How Much Vitamin C Should You Get Every Day?

“For many years, the RDA [recommended daily allowance] for all vitamins were based on preventing deficiency, with a margin of safety,” but the miniscule amount of vitamin C needed to avoid scurvy, for example, is not necessarily the ideal intake for optimal health. What might the optimal intake of vitamin C be? To find out, let’s ask the body. But how? By seeing how much the body absorbs and excretes, which I go through in my video What Is the Optimal Vitamin C Intake?.

When we swallow 15 mg of vitamin C, the amount we’d get eating about a quarter of an orange, our body absorbs nearly 90 percent of it. If we instead take a supplement containing 1,250 mg of vitamin C, our body seems to realize that’s too much and clamps down on absorption at the intestinal lining level, and we end up absorbing less than half. By doing experiments where the level of intake is ratcheted up slowly, we can see when the body starts to say, “Okay. That’s enough.”

That magic level of intake appears to be about 200 mg a day. When we take up to 200 mg daily, our body absorbs it all. Above that level, however, the body tries to block further absorption, suggesting that our “intestinal vitamin C transport mechanisms… have evolved to fully absorb up to about 200 mg of vitamin C” a day.

In addition, vitamin C is reabsorbed in our kidneys back into our bloodstream to maintain our vitamin C blood levels around 70 or 80 micromoles per liter, which is what we reach at a vitamin C intake of about 200 mg a day. Even if we take ten times as much in vitamin C supplements, 2,000 mg a day, our body will just pee and poop out the excess to keep our blood levels in that narrow range of 70 to 80 micromoles per liter. Based on these kinds of data, one might “propose that 200 mg is the optimal daily intake of vitamin C…”

We can confirm that hypothesis using disease data. For example, at what daily intake of vitamin C is there the lowest stroke risk? Apparently, at about 200 mg a day. While dietary vitamin C intake was associated with lower stroke risk, vitamin C supplements were not, which is consistent with the overall body of evidence showing that antioxidant supplements in general don’t seem to protect against heart attacks or strokes.

Is it possible to get up to an intake of 200 mg of vitamin C a day without taking supplements? No problem. A single serving of fruits and vegetables may have about 50 mg each, so just five servings of fruits and veggies a day could get us to ideal blood levels.


Doctors can circumvent our body’s natural barriers to vitamin-C overload by dripping high levels of the vitamin directly into the bloodstream of cancer patients. Is this a good idea? See:

What other benefits or drawbacks might vitamin C have? See:

What about other common supplements? See, for example:

In health,
Michael Greger, M.D.

PS: If you haven’t yet, you can subscribe to my free videos here and watch my live presentations:

How to Achieve Food Synergy

There are thousands of phytochemicals that will never make it onto the side of a cereal box but may play a role in reducing the risk of chronic diseases—and those are just the ones we know about. Whole plant foods have consistently been found to be protective, so it’s reasonable for scientists to try to find the “magic bullet” active ingredient that can be sold in a pill, but “[p]ills or tablets simply cannot mimic this balanced natural combination of phytochemicals present in fruits and vegetables.” When isolated out, the compound may lose its activity or behave differently. The antioxidant and anticancer activities of plant foods are thought to derive from the “additive and synergistic effects of phytochemicals in fruits and vegetables,” meaning the whole may be greater than the sum of its parts. This helps explain why a pill can’t replace the complex combination of phytochemicals present in whole plant foods.

As T. Colin Campbell has pointed out, more than a hundred trials “overwhelmingly show no long-term benefit for vitamin supplements, along with worrisome findings that certain vitamins may even increase disease occurrence for diabetes, heart disease, and cancer.” Supplementation with fish oil, for example, appears useless or, even worse, “posing increased risk for diabetes,” yet the science doesn’t seem to matter. People continue to buy them. “The public desire for quick fixes through pills…is overwhelming, especially when money can be made.”

Each plant has thousands of different phytochemicals, as well as entirely different phytonutrient profiles. So, there may be synergistic effects when eating different foods together, too. Eating beta-carotene in carrot form is more beneficial than in pill form. because of all the other compounds in the carrot that may synergize with the beta-carotene. Well, when we dip that carrot in hummus, we suddenly have the thousands of carrot compounds mixing with the thousands of chickpea compounds. So what happens if we mix different fruits with different vegetables or different beans?

