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Vitamin c: is Your Child Getting Enough (and Does it Really Help Prevent Colds)?

Jill Castle, MS, RDN
January 3, 2019 . 3 min read

Vitamin C is the darling of preventing the common cold … or is it?

Surprisingly, little research has validated the role of vitamin C in preventing or treating the common cold — however, there are plenty of reasons to make sure your child is getting his or her daily dose.

Vitamin C, also known as ascorbic acid, is a water-soluble vitamin required for your child’s health.

It helps with the absorption of iron from foods, acts as a protector to cells, protects the body from bruising, helps heal wounds and keep your child’s gums healthy, and produces collagen (the connective tissue that holds everything together).

As humans, we aren’t able to make vitamin C ourselves, so we have to obtain it from food or other sources, such as supplements. As a water-soluble vitamin, vitamin C isn’t stored in the body so daily consumption is required.

Vitamin C is naturally present in citrus foods, but is also widely available in the supplement aisle.

How Much vitamin C is Needed for Young Children?

The Recommended Daily Allowance (RDA) for vitamin C is as follows:

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According to national intake data provided by the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (NHANES), vitamin C intakes among children are adequate. However, the most recent 2015 Dietary Guidelines for Americans (DGA) calls out vitamin C as an under-consumed nutrient.

Breast milk is generally considered an adequate source of vitamin C.

Vitamin C Deficiency

Certain populations of children may be at higher risk for vitamin C deficiency, including infants fed evaporated or boiled milk (milk contains low amounts of vitamin C and boiling destroys this nutrient), and picky eaters who avoid fruits and vegetables, among others.

Severe deficiency of vitamin C causes scurvy. This is rare, but there have been recent reports of scurvy in children with extreme picky eating and autism.

Scurvy occurs when a very low (<10 mg/day) or absent intake of vitamin C occurs for approximately one month. Some of the symptoms of scurvy include: fatigue, inflammation of the gums, joint pain, poor wound healing, and corkscrew hairs.

Food Sources of Vitamin C

The best sources of vitamin C are fruits and vegetables. Fruits, especially citrus (and their juices), are major contributors to the overall vitamin C intake in the United States. Other foods rich in vitamin C are tomatoes, potatoes, red and green peppers, kiwifruit, broccoli, strawberries, and Brussels sprouts.

Some breakfast cereals are fortified with vitamin C, as well.

Vitamin C is destroyed by light and heat, so prolonged storage or cooking may damage or reduce the vitamin C content in food.

Children can meet their daily requirement for vitamin C by eating a variety or fruits and vegetables each day.

Vitamin C Supplementation

Vitamin C is commonly found in a standard multivitamin, or as a single nutrient. More than a third of all Americans take multivitamin and mineral supplements, and about 25-27 percent of 1-3 year olds take them, according to data from the 2003-2006 NHANES.

Vitamin C is considered a low-toxic nutrient, but a Tolerable Upper Limit (UL) has been set nonetheless.

The Tolerable Upper Limit (UL), or the highest dose a child can take safely, is lower than that for adults, and is as follows:

1-3 years: 400 mg/day

4-8 years: 650 mg/day

If a child is receiving extra vitamin C through supplementation, be aware that side effects may occur, such as stomach cramps, diarrhea, kidney stones, and headaches.

Higher doses of vitamin C may be used to treat deficiency states, such as scurvy. This scenario should be guided by a healthcare professional.

Influence Over the Common Cold

Research has been inconclusive regarding the role of vitamin C in the prevention and treatment of the common cold.

Interestingly, though, a 2007 Cochrane review showed that, in children, the duration of the common cold was reduced by 14 percent when vitamin C was consumed consistently before a cold was contracted.

Taking vitamin C after a cold has developed appears to be ineffective, according to current research findings.

 

 

 

Sources:

  • Cochrane Database Review
  • Vitamin C for Preventing and Treating the Common Cold.
    Journal of Autism of Developmental Disorders
  • Scurvy as a Manifestation of Food Selectivity in Children with Autism.
    National Institutes of Health
  • Multivitamin Mineral Supplements Fact Sheet for Health Professionals.
    National Institutes of Health
  • Vitamin C Fact Sheet for Health Professionals.
    Office of Disease Prevention, National Institutes of Health
  • 2015 Dietary Guidelines.

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