Did You Know?
There are benefits to taking moderately high doses of vitamin C.
We were curious about why vitamin C supplements come in such high doses if we only need about 100 mg a day. Turns out, there are health benefits associated with taking more.
Levitan told us her personal guideline is about 1,000 mg a day, but she recommends at least 250 to 500 mg. The University of Maryland Medical Center recommends 250 to 500 mg twice a day and says 500 to 1,000 mg daily is necessary for preventing diseases. The Linus Pauling Institute and Consumer Lab agree, citing 500 mg.
To make all this easier to comprehend, we compiled the data and made a table to show which dosages help prevent or treat certain diseases:
In a nutshell, 500 mg seems to be the golden number for helping prevent or treat diseases, but you’ll probably benefit from anything between 250 mg and 1,000 mg.
Although vitamin C in small doses helps prevent cataracts, Consumer Lab also cites a study that suggests taking 1,000 mg or more daily actually increases your risk of developing cataracts. Likewise, every source we scoured, from NIH, to Consumer Lab, to the Linus Pauling Institute and the Mayo Clinic recommended not exceeding 2,000 mg of vitamin C daily.
So what happens if you take a higher dose? Because vitamin C is water-soluble, anything the body doesn’t use is flushed out as waste. This means the consequences of overdosing aren’t severe, but we still don’t recommend it. Our best advice is to pay attention to your vitamin C intake and consult with your doctor about the dosage that works best.
We’d also suggest keeping Levitan’s advice in mind: “A lot of people are already getting some vitamin C in their diet,” she says, “so when you look at not exceeding 2,000 mg, you should look at your total intake and not just what you’re getting in the supplement.”
The jury’s still out on whether mineral ascorbates or ascorbic acid are better.
Natural ascorbic acid (derived from plants) and synthetic ascorbic acid (produced in a lab) are chemically identical. But if your vitamin C supplement doesn’t use ascorbic acid as its source, that means it gets its vitamin C from a mineral ascorbate. And it’s unclear if either source is preferable.
Both Latson and Dr. Russell Jaffe, creator of the Potent C Guard, say they actually prefer supplements sourced from mineral ascorbates because they’re easier for the body to absorb — and they make it harder to exceed that 2,000 mg upper limit since the whole foods that mineral ascorbates are taken from have a lower vitamin C content.
Jaffe told us, “Ascorbic acid used as vitamin C is synthetically derived in most cases, and if this is the form used, then very soon you can have too much. But if the vitamin C is buffered, reduced, and in the ascorbate form, then this is the functional, physiological form that is bioavailable and absorbable.”
However, the Linus Pauling Institute says there is little scientific evidence that mineral ascorbates are easier on the digestive tract. We believe ascorbic acid still has benefits, but if you’re concerned about acidity, you might want to try our mineral ascorbate pick instead.
Taking vitamin C twice a day increases absorption.
Taking vitamin C two times (or more) daily helps increase the amount your body absorbs, especially if you take doses over 500 mg.
That being said, there are no known benefits to keeping your body saturated with vitamin C. And we know taking a supplement twice a day is a lot to ask, which is why we love our top picks — a powder allows you to decide how much and how often you want to dose up.
On the flip side, it doesn’t matter whether you take your vitamin C supplement with or without a meal; the same amount will be absorbed. Some manufacturers suggest their supplements be taken with food purely because people occasionally find that large doses cause discomfort on an empty stomach.
You don’t want to be vitamin C deficient.
The word “scurvy” makes us think of pirates, but it’s no laughing matter. The disease is the result of a severe vitamin C deficiency, with symptoms that include swollen and bleeding gums, teeth that loosen or fall out, severe joint pain, fatigue, and shortness of breath.
If that sounds disgusting, don’t worry — while scurvy used to be common on long sea voyages, when people had little access to fruits and vegetables, it’s rare in developed countries nowadays. However, minor deficiencies do happen, and the symptoms are similar, just much less severe.
A vitamin C deficiency isn’t something a blood test can determine, so it’s important to pay attention to signals from your body.
Vitamin C helps make collagen, which in turn helps your body produce strong connective tissues and heal wounds. You might have a minor vitamin C deficiency if you have bleeding gums, feelings of lethargy, cracked nails, brittle hair, skin that’s easily bruised, or experience muscle or joint pain.
Vitamin C might help with more than colds.
The myth that vitamin C cures the common cold is unfortunately just that — a myth. Many of the sources we found agree that there is no benefit to taking extra vitamin C once you’ve already been hit with the sniffles. But taking vitamin C regularly when you’re healthy can help reduce the duration of your cold by a day or two when you do fall ill, which we think is worth the investment.
So what else can it do? Along with potentially lowering your risk of lung, breast, and colon cancer, vitamin C might someday be used as a treatment for some types of cancers; researchers are beginning to explore the potential of large doses of vitamin C, taken intravenously. The research is still in its early stages, but is worth keeping an eye on.