Too Much of a Good Thing: Vitamin C and Diarrhea

Vitamin C, an essential nutrient for health, is water-soluble, so your body does not store more than it can use. Getting your daily vitamin C from food sources is easy with a well-balanced diet. However, some people take high-dose supplements of vitamin C to enhance their immune-system functions. Too much vitamin C in your diet can result in stomach upset and bouts of diarrhea.

Vitamin C & Diarrhea (Image: Pitipat Usanakornkul / EyeEm/EyeEm/GettyImages)

Diarrhea from Vitamin C

Increased stools to three or more times a day, passing loose-stools with 75 percent water content, or increased amount of stool above 200g per day is the medical definition for diarrhea.

Most people have an occasional bout of diarrhea, but it generally subsides after a couple of days. Acute diarrhea is generally associated with contaminated foods and viral infections. Diarrhea may lead to dehydration and loss of electrolytes. High-dose use of vitamin C supplements can lead to acute diarrhea, but it usually ends when the dosage is reduced.

Recommended Vitamin C Dose

The recommended daily allowance of vitamin C is 75 milligrams for women and 90 milligrams for men. During pregnancy and lactation the dose can increase from 85 to 120 milligrams per day.

Getting the daily recommended amount of vitamin C is important for keeping your immune system healthy and forming collagen, the structural component of tendons and blood vessels. Vitamin C is also an anti-oxidant that protects your cells from harmful free radicals. The tolerable upper-intake level of vitamin C should not exceed 2,000 milligrams per day.

Decrease Vitamin C

If you get diarrhea from too much vitamin C, decrease your dose to the recommended amount, or contact your physician for a dosing recommendation. Replace your lost fluids with plenty of water throughout the day, and avoid caffeine and sweet and greasy foods, which may perpetuate your diarrhea. Temporarily lower your fiber intake until your stool bulks up. Follow a bland-food diet composed of bananas, rice, applesauce and toast, because these foods make your stool firmer and replace the nutrients your body has lost from diarrhea.

Diarrhea Prevention

Although high-dose vitamin C may not be detrimental to your health, you can experience gastrointestinal discomfort and diarrhea for longer than necessary with megadoses of vitamin C.

Once you recover from the diarrhea, prevent recurrence with a healthy diet that includes whole grains, fruits and vegetables that add fiber for stool bulk and low-fat foods for better digestion. Also drink an adequate amount of water.

Foods Rich in Vitamin C

Oranges might immediately come to mind when thinking about vitamin C. But, all fruits and vegetables contain at least some vitamin C. Fruits especially high in vitamin C include:

  • cantaloupe
  • citrus fruits
  • kiwi
  • mango
  • papaya
  • pineapple
  • berries
  • and watermelon

Vegetables high in vitamin C include:

  • broccoli
  • Brussels sprouts
  • cauliflower
  • green and red peppers
  • spinach and other leafy greens
  • sweet and white potatoes
  • tomatoes
  • and winter squash

Also, some cereals as well as other foods and beverages are fortified with vitamin C, meaning the vitamin was been added to the product. The nutrition label will show how much vitamin C has been added.

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