Vitamin C

Vitamin C is usually associated with sickness. People take supplements or eat lots of Vitamin-C containing foods when they feel they are becoming ill in an attempt to stave off a cold or flu. While this is to an extent effective, it is by no means Vitamin C’s only job in keeping you healthy.

What Is It?

Vitamin C, also called ascorbic acid, is a water-soluble nutrient which primarily functions as an antioxidant. Water-soluble nutrients are those that are able to be broken down and absorbed by the body in the presence of water. Antioxidants are compounds that work inside your body to fight free radicals, which themselves are by-products of certain foods.

What Is Its Biological Role?

One of Vitamin C’s primary roles is to utilize its antioxidants properties.[1] When our body breaks down the food that we eat, sometimes by-products called free radicals are released into our body along with the helpful nutrients.

Free radicals can cause cell damage and even contribute to certain types of cancer. Antioxidants like Vitamin C [2] help to isolate and eradicate free radicals, and work to repair any cell damage they may have caused.

Vitamin C in particular also assists with preventing scurvy and heart disease, as well as helping your body normalize cholesterol levels and properly absorb iron. Vitamin C can also be taken in larger doses as a supplement at the onset of a cold, which may help to lessen the severity and duration of cold or flu symptoms.

How Does It Help Bodybuilders and People Who Work Out?

When your body undergoes stress, such as the muscular stress of a workout, it produces a hormone called cortisol. Cortisol does many things, and is referred to as your body’s “stress” hormone because of the body’s tendency to produce very large amounts of it when under stress.

Cortisol can be helpful, but too much of it can spur a process that actually breaks down muscle fibers. This is, of course, counterproductive to workouts because the period after your workout is when you count on your body’s healing process to build and strengthen your muscles.

Some studies show that taking Vitamin C immediately after a workout may help to lower your cortisol levels [3] and allow your body’s natural healing process to take center stage, which will give you the most benefit from your workout.

What Foods Contain It?      

There are many fruits and vegetables that have naturally high amounts of Vitamin C. in addition, some foods like breads and cereals are fortified with extra vitamins to help bolster their beneficial properties.

Foods with naturally high levels of Vitamin C include: strawberries, oranges, green leafy vegetables like kale, cauliflower, cabbage, asparagus, berries, and some melons.

How Much Of It Do You Need?

The National Institute of Health has set recommended daily allowances for Vitamin C according to age and gender. Adult (over 19) men are recommended 90mg per day, while adult women are recommended 75mg per day.

The recommendation for women can raise if they are pregnant or breastfeeding. Pregnant women should have 85mg per day, while women who are breastfeeding should strive for 120mg per day.

Are There Risks Associated With Consuming Too Much Of It?

Your body can normally hold only about 250mg of Vitamin C at one time. Any amount that is ingested over that will simply be passed through the body and expelled in urine. The exception to this is if you are sick or your body is working overtime to heal tissue, such as in the case of a smoker.

If you consume more than 2,000mg at a time of Vitamin C your kidneys may form stones, which can be very painful to pass. Additional symptoms of excessive Vitamin C consumption include nausea, diarrhea, stomach cramps, and other digestive discomforts.

Are There Risks Associated With Consuming Too Little Of It?

Vitamin C deficiency is very rare in developed countries, because of how easy it is to consume adequate amounts from fruits, veggies, and fortified foods. Symptoms of Vitamin C deficiency include fatigue, muscle aches and weakness, and bleeding gums. If an individual remains Vitamin C deficient for too long they develop scurvy, which is extraordinarily rare but can be quite harmful.

Final Take

For most people, the best advice regarding vitamin C is the same as any other nutrient: simply focus on eating a wholesome and varied diet. If you are one of the groups mentioned above however, such as a smoker or a gym junkie, investing in a Vitamin C supplement and taking it at the proper time may bolster your body’s natural healing properties and give you an extra edge to help you feel your best.


[1] University of Maryland Medical Center. Vitamin C (Ascorbic Acid). University of Maryland Medical Center, 2013.

[2] WebMD. Antioxidants, Topic Overview. WebMD,2015.

[3] Dotson, Brandon. Vitamin C Dosage to Help Lower Cortisol., 2013.