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Definition of «Vitamin C»

Vitamin C

Vitamin C: An essential nutrient found mainly in fruits and vegetables. The body requires vitamin C to form and maintain bones, blood vessels, and skin.

Like other vitamins, vitamin C is an organic compound. An organic compound is a substance that (1) occurs in living things, or organisms (hence, the word "organic") and (2) contains the elements carbon and oxygen (hence, the word "compound," meaning combination of elements). Vitamin C is also known as ascorbic acid.

Type of Vitamin

Vitamin C is a water-soluble vitamin, one that cannot be stored by the body except in insignificant amounts. It must be replenished daily.

Purpose and Benefits

Vitamin C helps produce collagen, a protein needed to develop and maintain healthy teeth, bones, gums, cartilage, vertebrae discs, joint linings, skin and blood vessels. Vitamin C also does the following:

1. Promotes the healing of cuts, abrasions and wounds.
2. Helps fight infections.
3. Inhibits conversion of irritants in smog, tobacco smoke, and certain foods into cancer-causing substances.
4. Appears to dilate (widen, enlarge) blood vessels and thereby lessen the risk of developing high blood pressure and heart disease.
5. Helps regulate cholesterol levels.
6. Prevents the development of scurvy, a disease characterized by weakness, fatigue, anemia, swollen joints, bleeding gums and loose teeth. Scurvy was common aboard ships in earlier times because crews traveled for long periods without eating fresh vegetables or fruit. Many sailors died of the disease. Scurvy is rare today.
7. Appears to lower the risk of developing cataracts, clouding of the lens of the eye that impairs vision.
8. May help protect diabetics against deterioration of nerves, eyes and kidneys.
9. May inhibit the development of colds and decrease the intensity of cold symptoms. (This is controversial.)
10. Aids iron absorption.
11. May reduce levels of lead in the blood.

Food Sources

Fruits: oranges, lemons, limes, grapefruits, tangerines, pears, bananas, melons, papayas, strawberries, mangos, blackberries, blueberries, kiwis, pineapples, watermelons, raspberries, cranberries, cantaloupes, rose hips, acerola cherries.

Vegetables: asparagus, broccoli, green peppers, red peppers, cabbage, kale, cauliflower, potatoes, sweet potatoes, yams, squash, peas, turnips, turnip greens, onions, corn, pumpkins, carrots, parsley, sauerkraut.

Herbs: garlic, watercress.

Other sources: fish and milk (occurs in small amounts).


Fruits and vegetables lose vitamin C quickly, especially when exposed to heat. For this reason, fruits and vegetables should not be cooked in water. Rather, they should be cooked over water--for example, in a double boiler. Pots should not contain copper. Copper can also destroy vitamin C. Canned foods generally preserve vitamin C until opened.

Recommended Daily Intake in Milligrams

Infants from birth to 1 year: 30 to 35 mg
Babies 1 to 3 years: 40 mg
Children 4 to 10: 45 mg
Pregnant women: 75-90 mg
Lactating women: 75-90 mg
Smokers: 100 mg
Diabetics, elderly persons, patients suffering from stress or allergies: up to 200 mg, as determined by a physician.
All others: 60 mg (unless a physician indicates otherwise).

A milligram equals 1/1000 of a gram. A gram equals .0353 of an ounce.

Side Effects From Overdose

Some patients taking large amounts of vitamin C may experience diarrhea, nausea, skin irritation, burning upon urination, and depletion of the mineral copper. Also, there is some evidence that large doses of vitamin C may contribute to the development of kidney stones. In addition, persons with iron overload or a condition called glucose-6-phosphate dehydrogenase (G6PD) deficiency (an inherited condition affecting the red blood cells) may need to monitor their intake of vitamin C according to a physician's instructions.


Laboratory studies have shown that vitamin C can induce the formation of genotoxins (agents that damage DNA). If generated in significant amounts, these genotoxins could generate mutations and so conceivably contribute to cancer.


Vitamin C can cause adverse reactions when taken with some drugs. Therefore, patients taking drugs should always read warning labels and advisories on containers and printed pharmacy instructions. If in doubt about a possible reaction, patients should consult a pharmacist or physician.


Vitamin C is available as a supplement in the form of tablets, powders and liquids.


The "vita" in "vitamin" is derived from the Latin word "vita" (life). A vitamin, thus, is a nutrient required to sustain life.

See also: Paprika.

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