Women Need More Vitamin C

Medically Reviewed by Charlotte E. Grayson Mathis, MD
From the WebMD Archives

Aug. 14, 2001-- Healthy, young women may not be getting enough vitamin C. New government recommendations say women should be getting 90 milligrams of vitamin C every day. Until now, both women and men were urged to take 75 milligrams of vitamin C per day.

The new proposal suggests that women and men are not created equal when it comes to vitamin C needs.

So where should you be getting your vitamin C: supplements or foods?

"Five servings of fruits and vegetables per day should be more than enough to meet these new daily vitamin C needs," says Mark Levine, MD, chief of molecular and clinical nutrition and senior staff physician at the National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases, a branch of the National Institutes of Health in Bethesda, Md. Vitamin C-rich foods include oranges, grapefruits, sweet peppers, strawberries, broccoli, and potatoes.

"There is no need to take supplements to achieve this level. Five servings of fruits and vegetables actually provide about 200 milligrams," he tells WebMD. For maximum C-potential, Levine recommends not overcook them or drowning them in water.

Jane Higdon, RN, PhD, is a researcher at the Linus Pauling Institute of Oregon State University in Corvallis, Ore. "Try to get it in fruits and vegetables, but we recognize that less than half of the population actually gets their five servings a day, so we don't see anything wrong with a supplement either," she says.

She adds, however, that fruits and vegetables are the preferred source because you get other nutrients such as folic acid and fiber, too.

The recommendations, reported in the latest issue of Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, or PNAS,are just that though, recommendations. Next, they will be reviewed by the Food and Nutrition Board of the National Academy of Sciences.

So why the change for women? Existing recommended dietary allowances for vitamin C were derived from studies of men -- the male data was just adjusted for a lower body weight. But the new recommendations are based on studies in women.

"They are new and in women and there's nothing else like it," Levine says of the new recommendations.

To arrive at their findings, Levine and colleagues conducted a nutritional study designed to replete women of vitamin C over time by placing them on a special diet. Once depletion was achieved, levels of vitamin C were gradually increased until the women showed evidence of sufficiency.

And in women, that level is 90 milligrams of vitamin C per day.

Calling the new report a "pretty careful study," Higdon says it is a good reason to raise the recommended daily allowance of vitamin C. "No one has ever done a study like this in women."

The Linus Pauling Institute currently recommends that all healthy men and women consume 200 milligrams of vitamin C every day -- that's considerably higher than the levels recommended by government.

Founded on the principles of Nobel Prize winner and staunch vitamin C advocate Linus Pauling, the Institute's mission is to understand the function and role of micronutrients and vitamins in promoting health and preventing and treating diseases.

"Vitamin C has numerous benefits and this is yet another example of how we are finding through gender-based medicine that what's good for the goose is not necessarily good for the gander," says woman's health expert Donnica Moore, MD, of Neshanic Station, N.J. "Women are not just smaller versions of men."