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What you can do about vitamin C deficiency

Updated: Jul 27, 2023

It may be hard to imagine that we don’t get enough nutrition when we see an abundance of food available 24/7, but it’s true. A recent study showed the top five nutrients many of us need more of. One of them, surprisingly, is Vitamin C.

It’s proven: 36 percent of people in the United States are at risk for a deficiency in at least one vitamin or mineral essential for good health. Should you be concerned about being low in one or two vitamins or minerals? In a word, yes. That’s because vitamins and minerals are essential for optimal health. Being low may not cause immediate symptoms, but it puts you at risk for many serious diseases that can affect your brain, heart, blood, immune system, metabolism, bones, mental health, etc.

fruits for Vitamin C deficiency

Nutrients are key pieces your body needs to maintain all of your systems in good working order. Missing just one or two pieces can throw off the delicate balance you need to be healthy and feel great. That’s because most nutrients don’t have just one vital role to play within the body, they play many, many vital roles.

How would you even know if you’re at risk for a nutrient deficiency? It’s not always obvious. Sometimes symptoms aren’t felt for a long time and sometimes they’re very vague and non-specific. For example, fatigue, irritability, aches and pains, decreased immune function, and heart palpitations can be signs of many things, including a nutrient deficiency.

This article focuses on one commonly deficient nutrient, Vitamin C, also known as absorbic acid, and why this vitamin is especially important for breast cancer survivors, along with foods that are high in each so you can get enough. While Vitamin C does not prevent colds, it may shorten them.

Close to 8% of Americans are deficient in Vitamin C, according to the CDC's Second Nutrition Report. That's because most Americans are not eating enough plant foods.

oranges and juicer

Why vitamin C deficiency is important for thrivers

Vitamin C is a water-soluble vitamin that plays a crucial role in maintaining good health. It is an essential nutrient that the body cannot produce on its own and must be obtained through the diet or supplements. it's especially vital for thrivers after breast cancer surgery.

Vitamin C deficiency can lead to poor wound healing, poorer bone density, and lower immunity. Vitamin C is critical for wound healing (via a protein called collagen), the production of neurotransmitters, metabolism, and the proper functioning of the immune system. Vitamin C also acts as an antioxidant to reduce the damage caused by free radicals that can worsen several diseases such as certain cancers and heart disease. Vitamin C also helps your body absorb the essential mineral iron and folate.

Collagen is a vital component of connective tissue and this describes some of the symptoms of its deficiency disease, scurvy. Symptoms of scurvy include weak connective tissue such as bleeding, wounds that won’t heal, and even the loss of teeth.

While scurvy is now rare, thankfully, vitamin C deficiency is not. A deficiency will impact your body's production of collagen, the connective tissue that holds together muscles, bones, and other tissues. Wound healing is especially important after surgeries for breast cancer, and a vitamin C deficiency will slow healing. Vitamin C also helps prevent bone loss.

As an antioxidant, vitamin C attacks free radicals in body fluids. Because it's not stored in fat tissue, it must be consumed daily. Vitamin C also works in partnership with iron, and is especially helpful in absorbing iron from plant foods.

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lemon and limes for vitamin C deficiency

Health Benefits with adequate vitamin C

How does vitamin C help the body? Here are the benefits of having the right amount in your body.

  • Supports immune system:

Vitamin C is essential for a healthy immune system. It helps stimulate the production of white blood cells that fight off infections and diseases. Vitamin C has been shown to stimulate the production and function of various types of white blood cells, including lymphocytes and phagocytes.

  • Reduces Risk of Chronic Diseases:

Vitamin C is a powerful antioxidant that helps protect the body against chronic diseases such as heart disease, cancer, and arthritis. It is a free-radical scavenger and neutralizes the harmful effects of oxidants, such as environmental toxins.

  • Supports Skin Health:

Vitamin C plays a crucial role in the production of collagen, which helps keep the skin healthy and youthful. Collagen is the most abundant protein in the human body, and it forms the structural foundation for many tissues, including the skin, bones, tendons, and ligaments.

