Everyone knows that oranges are a natural source of vitamin C, but you might not know exactly how this vital vitamin works in our bodies – or if you’re getting enough.
Get the lowdown on this essential nutrient and the best sources of vitamin C, so you can meet yours and your loved ones’ daily nutritional needs.
Also known as ascorbic acid, vitamin C was first identified in the 1930s by Dr Albert Szent-Györgyi. Although it’s hard to imagine now, people would once get very sick or even die due to scurvy (caused by lack of vitamin C ).¹
Luckily, understanding of vitamins has changed, and vitamin C deficiency in the UK is very rare.
However, having low vitamin C levels is not uncommon, especially in people who don’t eat many fruits and vegetables.
Vitamin C has a range of functions, including support for your immune system and maintaining normal skin health.
Vitamin C also helps our bodies absorb iron from plant sources.²
Vitamin C is a water-soluble vitamin. This means our bodies can’t store it, and each time we urinate, we lose a little vitamin C.
Our bodies can’t make it, either. Therefore, we need to make sure we have food or drink containing vitamin C every day to prevent us from running low. The NHS recommends that adults get 40mg of vitamin C per day. ³
Vitamin C is also a powerful antioxidant. It can help protect us from oxidative stress, a type of damage that can affect our cells, proteins, and DNA. ⁴
Scurvy - a disease caused by severe vitamin C deficiency - used to be associated with sailors.
Most people get enough vitamin C through their diet today, and even people who do not eat a balanced diet all the time are not usually considered at risk of scurvy. ⁶
However, scurvy is still present (if not rare) today.
The first sign of scurvy is bleeding gums, as there isn’t enough collagen to help keep gum cells together. This allows the bacteria responsible for gum disease to take hold more easily and could lead to tooth loss.
If you’re concerned you’re severely deficient in vitamin C, speak to your GP who will advise you on the best treatment.
Vitamin C dosage
Adults need a minimum of 40mg of vitamin C a day. ² This is easy to get through a healthy diet with lots of fruit and vegetables.
As with any vitamins, the best way to get vitamin C is through your diet if possible.
Vitamin C deficiency symptoms go away quickly once you start getting vitamin C, whether through diet or supplements.
Dietary vitamin C
To ensure you’re getting enough vitamin C, make sure you eat a wide range of fresh fruits and vegetables.
Some of the best sources of vitamin C are: ⁷
Most vitamin C supplements will come in the following forms:
Vitamin C is well-tolerated by the body, and any excess not used is excreted in urine.
However, be careful not to overdo it. People taking too much vitamin C, 1000mg and over, may experience stomach cramps, diarrhoea, and wind. ² These symptoms should disappear once you reduce your dose.
Last updated: 15 February 2023
The advice in this article is for information only and should not replace medical care. Please check with your GP or healthcare professional before trying any supplements, treatments or remedies. Food supplements must not be used as a substitute for a varied and balanced diet and a healthy lifestyle. Before taking any supplements or minerals, it’s best to make sure you’re getting all the nutrients through your diet first.
Joined Holland & Barrett: Apr 2019
Masters Degree in Toxicology and BSc Hons in Medical Biochemistry
Bhupesh started his career as a Clinical Toxicologist for Public Health England, advising healthcare professionals all around the country on how to manage clinical cases of adverse exposure to supplements, pharmaceuticals, cosmetics, industrial chemicals and agricultural products.
After 7 years in this role and a further year working as a drug safety officer in the pharmaceutical industry, Bhupesh joined Holland & Barrett as a Senior Regulatory Affairs Associate in 2019.