Are you getting enough vitamin C per day? And why it matters.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) is concerned that Americans aren't getting enough vitamins and minerals. On its website, it notes that vitamins and minerals "are critical for several important bodily functions," but lists several obstacles that need overcoming. These include iron deficiency in 20 percent of pregnant women, vitamin and mineral deficiencies among Black and Hispanic women especially, and "more than half of children younger than 5 years old suffer(ing) from vitamin and mineral deficiencies."

One known factor contributing to such deficiencies is that, with the exception of vitamin D, vitamins and minerals are not produced in one's body, so the nutrients thereof must be obtained through food, drink or supplementation. Among the most sought after and important vitamins needed today is vitamin C.

What does vitamin C do for the body?

Vitamin C is a water-soluble nutrient one's body uses to form blood vessels, cartilage, muscle and collagen in the bones. It also acts as an antioxidant – helping to protect blood cells against disease, radiation from the sun and free radicals. Free radicals play a role in heart diseases and cancers. Vitamin C also aides one's body in absorbing and storing iron – a mineral essential for growth and development. "Vitamin C has multiple important roles including maintaining strong tissues and immunity," says Walter Willett, MD, professor of epidemiology and nutrition at Harvard T. H. Chan School of Public Health.

Beyond physical benefits, vitamin C has also been shown to help one's mental health. "Vitamin C is essential to produce neurotransmitters in the brain, which govern mood and cognition," says Uma Naidoo, MD, director of nutritional and lifestyle psychiatry at Massachusetts General Hospital and the author of “This is Your Brain on Food." She adds that vitamin C acts as an antioxidant against neuroinflammation, "thus improving both mood and energy levels to support psychiatric health."

Who should take vitamin C?

While most people get enough vitamin C from a healthy diet, vitamin C deficiency is common among people who smoke, anyone with gastrointestinal conditions or cancers, and among children because they often avoid the food sources richest in vitamin C.

Severe vitamin C deficiency can lead to diseases such as scurvy, bleeding gums, fatigue, joint pain, bruising and the inability to heal quickly from wounds. Vitamin C deficient people are also at higher risk for infections generally.

What happens when you take vitamin C as a supplement?

Vitamin C is found in a variety of foods, but some people supplement their diet by taking additional vitamin C orally – typically in the form of capsules, chewable tablets or as part of a multivitamin. In fact, research shows that taking a vitamin C supplement each day increases one's blood antioxidant levels by up to 30%, which can help the body fight inflammation. Vitamin C supplementation has also been shown to help manage high blood pressure, boost immunity, prevent iron deficiency and reduce the risk of chronic diseases such as heart disease.

Is it good to take vitamin C every day?

The Recommended Dietary Allowance (RDA) of vitamin C for adults 19 and older is 90 mg for men and 75 mg for women. While pregnant and breastfeeding, women should increase that amount daily to 85 mg. Smokers should get an additional 35 mg beyond such recommendations.

And unlike over supplementation concerns that exist with other vitamins and minerals, "vitamin C is relatively safe" says Willet. "Because vitamin C is water-soluble, taking too much of it and experiencing symptoms of toxicity as a result is very rare," adds Naidoo. In such rare circumstances, symptoms of too much vitamin C may include diarrhea, nausea or kidney stones.

What's the best way to get vitamin C?

Beyond supplementation, vitamin C is found abundantly in citrus fruits, berries, potatoes, tomatoes, cabbage, peppers, parsley, kale and spinach. Brussels sprouts and broccoli are considered two of the best natural sources of vitamin C. Brussel sprouts have nearly 75 milligrams of vitamin C alone, and just one cup of broccoli contains a whopping 80 milligrams of the nutrient.

"The most important way to get adequate vitamins is by eating a healthy diet" suggests Willett. "That includes fruits, vegetables, whole grains, nuts, and legumes."

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This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: What does vitamin C do? Benefits, foods to eat and how much you need