Vitamin C buying guide
Martin Stillion

In some ways, vitamin C is like a summer blockbuster movie. It gets a lot of attention, and everyone knows it's supposed to be good.

But unlike a lot of those movies, vitamin C—known to pharmacists as ascorbic acid—actually lives up to its reputation. It's used to combat disease, from cataracts to cancer. It's an antioxidant, so it may help to protect your cells and keep your heart healthy. It's been used to help people recover from wounds, injuries, fatigue, and the common cold. Not to mention that it helps your body produce collagen, the main ingredient in connective tissue.

Vitamin C is one of the few vitamins for which most Americans get the recommended dietary allowance (RDA) in the food they eat. The RDA for everyone 15 years of age and older isn't very high: 60 mg. To take advantage of vitamin C's illness-fighting and antioxidant properties, you may need more—and supplements are a convenient way to get it.

How to choose
Healthy adults can get enough C from virtually any supplement on the market. Still, you have lots of choices based on cost, sources, the form of the supplement, and extra ingredients. Here's a quick summary.

The vitamin C in most supplements is synthetic—made from glucose in laboratories. "Natural" sources include rose hips and sago palm.


bulletTablets: For bare-bones types who want plain old vitamin C with no frills, tablets will do the trick. Take them with plenty of water to help them dissolve.
bulletCapsules, softgels & caplets: These are more expensive to make than tablets, but they're usually easier to swallow, especially when compared with big tablets. Also, capsules often dissolve more easily.
bulletChewables: They're convenient and tasty, but chewables contain sweeteners and flavor additives, for which you can expect to pay a little extra. If you`re on a restricted diet, or concerned about extra sweeteners, look for a sugar-free chewable—or try a different form.
bulletLiquids, crystals, & powders: If you and pills don't get along, you can use a liquid preparation, or crystal or powder formulas. Mix the crystals or powder into a shake or a glass of juice or water. You can do the same with the liquid, or drink it straight.


bulletBioflavonoids: These chemicals act as antioxidants, offering protection against oxidative and free-radical damage. Common bioflavonoids—including hesperitin, quercetin, and rutin—are found along with vitamin C in citrus fruits. They are believed to help the body absorb the vitamin, so that's why they're found in some supplements as well.
bulletBuffered: Because vitamin C is an acid, it may be hard on sensitive stomachs. Try "buffered" vitamin C supplements—they contain an additive to protect your stomach lining. This can also help prevent diarrhea if you're taking large doses.
bulletEster-C: Your body's cells can absorb only so much vitamin C at a time. Since the vitamin is water soluble, whatever your cells don't take in will be passed out in your urine. But in Ester-C, a patented form, the vitamin is chemically bonded to a mineral. So your body takes longer to break it down, and your cells have more time to soak it up. Ester-C's makers claim that it stays in your body longer than any other type of C, and therefore it can be used more efficiently.
bulletRose hips: These are red fruits that grow on a species of wild rosebush called the "dog rose." Often used as an herbal tonic, they're loaded with vitamin C, which makes them popular among folks who want to get their vitamins from a natural source.

How to use
How much C should you take? That's a matter of some debate. Conventional medicine tends to take a fairly conservative approach. While the RDAs have gradually climbed to 60 mg for adults, many clinical studies use slightly higher dosages: about 100–200 mg daily. Some researchers think that's plenty for a healthy person—and that amounts above 200 mg are excreted from the body and unnecessary.

At the same time, many natural medicine doctors often recommend 500 to 1,000 mg a day. Some research suggests that people with colds can recover faster if they start taking a daily "megadose" of 1,000–8,000 mg when they notice cold symptoms. Many natural health practitioners may advocate even higher levels—up to 10,000 mg per day—for certain health conditions.

You can take vitamin C with or without food. If you take them together, vitamin C helps you absorb iron.

Keep in mind
Generally, vitamin C is safe and nontoxic. Your body will get rid of any extra that it can't use. If you're taking 500 mg a day or more, watch out for side effects. The most common ones are gas and diarrhea, especially with high doses. Taking buffered C's—or cutting back your dose a bit—may help.

Good food sources of vitamin C are broccoli, brussels sprouts, spinach, parsley, bell peppers, and citrus fruits. The most encouraging antioxidant studies—focusing on foods that are high in vitamin C—indicate that supplements are no substitute for a healthy diet.

Read more about vitamin C in's vitamins and supplements guide, which is located in our wellness magazine.

Reprinted from