As you can see in my video Food Synergy, combining foods across different categories increased the likelihood of synergy. For example, a study showed the antioxidant powers of raspberries and adzuki beans. If there were a strictly additive effect, the expected combined antioxidant power would simply be that of the raspberries plus that of the adzuki beans. However, the observed combined antioxidant power was actually greater than the sum of one plus the other.

What about cancer-fighting effects? The study was repeated, but, this time, different combinations of food were dripped on breast cancer cells growing in a petri dish. For some foods, the same synergistic effects were found. Grapes, for example, can suppress the growth of breast cancer cells about 30 percent, but onions worked even better, cutting breast cancer cell growth in half. One would assume that if we added half the grapes with half the onion, we’d get a result somewhere in the middle between the two. Instead, the researchers found that cancer cell growth was suppressed by up to 70 percent with that combination. The whole plus the whole was greater than the sum of the whole parts. Given these findings, did the researchers recommend people eat a variety of foods? Perhaps adding some raisins along with chopped red onions to our next salad? Where’s the money in that? No, the reason the researchers were investigating the different types of interactions was “to identify mixtures that hold synergistic interactions that can ultimately lead to the development of functional foods”—maybe something like grape-flavored Funyuns.


Why should we care about the antioxidant power of foods? See

If you’re not familiar with this concept of reductionism, be sure to check out some of these other videos: Industry Response to Plants Not Pills, Why Is Nutrition So Commercialized?, and Reductionism and the Deficiency Mentality.

In health,
Michael Greger, M.D.

PS: If you haven’t yet, you can subscribe to my free videos here and watch my live, year-in-review presentations:

Make Sure Iodine is in Your Prenatal

Although severe iodine deficiency was eliminated in the United States nearly a century ago after the introduction of iodized salt, iodine intake has declined in recent decades. “Public health efforts to limit salt intake to decrease cardiovascular risk, in conjunction with increasing use of kosher salt and sea salt (neither of which contain iodine),” may in part be to blame. Not adding salt to foods is a good thing, as sodium is considered the second leading dietary killer in the world (second only to not eating enough fruit), but if you do add table salt, make sure it’s iodized. “It is a myth (often also false advertising) that ‘natural’ sea salt contains significant amounts of iodine.”

Fruits and vegetables provide iodine, but the amounts can vary depending on where it’s grown and how much iodine is in the soil. Because iodine is particularly important for fetal brain development, there’s a recommendation that “all US women who are pregnant, lactating, or even planning a pregnancy should ingest dietary supplements containing 150 mcg of potassium iodide per day,” which I discuss in my video Iodine Supplements Before, During, and After Pregnancy.

Is there evidence they’re not getting enough? We’d like to see urine levels over 150 mcg/L in pregnant women, but in the United States, pregnant women only average about 125 mcg/L. For example, a recent survey in New York City showed only about half of pregnant women were making the cut.

Don’t most pregnant women take prenatal vitamins, though? Only about half of prenatal multivitamins contain any iodine at all, and so only about one in five pregnant women in the United States are following the recommendations of the American Thyroid Association to take a daily iodine supplement, specifically in the form of potassium iodide rather than seaweed, as the levels in seaweed are subject to natural variability. Though the iodine content was as much as 90 percent off in some of the potassium iodide prenatal supplements, the kelp supplements varied even wider, off by as much as 170 percent.

Now, the American Thyroid Association admits it doesn’t have evidence that the current borderline insufficiency levels are leading to undesirable outcomes and so its rationale that all pregnant women take iodine supplements is a bit tenuous. Until such data are available, though, it figures better safe than sorry.

A randomized, placebo-controlled, interventional trial would answer the question once and for all, but the existing evidence for iodine supplementation during pregnancy is so convincing that it would be considered unethical to randomize pregnant women to a placebo.

When it comes to sufficient iodine intake during pregnancy, I’d recommend: Just do it.


Women eating plant-based diets may find this video of special importance: Pregnant Vegans at Risk for Iodine Deficiency.

This isn’t to say sea vegetables aren’t good for you in their own right. See Which Seaweed Is Most Protective Against Breast Cancer?.

For more videos on having a healthy pregnancy, see:

In health,
Michael Greger, M.D.

PS: If you haven’t yet, you can subscribe to my free videos here and watch my live, year-in-review presentations: