Vitamin C, also known as ascorbic acid, is a water-soluble vitamin that is found in various food. Since the body cannot produce its vitamin C, it is consumed via natural food and fruits, added to some others, and also taken as a dietary supplement.
Vitamin C has many impressive benefits. It is an essential nutrient responsible for boosting the immune system and repairing tissues. It is also responsible for the production of collagen, a protein found in bones and skin that provides strength and structure.
It functions as an antioxidant and is said to reduce the risk of some cancers, although this is still highly debated.
Vitamin C supplements have also been found to reduce blood pressure in both healthy individuals and people living with high blood pressure.
Studies have also shown that vitamin C supplements have the potential to reduce the risk of heart diseases. Consumption of foods rich in the nutrient has been associated with a lower risk of gout and a reduced level of uric acid.
The intake of vitamin C prevents iron deficiency as it aids in improving the body’s absorption of iron. This helps reduce the risk of anemia, especially in those prone to iron deficiency.
What is Vitamin C Deficiency?
Scurvy is the name given to the deficiency of vitamin C. The debilitating effects of this syndrome include spontaneous bleeding, anemia, pain in the limbs, and loss of teeth accompanied by damage to the gums.
The disease was made common from tales of pirates and sailors who went on long voyages without any source of vitamin C aboard their ships. In the 18th century, it was discovered that limes, lemons, and oranges led to the remission of the disease.
Causes and Risk Factors of Vitamin C Deficiency
Humans are not able to naturally produce vitamin C and must consume it from external sources. The causes and risk factors of Vitamin C deficiency include:
- Alcoholism and drug abuse
- Diet lacking sources of vitamin C such as fruit and vegetables, possibly due to famine or low income
- Old age
- Eating disorders
- Restrictive diet due to allergies
- Medical conditions such as inflammatory bowel disease and diabetes
Signs and Symptoms
The amount of vitamin C in the body usually depletes within 4-12 weeks if one stops the intake of the nutrient.
The symptoms of vitamin C deficiency may begin to appear around eight weeks. The early symptoms may include a loss of appetite, exhaustion, loss in body weight, and irritability.
After 12 weeks, other signs may begin to appear. These include:
- Pain in the bones
- Petechiae, small red spots appearing underneath the skin as a result of bleeding
- Diseased gums and loss of teeth
- Swelling or edema
- Corkscrew hair
- Difficulty breathing
- Depression and mood swings
- Poor healing of wounds
- Spontaneous bleeding
The diagnosis of vitamin C deficiency is performed by a medical professional via physical examination of the skin and gums, and by blood tests.
X-rays are used to detect and diagnose vitamin C deficiency in children. The presence of vitamin C deficiency is most evident at the ends of the long bones, especially the knees. This is due to the impairment of bone formation and lack of bone tensile strength.
Measurement of blood ascorbic acid is performed at the lab. Vitamin C levels below 0.2 mg/dL indicate a deficiency of the nutrient.
Treatment of Vitamin C Deficiency
The maximum recommended intake of vitamin C in men is 90 mg/day, while in women, it is 75 mg/day. Smokers are required to take 35 mg/day than non-smokers due to the high level of oxidative stress caused by smoke.
The vitamin C deficiency is treated by consuming 100-500 mg of ascorbic acid orally thrice a day for two weeks until the symptoms disappear.
Consuming foods rich in vitamin C helps in relieving the symptoms of vitamin C deficiency. Some examples of food that contain Vitamin C include;