Vitamin C is a water-soluble vitamin, meaning that your body doesn’t store it. You have to get what you need from food, including citrus fruits, broccoli, and tomatoes.
You need vitamin C for the growth and repair of tissues in all parts of your body. It helps the body make collagen, an important protein used to make skin, cartilage, tendons, ligaments, and blood vessels. Vitamin C is needed for healing wounds, and for repairing and maintaining bones and teeth. It also helps the body absorb iron from nonheme sources.
Vitamin C is an antioxidant, along with vitamin E, beta-carotene, and many other plant-based nutrients. Antioxidants block some of the damage caused by free radicals, substances that damage DNA. The build up of free radicals over time may contribute to the aging process and the development of health conditions such as cancer, heart disease, and arthritis.
Vitamin C is required for the biosynthesis of collagen, L-carnitine, and certain neurotransmitters; vitamin C is also involved in protein metabolism. Collagen is an essential component of connective tissue, which plays a vital role in wound healing. Vitamin C is also an important physiological antioxidant  and has been shown to regenerate other antioxidants within the body, including alpha-tocopherol (vitamin E). Ongoing research is examining whether vitamin C, by limiting the damaging effects of free radicals through its antioxidant activity, might help prevent or delay the development of certain cancers, cardiovascular disease, and other diseases in which oxidative stress plays a causal role. In addition to its biosynthetic and antioxidant functions, vitamin C plays an important role in immune function and improves the absorption of nonheme iron, the form of iron present in plant-based foods. Insufficient vitamin C intake causes scurvy, which is characterized by fatigue or lassitude, widespread connective tissue weakness, and capillary fragility.
The intestinal absorption of vitamin C is regulated by at least one specific dose-dependent, active transporter. Cells accumulate vitamin C via a second specific transport protein. In vitro studies have found that oxidized vitamin C, or dehydroascorbic acid, enters cells via some facilitated glucose transporters and is then reduced internally to ascorbic acid. The physiologic importance of dehydroascorbic acid uptake and its contribution to overall vitamin C economy is unknown.
It’s rare to be seriously deficient in vitamin C, although evidence suggests that many people may have low levels of vitamin C. Smoking cigarettes lowers the amount of vitamin C in the body, so smokers are at a higher risk of deficiency.
Signs of vitamin deficiency include dry and splitting hair; gingivitis (inflammation of the gums) and bleeding gums; rough, dry, scaly skin; decreased wound-healing rate, easy bruising; nosebleeds; and a decreased ability to ward off infection. A severe form of vitamin C deficiency is known as scurvy.
Low levels of vitamin C have been associated with a number of conditions, including high blood pressure, gallbladder disease, stroke, some cancers, and atherosclerosis, the build up of plaque in blood vessels that can lead to heart attack and stroke. Getting enough vitamin C from your diet — by eating lots of fruit and vegetables — may help reduce the risk of developing some of these conditions. There is no conclusive evidence that taking vitamin C supplements will help or prevent any of these conditions.
Most experts recommend getting vitamin C from a diet high in fruits and vegetables rather than taking supplements. Fresh-squeezed orange juice or fresh-frozen concentrate is a better pick than ready-to-drink orange juice. The fresh juice contains more active vitamin C. Drink fresh-frozen orange juice within one week after reconstituting it for the most benefit. It you prefer ready-to-drink orange juice, buy it 3 to 4 weeks before the expiration date, and drink it within one week of opening.
Historically, vitamin C was used for preventing and treating scurvy. Scurvy is now relatively rare, but it was once common among sailors, pirates, and others who spent long periods of time onboard ships. When the voyages lasted longer than the supply of fruits and vegetables, the sailors began to suffer from vitamin C deficiency, which led to scurvy.
These days, vitamin C is used most often for preventing and treating the common cold. Some people use it for other infections including gum disease, acne and other skin infections, bronchitis, human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) disease, stomachulcers caused by bacteria called Helicobacter pylori, tuberculosis, dysentery (an infection of the lower intestine), and skin infections that produce boils (furunculosis). It is also used for infections of the bladder and prostate.
