Vitamin C, or ascorbic acid, is essential to your health. You get it each day from what you eat and drink.
What does vitamin C do?
Vitamin C is important for:
- keeping your skin, bones and connective tissue healthy
- helping wounds heal
- helping prevent infections
- helping you absorb iron from your food
Sources of vitamin C
Vitamin C is found in many different fruits and vegetables, including:
- citrus fruits – oranges, limes and lemons
- red, yellow and green capsicum
Cutting and heating foods changes vitamin C and makes it less effective. So it helps to eat fruits and vegetables raw, or lightly cooked, and don’t cut them too long before eating them.
You should be able to get all the vitamin C you need from your diet.
Vitamin C deficiency
Vitamin C deficiency may lead to a skin condition called scurvy. Scurvy was common centuries ago, but is now rare because fresh food is nearly always available.
Vitamin C deficiency diagnosis
If your doctor suspects you have a vitamin C deficiency because of your diet or symptoms, which would be very rare in a healthy person, they may ask you to have a blood test to check your vitamin C levels.
Who is at risk of vitamin C deficiency?
Vitamin C deficiency is rare, but people at a higher risk include those who:
- find it difficult to maintain a healthy diet of fresh fruit and vegetables (e.g. elderly people, low-income households, people with an eating disorder)
- smoke heavily or are dependent on alcohol or drugs
- have a health condition that makes it difficult to digest food, such as coeliac disease, ulcerative colitis or Crohn's disease
Do I need vitamin C supplements?
Lots of people take vitamin supplements, but there is no good evidence that they help unless you have a deficiency. Australia’s best guide to how to eat healthily – the Australian Dietary Guidelines – doesn’t recommend them. There is no good evidence vitamin C supplements help prevent or treat colds.
Vitamin supplements are expensive. They are best taken only on a doctor’s advice.
Most people get the vitamins they need from a healthy diet, which has a wide variety of foods, including:
- plenty of vegetables, of different types and colours, and legumes/beans
- grain (cereal) foods, mostly wholegrain, and/or high cereal fibre varieties such as breads, cereals, rice, pasta, noodles, polenta, couscous, oats, quinoa and barley
- lean meats and poultry, fish, eggs, tofu, nuts and seeds, and legumes/beans
- milk, yoghurt, cheese and/or their alternatives, mostly reduced fat
Vitamin C deficiency treatment
Health experts usually recommend that you get vitamin C from your diet, but in some cases your doctor may suggest you take vitamin C supplements. Vitamin C supplements can cause abdominal pain and diarrhoea.
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Last reviewed: March 2020