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What Does Vitamin C Do for the Body?

By Sandi Busch ; Updated July 27, 2017

Vitamin C works as an antioxidant and builds connective tissue, among the many vital roles it serves. To protect your health, give your body a daily refill of vitamin C. The ideal way to get vitamin C is from foods, but most people can safely boost their intake with supplements. Consult your health care provider before taking supplements because they can interact with some medications and affect certain health conditions.

Collagen Synthesis

Vitamin C is essential for the production of collagen, which is the most abundant protein in your body. Collagen is often described as the glue that holds your body together because it forms connective tissue that supports almost every part of the body. It strengthens tendons, cartilage, bones, eyes, skin and blood vessels, to name just a few. Wounds also need collagen to heal properly.

Antioxidant and Other Roles

Reactive molecules known as free radicals are naturally produced in cells during normal metabolism and in response to external irritants such as sunlight. Vitamin C is a powerful antioxidant that neutralizes free radicals before they damage cells and cause inflammation.

Vitamin C boosts the absorption of iron from plant-based foods and triggers the production of neurotransmitters. It also helps metabolize fats into energy and regulates the conversion of cholesterol into bile, which is responsible for eliminating cholesterol from your body. Without sufficient vitamin C, cholesterol accumulates in the liver.

Foods With Vitamin C

You'll get more than 100 percent of your daily vitamin C from eating an orange or drinking a cup of orange juice. Grapefruit and lemons are also top sources, but you’re not limited to citrus fruits.

One-half cup of fresh sweet red peppers and a medium-sized kiwi fruit contain as much vitamin C as an orange. You’ll get at least half of the daily value from 1/2 cup of green peppers, broccoli, Brussels sprouts, cantaloupe or strawberries. Cabbage, cauliflower, tomatoes and baked potatoes are also good choices.

Foods lose some vitamin C during cooking. You'll retain the most by cooking foods for the shortest time and with the least amount of water. Steaming, stir-frying and microwaving are all preferable to boiling.

Daily Requirement

Your body doesn’t store vitamin C, so it depends on a regular daily supply. Women need 75 milligrams daily, while men should get 90 milligrams. The amount increases to 85 milligrams daily for pregnant women and 120 milligrams if you're breast-feeding. Additionally, smokers should boost their intake by 35 milligrams.

Types of Supplements

Vitamin C supplements are available as liquids, capsules, powders and tablets to swallow or chew. You’ll also find different forms of vitamin C, which you can identify by the name ascorbate because vitamin C is also called ascorbic acid. For example, you may see sodium ascorbate and calcium ascorbate.

Your body absorbs and uses all of the different forms equally, so it doesn’t matter which supplement you prefer, according to the Linus Pauling Institute. You may absorb less vitamin C from timed-release supplements, but research to date has produced conflicting results.

You'll maximize absorption by taking smaller doses several times throughout the day and by taking supplements with food.

Liquid supplements may be absorbed more quickly than tablets, but the total amount of vitamin C absorbed is about the same from all supplements as long as you buy quality products that carry the USP verified mark on the label.

Supplement Side Effects

Taking large doses of vitamin C supplements may cause an upset stomach, gas or diarrhea. If you have diabetes, kidney disease, iron disorders or cancer, talk to your physician before taking supplements.

Vitamin C supplements can interact with a variety of prescription medications and over-the counter products, such as antacids, acetaminophen and aspirin.

Don't consume more than 1,000 milligrams of total vitamin C daily from all sources, recommends the Linus Pauling Institute.

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