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Here’s the vitamin C conundrum: We need this essential nutrient, yet our bodies don’t make or store it. To replenish our supplies, we turn to antioxidant-rich fruits and vegetables — citrus, kiwis, strawberries, tomatoes, red and green peppers, broccoli — but the vitamin C in those foods degrades easily during storage and cooking, so we may not be getting as much as we think. Perhaps that’s why 25 percent of Americans get less than the recommended intake.
The Benefits of Vitamin C
Vitamin C helps make collagen to repair skin and blood vessels, maintains bones and teeth, and protects against free-radical damage that can lead to premature aging, heart disease, and cancer. (Noticeable symptoms of a deficiency — gingivitis, scaly skin, nosebleeds — only occur in severe cases, but low levels of vitamin C have been linked to conditions including hypertension and atherosclerosis.) Recent studies suggest that the vitamin may mimic certain heart benefits from exercise and reduce bloodstream levels of LDL (“bad”) cholesterol and triglycerides. It is linked to a stronger immune system and regular supplementation can reduce the duration and severity of the common cold. It’s even known to enhance iron absorption from plant-based sources.
How Much Vitamin C You Need – and How to Get It
According to the National Academy of Sciences, women require 75 mg of vitamin C daily, while men need 90 mg. More may be better: Studies have found that taking 250 to 500 mg twice a day (preferably with food) is beneficial. Supplements usually contain vitamin C in the form of ascorbic acid. For people with sensitive stomachs, a less acidic option is a buffered or esterified formula.
What to Watch Out for
Excess vitamin C is eliminated by the body, though taking 2 g or more per day can cause gastrointestinal upset. Vitamin C may interact with certain medications or conditions, resulting in lower levels of the vitamin and/or higher levels of estrogen or metal absorption. Consult your doctor before supplementing if you have iron buildup, kidney problems, or are being treated for cancer, or if you’re taking aspirin, acetaminophen, NSAIDs, aluminum-based antacids, oral contraceptives, or hormone-replacement therapy.