Vitamin C is also known as Ascorbic acid and it is a macronutrient that has several essential functions in the body. It aids in formation of collagen, absorption of intestinal iron, synthesis of norepinephrine and conversion of cholesterol into bile acids. It also has antioxidant properties, thus it protects the cells from damage caused by free radicals. Vitamin C also acts on the pathways of regulation of metabolism and blood cell formation.
The main disease that is caused by the deficiency of vitamin C is scurvy. It symptoms manifest after about 4 to 6 months of lack of intake of vitamin c. It causes the appearance of signs and symptoms such as purple spots on the skin. Scurvy in infants is also known as Moeller-Barlow disease and it is characterized by bone deformities, impaired growth and cardiac changes.
Signs and symptoms of lack of vitamin C
Vitamin C deficiency can cause the appearance of various signs and symptoms such as:
- Tiredness, pallor and dizziness , due to anaemia caused by low absorption of iron
- Difficulty in wound healing due to collagen deficiency
- Bleeding, mainly of the gums and nose, but which can arise anywhere in the body, due to disruption of tissues that support blood vessels
- Purplish spots on the body, also due to the fragility of blood vessels
- Bone deformities and increased risk of fractures, especially in children, because it alters the process of calcification and formation of bones
- Hair loss and weakening of nails, cartilage and joints
- Bone pain and swelling in the body
- Fall and softening of the teeth, because it alters the formation of dentin, which is the matrix of teeth
- Increased risk of infections, such as flu and colds, because the lack of vitamin C impairs the formation of white blood cells and alters various functions of the immune system
- Sadness, mental stress and difficulty in reasoning, because the lack of this vitamin can produce brain chemical changes.
Moreover, in the case the deficiency is not diagnosed and treated , other symptoms may appear such as excessive tiredness and lethargy.
Causes of lack of vitamin C
Vitamin C is absorbed by the intestine and its main source is food. For this reason, the lack of this vitamin mainly occurs due to insufficient consumption of a proper diet nor when the absorption in the intestine is not adequate. Other risk factors include malnutrition, anorexia, smoking, alcoholism, diseases and intestinal inflammations such as Crohn’s disease. During pregnancy and breastfeeding, there is also usually an increased need for this vitamin.
Deficiency of vitamin C can also occur in people who have diseases of the gastrointestinal tract, chronic or acute inflammatory diseases and people who are in the postoperative intestinal and those who have severe burns.
Diarrhoea can also increase loss of this vitamin through faeces. Achlorysis, which is a condition in which there is no production of gastric juice can also decrease the amount of vitamin C absorbed.
How treatment is done
Vitamin C is rich in fruits and vegetables such as pineapple, acerola, orange, lemon and pepper. These foods should be included in the diet so as to meet the daily vitamin C needs.
The amount of vitamin C that should be taken on a daily basis is about 75mg/day for women and 90mg/day for men above the age of 19.
However, some people may require large amounts, such as pregnant women, smokers and people who are taking remedies such as contraceptives and diuretics, which may impair the absorption of this vitamin. For the case of babies, children and adolescents, the amount needed is lower. It is therefore ideal that the doctor or nutritionist is consulted so that they may adjust vitamin replacement in such cases.
Vitamin C is eliminated gradually through urine and for this reason, it should be consumed daily. If the amount needed is not met by foods eaten, then it is possible to consume supplements of the vitamin, as prescribed by the nutritionist.