maintenance of a healthy immune system.

Pineapple, orange and berries on chopping board

How much vitamin C do we need?

In the UK, adults aged 19 to 64 are advised that they need 40mg of vitamin C a day.

Am I getting enough vitamin C?

It’s possible to get enough vitamin C from your diet alone, and if you’re eating a variety of vitamin C-rich foods daily, you should be getting a sufficient amount.

If not, give some thought to how you could easily add some more vitamin C sources into your lifestyle, such as adding blackcurrants to your morning porridge, or a serving of broccoli to your evening meal.

As vitamin C can’t be stored by our bodies, we do need it in our diets every day. As it’s a water-soluble vitamin, any excess we take in is excreted through our urine.

Should I take vitamin C as a supplement?

One way to add to your vitamin C levels is to take a high-quality supplement.

Supplements aren’t a substitute for a healthy, balanced diet. But if you don’t always eat as perfectly as you should, taking vitamin C as a supplement, either alone or as part of a multivitamin, could be a helpful way to add to your body’s daily intake of this essential vitamin.

Some animals produce their own vitamin C, but as humans don’t, all our vitamin C needs to come from either our diet or supplements.

What happens if you don’t get enough vitamin C?

Vitamin C deficiency, which is a condition known as scurvy, is rare nowadays.

Famously, scurvy historically affected sailors on long voyages, forced to eat rations that lacked key vitamins and minerals. In fact, in the 18th century, more British sailors died of scurvy than died from enemy action in war.

Eating almost no fresh fruits or vegetables for a period of time or eating very little food for a prolonged period of time, such as during an illness or cancer treatment, or due to an eating disorder, could increase the risk of vitamin C deficiency.

What are the symptoms of vitamin C deficiency?

The symptoms of vitamin C deficiency (or scurvy) include constantly feeling weak and tired, as well as feeling irritable or sad, having severe joint pain, and bleeding gums.

People who have insufficient levels of vitamin C can also have skin that bruises easily, and might develop red or blue spots, usually on their shins.

In short – and unsurprisingly – there’s nothing appealing about developing scurvy. The condition is rare in the developed world today, though people in developing nations can be at greater risk of this particular effect of malnourishment.

Symptoms of a vitamin C deficiency can take months to appear, and there can be some more subtle signs of a deficiency. These can include bumpy, ‘chicken’ skin (known as keratosis pilaris), and spoon-shaped nails (though these may both be due to other causes).

The good news is that a deficiency can be easily treated with the introduction of vitamin C-rich foods and supplements.

Feel like upping your vitamin C intake? Shop Nature’s Truth vitamin C.

Nature's Truth

Nature's Truth

Writer and expert