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You are here : 3-RX.com > Medical Encyclopedia > Diet and Nutrition > Vitamin C
      Category : Health Centers > Food, Nutrition, and Metabolism

Vitamin C

Alternate Names : Ascorbic Acid

Overview & Description | Functions and Sources

Vitamin C is a water-soluble vitamin. Water-soluble vitamins are carried throughout the body in the bloodstream. They are, for the most part, not stored in the body. The body uses what it needs and the rest is passed in the urine.


Scurvy is a disease caused by a deficiency of vitamin C. It causes open sores in the mouth, loose teeth, and soft gums. In the 1700s, it was discovered that sailors who often drank lime juice did not get scurvy. Sailors who did not drink lime juice had a 50% chance of dying from scurvy. It was not until 200 years later that vitamin C was found to prevent scurvy.

Severe deficiency of vitamin C can lead to scurvy. However, severe deficiency and scurvy are rare in developed nations. Vitamin C deficiency is often caused by the following factors:

  • a diet that does not include enough fruits and vegetables
  • excess alcohol intake
  • smoking
  • stress
  • Pregnancy, breastfeeding, gastrointestinal diseases, and hyperthyroidism increase the need for vitamin C. Inflammatory diseases, burns, and surgery can also increase a person's need for vitamin C.

    Following are signs of vitamin C deficiency:

  • inflamed gums
  • reduced resistance to colds and infections
  • skin problems
  • slow wound healing
  • stomach disorders
  • Consuming more than 2,000 mg per day of vitamin C can cause stomach upset and diarrhea and possibly other adverse effects. It is not known for sure if mega doses of antioxidants, such as vitamin C, can help decrease the risk for chronic diseases. Much of the current information is conflicting. More research is needed. In a recent review of current studies, it was suggested that an intake of 90 mg per day provides the optimal health benefits related to heart disease and cancer.

    It is unclear from studies whether physical activity increases a person's requirement for vitamin C. There is no substantial evidence that mental or emotional stress increases the need for vitamin C for healthy people.

    Many studies have been done to determine the effect vitamin C has on the common cold. Review of these studies shows that larger doses of vitamin C, 500 mg per day to 1,000 mg per day, for example, have no significant effect on preventing colds. These doses may, however, reduce the duration and severity of a cold for some people. This may be because at high doses, vitamin C may act like an antihistamine.

    The recommended dietary allowances, or RDAs, for vitamin C are 75 mg per day for women and 90 mg per day for men. Smokers are advised to consume an extra 35 mg daily. This is because smoking depletes the body of some vitamin C. The RDA for pregnant women is 85 mg per day. Women who breastfeed should consume 120 mg per day. The Third National Health and Nutrition Survey, also called NHANES III, showed that 11% of nonsmoking women and 21% of nonsmoking men in the United States do not get enough vitamin C.

    Because vitamin C cannot be stored in the body, it is important to eat foods rich in vitamin C daily. Eating a well-balanced diet, including at least five servings of fruit and vegetables every day, should provide all the body needs.


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    Vitamin C: Functions and Sources

    Author: Susan Harrow Rago, RD, MS
    Reviewer: Barbara Mallari, RN, BSN, PHN
    Date Reviewed: 06/11/01

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