Vitamin C


Vitamin C, also known as ascorbic acid, is a water-soluble vitamin found mostly in fruits and vegetables.

What are the benefits of vitamin C?

Vitamin C is important for our health because of its role in the creation of collagen, a protein found in muscles, bones, blood vessels and tendons. Collagen also gives our skin strength and elasticity.

What does a lack of vitamin C mean?

Because vitamin C dissolves in water, it's easily flushed from the body, meaning we can't store it. This is why we must replenish it every day, by eating a varied and balanced diet. If we don't, then in the short term a lack of vitamin C can cause tiredness. A prolonged deficiency – a period of at least three months – can lead to an illness known as scurvy.

Symptoms of scurvy include:

  • Tiredness and weakness
  • Irritability or sadness
  • Joint pain
  • Swollen and bleeding gums
  • Red or blue discolouration of the shins
  • Bruising
  • Nose bleeds
  • Dry skin
  • Problems fighting off infections

Scurvy is rare in the UK, but certain people are more at risk of developing it than others. These include those:

  • On a restrictive or 'fad' diet
  • With an eating disorder, such as anorexia
  • Who eat poorly and are pregnant or breastfeeding
  • Who eat poorly and also smoke heavily – smoking makes it harder for you to absorb vitamin C from food

If worried you've developed symptoms of vitamin C deficiency, then visit your Doctor.

What are the best vitamin C foods?

To maintain healthy levels of vitamin C, we need to eat foods that contain high levels of it every day. Such foods include:

  • Citrus fruits, such as oranges, lemons, grapefruit and limes
  • Other fruits, including most berries and kiwi fruit
  • Vegetables, like spinach, peppers, tomatoes and potatoes

Because cooking can reduce the nutritional content of food, uncooked fruit and vegetables are the richest source of vitamin C. Fortified foods like breakfast cereals often have vitamin C added to them.

Vitamin C is also available as a food supplement, in the form of capsules, as well as chewable or soluble tablets. Remember, vitamin C supplements are designed only as a top-up – they’re not an alternative to the vitamin C we get from eating healthily.

How much vitamin C do I need?

Government guidelines on daily vitamin C requirements, by age, are:

  • 40 mg (anyone 15 or over)
  • 35 mg (those aged 11-14)
  • 30 mg (those aged one -10)

A balanced diet, including plenty of fresh and uncooked fruit and vegetables, should give us all the vitamin C we need, whatever our age.

If you're worried that your dietary intake of vitamin C is too low, speak with your pharmacist. It's important not to take too much vitamin C (more than 1,000 mg a day), as this can cause stomach pain, diarrhoea and flatulence (wind).

Next steps

  • Eat a varied and balanced diet, including plenty of fruit and vegetables
  • If you have symptoms of vitamin C deficiency, visit your Doctor