What is Vitamin C?
- Vitamin C is a water-soluble vitamin, which means that the body is unable to store it. So it is assimilated from food like tomatoes and citrus fruits like oranges
- It is also known as L-ascorbic acid or ascorbate
- It is an antioxidant similar to Vitamin E, Beta-carotene and other food derived from plants. Ascorbate has been seen to regenerate other antioxidants in the body.
- Due to its antioxidant affect, it might help in prevention or postponement of:
- Cardio-vascular diseases
- Ascorbate is used in the synthesis of:
- Collagen: Major part of connective tissue and plays a central role in healing wounds.
- L- carnitine
- Other neuro-transmitters
- It is involved in protein metabolism
- Serious Vitamin C deficiency is very rare, but many people have low levels of Vitamin C
What is Vitamin C composed of?
- Vitamin C refers to L-enantiomer of Ascorbic acid and oxidized forms of it
- Enantiomer is an optical isomer. That means, the atomic arrangement of Vitamin C and Ascorbic acid are mirror images of each other, but they are not identical.
- An Isomer is a type of molecule which has the same molecular formula as that of another molecules, but their structural formulas differ. That is, the number of each element is the same, but their atomic arrangement is different.
What is the importance of including Vitamin C in your diet?
- Ascorbate is important for the growth and repair of tissues of each and every part of the body.
- It is a vital part of the protein used for building:
- Blood Vessels
- Vascular tissue
- Forms scar tissue and in combination with zinc, helps to heal wounds
- Rebuilds and maintains:
- Helps in the absorption of iron
- Vitamin C is one of the large number of antioxidants. Antioxidants are nutrients that restrict some of the harm done by free radicals.
- When a person is exposed to tobacco smoke or radiation, the food is broken down by the body to release these free radicals
- The accumulation of free radicals is mainly responsible for the aging process
- Free radicals may play a part in diseases like:
- Heart Disease
- The body cannot create Ascorbate on its own. Also, leftover amounts of the vitamins dissolve in the water and leave the body through the urine. It is very important, therefore to include Vitamin C rich food in the diet everyday.
- Ascorbate is a popular treatment for the common cold as it has an immune stimulating effect
- But it has been seen that, for some people, even after having Vitamin C containing food and supplements, the risk of common cold does not decrease
- For people regularly taking vitamin supplements, the symptoms might be milder and duration of the cold is also shorter
- However, after catching a cold, taking supplements do not help
- Acts as an inhibitor of histamine, which is a substance released during an allergic reaction
- Ascorbate is essential for healthy teeth and gums and prevents bleeding and hemorrhaging
- Vitamin C plays a key role in the metabolism of bile acids, which indicates that it is responsible for blood cholesterol levels and gall stones
- Synthesis of vital peptide hormones, neurotransmitters and carnitine, is also done in the presence of Vitamin C
- Ascorbate is crucial for the eye to deal with oxidative stress
- Delays the set in of age-related muscular degeneration (AMD) and loss of vision
Why is Vitamin C beneficial for our body?
Though Ascorbate is not a cure for common cold, serious complications of it, may be avoided by regular inclusion of Vitamin C in the diet.
Other benefits include protection against:
- Deficiency of the Immune System
- Cardio-vascular disease
- Prenatal health problems
- Tooth decay and Gum disease
- Eye disease
- Skin wrinkling
Which foods are essential for getting Vitamin C in right proportion?
The most common element in food rich in Vitamin C is that all of them are plant-based.
Fruits with the highest source of Ascorbate are:
Vegetables with high levels of Vitamin C:
- Citrus fruits and juices like orange and grapefruit
- Kiwi fruit
- Berries like strawberries, raspberries, cranberries, blueberries etc.
Vitamin C is sensitive to heat, light and air. Ways by which Vitamin C can be lost:
- Broccoli, Brussel Sprouts and Cauliflower
- Green leafy vegetables like Spinach, cabbage etc.
- Sweet and white potatoes
- Winter squash
- Cooking food containing these vitamins can reduce their Vitamin C content. To avoid this loss, fruits and vegetables should be:
- steamed or microwaved
- eaten raw
- Light exposure can reduce Vitamin C content. So juices should be bought in cartons instead of transparent bottles.
- If the vegetable, kale is stored, frozen for a year, about half of Ascorbate is lost
- Canning food is even more damaging. If kale is canned and stored for over a year, it loses 85% of its nutrients.
Is Vitamin C a naturally occurring diuretic?
Vitamin C does have a diuretic (substances, usually drugs, causing frequent urination) effect. It is much less noticeable while consuming naturally occurring Vitamin C. But when Vitamin C supplements are taken, it is known to act as a diuretic. It is recommended that the water intake be increased to stay hydrated, due to this extra fluid loss.
How much Vitamin C should be taken every day?
Recommended Dietary Allowance (RDA) for vitamins, is the amount to be consumed every day for optimum health. The RDA for vitamins should be set as a daily goal for every person.
