Vitamin C Deficiency
Vitamin C deficiency, also known as scurvy, is a disease primarily associated with socioeconomic status and access to food.
What is vitamin C?
Vitamins are a group of substances needed in small amounts by the body to maintain health. Vitamin C is also called ascorbic acid. It cannot be made by the human body and so is an essential component of your diet. Vitamin C is needed to make a substance called collagen which is required for the health and repair of various tissues in the body, including:
• Ligaments and tendons
• Blood vessel walls
Some of the earliest vitamin C deficiency symptoms include the following:
• Pain in joints and muscle
• Small red-blue bruise-like spots on your skin
• Fatigue and weakness
• Easy formation of bruises
While these might not be tell-tale low vitamin C symptoms, there are some prominent and advanced ones.
• Weight loss
• Dry and damaged skin
• Split ends of hair
• Discolouration and swelling in gums
• Inefficient prevention of infections
If left untreated, these symptoms can lead to fatal conditions of bleeding around the heart and brain haemorrhage.
The primary cause of vitamin C deficiency is an imbalanced diet. This is because the human body does not naturally synthesise vitamin C, and it has to be supplied via external sources. This primarily concerns food intake, including vegetables, fruits, and fortified foods.
This is why most causes of deficiency of vitamin C involve an improper diet. Some of these are as follows:
• A diet lacking vitamin C-rich fresh vegetables and fruits
• A restrictive diet due to health conditions like weak digestive system, allergies, etc.
• Mental health issues and other disorders like anorexia
• Old age
Besides, there can be a number of other causes for lack of vitamin C. These include treatments, health conditions, and habits that limit the body’s ability to absorb nutrients. Some of them are as follows:
• Ulcerative colitis
• Intake of illegal drugs and high amounts of alcohol
• Crohn’s disease
• Prolonged diarrhoea
Risk Factors –
Risk factors for Vitamin C deficiency include –
• Babies only fed cow’s milk
• Seniors only consuming tea and toast diet
• Poor people who are not able to afford fruits and vegetables
• Individuals with eating disorders
• Type 1 diabetes who have high vitamin C requirements
• Individuals with disorders of the GI tract like inflammatory bowel disease.
• Individuals with iron overload, which leads to wasting of vitamin C by the kidneys
• Individuals with restrictive diets, food allergies
• Bleeding from nose and gums
• Subperiosteal haemorrhage or bleeding between joints
• Loose teeth
• Improper and delayed wound healing
• Weak bones
Your healthcare provider can diagnose scurvy based on your symptoms. They’ll perform a physical examination. Your healthcare provider may request a blood test to measure the amount of vitamin C in your blood.
Treatment / Management –
The treatment for vitamin C deficiency is to replace the vitamin C that is lacking in your diet. This can be achieved by taking vitamin C supplements and by eating a diet rich in vitamin C.
Direct replacement of vitamin C is standard, with up to 300 mg daily for children and 500 mg to 1000 mg daily for adults.
In the absence of a deficiency, daily requirements are up to 45 mg per day in children, 90 mg per day for men, 75 mg per day for women, and up to 120 mg per day for lactating women.
A mere 1/2 cup of raw red bell pepper or 3/4 cup of orange juice will do it, while 1/2 cup cooked broccoli gets you at least halfway there. Your body doesn’t make or store vitamin C, so you have to eat it every day.
There are various foods that are rich in vitamin C, including:
• Citrus fruits like oranges, grapefruit, limes and lemons.
• Berries such as blackcurrants, strawberries, raspberries, blueberries and cranberries.
• Cantaloupe melon and watermelon.
• Kiwi fruit.
• Vegetables such as spinach, green and red peppers, tomatoes, cauliflower, cabbage, broccoli, Brussels sprouts and potatoes.
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