Some people use vitamin C for depression, thinking problems, dementia, Alzheimer’sdisease, physical and mental stress, fatigue, and attention deficit-hyperactivity disorder (ADHD).
Other uses include increasing the absorption of iron from foods and correcting a protein imbalance in certain newborns (tyrosinemia).
There is some thought that vitamin C might help the heart and blood vessels. It is used for hardening of the arteries, preventing clots in veins and arteries, heart attack, stroke, high blood pressure, and high cholesterol.
Vitamin C is also used for glaucoma, preventing cataracts, preventing gallbladderdisease, dental cavities (caries), constipation, Lyme disease, boosting the immune system, heat stroke, hay fever, asthma, bronchitis, cystic fibrosis, infertility, diabetes, chronic fatigue syndrome (CFS), autism, collagen disorders, arthritis and bursitis, back pain and disc swelling, cancer, and osteoporosis.
Additional uses include improving physical endurance and slowing aging, as well as counteracting the side effects of cortisone and related drugs, and aiding drug withdrawal in addiction.
Sometimes, people put vitamin C on their skin to protect it against the sun, pollutants, and other environmental hazards. Vitamin C is also applied to the skin to help with damage from radiation therapy.
Vitamin C is LIKELY SAFE for most people when taken by mouth in recommended doses, when applied to the skin, when injected into the muscle, and when injected intravenously (by IV) and appropriately. In some people, vitamin C might cause nausea, vomiting, heartburn, stomach cramps, headache, and other side effects. The chance of getting these side effects increases the more vitamin C you take. Amounts higher than 2000 mg daily are POSSIBLY UNSAFE and may cause a lot of side effects, including kidney stones and severe diarrhea. In people who have had a kidney stone, amounts greater than 1000 mg daily greatly increase the risk of kidney stone recurrence.
Pregnancy and breast-feeding: Vitamin C is LIKELY SAFE for pregnant or breast-feeding women when taken by mouth in amounts no greater than 2000 mg daily for women over 19 years-old, and 1800 mg daily for women 14 to 18 years-old, or when given intravenously (by IV) or intramuscularly and appropriately. Taking too much vitamin C during pregnancy can cause problems for the newborn baby. Vitamin C is POSSIBLY UNSAFE when taken by mouth in excessive amounts.
Infants and children: Vitamin C is LIKELY SAFE when taken by mouth appropriately. Vitamin C is POSSIBLY UNSAFE when taken by mouth in amounts higher than 400 mg daily for children 1 to 3 years, 650 mg daily for children 4 to 8 years, 1200 mg daily for children 9 to 13 years, and 1800 mg daily for adolescents 14 to 18 years.
Angioplasty, a heart procedure: Avoid taking supplements containing vitamin C or other antioxidant vitamins (beta-carotene, vitamin E) immediately before and following angioplasty without the supervision of a health care professional. These vitamins seem to interfere with proper healing.
Diabetes: Vitamin C might raise blood sugar. In older women with diabetes, vitamin C in amounts greater than 300 mg per day increases the risk of death from heart disease. Do not take vitamin C in doses greater than those found in basic multivitamins.
Blood-iron disorders, including conditions called “thalassemia” and “hemochromatosis”: Vitamin C can increase iron absorption, which might make these conditions worse. Avoid large amounts of vitamin C.
Kidney stones, or a history of kidney stones: Large amounts of vitamin C can increase the chance of getting kidney stones. Do not take vitamin C in amounts greater than those found in basic multivitamins.
A metabolic deficiency called “glucose-6-phosphate dehydrogenase” (G6PD) deficiency: Large amounts of vitamin C can cause red blood cells to break in people with this condition. Avoid excessive amounts of vitamin C.
- Aluminum interacts with VITAMIN C (ASCORBIC ACID)
Aluminum is found in most antacids. Vitamin C can increase how much aluminum the body absorbs. But it isn’t clear if this interaction is a big concern. Take vitamin C two hours before or four hours after antacids.
- Estrogens interacts with VITAMIN C (ASCORBIC ACID)
The body breaks down estrogens to get rid of them. Vitamin C might decrease how quickly the body gets rid of estrogens. Taking vitamin C along with estrogens might increase the effects and side effects of estrogens.
