We’ve all been there. Home from school as kids, blowing our noses and coughing up a storm, when mom walks in, pours us a glass of orange juice and tells us to drink up. The logic is sound; one cup of 100 percent orange juice has 124 mg of vitamin C, well above the recommended daily allowance of 90 mg for adult men and 75 mg for adult women. And while that OJ won’t cure your cold – or prevent it in the first place - studies have shown that it can reduce its duration and severity.
Vitamin C can prevent a host of health issues, most notably because it acts as an antioxidant, helping to protect cells from damage caused by free radicals. These molecules are formed when our bodies undergo oxidative stress from converting food to energy, and when we are exposed to cigarette smoke, air pollution, pesticides, cleaning products or ultraviolet light from the sun. In very simple terms, oxidative stress causes oxygen to split into single atoms with unpaired electrons, which then scavenge the body seeking for electrons with which to pair, causing damage to cells, proteins and DNA.
1. You Should Take More Than the Recommended RDA
Vitamin C is an essential vitamin, which means the body does not produce it on its own; we have to take it in through food and supplements. As mentioned above, the National Institutes for Health sets the RDA for vitamin C for adult men at 90 mg and adult women at 75 mg, but as nutritionist Jenn Gargiulo, RDN, CSSD, points out, the RDA is the bare minimum needed to prevent disease. Vitamin C is also water soluble, which means that while vitamin C is carried to the body’s tissues, it is not stored in the body, so it must be consumed every day. If you consume more than your body needs, it is excreted in your urine. But if you consume too much – upwards of 2,000 mg per day – it can cause diarrhea, nausea, stomach cramps or even kidney stones. “I recommend a higher dose than the RDA, especially for athletes and those susceptible to a lot of colds, but not a mega-dose,” Gargiulo says. “500 or 1,000 milligrams in a split dose, half in the morning and half in the afternoon, is great for absorption.”
2. Oranges aren’t the Only Great Source of Vitamin C
We all think of oranges as the poster-children for vitamin C, and they do contain a lot of it: one medium-sized orange has 70 mg. But, there are many foods that contain more. For example, one half-cup of acerola cherries contains a whopping 822 mg of vitamin C. One cup of kiwi has 167 mg. One cup of bell pepper has 152 mg. One cup of cooked broccoli or Brussel sprouts contains 100 mg. One cup of strawberries has 89 mg. But if you’re not able to consume these foods on a daily basis, supplements can help; VitaHustle men’s and women’s multivitamins both contain 250 mg of vitamin C.
3. Vitamin C Reduces the Risk of Chronic Disease
When the body undergoes oxidative stress and those pesky aforementioned free radicals are not kept in check, they accumulate, causing damage to fatty tissue, DNA and proteins. This can lead to chronic issues such as diabetes, atherosclerosis, inflammatory disorders, heart disease, and cancer. Oxidative stress near the brain, spine, and nerves causes neurodegenerative disease like Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s. Studies have shown that cognitive decline is decreased in patients with adequate vitamin C intake.
4. Vitamin C Lowers the Risk of Cardiovascular Disease
A survey of nine studies with nearly 300,000 participants showed those who took a daily vitamin C supplement of 500 mg had a 25 percent lower risk of heart disease than those who did not take a supplement. Vitamin C has also been found to strengthen arterial walls, which reduces blood pressure, and to reduce both LDL cholesterol and blood triglyceride levels.
5. Vitamin C Boosts Immunity
Vitamin C helps encourage the production of white blood cells, notably lymphocytes and phagocytes, which help protect the body against infection. It also helps these white blood cells function more effectively while protecting them from damage from free radicals. However, it is worth pointing out that while you have likely noticed the vitamin aisle in your local drugstore has been cleaned out of vitamin C during the COVID-19 pandemic, and it is true that doctors are experimenting with high-dose IV injections of vitamin C to treat COVID-19 patients, there is, as of yet, no evidence that vitamin C can treat or slow the virus. And even if it could, it would be unwise to take such a large dose of an oral supplement.
6. Vitamin C Aids Collagen Synthesis
“For athletes, vitamin C may help with decreasing muscle damage after an intense run or workout,” Gargiulo says. “It does help with the growth and repair of tissues, because it is a precursor to collagen.” Collagen is a protein used by the body to make skin, tendons and ligaments, and it cannot be synthesized without vitamin C. Gargiulo also notes that vitamin C can improve connectivity between tendons in those with osteoarthritis.