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How long does vitamin C last in the human body?

It's helpful to have some idea of how long vitamins stay in the human body when considering how frequently to get vitamin infusions. Vitamin C can stay in the body for many months after you stop consuming it. It takes three months of vitamin C deprivation to develop scurvy, an illness that was a plague on long-distance sailors until they figured out its cause and how to remedy it. John Crandon (mentioned below) survived for 180 days on a vitamin C-free diet, with slowly declining health during that period. The only explanation for him being able to last that long is that the body must be able to store some vitamin C.

Why do we need vitamin C?

Vitamin C, also known as ascorbic acid, is a vital nutrient for the human body. It plays several important roles, including:

  1. Antioxidant: Vitamin C acts as an antioxidant, protecting cells from damage caused by harmful molecules called free radicals. It helps neutralize these free radicals, reducing oxidative stress and promoting overall health.

  2. Collagen synthesis: Vitamin C is essential for the synthesis of collagen, a protein that provides structure to the skin, bones, blood vessels, and other connective tissues. It helps in wound healing and maintaining healthy skin, bones, and teeth.

  3. Immune function: Vitamin C supports the immune system by promoting the production of white blood cells, which are crucial for fighting off infections. It also enhances the function of these immune cells, helping the body defend against pathogens.

  4. Iron absorption: Vitamin C enhances the absorption of iron from plant-based sources (non-heme iron) in the intestine. This is particularly beneficial for individuals who follow a vegetarian or vegan diet, as non-heme iron is less readily absorbed than heme iron found in animal-based foods.

  5. Neurotransmitter synthesis: Vitamin C is involved in the production of neurotransmitters, such as serotonin and norepinephrine, which regulate mood, sleep, and cognitive function. It also contributes to the synthesis of certain hormones and helps maintain healthy brain function.

It's important to note that the human body cannot produce or store vitamin C for very long, so it must be obtained through dietary sources or supplements on a regular basis. Fruits (especially citrus fruits), vegetables, and certain fortified foods are good sources of vitamin C.

What happens if we don't get enough vitamin C?

Scurvy is a disease caused by a deficiency of vitamin C (ascorbic acid) in the diet. It is characterized by symptoms such as fatigue, weakness, gum disease, joint pain, and bleeding. If left untreated, it can be fatal.

Sailing is related to scurvy because historically, it was a prevalent disease among sailors during long sea voyages. Fresh fruits and vegetables, which are good sources of vitamin C, were scarce or unavailable on board ships for extended periods. Sailors relied mainly on preserved and dried food, which lacked essential nutrients. The lack of vitamin C in their diet led to the development of scurvy. This association between scurvy and sailing was significant during the Age of Discovery and exploration, affecting many seafarers until the link between citrus fruits and scurvy prevention was established.

Also, consider the story of John Crandon, who as an early-career physician, intentionally deprived himself of vitamin C to measure its effects. Crandon found his plasma to be free of vitamin C at 41 days and his white blood cells to be free of the vitamin at 82 days. Fatigue set in after 3 or 4 months of vitamin C deprivation. After 134 days his skin began to deteriorate and at around 192 days his body started to shut down and he discontinued the deprivation phase of the experiment. Next, while continuing on his same diet he began receiving daily intravenous vitamin infusions. He achieved normal wound healing rates within 10 days after initiating the vitamin IV treatments.


Hirschmann, J. V., and Gregory J. Raugi. "Adult scurvy." Journal of the American Academy of Dermatology 41, no. 6 (1999): 895-910.


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