- Fluphenazine (Prolixin) interacts with VITAMIN C (ASCORBIC ACID)
Large amounts of vitamin C might decrease how much fluphenazine (Prolixin) is in the body. Taking vitamin C along with fluphenazine (Prolixin) might decrease the effectiveness of fluphenazine (Prolixin).
- Medications for cancer (Chemotherapy) interacts with VITAMIN C (ASCORBIC ACID)
Vitamin C is an antioxidant. There is some concern that antioxidants might decrease the effectiveness of some medications used for cancers. But it is too soon to know if this interaction occurs.
- Medications used for HIV/AIDS (Protease Inhibitors) interacts with VITAMIN C (ASCORBIC ACID)
Taking large doses of vitamin C might reduce how much of some medications used for HIV/AIDS stays in the body. This could decrease the effectiveness of some medications used for HIV/AIDS.
Some of these medications used for HIV/AIDS include amprenavir (Agenerase), nelfinavir (Viracept), ritonavir (Norvir), and saquinavir (Fortovase, Invirase).
- Medications used for lowering cholesterol (Statins) interacts with VITAMIN C (ASCORBIC ACID)
Taking vitamin C, beta-carotene, selenium, and vitamin E together might decrease the effectiveness of some medications used for lowering cholesterol. It is not known if vitamin C alone decreases the effectiveness of some medications used for lowering cholesterol. Some medications used for lowering cholesterol include atorvastatin (Lipitor), fluvastatin (Lescol), lovastatin (Mevacor), and pravastatin (Pravachol).
- Niacin interacts with VITAMIN C (ASCORBIC ACID)
Taking vitamin C along with vitamin E, beta-carotene, and selenium might decrease some of the helpful effects of niacin. Niacin can increase the good cholesterol. Taking vitamin C along with these other vitamins might decrease the effectiveness of niacin for increasing good cholesterol.
- Warfarin (Coumadin) interacts with VITAMIN C (ASCORBIC ACID)
Warfarin (Coumadin) is used to slow blood clotting. Large amounts of vitamin C might decrease the effectiveness of warfarin (Coumadin). Decreasing the effectiveness of warfarin (Coumadin) might increase the risk of clotting. Be sure to have your blood checked regularly. The dose of your warfarin (Coumadin) might need to be changed.
- Acetaminophen (Tylenol, others) interacts with VITAMIN C (ASCORBIC ACID)
The body breaks down acetaminophen (Tylenol, others) to get rid of it. Large amounts of vitamin C can decrease how quickly the body breaks down acetaminophen. It is not clear exactly when or if this interaction is a big concern.
- Aspirin interacts with VITAMIN C (ASCORBIC ACID)
The body breaks down aspirin to get rid of it. Large amounts of vitamin C might decrease the breakdown of aspirin. Decreasing the breakdown of aspirin might increase the effects and side effects of aspirin. Do not take large amounts of vitamin C if you take large amounts of aspirin.
- Choline Magnesium Trisalicylate (Trilisate) interacts with VITAMIN C (ASCORBIC ACID)
Vitamin C might decrease how quickly the body gets rid of choline magnesium trisalicylate (Trilisate). But it is not clear if this interaction is a big concern.
- Nicardipine (Cardene) interacts with VITAMIN C (ASCORBIC ACID)
Vitamin C is taken up by cells. Taking nicardipine (Cardene) along with vitamin C might decrease how much vitamin C is taken in by cells. The significance of this interaction is not clear.
- Nifedipine interacts with VITAMIN C (ASCORBIC ACID)
Vitamin C is taken up by cells. Taking nifedipine (Adalat, Procardia) along with vitamin C might decrease how much vitamin C is taken in by cells. The significance of this interaction is not clear.
- Salsalate (Disalcid) interacts with VITAMIN C (ASCORBIC ACID)
Vitamin C might decrease how quickly the body gets rid of salsalate (Disalcid). Taking vitamin C along with salsalate (Disalcid) might cause too much salsalate (Disalcid) in the body, and increase the effects and side effects of salsalate.