Vitamin C, or ascorbic acid, is an essential component to a healthy lifestyle. It’s important to incorporate it into your diet. For the average adult, it’s recommended to get 65 to 90 milligrams (mg) per day. However, it is possible to have too much of a good thing.
In an article for Insider Health, Tabitha Britt explains that taking too much vitamin C can lead to negatives. This can include an upset stomach, irritated skin and headaches. The article was medically reviewed by Scott Kaiser, MD. Dr. Kaiser is a board-certified family medicine physician and geriatrician at Providence Saint John’s Health Center.
Because the body doesn’t naturally produce the vitamin, people turn to food and supplements to get their daily dose. Though you’re unlikely to overdo it with eating food containing vitamin C (like citrus fruits), it is possible to take too much of a supplement. This can result in adverse effects, like an upset stomach.
Here’s everything you need to know about vitamin C.
How Does Vitamin C Affect The Body?
Vitamin C is a mighty and helpful nutrient. This is because it can repair tissue, stimulate the production of white blood cells, and help with iron absorption. Additionally, it reduces inflammation and other physical effects of stress.
Take it from Beverly Goode-Kanawati, DO, the director and founder of Beverly Medical Center in Raleigh, NC.
“Vitamin C is a critical antioxidant that is involved in the structure and function of nearly every part of the body,” says Goode-Kanawati. “For example, vitamin C is needed to create collagen which is the underpinning of structures for everything from the skin to bones.”
Vitamin C can be found in foods like:
- Citrus fruits
- Brussel sprouts
What Happens When You Take Too Much Vitamin C?
Like mentioned before, it is possible to have too much vitamin C in your system. Though there is no such thing as “overdosing”, taking more than the recommended amount can cause your body to react negatively.
Side effects of too much vitamin C include:
- Abdominal pain
- Heartburn or acid reflux
- Hemolysis (G6PD deficiency is present)
- Nausea or vomiting
- Rebound scurvy in infants born to women who take high doses
- Skin irritation and blackheads
One helpful attribute of vitamin C is that it is water-soluble. For example, this means the vitamins dissolve in water, your body takes what it needs, and it discards the rest in urine through the small intestines. This lessens like likelihood of vitamin toxicity compared to others, like potassium.
“Vitamin C is a water-soluble vitamin and if you take large doses of it, your body will safely excrete it through the urine,” says Dimitar Marinov, MD, Assistant Professor at the Department of Hygiene and Epidemiology, Medical University of Varna, Bulgaria. “However, taking large doses for long periods can lead to health problems such as hyperoxaluria and kidney stones. If you have a history of kidney stones, avoid vitamin C supplementation.”
Furthermore, both experts explain that it’s typically only the supplemental forms of vitamin C that bring on negative effects.
“The reason is that many supplements contain four to 20 times higher doses than the recommended daily intake,” Marinov says.
How Much Vitamin C Is Correct?
Like most things when it comes to health, this depends on your age, gender, and lifestyle. According to the National Institutes of Health, these are the daily recommended amounts:
“The same effects from excess vitamin C ingestion can occur with Emergen-C but because this formula also contains large amounts of potassium, side effects can also include more serious symptoms and signs such as weakness, low blood pressure, and heart arrhythmias,” says Rand McClain, DO, and chief medical officer of Live Cell Research.
What Are the Long Term Effects?
According to the National Institutes of Health, consuming vitamin C in large doses overtime could cause:
- A reduced amount of vitamin B12 and copper
- An accelerated metabolism
- Allergic responses
- The erosion of dental enamel
In addition, Vitamin C may negatively interact with other medications, including, but not limited to, chemotherapy drugs and cholesterol-reducing medications (statins).
For people with hemochromatosis, for example, too much vitamin C could be harmful and even life-threatening. Hemochromatosis is a condition in which the body produces too much iron, which can be toxic and cause damage to the heart, liver, and pancreas.
“Vitamin C is not likely to cause hemochromatosis in healthy people, but those who have a higher risk of iron build up should avoid supplementation,” says Marinov.
So, what’s the takeaway?
“Unless your diet is completely deprived of fresh plant foods vitamin C supplementation is typically not necessary,” says Marinov.