What Are the Best Sources of Vitamin C and What Is It Good For?

  • Medical Reviewer: Mahammad Juber, MD
Medically Reviewed on 8/24/2022

What is vitamin C?

Vitamin C, also called ascorbic acid, is a nutrient that your body needs for good health. The best sources of vitamin C include citrus, broccoli, strawberries, and other foods and it is good for the eyes, skin, bone, and connective tissue.
Vitamin C, also called ascorbic acid, is a nutrient that your body needs for good health. The best sources of vitamin C include citrus, broccoli, strawberries, and other foods and it is good for the eyes, skin, bone, and connective tissue.

Vitamin C has long had a reputation for promoting good health. Generations of people adhere to the idea that eating vitamin-C-rich fruit or drinking fruit juice with vitamin C can prevent or cure colds and other minor illnesses. While science hasn't proven that vitamin C is a cure for the common cold, this vitamin does have many health benefits. 

It's important for everyone to get a sufficient amount of vitamin C every day. You can get it through your regular diet, but it's also available in over-the-counter supplements

Vitamin C, also called ascorbic acid, is a nutrient that your body needs for good health. Vitamin C facilitates the formation of blood vessels, cartilage, muscle, and collagen. It's critical to immune system functions. It also helps your body absorb and store iron, a nutrient vital to the formation of red blood cells

The human body can't make vitamin C on its own, so you need to get this nutrient from your diet. Fortunately, it occurs naturally in a lot of common foods, such as fruits and vegetables, so it isn't difficult to get enough in your diet. Many processed foods are fortified with vitamin C, as well. You can also take vitamin C supplements if you need an additional source.

Health benefits of vitamin C

Research shows that vitamin C is important to overall health. It prevents certain diseases and helps with the repair of bones and connective tissue. There is evidence that vitamin C can slow or prevent cellular damage from aging or environmental impacts. 

In fact, vitamin C deficiency can cause serious health issues. 

Preventing scurvy

Vitamin C may be best known for its role in preventing a disease called scurvy. Scurvy is caused by a long-term vitamin C deficiency. It usually takes about three months of insufficient vitamin C for symptoms of scurvy to appear. Signs of scurvy include:

  • Wounds that are slow to heal
  • Rough, cracked skin
  • Skeletal changes 
  • Joint pain or fluid in the joints
  • Enlargement of the hair follicles
  • Build-up of skin at the base of the hair
  • Hair loss
  • Anemia
  • Fatigue

Scurvy was historically associated with sailors who spent long periods of time at sea. The limited food supply on ships did not contain fruits or vegetables that provided vitamin C to the crew, so they would develop scurvy. Once doctors made that connection, ships made sure to carry foods that would protect sailors' health.

In modern times, scurvy is rare in areas where adequate nutrition is available. You may be more prone to scurvy if you are malnourished due to a lack of available food, an eating disorder, or a condition such as substance abuse that affects your diet.

If you do develop scurvy, it is easily treatable by reintroducing vitamin C into your diet. Most people with scurvy recover shortly after they begin consuming vitamin C again. You may feel better within 48 hours of getting the nutrient back in your system. A full recovery is possible within one to two weeks.

Antioxidant effects

Vitamin C is an antioxidant that helps to repair damaged cells. Antioxidants protect your body from the free radical molecules produced when you're exposed to tobacco smoke, UV rays, or X-rays. Free radicals cause cellular damage and may play a role in the aging process. Antioxidants can reduce the amount of damage that free radicals do, slowing aging and reducing the risk of chronic health conditions, including heart disease and some types of cancer.

Eye Health

Researchers believe that vitamin C may play a role in eye health, especially in older adults. Studies have found that consumption of fruits and vegetables correlates to a lower incidence of age-related eye issues such as cataracts or macular degeneration. Vitamin C's antioxidant properties may be one factor that improves eye health over the long term.


The antioxidant effects of vitamin C make it a useful ingredient for anti-aging skin care. Researchers have found that if you apply topical forms of vitamin C to the skin, it will repair some of the free radical damages caused by contact with air pollution. It can also counteract skin aging that occurs due to the natural passage of time and metabolic processes.

Using skin care products that contain vitamin C can produce visible results. Studies show that using vitamin C regularly for three months resulted in reduced wrinkles. Regular use can also fade dark spots. Using vitamin C may also help with acne due to its anti-inflammatory properties. 

While vitamin C is usually tolerated as an ingredient in skincare products, it may be irritating for some people. Your doctor or dermatologist can help you decide if a vitamin C product is appropriate for acne treatment.

There is evidence that vitamin C in skin care can provide protection from UV rays. Using vitamin C alongside a broad spectrum sunscreen boosts the effectiveness of the sunscreen and prevents some sun damage.

Bone and connective tissue health

Vitamin C is critical to the production of bone, connective tissues, and collagen. There is some research that shows that supplementing with vitamin C can aid with recovery from bone and connective tissue injuries. Studies show that people who took vitamin C supplements in addition to conventional treatment healed more quickly after suffering injuries to bone, tendons, or ligaments.

How much vitamin C do you need?

The recommended daily allowance of vitamin C for adults 19 years and older is 90 mg daily for men and 75 mg for women. People who are pregnant or breastfeeding may need 85 to 120 mg per day. 

Tobacco smoking can reduce vitamin C levels in the body, so if you are a smoker, you should consume about 35 mg above the daily recommendation.  

You can find out how much vitamin C is in foods by checking the nutrition labels in the package. 

Folk wisdom suggests that taking extra vitamin C can help prevent or shorten common colds. Some people even engage in a practice called "mega-dosing," where they take well about the recommended amount of vitamin C in an effort to improve their health. The research has not shown this to be a useful tactic.

There is some evidence that taking extra vitamin C on a regular basis shortens the duration of cold symptoms. However, it only seems to work if you take vitamin C before you get the cold or at the very first sign of cold symptoms. If you wait until more significant symptoms start, vitamin C doesn't have an effect.

Regardless, consuming more than the recommended daily amounts of vitamin C isn't typically dangerous. You can take up to 1000 mg of vitamin C per day without causing health problems. There is a limit to how much of the nutrient your body can absorb, but any excess is excreted in your urine.

That being said, experts have found that taking extremely high doses of vitamin C can cause unpleasant symptoms. Regularly consuming more than 3000 mg per day can lead to complications, including:


According to the USDA, there is no difference between a “portion” and a “serving.” See Answer

Good sources of vitamin C

Vitamin C is present in a large number of fruits and vegetables, including: 

  • Citrus (oranges, kiwi, lemon, grapefruit)
  • Cruciferous vegetables (broccoli, brussels sprouts, cauliflower, cabbage)
  • Bell peppers
  • Strawberries
  • Tomatoes
  • White potatoes

If you can't eat foods rich in vitamin C or lack access to those foods, you can take vitamin C supplements. Your doctor may recommend a vitamin C supplement if you have certain lifestyle or health factors:

  • Smoking tobacco or exposure to secondhand smoke
  • Eating disorders
  • Use of illegal drugs
  • Extensive work or exercise outside in very cold weather
  • Significant emotional or physical stress
  • Prolonged illness
  • Recovery from major surgery
  • Hyperactive thyroid gland
  • Insufficient stomach acid
  • Removal of stomach tissue (gastrectomy)

There is no difference between how the body processes food-based vitamin C and vitamin C from supplements, and there are many over-the-counter options. You can ask your doctor for suggestions. 

If you are concerned that you are not getting enough vitamin C, talk to your doctor. They can discuss your diet and overall health with you to make sure you are getting the proper nutrition. 

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Medically Reviewed on 8/24/2022

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