  • Reduces the Risk of Iron Deficiency:

Vitamin C plays a critical role in iron absorption and utilization in the body. Iron is an essential mineral that is necessary for the production of red blood cells, which carry oxygen throughout the body. Iron deficiency is a common nutritional deficiency and can lead to anemia, fatigue, and other health problems.

While iron is present in many foods, it can be more challenging to absorb from plant-based sources compared to animal-based sources. Plant-based sources of iron, such as beans, lentils, spinach, and fortified cereals, contain non-heme iron, which is not as easily absorbed as the heme iron found in animal-based sources. Vitamin C can enhance the absorption of non-heme iron by converting it to a more easily absorbed form in the gut.

lemons help vitamin C deficiency

Food sources to correct vitamin C deficiency

You can get Vitamin C from many fruits and vegetables. Plant foods particularly high in Vitamin C include bell peppers, oranges, and orange juice. Other good sources of the vitamin include kiwifruit, broccoli, strawberries, Brussels sprouts, tomato juice, cantaloupe, cabbage, and cauliflower. Vitamin C is not naturally present in grains, but some breakfast cereals are fortified with it.

When choosing foods for Vitamin C, choose the freshest options because levels of the vitamin naturally reduce over time the longer the food is stored. Try, as much as possible, to eat Vitamin C-rich foods raw. If you do cook them, then choose steaming and microwaving instead of prolonged boiling because the vitamin is destroyed by heat and is water-soluble.

Try to include these foods for breakfast and you'll meet your needs for the day. Recommended dietary allowances are 75-90 mg/day for adults 19+years, 65-75 mg/day for adolescents, and 120 mg/day for breastfeeding women.

  • Citrus Fruits: Oranges, lemons, grapefruits, and limes are excellent sources of Vitamin C. One medium-sized orange contains about 70mg of Vitamin C, which is 78% of the Daily Value.

  • Berries: Strawberries, raspberries, blueberries, and blackberries are all rich in Vitamin C. One cup of strawberries contains about 90mg of Vitamin C, which is 100% of the Daily Value.

  • Kiwi: One medium-sized kiwi contains about 70mg of Vitamin C, which is 78% of the Daily Value.

  • Pineapple: One cup of pineapple contains about 80mg of Vitamin C, which is 89% of the Daily Value.

  • Mango: One cup of sliced mango contains about 60mg of Vitamin C, which is 67% of the Daily Value.

  • Papaya: One cup of sliced papaya contains about 90mg of Vitamin C, which is 100% of the Daily Value.

  • Bell Peppers: Red, yellow, and green bell peppers are all excellent sources of Vitamin C. One medium-sized red bell pepper contains about 150mg of Vitamin C, which is 167% of the Daily Value.

While you may be tempted to take supplements with high doses of vitamin C or trendy IVs, know that very large doses may cause diarrhea, kidney stones, iron overload, and interfere with tests for diabetes.

Final thoughts for vitamin C deficiency

Up to one-third of people in the US are at risk for at least one nutrient deficiency. Many people are deficient in vitamin C. Vitamins and minerals are essential nutrients because everybody needs them on a regular basis for good health. Lacking in any one nutrient can have far-reaching consequences.

Eating a nutrient-rich diet with a variety of foods can help everyone achieve their health and nutrition goals.

Subscribe! Get continuous updates on nutrition for cancer survivors. Click the button at top of page, and you'll be directed to the subscribe link.

Want inspiration on how to meet your health goals through a nutritious diet? As a registered dietitian nutritionist who works with people experiencing cancer, I’d love to help. I offer clients support to plan, shop, and prepare more nutritious and healthy meals for yourself or your family. Here is my link to book a chat about making sure to meet your nutritional needs.


Bird, J. K., Murphy, R. A., Ciappio, E. D., & McBurney, M. I. (2017). Risk of Deficiency in Multiple Concurrent Micronutrients in Children and Adults in the United States. Nutrients, 9(7), 655.

National Institutes of Health Office of Dietary Supplements. (2020, February 28). Iron fact sheet for health professionals.

National Institutes of Health Office of Dietary Supplements. (2020, February 27). Vitamin C fact sheet for health professionals.

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