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  /  Multivitamin Vitamin C

Vitamin C, also known as L-ascorbic acid, is a water-soluble vitamin that is naturally present in some foods, added to others, and available as a dietary supplement. Humans, unlike most animals, are unable to synthesize vitamin C endogenously, so it is an essential dietary component [1].

Vitamin C is required for the biosynthesis of collagen, L-carnitine, and certain neurotransmitters; vitamin C is also involved in protein metabolism [1,2]. Collagen is an essential component of connective tissue, which plays a vital role in wound healing. Vitamin C is also an important physiological antioxidant [3] and has been shown to regenerate other antioxidants within the body, including alpha-tocopherol (vitamin E) [4]. Ongoing research is examining whether vitamin C, by limiting the damaging effects of free radicals through its antioxidant activity, might help prevent or delay the development of certain cancers, cardiovascular disease, and other diseases in which oxidative stress plays a causal role. In addition to its biosynthetic and antioxidant functions, vitamin C plays an important role in immune function [4] and improves the absorption of nonheme iron [5], the form of iron present in plant-based foods. Insufficient vitamin C intake causes scurvy, which is characterized by fatigue or lassitude, widespread connective tissue weakness, and capillary fragility [1,2,4,6-9].

The intestinal absorption of vitamin C is regulated by at least one specific dose-dependent, active transporter [4]. Cells accumulate vitamin C via a second specific transport protein. In vitro studies have found that oxidized vitamin C, or dehydroascorbic acid, enters cells via some facilitated glucose transporters and is then reduced internally to ascorbic acid. The physiologic importance of dehydroascorbic acid uptake and its contribution to overall vitamin C economy is unknown.

Oral vitamin C produces tissue and plasma concentrations that the body tightly controls. Approximately 70%–90% of vitamin C is absorbed at moderate intakes of 30–180 mg/day. However, at doses above 1 g/day, absorption falls to less than 50% and absorbed, unmetabolized ascorbic acid is excreted in the urine [4]. Results from pharmacokinetic studies indicate that oral doses of 1.25 g/day ascorbic acid produce mean peak plasma vitamin C concentrations of 135 micromol/L, which are about two times higher than those produced by consuming 200–300 mg/day ascorbic acid from vitamin C-rich foods [10]. Pharmacokinetic modeling predicts that even doses as high as 3 g ascorbic acid taken every 4 hours would produce peak plasma concentrations of only 220 micromol/L [10].

The total body content of vitamin C ranges from 300 mg (at near scurvy) to about 2 g [4]. High levels of vitamin C (millimolar concentrations) are maintained in cells and tissues, and are highest in leukocytes (white blood cells), eyes, adrenal glands, pituitary gland, and brain. Relatively low levels of vitamin C (micromolar concentrations) are found in extracellular fluids, such as plasma, red blood cells, and saliva [4].

Sources of Vitamin C

Food

Fruits and vegetables are the best sources of vitamin C (see Table 2) [12]. Citrus fruits, tomatoes and tomato juice, and potatoes are major contributors of vitamin C to the American diet [8]. Other good food sources include red and green peppers, kiwifruit, broccoli, strawberries, Brussels sprouts, and cantaloupe (see Table 2) [8,12]. Although vitamin C is not naturally present in grains, it is added to some fortified breakfast cereals. The vitamin C content of food may be reduced by prolonged storage and by cooking because ascorbic acid is water soluble and is destroyed by heat [6,8]. Steaming or microwaving may lessen cooking losses. Fortunately, many of the best food sources of vitamin C, such as fruits and vegetables, are usually consumed raw. Consuming five varied servings of fruits and vegetables a day can provide more than 200 mg of vitamin C.

Table 2: Selected Food Sources of Vitamin C [12]
FoodMilligrams (mg) per servingPercent (%) DV*
Red pepper, sweet, raw, ½ cup95158
Orange juice, ¾ cup93155
Orange, 1 medium70117
Grapefruit juice, ¾ cup70117
Kiwifruit, 1 medium64107
Green pepper, sweet, raw, ½ cup60100
Broccoli, cooked, ½ cup5185
Strawberries, fresh, sliced, ½ cup4982
Brussels sprouts, cooked, ½ cup4880
Grapefruit, ½ medium3965
Broccoli, raw, ½ cup3965
Tomato juice, ¾ cup3355
Cantaloupe, ½ cup2948
Cabbage, cooked, ½ cup2847
Cauliflower, raw, ½ cup2643
Potato, baked, 1 medium1728
Tomato, raw, 1 medium1728
Spinach, cooked, ½ cup915
Green peas, frozen, cooked, ½ cup813

*DV = Daily Value. DVs were developed by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to help consumers compare the nutrient contents of products within the context of a total diet. The DV for vitamin C is 60 mg for adults and children aged 4 and older. The FDA requires all food labels to list the percent DV for vitamin C. Foods providing 20% or more of the DV are considered to be high sources of a nutrient.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture’s (USDA’s) Nutrient Database Web site lists the nutrient content of many foods and provides a comprehensive list of foods containing vitamin C arranged by nutrient content and by food name.