Are you getting enough vitamin C? Humans, primates, and guinea pigs are among the only animals that can’t make their own vitamin C. The only way the body can get vitamin C is by eating foods that contain it. Your body also doesn’t store vitamin C like it can some vitamins. So, you need it often in your diet to avoid a deficiency. Are you curious as to why you need it? You need vitamin C:
- To make collagen to support skin and joints
- For immune health
- As an antioxidant
- For wound healing and tissue repair
- For healthy growth and development
Most people get enough vitamin C if they eat a varied diet that includes fruits and vegetables. Yet many people shun veggies and fruits and instead pile their plate with ultra-processed foods that aren’t as nutrient-dense and then wash them down with sugary beverages. Plus, lifestyle habits increase your body’s requirements for vitamin C. Let’s look at some of the factors that could cause you to fall short in meeting your body’s vitamin C needs.
You’re Exposed to Air Pollution
Most people are exposed to air pollution and it’s nothing to cough or sneeze about. According to the World Health Organization, air pollution accounts for 7 million early deaths each year around the world with most death due to strokes, heart attacks, lung disease, and infections. Why is air pollution so harmful? Toxins in the air, including natural gas, ammonia, sulfur, volatile organic compounds, particulate matter, and greenhouse gases promote oxidative stress that damages heart and lung cells and trigger inflammation, so it’s not surprising that it causes heart and lung problems.
How does vitamin C help? By acting as an antioxidant, vitamin C donates electrons to cells under oxidative stress to help counter the damage. Getting enough vitamin C may help you in the short term too. Researchers in England found people with lung problems, including asthma, suffered more breathing problems when they had low levels of vitamin C. Make sure you’re getting enough in your diet and try to eat vitamin C-rich foods every day.
You’re a Smoker
Smoking is another cause of oxidative stress. Each time you inhale cigarette smoke deep into your lungs, the chemicals in cigarette smoke trigger radical damage to the delicate cells that line your respiratory tract. Because vitamin C is an antioxidant, it reduces oxidative stress. Studies show smokers have lower levels of vitamin C on average. Because of the oxidative stress posed by smoking, they also have higher vitamin C requirements. According to the National Institute of Health, smokers need an additional 35 milligrams of vitamin C daily to compensate for the effects of smoking.
You’re Under Stress
When you’re under mental or physical stress, your adrenal glands pump out more of the stress hormone cortisol. Excess cortisol is harmful in many ways. It leads to changes in fat distribution (more belly fat), increases bone loss and muscle breakdown, and disrupts immunity.
Can vitamin C help you better deal with the physiological effects of stress? Studies in rats show that vitamin C lowers cortisol in stressed-out rats. Vitamin C plays a key role in the body’s stress response. Small studies in humans show that vitamin C lessens the rise in blood pressure and cortisol response in humans under psychological stress. Take home message: Life is stressful. Make sure you’re getting enough vitamin C.
You Rarely Eat Raw Foods
Vitamin C is sensitive to heat and light, so cooking fruits and vegetables significantly lower their vitamin C content. Plus, when fruits and vegetables sit on store shelves for long periods before you take them home, they lose vitamin C. So, the vegetables you buy at the supermarket may already have lost some of their vitamin C by the time you place them in your refrigerator.
Buy local and close to home, so the produce you purchase doesn’t travel too far and lose vitamin C along the way. Take advantage of frozen produce too. Frozen fruits and vegetables retain their vitamin C better since freezing locks the vitamin in. Also, include some raw fruits and vegetables in your diet too.
You Eat a Carnivorous Diet
A carnivorous diet is trendy in some circles due to the popularity of low-carbohydrate diets. As the name implies, the carnivorous diet includes only meat and animal products. Beyond the fact that it’s an unbalanced diet, this type of diet could lead to nutritional deficiencies. Fruit and vegetables are the best sources of vitamin C, with red and green bell peppers being one of the richest sources.
Contrary to popular belief, citrus fruits don’t top the list, although they contain significant amounts too. In contrast, meat and dairy contain only small quantities of vitamin C. With a mostly meat carnivorous diet growing in popularity in some circles, you must worry about getting too little of this antioxidant vitamin.
The Bottom Line
The best sources of vitamin C are plant-based and include citrus fruits, strawberries, bell peppers, broccoli, and green, leafy vegetables. By including a few servings of fruits and vegetables and eating at least one serving of raw produce each day, you should be getting enough to meet your body’s vitamin C requirements. The next time you’re at the grocery store, steer your cart toward the produce session and load up.
- “Vitamin C May Lessen Air Pollution Effects | Live Science.” 17 Aug. 2012, https://www.livescience.com/22482-antioxidants-air-pollution-respiratory-disease-vitamin.html.
- Schectman G, Byrd JC, Gruchow HW. The influence of smoking on vitamin C status in adults. Am J Public Health. 1989 Feb;79(2):158-62. doi: 10.2105/ajph.79.2.158. PMID: 2913833; PMCID: PMC1349925.
- “Vitamin C Fact Sheet for Consumers.” 10 Dec. 2019, https://ods.od.nih.gov/pdf/factsheets/VitaminC-Consumer.pdf.
- “Vitamin C: an essential “stress hormone” during sepsis.” 29 Nov. 2019, https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC7024758/.
- Institute of Medicine (US) Committee on International Nutrition–Vitamin C in Food Aid Commodities. Vitamin C Fortification of Food Aid Commodities: Final Report. Washington (DC): National Academies Press (US); 1997.
- Carr AC, Maggini S. Vitamin C and Immune Function. Nutrients. 2017 Nov 3;9(11):1211. doi: 10.3390/nu9111211. PMID: 29099763; PMCID: PMC5707683.