Vitamin C is more commonly known as a vitamin that is needed for the growth and repair of our tissues, such as our bones and skin, supporting our immune system, and as a powerful antioxidant which helps fight free radicals caused by today’s modern lifestyle. However, vitamin C can also be an effective natural remedy for constipation.
Higher doses of vitamin C have been shown to have a laxative effect, which can provide some welcome relief for constipation sufferers. It works by increasing the speed of the digestive process, thereby increasing the frequency of bowel movements and allowing food matter to pass quicker through the intestines and prevent blockages or build up.
So how much vitamin C do I need?
The UK RDA (recommended daily allowance) for adults is 40mg a day, which we generally get quite easily from our diets through fruit and vegetables.
For constipation though, this will vary on the individual but you can take between 2,000-5000mg a day to help relieve your symptoms – this should be split over equal doses (e.g. 1000mg in the morning and 1000mg in the evening).
In order to get such high doses to help treat your constipation you will need to buy a supplement as it is nigh on possible to get this amount just from food. To get 2000mg a day you’d have to be eating over 20 oranges!
You must build up the amount of vitamin C you take gradually though – do not start straight away, for example, with 3,000mg as this can cause diarrhoea, flatulence and stomach cramp in some people. Start slowly with 500mg a day and gradually increase by 500mg a day until you find the level that works for you.
Please note: Do not start taking high doses of vitamin C if you have any other health condition, are taking any medication or are pregnant or trying to fall pregnant – you must speak to your GP first.
What’s the best vitamin C supplement?
As always, there’s a whole host of companies now providing vitamin C supplements – dissolvable, chewable, liquid and as a tablet. The physical form of vitamin C is completely up to you and how you would prefer to take it. Some people prefer a dissolvable or chewable form as they are easier to take, especially for those who hate swallowing tablets.
But there are then a number of different types of vitamin C, some of which you may find cause other symptoms such as acid reflux or bloating. I would therefore recommend you look for one of two different types to help tackle constipation:
- Ester-C as it is less acidic and more gentle on the stomach.
- Buffered vitamin C which includes calcium, magnesium and potassium and is also good for individuals with sensitive stomachs as it is easier to digest, with the added bonus of other minerals.
The Allergy Research Group do a great range of different vitamin C products, and in different forms, which I would recommend if you suffer from constipation.
What about vitamin C to help child constipation?
The RDA for children under the age of 10 years is 30mg a day. If however your child is suffering from constipation, which is quite common, then you can give them extra vitamin C (in split doses as I mentioned above) to help get things moving.
Again, start slowly and increase over time up to around 400mg a day for children under the age of 3 years old and up to 650 mg for those under 10 years. I would strongly advise you speak to your doctor first though and do not give high dose vitamin C to babies under 1 year old without seeking medical advice first.
An ester-C or buffered vitamin C would be best to support their sensitive stomachs as well and prevent any additional side effects. You can read more about child constipation here.
Can I still get vitamin C from food?
Yes definitely, and food should be your main source of vitamin C when aiming for your recommended daily allowance of 40mg.
The best sources of vitamin C are from fruit and vegetables including:
- Citrus fruits such as oranges and grapefruit
- Dark green leafy vegetables such as spinach, rocket and watercress
- Red peppers
- Kiwi fruit
Just one kiwi fruit will provide over 160mg of vitamin C, so it is easy to get your daily 40mg.
Top tip: try chopping a fresh kiwi into your cereal every morning, or chop one in half and eat with a teaspoon as a snack.
As I’ve written about before in ‘fibre and constipation’, fruit and vegetables contain fibre, especially those that you can eat with their skin on such as carrots and apples, so together with their vitamin C content, they are excellent for constipation sufferers.