Vitamin C has always been associated with boosting your immune system and fighting or preventing colds and the flu. But what does it really do for your body, and what happens when you aren't getting enough of it? Here is an in-depth look at the dangers of vitamin C deficiency, the symptoms and possible treatment methods.
Vitamin C and Your Body
While there are some animals that can make their own vitamin C, humans must rely on food, supplements and other sources to obtain this vital nutrient. The most obvious and readily available source of vitamin C is from vegetables and fruits, primarily of the citrus variety like oranges and grapefruits. The principle functions of vitamin C in the human body include:
- Tissue repair for scars, burns and wounds
- Repairing damaged teeth, bones and cartilage
- Used during the absorption of iron
- Acts as an antioxidant to fight harmful free radicals in the body
The Myths Surrounding the Common Cold
For many years, vitamin C has been considered a powerful tool to fight against sickness, mainly the common cold. This belief may have started due to its effectiveness in fighting scurvy, which is a disease caused by vitamin C deficiency that many sailors experienced. However, according to the National Institutes of Health, studies show there is no evidence that suggests vitamin C is an effective nutrient for fighting or warding off the common cold. While it is possible that regular vitamin C intake from supplements might slightly reduce the duration of a cold, or lead to milder cold symptoms, taking plenty of vitamin C as a possible cure or aid after a person is afflicted by the common cold does not appear to have any effect on the individual.
Dangers of Vitamin C Deficiency
Although the myth of vitamin C and its effects on the common cold have been debunked, it is still considered to be an important nutrient for the various functions it has within the human body. There are numerous dangers and health risks associated with vitamin C deficiency, including:
- Effects on a person's metabolism
- Increased risk of infections
- Slower tissue, bone and cartilage repair
- Weakened tooth enamel
Scurvy is the primary disease caused by vitamin C deficiency. It can lead to anemia, skin hemorrhages, gum disease and a general feeling of weakness throughout a person's body. Those primarily at risk for obtaining scurvy are malnourished individuals who lack enough vitamin C in their diet.
Signs and Symptoms of Vitamin C Deficiency
Individuals who aren't receiving a regular amount of vitamin C from their diet or supplement need to watch out for the following signs of vitamin c deficiency:
- Dry and splitting hair
- Constant bruising
- Frequent nosebleeds
- Rough, scaly, dry skin
- Aching joints
- Bleeding gums
Getting Enough Vitamin C in Your Diet
According to the National Institutes of Health, the Recommended Daily Allowance (RDA) for vitamin C varies with a person's age. It is suggested that a simple way to ensure an individual is getting enough vitamin C on a regular basis is to eat a balanced diet that contains some of the following foods:
- Citrus fruits
- Leafy green vegetables
- Green and red peppers
- Sweet potatoes
Some foods are enriched and vitamin fortified, and can be used to obtain vitamin C. Dietary supplements can also be used to ensure a person is getting the RDA for vitamin C.
Treating Vitamin C Deficiency
The primary means of treating vitamin C deficiency is by increasing a person's vitamin C intake with foods rich in vitamin C. Anyone experiencing signs of vitamin C deficiency can also take ascorbic acid tablets to remedy the problem. Some studies suggest that the levels of vitamin C can be reduced by smoking. Smokers should either quit or increase their vitamin C intake to avoid vitamin C deficiency. Individuals diagnosed with type 2 diabetes also have an increased vitamin C requirement.