Vitamin C Deficiency

General text about the lack of vitamins can be found here.

 

Vitamin C is another name for ascorbic acid (ascorbate). This substance belongs among water-soluble vitamins and our body is unable to produce it. Therefore, we must receive vitamin C in the diet. Vitamin C is very important for proper formation of connective tissue that guarantees skin firmness, strength of walls blood vessel walls, bone strength and teeth stability. In addition, molecules of ascorbate work as so-called scavengers of free radicals. Free radicals are harmful oxygen substances that are produced as side-products in metabolic reactions in our body. These free radicals cause oxidative stress accelerating aging, atherosclerosis and incidence of cancers. Vitamin C helps to deactivate the harmful molecules and acts protectively against the above mentioned diseases. Vitamin C also increases absorption of iron from food and decreases risk of iron deficiency. The recommended dosage of vitamin C for an adult is about 70-80 mg per day.

Causes

The main cause of vitamin C deficiency is its low dietary intake. In developed countries, this is especially the issue of chronic alcoholics, homeless people and peoples suffering from severe forms of anorexia nervosa. Severe deficiency of vitamin C used to affect sailors of preindustrial age who had practically no intake of vitamin C during their sails (ship biscuits, salted meat and rum do not contain significant amount of vitamin C). Such serious vitamin deficiency lead to a disease called scurvy (see below).

Symptoms

The most classical form of vitamin C deficiency is the scurvy. It manifests of disorder of connective tissue in the whole organism. The walls of blood vessels lose their strength and crack easily with easier bleeding causing subcutaneous hemorrhages, bruising and bleeding from the gums. The victim may also find blood in urine and blood in stool. The connective tissue that holds the teeth in dental beds loses integrity and the teeth fall out. The teeth loss is probably the most known aspect of scurvy. Given that vitamin C improves iron absorption in the gastrointestinal tract, the patient may begin to suffer from iron deficiency and becomes anemic. Vitamin C has also importance for the immune system and its deficiency reduces resistance to infections. The skin dries out, it is prone to wound formation and the wounds are slow to heal. The nails are brittle and so is the hair.

 

In children, the lack of vitamin C is best seen in disrupted development of bones. The bones do not have the necessary strength and easily deform. The failure of proper bone growth also results in inadequately low height of the affected children.

 

However, populations of civilized countries usually suffer from “only” mild to moderate vitamin C deficiency due to unhealthy diet with low intake of fruit and vegetables. Such milder deficiency of the vitamin may be asymptomatic, but the body may show reduced ability to cope with the oxidative stress resulting in increased incidence of cardiovascular diseases and cancers. In addition, unspecific symptoms such as fatigue and exhaustion may be present. Since vitamin C is important for the strength of skin, its deficiency may lead to more frequent occurrence of stretch marks.

Prevention and treatment

The best prevention is sufficient intake of vitamin C in the diet. The commonly available foods with high amount of vitamin C include fruits (kiwi, lemons, pineapple, mandarin oranges) and vegetables (broccoli, spinach, garlic, cabbage). Less known fact is that a relatively large amount of vitamin C is in potatoes. However, cooking destroys a significant portion of the vitamin and no one would eat raw potatoes. A huge amount of vitamin C is present in the rosehips, which explains the popularity of rosehip tea for strengthening the body. To obtain maximum vitamins, the rose hips should be mashed and infused overnight in cold water. The next day, the resultant solution should be warmed to 70-80 °C and drank.

 

In case the dietary intake is not preferred, vitamin C may be taken in forms of dietary supplements. It appears that there is no upper limit of daily intake of vitamin C. However, daily income higher than few hundreds of milligrams of vitamin C is not recommended.