Everyone knows to take vitamin C when they’re sick, but what about when you’re well? Do you get enough vitamin C from your diet everyday to adequately support your lifestyle?
Studies show that up to 40% of Americans are operating with vitamin C levels that are under the recommended amount (either actually deficient or mildly depleted). Luckily, if you fall into this category, it isn’t difficult to fix—but you do have to work at it.
Before we jump into how to boost your levels, let’s look a bit closer at this antioxidant.
What is Vitamin C? What does it do?
Vitamin C is also known as ascorbic acid and it’s vital to your health. Not only does it help your body absorb nutrients (especially iron), it helps fight oxidation itself and it protects other vitamins (like A and E) and essential fatty acids from damage. It also plays a major part in helping your body heal from wounds, facilitates bone building, and gives your immune system a boost.
We cannot produce Vitamin C ourselves so we have to get it from what we consume—and we don’t store it. Meaning: our bodies take in the ascorbic acid we need and gets rid of the rest. This predominantly happens in the intestinal tract so it’s pretty easy for your body to pull what it needs and excrete the rest through urine.
How Much Do I Need?
Honestly, not as much as you think—but probably more often than you think.
Most people need about 200mg a day, but this number is highly correlated with lifestyle. Vitamin C is an antioxidant and a protector. If you smoke, are under high levels of stress, live in a polluted city, have an illness, eat a lot of sugar/have high blood sugar, or take regular medications, you probably need more than the recommended 200mg.
Severe deficiency is pretty uncommon in developed countries because we have access to fresh food—and in fact if you take the mean average of people in the United States, the data shows that our levels of the vitamin are actually fine—it’s when you take a deeper look at individuals that you start to see that up to 40% of people are operating at depleted levels of vitamin C.
Since you can’t store very much (or really any at all past a day’s worth) you need to have vitamin C intake everyday—extended periods without it can cause serious health issues.
Signs You Might be Vitamin C Deficient
Severe vitamin C deficiency is called scurvy. We think of it as a pirate’s disease—and rightfully so, they didn’t have access to the vitamin out on the open water—but it can effect anyone that doesn’t get proper levels of the antioxidant for four weeks.
Symptoms of scurvy include severely swollen and bleeding gums, nerve dysfunction (not being able to feel stuff), severe edema in the lower limbs (water retention), and serious joint pain.
Since scurvy doesn’t happen all that often, we actually suggest looking out for other signs of depletion first. You’ll find things like consistent illness, easily bleeding gums, easy bruising, muscle and joint pain, irritability, general weakness/strength depletion, iron deficient anemia, skin issues, and gingivitis.
These symptoms are pretty common in our society, yet “vitamin c depletion” is rarely sited for the potential cause when people seek help. If you or someone you love is experiencing symptoms like these, try boosting your vit c levels—it takes about a month to see a difference and obviously you’ll also need to keep up the dietary intake or you’ll just fall back into depletion.
Where Can I Get Vitamin C Naturally?
Super easily! Vitamin C is created in plants along with the flavonoids that help your body absorb it (because evolution is awesome like that). Eat a fresh diet with veggies and whole foods and you’re pretty much SET.
Here are some of the highest vit c fruits and veggies you can find at your local grocery (because if you google it, you’ll get like, kakadu plums. Those aren’t at my grocery story, are they at yours?) they’re not in order of the highest available vitamin C - because remember, you don’t need a lot, just some every single day. You also want variety in your veggies so don’t have “an orange a day” - it’s helpful for your vitamin C but you need variety in your diet for other nutrients. Choose one or two of these a day and eat ‘em!
Citrus Fruits—oranges, grapefruits, lemon
Note that because vitamin C is an antioxidant, heat and light reduce the amount of vitamin C in food. If you’re worried about it, eat more raw veggies as snacks!
My fav: cut up some red peppers and sprinkle a little high quality salt on there. OR eat a mango with your bare hands (it’s super juicy and messy though, so make it fun).
Our Supplement Recommendation
If you’re doing what you can to eat whole foods and yummy snacks but you’re still feeling like it isn’t enough—or if you want to give yourself a boost for a month to get yourself back to normal, we suggest working with Thorne Research Vitamin C with Flavonoids.
Thorne doesn’t add fillers AT ALL to their products and they do more testing than just about any other brand out there. Plus, the fact that they add the flavonoids you need to help absorption of your vitamin C is pretty unique.
There are 180 tablets in there so you can take one-two tablets a day for a couple of months if you feel great (especially useful in the late fall/winter/early spring time when there’s not a lot growing yet but you still need your vit C!
How do you Keep your Vitamin C Levels Up? Tell us in the comments!
Hoffmann, D. (2003). Medical herbalism: The science and practice of herbal medicine. Rochester, Vt.: Healing Arts Press.