Gut health is foundational to whole-body health, and emerging research continues to ring loud and clear that maintaining healthy habits for your gut is key to keeping it well-balanced. “Your gut has lots of bacteria that play a role in immune health, blood sugar control, heart and brain health and the way you digest food,” says Laura Purdy, M.D., M.B.A., board-certified family medicine physician. When your gut isn’t functioning up to par, it can trigger inflammation and disease.

While getting enough sleep, exercising and taking probiotics may improve your gut health, one surprising nutrient may also fight off tummy troubles.

Vitamin C, usually seen as the hero nutrient for sniffly noses and dry coughs, may enhance not only your immune system but also your gut health. Famously known for its presence in oranges, you can find vitamin C in other plant foods like bell peppers, potatoes and tomatoes. Vitamin C, or ascorbic acid, is vital in healing wounds, making collagen to support the body’s tissues and immune health, per the National Institutes of Health. 

Given that your body cannot make the essential nutrient on its own, it’s important to eat foods abundant in vitamin C. Here’s how vitamin C may offer gut health benefits, according to science,  and ways to get more in your everyday routine.

How Vitamin C May Support Your Gut Health

Might Help Strengthen Your Gut Lining

What you eat can influence your gut health, and eating foods rich in dietary fiber helps produce short-chain fatty acids (SCFAs) in your digestive tract. According to a 2023 review in Cell Communication and Signaling, SCFAs feed your intestinal epithelial cells, which line the inside of your intestines. Additionally, they help keep your intestinal lining strong to keep harmful toxins from entering your bloodstream. Here’s where vitamin C may come into play.

A 2021 small randomized study published in Gut Microbes found increases in total SCFAs with vitamin C supplementation after four weeks, compared to placebo. Moreover, researchers saw higher concentrations of propionate and butyrate, well-studied SCFAs involved in anti-inflammation and immune health. More research is needed to understand exactly how vitamin C may help produce more SCFAs. 

May Aid in Preventing Gut Diseases

With the many processes happening in your body at all times, it’s normal for your body to create free radicals. Free radicals are unstable molecules that can damage your cells. As long as there are enough antioxidants to keep them under control, all is well. Otherwise, free radicals can cause excessive oxidative stress—potentially leading to disease, per a 2020 review in Infectious Disorders Drug Targets. “Since vitamin C is an antioxidant, it can help neutralize free radicals and combat oxidative stress, so it’s great for your digestive system and health,” says Purdy.

Could Improve Gut Diversity

Your gut is home to hundreds of bacterial strains that have unique benefits, so having a diverse gut is good for your health. Diseases like type 2 diabetes and inflammatory bowel disease can thwart your gut diversity, so finding ways to preserve it helps with healthy function. 

“Vitamin C can actually help your gut health by impacting the balance between good and bad bacteria in your microbiome,” says Purdy. In one small 2021 study published in Antioxidants, participants took 1000 milligrams of vitamin C daily, showing beneficial shifts in bacterial strain diversity. Researchers reported an increase in Lachnospiraceae, belonging to the phylum Firmicutes, a major bacterial group in healthy people that make SCFAs. Further, a small 2021 study in Future Microbiology also found increases in Lachnospiraceae and Bifidobacteriaceae bacteria, though participants received various doses of vitamin C. Yet, more research is needed to support these findings. 

3 Simple Ways to Up Your Vitamin C Intake

Getting enough vitamin C is easier than you may think. Even a medium-sized orange is nearly all you need to reach your daily vitamin C needs. Per the National Institutes of Health, the recommended intake for vitamin C is 75 mg for women and 90 mg for men). You don’t have to only sip OJ to reap the gut benefits of vitamin C, so try these ways to add more to boost your eating routine. 

How Much Vitamin C Do You Need?

According to the National Institutes of Health, the Recommended Dietary Allowance of vitamin C for those 19 years or older is 90 milligrams for males and 75 mg for females.

1. Use the triple S method

Vitamin C-rich foods, including stewed tomatoes, frozen strawberries, and chopped Brussels sprouts, are great additions to soups, smoothies, and salads. These three S-words can be straightforward ways to ensure you’re getting enough. A Kale and Bean Stew or Pineapple Green Smoothie can be a great start!

2. Prioritize MyPlate method

The MyPlate method encourages you to fill half your plate with fruits and vegetables, and many are abounding with vitamin C. Broccoli, roasted bok choy or a mustard greens salad make great additions to amp up the vitamin C in your meal.

3. Flavor your beverages with citrus fruits

A quick way to up your vitamin C intake is to squeeze lemon, grapefruit or any other citrus into regular water, seltzer water or tea. Plus, it’s an easy (and tasty) way to help you stay hydrated throughout your day.

The Bottom Line

Vitamin C is an antioxidant and water-soluble vitamin plentiful in fruits and vegetables. Surprisingly, some researchers have found that vitamin C could benefit your gut health by enhancing your gut lining, preventing disease and adding more bacterial diversity. Since much of the research is new and studies a small pool of participants, more evidence is necessary to confirm a true link. Overall, getting enough vitamin C is vital for optimal health and boosting your immune system, so make sure you’re adding foods with vitamin C to your eating plan.

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