Vitamins C and E make up essential parts of your diet and promote tissue function -- for example, vitamin C aids in brain communication, while vitamin E helps control blood vessel constriction. The whole is greater than the sum of its parts when it comes to vitamins C and E, despite the two nutrients having some separate physiological functions in your body. They work well together because they have similar and complementary roles in your body, and they function in combination to benefit your health.
Collaboration as Antioxidants
Vitamins C and E support each other's antioxidant function. Antioxidants play an important role in limiting damage to your cells -- including your cellular proteins, your DNA and the fats that make up your cell membranes -- caused by reactive chemicals, called free radicals. This damage hinders healthy cell function and leads to genetic mutations, ultimately causing cell death. While vitamin E has the ability to act as an antioxidant, it requires regeneration after it "heals" free radical damage before it can function properly again. The vitamin C in your cells restores vitamin E's antioxidant function so that it can continue to fight tissue damage.
Synergistic Benefits for Skin
Vitamins C and E also work well together because they have complementary roles in skin health. Both nutrients play a role in shielding your skin cells from sun damage because they neutralize the free radicals generated during sun exposure. The Linus Pauling Institute notes that having both vitamins in your skin helps prevent sun damage better than vitamin C or E on its own. Vitamins C and E both work together to maintain healthy collagen, a protein important for skin strength. You need vitamin C to help synthesize the collagen required for healthy skin, as well as healthy vitamin E levels to maintain proper cross-links between collagen fibers.
Complementary Function for Immune Health
Vitamins C and E both contribute to immune function, so getting enough of both vitamins protects you from infectious disease. Vitamin C's role in skin health also maintains your immunity because you rely on strong skin to prevent pathogens from getting into your system. It also helps stimulate immune function by promoting immune cell growth, and vitamins C and E both control immune cell function. Vitamin C also stimulates the release of interferons -- chemicals with antiviral properties -- while vitamin E maintains immune health as you age.
Intake Recommendations and Sources
You need small amounts of both vitamins C and E to maintain your health -- the Institute of Medicine recommends that all adults get 15 milligrams of vitamin E daily and advises that men and women consume 90 milligrams and 75 milligrams of vitamin C, respectively. Make sure to load up on fruits and veggies -- especially spinach, broccoli, red peppers and citrus fruits -- for essential vitamin C, and turn to avocados, almonds and peanuts as sources of vitamin E. Mix lemon juice and olive oil for an easy salad dressing or seasoning for grilled chicken or fish -- it's tasty and ups your intake of both vitamins C and E.
- Linus Pauling Institute: Vitamin E
- Linus Pauling Institute: Vitamin C
- Rice University: Antioxidants and Free Radicals
- Linus Pauling Institute: Vitamin E and Skin Health
- Linus Pauling Institute: Vitamin C and Skin Health
- National Academies Press: Vitamin E, Vitamin C, and Immune Response: Recent Advances
- Linus Pauling Institute: Nutrition and Immunity, Part I
- Office of Dietary Supplements: Vitamin C
- Office of Dietary Supplements: Vitamin E
- University of Hartford: Immune System