The amount of Vitamin C should be adjusted according to the age and gender of an individual. Conditions like pregnancy or illness, should also be kept in mind.
The best way to achieve the daily requirement of vitamins is to eat a balanced diet; including a variety of fruits and vegetables.
Reference for Dietary Intakes of Vitamin C
|Amount per day(mg/day)
|0 to 6 months
|7 to 12 months
|1 to 3 years
|4 to 8 years
|9 to 13 years
|14 to 18 years
|14 to 18 years
|19 and above
|19 and above
What is Vitamin C toxicity?
Vitamin C toxicity occurs usually by taking in too many supplements. Though it is very rare to take in too much of the vitamin, it is not impossible. But it does not happen because of having too much naturally occurring Vitamin C-rich food.
The symptoms of Vitamin C toxicity is:
- Stomach cramps
This type of toxicity is not a very serious condition and can be treated by stopping the supplements. However, people suffering from a condition known as Hemochromatosis can have serious consequences of Vitamin C toxicity.
- Hemochromatosis occurs when the body stores too much iron
- Increased doses of Vitamin C can lead to buildup of iron and harm body tissues
- It is imperative to talk to a doctor about the prescribed dosage of vitamin supplements, and stick within the given range. This helps to prevent Vitamin C toxicity.
What is meant by megadoses of Vitamin C?
- Huge consumption of ascorbic acid, in doses comparable to amounts produced by mammals, is called as megadoses
- Majority of animals can produce their own Vitamin C, in their livers
- Ascorbic acid is manufactured from glucose in all mammals except man
- When the doses of Vitamin C intake are many times more than that recommended by the RDA, it is known as megadoses
- People practicing megadoses take pills of Vitamin C supplements several times a day and also drink several glasses of juice daily
- Linus Pauling, who won the Nobel Prize in Chemistry in 1954, advocated this treatment
- Alternative medicine practitioners have claimed that following this procedure can help in curing cancer and AIDS. But there has been no scientific evidence till now.
What is Vitamin C deficiency?
- Lack of sufficient Vitamin C in the diet causes its deficiency
- The lack of Vitamin C, over a period of time, leads to reduced production of collagen (a type of protein)
- The shortage in collagen results in breakdown of tissues
- The maintenance and repair of the body is hampered
- Chronic Vitamin C deficiency, over a span of three months, leads to an ailment known as scurvy
Who are the people at risk of Vitamin C deficiency?
- People who live below the poverty line, who suffer from undernourishment
- Low income group people who tend not to buy food rich in Vitamin C
- People suffering from diseases that affect their ability to assimilate nutrients from food; such as,
- Crohn's disease
- Ulcerative colitis
- People who have unhealthy eating habits and do not have well balanced meals
- People on fad diets
- Senior citizens who have less variety in their meals
- Smokers who have less ability to absorb nutrients into their blood stream
- Pregnant and Lactating women who need a greater intake of Vitamin C in their diets
What are the different factors that contribute to Vitamin C deficiency?
- Vitamin C can only be introduced in the body by eating enough fruits and vegetables. Not eating enough food with ample Ascorbic acid can lead to deficiencies.
- Another reason can be, that the body is not able to absorb Vitamin C properly. This can be because:
- The organs are malfunctioning
- There are a number of blockages in the intestine and colon
- The person is a smoker, as tobacco impairs the absorption of nutrients
What are the top food sources f Vitamin C?
The following food items contain rich sources of Vitamin C. Amongst them, atleast three should be included in the daily diet:
- Guava: 1 fruit- 377mg
- Black currant: 1cup- 203mg
- Red pepper: 1 cup raw- 190mg
- Kiwi: 1 piece- 164mg
- Green peppers: 1 cup chopped, raw- 120mg
- Orange: 1 large- 82mg
- Strawberries: 1 cup- 89.4mg
- Papaya: 1 cup in pieces- 86.5mg
- Broccoli: 1 cup raw- 81.2mg
- Kale: 1 cup raw- 80mg
- Parsley: 1 cup fresh- 79.8mg
- Pineapple: 1 cup fresh- 78.9mg
- Brussels sprouts: 1 cup raw- 74.8mg
- Grapefruit: 1 cup- 71.8mg
- Peas: 1 cup raw- 58mg
- Cauliflower: 1 cup raw, chopped- 46.4mg
- Mango: 1 cup- 45.7mg
What are the common symptoms of Vitamin C deficiency?
The preliminary symptoms of Vitamin C deficiency are:
- Tiredness and weakness
- Joint and muscle pains
- Easily getting bruised
- Tiny red-blue spots like bruises on the skin
Other symptoms are:
- Dryness of skin
- Split-ends in hair
- Discoloration and swelling of gums (Gingivitis)
- Sudden and unexpected gum bleeding
- Poor healing of wounds
- Difficulty in fighting infections
- Bleeding in joints leading to serious joint pain
- Changes in the bones
- Tooth loss
- Weight loss
If these symptoms are not treated effectively for a long period of time, they can give rise to:
- Shortness of breath
- Nerve Problems
- Bleeding around the heart or inside brain
The last point is very rare, but can be fatal for some people with undiagnosed Ascorbic acid deficiency.
