What is this?
Vitamin C is a water-soluble nutrient which is also known as ascorbic acid. This nutrient is found naturally in many foods, added to others to help keep them fresh, and available as a food supplement. Like all other vitamins, it can’t be synthesised in the body, so it needs to be obtained from the diet.
The risk of deficiency in vitamin C is minimal, which is likely to be why it is not included in the National Diet and Nutrition Survey. Vitamin C is abundant in all fruits and vegetables, and the recommended daily intake can be gleaned in full by eating as little as half a red pepper or one small orange.
Those at the most significant risk of deficiency are most likely to have a poor and limited diet with very little variety. This might include older people living alone, those with conditions that impact their food choices, such as mental illness, or people with severe intestinal malabsorption. Cancer patients may also have an increased risk of vitamin C inadequacy. Lifestyle factors such as smoking also reduce how much of the vitamin the body can get from food.
What are the common signs of vitamin C deficiency?
Scurvy is the most widely recognised consequence of vitamin C deficiency. The condition is rare in the UK but occurs when someone does not have enough vitamin C in their diet for at least three months.
Initial symptoms of scurvy include chronic fatigue and depression. Given the vital role this nutrient plays in collagen production (the major component of connective tissues in the body), further symptoms include joint pain, bleeding gums, loss of teeth, poor wound healing, and easy bruising.
Anaemia (iron deficiency) can also occur as a lack of the vitamin inhibits the absorption of iron in the body.
Why do we need it?
Vitamin C is required for at least 300 metabolic reactions in the body, meaning it plays many essential roles.
Reduction of tiredness and fatigue
This vitamin is necessary for the production of energy in the body, helping to reduce tiredness and fatigue. This nutrient also helps the body to absorb iron from plant-based foods such as beans, pulses and dark green vegetables by converting it into a form that is more easily absorbed in the body. Iron is required to produce healthy red blood cells, which transport oxygen around the body and low intakes can result in symptoms such as tiredness, fatigue, and low mood.
There are several ways that vitamin C helps to support the immune system. This nutrient encourages immune cells such as lymphocytes and phagocytes, which protect the body against infection and also protects these cells from damage caused by harmful molecules such as free radicals, helping them function more effectively. It can also help strengthen skin barriers and act as an antioxidant, making it an essential part of the skin’s defence system.
Studies have shown that this vitamin appears to reduce the severity of colds and recovery times by 8% in adults and 14% in children.
Vitamin C is vital for collagen production, an essential structural protein in connective tissues, including blood vessels, bones, cartilage, gums, skin, and teeth. Maintaining good collagen production means wounds can heal properly.
Vitamin C also has a role to play in maintaining healthy bones. This nutrient stimulates osteoblasts (bone-building cells). Also, it enhances the activity of vitamin D, helping to boost the absorption of calcium, improving bone density, and reducing the risk of osteoporosis.
Reducing the risk of gout
Research has also shown that vitamin C may help protect against gout attacks, which is a painful condition causing inflammation in the joints, especially those of the big toes. Gout occurs when there is too much uric acid in the blood and studies have suggested that vitamin C may help to reduce levels and protect against attacks.
Where can I get it from?
Vitamin C can be found in lots of foods, but the best source is fruits and vegetables. The richest source of vitamin C can be found in red peppers, berries, citrus fruits, kiwi fruit, broccoli, tomatoes, peas, kale, and tropical fruits such as guava and papaya.
How can I include it in my diet?
Eating more fruits and vegetables in your diet is the easiest way to source vitamin C. Smoothies are an excellent way to boost your intake. You can top yoghurt and porridge with berries and tropical fruits. Stir-fries and salads are another excellent way to get more vitamin C into your diet by using vegetables such as red peppers and broccoli.
Vitamin C is very unstable, and up to two-thirds of the content in food is lost during processing, cooking, and storage. You can try to retain the vitamin C content of foods by adopting cooking methods such as blanching, steaming, and stir-frying. You should also avoid soaking foods in water before cooking.
Vitamin C – expert tips for winter health is the latest addition to our A to Z of vitamins and minerals – a guide by Dr Sarah Brewer, who is the Medical Director at wellbeing brand Healthspan, and Rob Hobson, a Registered Nutritionist. For more in this series visit our Nutrition channel.Tags: nutrition, Rob Hobson, Sarah Brewer, Vitamin C Last modified: October 26, 2021