We have well and truly entered the cold and flu season and a very popular method to fend off the common cold is to ensure you are receiving enough vitamin C. This is what vitamin C is most well known for, but aside from this there are many other benefits that vitamin C can provide.
What is vitamin C?
Vitamin C is also known as ascorbic acid and is a water soluble vitamin. It must be obtained through our diet as our bodies cannot produce it themselves. Additionally, our body cannot store vitamin C and will excrete any excess through urine.
Vitamin C and the common cold
Linus Pauling was the man to first suggest that vitamin C plays a role in the protection against colds. He was one of the most influential chemists in the world and won the Nobel Prize in 1954.
Unfortunately, there have been many studies since then that have shown no strong association between colds and the preventative effects of vitamin C. It appears much more likely that vitamin C can rather lessen the duration and severity of colds. Therefore…
Vitamin C does not prevent colds but it can help reduce the duration
So if you are already receiving enough vitamin C from your diet, it is not necessary to start consuming orange juice by the litre and taking supplements in order to fend off a cold.
Vitamin C deficiency
We may be uncertain of vitamin C’s role in the prevention of colds but we do know that it prevents scurvy. Most people know that scurvy was an issue for sailors when they did not have access to fresh fruit and vegetables. Whilst it is far less common now, it is still around and can still affect anyone who is chronically vitamin C deficient.
Deficiency is most likely to occur in:
- Individuals with a very unbalanced diet or those with inadequate oral intake e.g. elderly or alcoholics with poor intake
- Smokers need more vitamin C than non smokers. The body needs more vitamin C to repair the extra cell damage caused by free radicals
- Fussy eaters who only eat very limited foods
- Individuals with allergies that are very restrictive
- Extreme dieters that remove food groups
What else does vitamin C do?
- It aids the absorption of iron from plant based food sources
- Helps to build the immune system and keep it working efficiently
- Makes collagen which assists in wound healing. Vitamin C is also used in many skin products – thought to keep skin looking healthy and young
- Is an antioxidant and protects cells against free radical damage
- Helps to protect against many types of cancer e.g. lung, breast, colon
- Lowers the risk of cardiovascular disease
- Reduces the risk of getting cataracts
Sources and supplements
Vitamin C can be easily obtained from a balanced diet, for example, one orange alone will exceed an adult’s daily requirement of 45mg. Despite this, many people prefer to take a supplement. However, a dose in excess of 500mg is void of any additional benefits. The excess vitamin C is generally not absorbed and is excreted via urine.
Vitamin C can be easily destroyed with heating. To retain the vitamin C in your fresh produce, lightly steam or microwave to avoid prolonged exposure to heat. Eating foods raw also helps.
Dietary sources of vitamin C
- Oranges (and peel), lemons (and peel), limes, grapefruit, mandarin
- Blackcurrants, strawberries
- Red capsicum
Contact us for results focused nutritional advice
This article was written by our dietitian Belinda Elwin who is a Dietitians Association of Australia member and Accredited Practising Dietitian and Nutritionist.
If you have questions about the health effects of being underweight or other nutrition related issues, make an appointment. We‘ll provide you with a simple and effective routine targeted to your concerns. Contact us today.