Nature’s immunity booster: The benefits of vitamin C

It turns out our mums were right about vitamin C – it can help keep the bugs at bay. Here’s why you need it, and what to do if you aren’t getting enough.

We’ve heard a lot in recent years about the benefits of vitamin D for strong bones and teeth, vitamin A for eyesight and vitamin E’s antioxidant properties.

But one vital vitamin is the one you may associate with fresh, juicy oranges – good old vitamin C.

Being handed a sweet vitamin C pill – alongside mum’s reminder that it would “help stop a cold” – is an enduring childhood memory for many.

It turns out she was on to a good thing.

While vitamin C on its own can’t cure the common cold, researchers are increasingly convinced of its many benefits. They include protection against ailments ranging from immune system deficiencies to cardiovascular and eye disease.

Vitamin C, or ascorbic acid, is also thought to help the body repair and regenerate tissue, including bones, blood vessels and skin. And it’s been found to help our skin repair sun damage.

“Humans, unlike most animals, can’t make vitamin C so it’s got to be taken from an external source,” says accredited practising dietitian Rebecca Flavel.

“It’s essential to good health and in earlier times humans consumed large amounts of it as part of a fresh and natural diet.”

Food sources of Vitamin C

Sources of vitamin C

Ms Flavel says while vitamin C can be taken as a supplement, a diet rich in certain foods will fulfil most, if not all of your needs.

These foods include:

  • Green vegetables
  • Oranges and other citrus fruit
  • Grapefruit
  • Kiwi fruit
  • Strawberries
  • Red and green capsicum
  • Tomatoes
  • Broccoli

How to know if you need vitamin C

The recommended daily dietary allowance of vitamin C is 65 to 90mg, with extra encouraged if you are a smoker.

Signs you’re lacking vitamin C can include fatigue, muscle weakness, joint and muscle aches, bleeding gums and, surprisingly, leg rashes.

“Because vitamin C is needed for iron absorption, people who are deficient may also experience anaemia,” Ms Flavel says.

She warns prolonged deficiency can cause scurvy, a rare but potentially severe illness historically common in sailors deprived of fresh citrus fruits and vegetables.

Only two years ago a Sydney hospital reported some diabetes patients were suffering from scurvy, possibly reflecting poor-quality diets.

In the UK it’s been reported scurvy is being seen in children because their junk food-heavy diets are worse than during war-time rationing more than 70 years ago.

How to get more Vitamin C into your diet

How to get more vitamin C in your diet

Ms Flavel says only one in 20 Australian adults meets the recommended guidelines of two or more daily servings of fruit, and five or six servings of vegetables.

“Vitamin C can’t be stored in the body so it’s important everyone factors in daily serves of fruit and vegetables,” she says.

“There’s so many ways to incorporate them into everyday favourites. Add fruit to a smoothie for example or dice up extra veg and add to a bolognese. The health benefits are huge.”

Vitamin C is also an important part of an anti-ageing diet, so here’s five food suggestions for younger looking skin.