What causes Scurvy?
A prolonged lack of Vitamin C in the diet leads to Scurvy. Collagen is a vital protein for the formation of tissues and the lack of it can cause breakdown in body tissues. The primary reason for developing scurvy is not having a healthy and balanced diet. But apart from that, the other contributing factors may be:
- Alcohol abuse or a Drug Problem
- Complex mental health issues like Depression or Schizophrenia
- Elderly people who cannot maintain a healthy diet. This is true in the case of recently widowed elderly men who have no experience cooking and therefore do not cook a balanced meal for themselves.
- Treatments like chemotherapy, causes loss in appetite and nausea
- Conditions hampering digestion like Crohn's disease and Ulcerative colitis
- Anorexia Nervosa: An eating disorder which is triggered by the anxiety of gaining weight. The person eats as little as possible leading to scurvy.
- Smoking: Impairs Vitamin C absorption leading to this condition.
- Pregnancy or for Lactating mothers, as the body needs much more Vitamin C, at this time
What is the treatment method for scurvy?
- Scurvy is usually treated with the help of oral Vitamin C supplements which reduces the symptoms effectively.
- Some symptoms, like joint pain need about 48 hours to reduce. Others need about two weeks to completely heal the pain.
- The dosage for adults is:
- 800 to 1000 mg/day to be taken for a week
- 400 mg/day after the first week, until recovery is complete
- The dosage for children is: 150 to 300 mg/day for 1 month
- Permanent damage due to scurvy is rare, except for tooth loss due to dental disease
How can Scurvy be prevented?
- A healthy, balanced diet with about 5 servings of fruits and vegetables daily, is enough to prevent scurvy
- The Recommended Daily Amount (RDA) of 30-60 mg/day can be easily achieved. 1 big orange or a cup of pineapple is enough to satisfy the body's Ascorbic acid needs.
- Consuming huge amounts, like 1000 mg/day may cause toxicity. But otherwise, having large amounts of Vitamin C does not have adverse effects.
What are the complications of Vitamin C deficiency?
Health conditions due to long term Vitamin C deficiency can worsen over time. Serious health issues caused due to this health disease is:
- High Blood Pressure
- Gallbladder disease
What are the tests to diagnose Vitamin C deficiency?
- Vitamin C Blood Test: Measures the Ascorbic acid levels in the blood
- This test is ordered by the physician when a person is showing symptoms of Vitamin C deficiency like:
- Joint and Muscle Pains
- Easy bruising
- Swollen and bleeding gums
- Chronic infections
- Tooth loss
- Unexpected weight loss
- For Pregnant Ladies to monitor the levels of Vitamin C in the blood
- People showing malabsorption disorders
- Results may be obtained within 2-3 business days
- Requires overnight fasting before the test. Before the test, fruits or Vitamin C supplements should not be taken for 24 hours
- Vitamin C (With Dilution) Blood Test: The test is taken only by people with high doses of Vitamin C in their blood, as prescribed by their doctors. This test is not recommended for infants below 11 months of age.
- X-Rays: Help to analyze the bones to detect thinning, brought about by persistent Ascorbic Acid deficiency.
What are the normal values of tests suggested for Vitamin C deficiency/excess?
- Normal values for significant deficiency of Vitamin C levels: Less than 0.3 mg/dL
- Excess values are not clearly defined. Usually, Greater than 3.0 mg/dL
What are the test rates for diagnosing Vitamin C deficiency/excess in India?
The normal price range for tests differs because of various factors, like the city where the test is being performed, the type of hospital or test clinic or, even the type of medical condition for which the test is being performed. For a broad knowledge about the test rates being offered by hospitals in your city, click here.
What are the treatment methods of Vitamin C deficiency?
- Replacing the Vitamin C lacking in the diet. Vitamin C supplements and a healthy diet is enough to make up for the deficiency.
- Smokers are advised to stop smoking, to enable better Ascorbic Acid absorption
- People with Type-2 diabetes also need to increase their intake of Vitamin C
How can Vitamin C deficiency be prevented?
- An adequate diet with sufficient fruits and vegetables can prevent deficiency. Such as,
- Citrus fruits like limes, lemons and oranges
- Leafy Green vegetables
- Primary prevention: Scurvy can be prevented by 6.5 mg vitamin C intake every day. Requirements of Vitamin C differ according to the:
- Smoking habits
- Secondary prevention:
Main symptoms of ascorbic acid deficiency are followed by lack of:
Screening and treatment of these deficiencies should be followed through.
What is the prognosis of Vitamin C deficiency?
People suffering from Vitamin C deficiency usually make a complete recovery. Once treatment starts, symptoms will recede within days or weeks.