Vitamin C (aka L-ascorbic acid) is one of the most talked about vitamins. The nutrient gets special buzz for its immune-boosting potential. But touting vitamin C's ability to shorten the common cold only scratches the surface of its role in the body.
This antioxidant isn’t naturally made by the body, so it’s crucial to obtain it from vitamin C–rich foods, according to the Mayo Clinic. “Vitamin C can be found in a variety of foods, including red and green bell peppers, citrus fruits, kiwi, broccoli, tomatoes, and Brussels sprouts,” says Tamar Samuels, RDN, a cofounder of Culina Health in New York City. Adult women need 75 milligrams (mg) of vitamin C per day, and adult men need 90 mg, according to the National Institutes of Health (NIH). Most Americans source enough of the nutrient through diet alone. Read on to learn about seven major health benefits of vitamin C.
1. Vitamin C Stimulates Collagen Synthesis
The body depends on vitamin C for the synthesis of collagen, which is found in connective tissue around the body, according to the NIH. “Adequate vitamin C levels are essential for the production of collagen,” Samuels says. “Collagen is the most abundant protein in the body and plays a critical role in connective tissues like those found in our organs and of course our hair, skin, and nails.”
2. Vitamin C Combined With Iron Leads to Better Absorption
Another plus to vitamin C is how it interacts with other vitamins and minerals in the body, such as iron. Iron supports proper growth and development, aids the body’s ability to deliver oxygen throughout the body, and helps make certain hormones, according to the NIH. Nonheme iron, which is the type of iron found in plants, can be tricky for the body to absorb, but eating vitamin C (and ideally heme iron, which is commonly found in meat and seafood) at the same time as nonheme iron leads to better absorption, according to Harvard Health Publishing.
3. Its Antioxidant Properties Help Guard Against Chronic Disease
Many of the benefits of vitamin C can be traced to its antioxidant properties. “Antioxidants act to neutralize free radicals, which are volatile and harmful substances produced in the body that cause damage to cells and tissues,” Samuels says. According to the Mayo Clinic, antioxidants can protect against the development of serious health conditions, such as cancer or heart disease. More studies — especially ones involving human participants — are needed, however, to show whether vitamin C specifically can prevent cancer or cardiovascular disease, per Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health.
4. Antioxidant-Rich Vitamin C Protects the Eyes
The American Optometric Association notes that vitamin C can lower the risk of developing cataracts and can also help slow the progression of age-related macular degeneration (AMD). Specifically, previous research has found taking 500 mg per day as part of a daily supplement slowed the progression of the disease among people with moderate AMD, likely because of its antioxidant properties. Yet it's best to discuss with your ophthalmologist or primary doctor before taking any supplement long term.