Vitamin C has long been touted for its potential health benefits when battling a cold. Undoubtedly you’ve been told to load up on it when you’re sick. But did you know this vitamin is crucial for your child’s good health and development? Pediatric gastroenterologist Kadakkal Radhakrishnan, MD, helps explain why this vitamin is so necessary.
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How vitamin C helps your body
Vitamin C, also known as ascorbic acid, is a vitamin found in many common foods like citrus fruits, apples, berries, potatoes and peppers. It’s also readily available as a dietary supplement.
Vitamin C is important so your body can form:
- Collagen, blood vessels, cartilage and muscle. This helps to maintain many body tissues, including your skin. It also aids with connective tissue repair and wound healing according to one study.
- Neurotransmitters, the chemicals that are important for signaling in the nervous system.
- Carnitine, a chemical that supports the transport and breakdown of fatty acids to generate energy.
- Healthy bones and teeth, which are super important during your child’s formative years.
But one of best known functions, of course, is its role in supporting the body’s immune system. “Because vitamin C is an antioxidant and vital to maintaining overall health, it actually can help boost your little one’s immune system if they have the sniffles,” says Dr. Radhakrishnan. Antioxidants help reduce damage to cells from free radicals in the body. Vitamin C is also highly concentrated in immune cells, which suggests that it’s an immune-boosting agent.
Your child’s growing body can’t produce vitamin C on its own. So as a parent, you have to ensure that your child eats a wide variety of colorful fruits and vegetables every day — sometimes easier said than done! Plant sources, including tomatoes, peppers, broccoli and kiwi, are the best sources of vitamin C.
If your little one is a picky eater, vitamin C is also available as an oral supplement. “There are a lot of different types of vitamin supplements available. It’s best to talk to your child’s pediatrician about which one is right for them,” says Dr. Radhakrishnan.
How to know if your child has a vitamin C deficiency
The good news: Vitamin C deficiency is quite rare in the United States.
“Vitamin C deficiency is very seldom seen in children and adults in developed countries, unless they have severe intestinal malabsorption or poor eating habits that avoid sources of vitamin C,” says Dr. Radhakrishnan.
Diagnosing vitamin C deficiency requires special blood tests. But the main condition caused by deficiency of vitamin C is scurvy, which is very rare. Scurvy was described by the ancient Egyptians and in pirate stories, as it was a leading cause of death during long ship voyages in the industrial revolution era.
People with scurvy may have small brown spots on the skin, roughening of the skin, thickening of the gums and bleeding from the mucous membranes. They also may have a feeling of weakness or discomfort, emotional changes, poor wound healing, bone pain, and in late stages, jaundice, nerve involvement and convulsions.
Can taking vitamin C prevent a cold?
There’s been a lot of debate about if vitamin C helps prevent the common cold. “It’s a topic that has been extensively researched, and there’s some evidence that vitamin C may reduce how long your cold may last,” says Dr. Radhakrishnan. But he says taking vitamin C on a regular basis doesn’t reduce how often you’ll get a cold — or how severe it will be.
“Although the medical evidence is not overwhelming, this vitamin may help reduce the duration of common cold,” Dr. Radhakrishnan concludes. This is why some healthcare professionals recommend vitamin C for the common cold.
“Given how safe and relatively inexpensive vitamin C is, it may be alright to give your child a short course of vitamin C during a cold – but this should be discussed with your child’s physician,” he says.
Like your mom always said, an apple a day keeps the doctor away!