Vitamin C is an antioxidant, and your body uses it to make collagen—necessary for wound healing and connective tissue. It’s water-soluble (meaning you don’t need to pair it with dietary fats or a meal to absorb it), but the human body cannot make Vitamin C on its own, it has to come from dietary (or supplemental) sources. Getting adequate dietary Vitamin C isn’t too difficult considering it’s naturally found in many fruits and vegetables including citrus, strawberries, tomatoes and even broccoli.
Why is Vitamin C important?
Vitamin C deficiency, although now very rare in developed countries, causes scurvy which causes damaged connective tissue and bleeding, poor wound healing, skin rashes, and feelings of weakness. Infants who are Vitamin C deficient can experience bleeding between connective tissue and bones, impaired bone development, poor appetite and weight loss. Vitamin C is also needed to metabolize Iron and Folic Acid, so infants with low Vitamin C are at a greater risk of anemias.
Because it is an antioxidant, Vitamin C protects your body’s cells and tissues from oxidative damage. It can also help regenerate and maintain Vitamin E stores in the body (another super important antioxidant vitamin that protects your blood vessels). Vitamin C also has a role in brain and nervous system function as it regulates gene expression (the turning on and off of specific genes), is a co-factor for making neurotransmitters and hormones (nervous system signalling molecules) and helps with the creation of new blood vessels.
Do you need Vitamin C during pregnancy?
Being an essential nutrient, Vitamin C intake is critical during pregnancy. Having inadequate levels during pregnancy is linked to neural tube defects (this is where the fetus’ most primitive spinal cord fails to close properly and can lead to issues with spinal cord and brain development). Animal models have also displayed that Vitamin C deficiency in pregnancy can lead to defects in cardiovascular, lung, liver and brain development.
At the time of delivery, the concentration of Vitamin C is two to four times higher in the umbilical cord than in the mother’s blood, illustrating the importance of this key vitamin for normal fetal development. Low maternal Vitamin C has been associated with an increased risk of preeclampsia, preterm birth and low birthweight babies. The good news is, just taking the daily recommended amount (more on that below) is enough—you don’t need to over-do it with supplementation to see the benefits of Vitamin C.
How much Vitamin C do you need during pregnancy?
During pregnancy, Vitamin C cross the placenta, so we need more of it at this time—60 mg per day, and 85 mg per day while breastfeeding. Again, easy to get considering half a cup of sliced red bell pepper contains 58 mg, and a cup of sliced strawberries contains almost 100 mg of Vitamin C. The Powers for Females and the Essentials for Females both have 100 mg to cover your daily needs.
Is it safe to take a Vitamin C supplement while pregnant?
The upper tolerable intake level for Vitamin C is set at 2000 mg per day. Although it’s likely safe to take doses higher than this, there’s a greater risk of having loose stools or diarrhea when taking more than 2000 mg all at once. Also, when you consume up to 180 mg of Vitamin C per day, you’re able to absorb about 70 to 90 percent of it. But the absorption rate of dietary Vitamin C falls to about 50 percent when you take doses greater than 1000 mg a day.
The take-away message here is that Vitamin C is indeed an essential nutrient and is critically important during pregnancy, but as long as you include Vitamin-C-containing foods in your diet, or have a prenatal vitamin that can cover your basic Vitamin C needs, it’s not necessary to take additional super doses (greater than 1000 mg) unless prescribed.