Vitamin C, sometimes called ascorbic acid, is a nutrient also classified as an antioxidant. Antioxidants are vitamins that prevent and repair damage incurred by your cells due to aging, an unhealthy diet, excess stress and toxins such as cigarette smoke. The human body is unable to produce or store vitamin C, so you must consume the nutrient on a regular basis in order to stay healthy. Vitamin C is an ideal supplement to have on hand during cold and flu season.

The Role and Benefits of Vitamin C
The primary function of vitamin C is to produce and nourish collagen, a supportive component found in your skin, ligaments, and blood vessels. The fact that vitamin C is related to blood vessel health has a positive effect on your heart health as well, explains the Linus Pauling Institute Micronutrient Information Center. People who are getting adequate amounts of vitamin C enjoy a lower risk of cardiovascular diseases then those who are deficient in the vitamin. The antioxidant properties of vitamin C reduce the risk of eye diseases as well, including cataracts and age-related macular degeneration.

Vitamin C is often associated with easing the symptoms of the common cold and flu viruses. The main method in which vitamin C boosts your immunity is by increasing both the production and vigor of your immune system's main fighters, the white blood cells. White blood cells work to kill the viruses that invade your body during cold and flu season. Studies of the benefits of vitamin C in relation to catching a cold are mixed, according to the Linus Pauling Institute. Some participants in trials caught fewer colds or had a shortened duration of symptoms when taking vitamin C supplements, while other study subjects didn't notice a difference.

Recommended Intake
Everyone needs vitamin C in order to remain healthy. Symptoms of deficiency, called scurvy, can include:

  • An increased tendency to bruise or bleed
  • Swelling of the joints
  • Hair loss
  • A receding of the gums that can lead to tooth loss and gum disease

Infants meet their recommended intake of vitamin C through breast milk or baby formula. Children under the age of 13 should consume between 15 and 45 mg of the vitamin daily, according to the Institute of Medicine's Food and Nutrition Board. Teens and adults require 65 to 90 mg daily. Smokers of both genders and women who are pregnant or nursing are in need of more vitamin C and should boost their intake to between 80 and 120 mg daily. Vitamin C is an extremely tolerable nutrient and generally doesn't produce adverse effects unless consumed in large doses--more than 2000 mg daily. Your body will flush out excess vitamin C that it doesn't need. The most common signs of toxicity are diarrhea and upset stomach.

Food Sources
Vitamin C is fairly easy to consume through diet alone for most people. Fruit is a major dietary source of the nutrient, especially citrus fruits, including:

  • Lemons
  • Oranges
  • Grapefruits
  • Tomatoes

Other foods sources that contain vitamin C and are easy to integrate into your weekly meal plan include:

  • Potatoes
  • Broccoli
  • Red bell peppers
  • Papaya
  • Kiwis
  • Strawberries
  • Cantaloupe

If you're not eating enough vitamin C-rich food or start to feel run down and sniffly, boost your vitamin C intake through supplementation under your doctor's supervision. Vitamin C supplements are available in a wide variety, including chewable tablets, capsules, and drops that are similar to hard candy. Stash a bottle or bag of vitamin C supplements in your medicine cabinet, purse, or desk drawer and pop a couple when you feel cold symptoms coming on. Drinking a tall glass of orange juice (unless you have diabetes) can also help keep your vitamin C levels up when viruses abound.