By Dr. Nicole Avena

Vitamin C is one of the most crucial nutrients needed for the human body to function properly. It is well known for its immune-boosting power, its healing properties, and its role in preventing free radical damage in the body. Historically, vitamin C was lauded for its role in curing scurvy, but that is a rare disease in developed countries. There are a variety of other benefits of vitamin C, especially in a growing child. Strangely enough, humans are one of the few species that is unable to synthesize its own vitamin C. This makes adequate dietary intake of vitamin C even more important in humans. Let’s discuss the role vitamin C plays in your child’s development and wellbeing, as well as how to  ensure that your child is getting enough vitamin C in his or her diet.

Bone Health

Vitamin C has recently been credited with improving overall bone health. Vitamin C is involved in the production of collagen and cartilage, crucial structural substances in the body. It also helps new cells finalize their function and structure as bone cells. A study in the British Journal of Nutrition shows that there is a positive link between fruit and vegetable consumption – prominent sources of vitamin C – and less occurrences of fractures and bone damage with age. The role of vitamin C in supporting bone health is especially important for children as their bones are growing and changing much more quickly than adults.

Respiratory Health

Vitamin C is well known for its immune-boosting function, but it is especially helpful in fighting off respiratory ailments in children. Respiratory tract infections (RTIs) are common in young children as they can transmit easily in classroom and social environments. A study for the European Journal of Clinical Nutrition found that administering vitamin C in tandem with a probiotic helped to significantly relieve symptoms and occurrence of RTIs in a group of school-aged children in comparison to children given a placebo.  Vitamin C may also be helpful in the treatment of more chronic respiratory issues such as asthma in children. Vitamin C has many properties as an antioxidant and can fight the free radical damage that often causes inflammation of the lungs in asthmatic children. As of right now, however, evidence to support this kind of treatment is tentative at best. Further and more comprehensive studies are still needed.

Normal Brain Development

Vitamin C is critical as an antioxidant in the brain. Neurons are particularly vulnerable to oxidative stress, and sufficient vitamin C levels are necessary to prevent damage due to this stress. Oxidative stress on the brain cells can give rise to neurodegenerative diseases over time, such as dementia, so establishing a habit of eating a vitamin C rich diet from a young age can have benefits years down the road. Vitamin C also plays a part in  ensuring that neurons mature properly and function correctly as signalers in the brain as well as in other parts of the central nervous system.

Sources of Vitamin C

The National Institutes of Health actually indicates that infants and children under the age of one should have a significantly higher Vitamin C intake – around 50 mg – than older children. These high dosages emphasize the important role that Vitamin C plays in healthy development in early stages of life. Below are some of the most Vitamin C dense foods that you can feed your child to  ensure that they are getting enough of this crucial nutrient!

  • Red peppers
  • Oranges
  • Grapefruit
  • Kiwifruit

Nicole Avena, PhD, is Assistant Professor of Neuroscience at Mount Sinai School of Medicine and Visiting Professor of Health Psychology at Princeton University. She is the author of several books, including What to Feed Your Baby and Toddler, and What to Eat When You’re Pregnant.  The post was adapted from What to Feed Your Baby and Toddler.


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