Can vitamin C supplements cause diarrhea?

Discover why vitamin C supplements can cause diarrhea and how to fix the problem.

Generally, vitamin C is well tolerated by most people, even at higher dosages. Certain individuals just do not stomach vitamin C well and may experience additional symptoms such as nausea, diarrhea, or stomach cramping.

Fortunately, there are vitamin C supplements on the market today which are gentle on the stomach. This article looks at why vitamin C supplements cause diarrhea and offer simple tips to help combat the uncomfortable side effect.

Possible reasons for side effects

There may be a number of reasons why vitamin C supplements cause diarrhea in some individuals. Reasons vary for each person. When vitamin C is taken in higher dosages, side effects become more prevalent. Diarrhea is often also a clue that you have exceeded the amount of vitamin C your body needs. If you are taking the regular RDA (Recommended Daily Allowance), but still experience diarrhea, then other reasons should be considered as possible causes.

It may be that gastrointestinal issues prevent the body from absorbing nutrients sufficiently, from food or supplements. It may also be due to an allergy to a specific ingredient contained inside the specific supplement. Other reasons for experiencing diarrhea may be:

  • Taking ascorbic acid on an empty stomach
  • Ascorbic acid dosage may be too high
  • Allergies
  • Malabsorption of nutrients
  • Diseases of the intestines
  • Irritable bowel syndrome

If your vitamin C supplement is causing diarrhea, consult a health practitioner first before continuing to take the supplement.

5 Tips to help stop diarrhea.

  1. If your vitamin C supplement is causing diarrhea, take it with food, juice or smoothies.
  2. Choose vitamin C forms that are easily digestible, like soluble powders and liquids.
  3. Change the brand of vitamin C supplement you are taking. Try an organic vitamin C wholefood supplement, instead of regular ascorbic acid.
  4. Take the correct dosage for your own individual needs or lower dosage. (See RDA for vitamin C in the next section)
  5. Try to get the bulk of your vitamin C intake from fresh fruit and veggies instead.

Stop diarrhea with the right dosage.

Finding the right daily dosage of vitamin C based on your own individual needs can significantly improve your gastrointestinal. Lowering your daily intake may help to alleviate these issues. There are different recommendations set by different health institutions. The Linus Pauling Institute recommends a daily intake of 400 mg/day of vitamin C for generally healthy adults. The below table is set by the National Institutes of Health (NIH).

0–6 months40 mg*40 mg*
7–12 months50 mg*50 mg*
1–3 years15 mg15 mg
4–8 years25 mg25 mg
9–13 years45 mg45 mg
14–18 years75 mg65 mg80 mg115 mg
19+ years90 mg75 mg85 mg120 mg
SmokersIndividuals who smoke require 35 mg/day
more vitamin C than nonsmokers.

Vitamin C supplements: 5 gentler forms to help stop diarrhea

If your current vitamin C supplement causes side effects like diarrhea, consider alternative forms such as gummies, whole food, buffered powder, and liquid forms. Other forms such as mineral ascorbates may be better tolerated too. If you are on medication or have a heart problem, check with your doctor which mineral ascorbate is best. If you have elevated potassium levels, for example, it would be wise to avoid potassium ascorbate. Also note that these buffered forms might not be as effective when used as a treatment for colds or flu, as plain ascorbate acid might be.

Alternatively, if you do not have a buffered ascorbic acid at hand, add a small amount of sodium bicarbonate. The fizzing releases sodium that neutralizes the acidity.

Buffered forms

Consider a buffered, non-acidic form of vitamin C supplement to counter diarrhea. This form of vitamin C may be better tolerated than unbuffered ascorbic acid.

Many buffered forms of vitamin C consist of mineral salts of ascorbic acid. A popular form is Sodium ascorbate. Other ascorbates include calcium, magnesium, chromium, zinc, and potassium ascorbate. These added minerals help to buffer the ascorbic acid.

Gummies forms

Kids love Gummies and so do adults! They are a popular chewable form of vitamin C supplement that comes in different shapes, colors, and tastes. People with sensitive stomachs may prefer Gummies since most of the action happens in the mouth rather than in the stomach.

Watch out for gummies with added sugar and too many ingredients. They are generally made with gelatin, water, corn starch, and colorings. Choose a gummy brand that has ingredients that are from natural and organic sources as much as possible.

Whole food forms

Wholefood plant-based supplements may be a better choice to combat diarrhea than other regular synthetic ascorbic acid supplements. It is usually a gentler form for the stomach. The amount of vitamin C is usually lower than the synthetic ascorbic acid but contains other enzymes and bioflavonoids that are powerful antioxidants.

Liquid forms

Consider a liquid form of vitamin C if you are prone to diarrhea. You can simply take it in your mouth, add to a glass of water or mix it in your favorite smoothie or morning juice.

Liposomal forms to help combat diarrhea

This new kid on the block promises faster uptake of vitamin C into the bloodstream than conventional ascorbic acid. This liposomal form of encapsulated vitamin C essentially eliminates the usual digestive activity that happens before absorption, which can help prevent diarrhea.

The secret lies in something called Liposomes, the tiny microscopic spheres which facilitate faster intracellular uptake of their contents. Liposomal vitamin C is purported to be 5 to 10 times more bioavailable than plain vitamin C. It comes in tablet, powder form, and liquid form.

The bottom line

Vitamin C is an essential nutrient our body needs. While most of us get sufficient amounts direct from our food sources, others may simply have to supplement. Fortunately, there is enough choice on the market to make it easier for those that suffer from diarrhea. Choosing the right form will depend on your own individual needs. If you find that vitamin C supplements cause diarrhea even though you have changed supplements or lowered dosages, consult a nutritionist or health practitioner to check for any underlying health issues.

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Photo credit: Daria Shevtsova

Cautionary note: Not any of these statements have been evaluated by the Food and Drug Administration. The content of the articles and the products recommended are not intended to diagnose, treat, cure or prevent any disease or health issue. The intention is also not to imply that vitamins or any dietary supplements are substitutes for a balanced diet or are in any way more beneficial or superior to dietary nutrients. It is also not intended to imply that general or normal health may be affected by not taking dietary supplements or receiving intravenous vitamin C infusions.

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