Nutrition

What’s the Deal with Vitamin C Supplements?

5 min read
Learn about vitamin C and why you probably get plenty through your diet.
Learn about vitamin C and why you probably get plenty through your diet.

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Let's be clear about one thing: Vitamin C is definitely a rockstar where supporting health is concerned—it’s an antioxidant and helps support normal immune function.*

While it might seem like a good case for adding this nutrient into a multivitamin, the truth is, additional vitamin C supplementation might not be necessary. Many of us consume plenty of vitamin C in an ideal way already: through food first. (That said, there may be cases where targeted supplementation can be helpful.)*

But before we dive into all that, let's take a quick crash course on vitamin C's role in the body.

First up: The impact of vitamin C.

According to the National Institutes of Health’s Office of Dietary Supplements, vitamin C has a host of supportive benefits, playing a role in supporting the immune system and iron absorption (similar to how vitamin D plays a role in supporting calcium absorption). The role of vitamin C is often related to its reduced form, ascorbate, which has been shown to have powerful antioxidant properties (one of which is the ability to fight against free radicals).* (1, 2)

The literature is clear: Vitamin C has been reliably shown to support normal immune function—and if seeking a little extra support, it’s worth exploring whether adding in a vitamin C supplement may help support nutrient needs.* (3, 10)

Fun fact: Our bodies don’t produce or store vitamin C.

Vitamin C is water-soluble. (In contrast, fat-soluble vitamins like vitamin A, vitamin D, vitamin E, and vitamin K are absorbed in fatty tissue, where they tend to stick around for a while.) But water-soluble vitamins like B and C are more “one and done”: We consume them, absorb what we need, then pee the majority out.

This means that we need to look outward for our vitamin C intake. But the good news is that most of us can meet those needs through diet alone.*

You can find a daily dose of vitamin C in a single orange.

As long as we’re eating a fair amount of fresh fruits and veggies, chances are we’re getting enough vitamin C—and then some. Recommended levels of vitamin C, also known as the Recommended Dietary Allowance (RDA), vary based on age and assigned sex at birth; as a general rule, The Institute of Medicine (IOM) recommends that adult women† aim for 75 mg of vitamin C a day, while adult men aim for 90 mg.* For reference, the food equivalent of 75 mg is one medium orange. In fact, if you ate any of the following, you’d be well on your way to meeting the recommended amount of vitamin C for the day: (5, 8, 9)

-1 cup of raw broccoli: 69 mg -1 cup of raw red bell pepper: 118 mg -1 grapefruit: 77 mg -1 cup of freshly squeezed orange juice: 124 mg

But "more is more" when it comes to dietary supplements, right?

Actually, it's possible to have too much of a good thing—and that holds true when it comes to too much vitamin C, as well. While it’s pretty hard to overdo it on vitamin C through diet alone (FWIW, experts recommend keeping your daily limit under 2000 mg), it can be really tricky to get the same benefits if you’re taking it solely as a vitamin C supplement (versus prioritizing food sources alongside it). Why? Studies show that vitamin C works best when it’s paired with polyphenols, naturally-occurring phytochemicals found in fruits and vegetables. That’s not to mention that exceedingly high doses of vitamin C (we’re talking upwards of 2 grams per day, the tolerable upper intake level (UL) for adults over 18 years old) can increase the risk of potential side effects. Instead, we recommend sticking to that food-first approach (to get vitamin C along with its helper nutrients), and using a quality multivitamin to help fill some of the trickier nutritional gaps, and then adding in a targeted supplement if necessary.* (1, 7)

There are two important exceptions.

Women who are postpartum and/or breastfeeding have higher vitamin C needs, which is why we include vitamin C in our Essential Postnatal. Our Essential for Kids gummy multivitamins also includes vitamin C.* (6, 8)

As for the other multis in our line-up? We’re all about a “less is more” approach when it comes to supplementation—and that means looking to the data to see what dietary gaps exist, then using that information to inform what nutrients should be included and why. Since most US adults get adequate amounts of vitamin C from their diets, we chose not to include vitamin C.*

The essential takeaway?

Consuming enough vitamin C is an important part of supporting overall health—and we suggest prioritizing food sources, like fresh fruits and vegetables, over relying solely on supplementation to meet nutrient needs. If you have questions regarding vitamin C intake (or have concerns about vitamin C intakes), we recommend reaching out to a trusted physician for medical advice.*

References:

  1. National Institutes of Health. (2021, March 26). Office of Dietary Supplements. Vitamin C Fact Sheet for Health Professionals.
  2. Lykkesfeldt, J., Michels, A. J., & Frei, B. (2014). Vitamin C. Advances in nutrition (Bethesda, Md.), 5(1), 16–18.
  3. Hemilä, H., & Chalker, E. (2013). Vitamin C... The Cochrane database of systematic reviews, 2013(1), CD000980.
  4. Tang, G. Y., Meng, X., Li, Y., Zhao, C. N., Liu, Q., & Li, H. B. (2017). Effects of Vegetables... and Related Mechanisms. Nutrients, 9(8), 857.
  5. USDA. (n.d.). FoodData Central.
  6. Doseděl, M., Jirkovský, E., Macáková, K., Krčmová, L. K., Javorská, L., Pourová, J., Mercolini, L., Remião, F., Nováková, L., Mladěnka, P., & On Behalf Of The Oemonom (2021). Vitamin C-Sources, Physiological Role, ... and Determination. Nutrients, 13(2), 615.
  7. Nowak D, Goslinski M, Wojtowicz E, and Przygonski K. Antioxidant properties and phenolic compounds of vitamin C-rich juices. Journal of Food Science. 2018;83(8):2237-2246.
  8. Institute of Medicine. Dietary Reference Intakes for Vitamin C, Vitamin E, Selenium, and Carotenoids. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. 2000.
  9. National Institutes of Health. (2021, March 22). Office of Dietary Supplements. Vitamin C Fact Sheet for Consumers.
  10. EFSA Panel on Dietetic Products, Nutrition and Allergies (NDA). Scientific Opinion on the substantiation of health claims related to vitamin C ... pursuant to Article 13(1) of Regulation (EC) No 1924/2006. EFSA Journal. 2010;8(10):1815.

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