Most people have trouble keeping their diet in check and many don't meet their recommended daily levels of essential nutrients. In fact, according to a study completed at the University of Illinois, many Americans fell short of consuming enough vitamin C. But getting enough of this essential vitamin is important for our overall well-being. In fact, high blood levels of vitamin C may be the ideal nutrition marker for overall health.
Vitamin C: Why You Need It
Vitamin C is a powerful antioxidant. But, it is also essential for many other reasons too. In fact, Vitamin C has been found to:
- Help prevent cancer and enhance the effect of cancer-fighting drugs
- Lower the risk of stroke and heart disease
- Quell inflammation in the body, lowering the risk of gout and other inflammatory conditions
- Promote healthy skin and collagen formation
- Slow aging, naturally
- Assist the body in the absorption of minerals, including iron
- Lower stress levels
- Boost the immune system
- Improve physical performance
Are You at Risk of Vitamin C Deficiency?
In extreme cases, severe vitamin C Deficiency is known as scurvy (a disease characterized by bleeding gums and loss of teeth) - however, this is pretty rare nowadays. Nevertheless, research has found that many people do have low levels of this vitamin, so much so that the US National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey found that 31 percent of the US population do not meet the estimated average requirement for vitamin C. Certain people, though, are more at risk for being deficient in this vitamin than others. This includes:
- Those dependent on drugs and/or alcohol
- Individuals on highly restrictive diets
- Individuals who do not eat fruits and vegetables daily
- Crohn's disease or ulcerative colitis sufferers
- Those with a medical condition which affects their ability to digest and absorb food, like:
- People who smoke - as smoking affects the absorption of vitamin C from foods
- People who eat less of a varied diet
- Pregnant and breastfeeding women
Vitamin C Deficiency: The Warning Signs
If you are concerned that you might be deficient in vitamin C, here are some signs and indications you should be on the look-out for:
1. Easy bruising
Bruising is a natural response to certain injuries - usually a fall or a knock. It is caused when small blood vessels near the skin's surface (capillaries) break and leak red blood cells. In certain situations, bruising is to be expected. Yet excessive or unexplained reddish-purple marks on the skin may point to a lack of vitamin C in the diet, due to weakened capillaries. Even minor deficiencies of vitamin C can lead to increased bruising. If this often happens to you, try to increase your dose and see if it has an effect. Studies show that consuming more vitamin C has been found to reduce the effects of bruising.
2. A wound that takes long to heal
Look into your diet if you have cuts and scrapes that are slow to heal. Vitamin C is essential to the formation of collagen in the skin. This connective tissue helps bind a healing wound, therefore a lack of it can lead to slow healing. Vitamin C also acts as a powerful antioxidant and immune system booster, both of which encourage faster healing.
3. Swollen, bleeding or inflamed gums
Swollen or bleeding gums or recurrent mouth ulcers are often linked to low levels of vitamin C. Collagen plays an important role in supporting gum health, however, it is estimated that gums turn over at least 20 percent of their collagen every day. Consuming vitamin C is therefore vital for healthy teeth and gums. Low levels are also linked to gum disease - ranging from gum inflammation to soft tissue damage. Low vitamin C can progress if not addressed, which can eventually lead to scurvy.
4. Dry or splitting hair and nails
Strong nails and a shiny head of hair are often good indicators of a healthy, balanced diet. However if they appear to be dry and splitting, it may indicate a deeper problem. Vitamin C usually makes its way into organs and tissues first before moving to the hair. So, low levels of the vitamin may cause you to have more than just a bad hair day. Vitamin C is also vital for the absorption of iron, a deficiency which can cause chronic hair loss and slow hair growth, as well as brittle and concave nails.
5. Red, Rough or Dry Skin
Rough and dry skin, caused by a lack of collagen is one of the first signs of scurvy. Low levels of vitamin C are also linked to a common, yet harmless skin condition known as keratosis pilaris, characterized by small, hard bumps on the upper arms, thighs, buttocks and face. Adding vitamin C to your diet can greatly improve skin tone and texture. Studies also show that diets high in vitamin C provide better skin and less wrinkling. Vitamin C can also offset the damage caused by the sun's UV rays.
6. Frequent nosebleeds
If you experience frequent nosebleeds don't dismiss an adequate diet as the underlying cause. More often than not, nosebleeds occur due to fragile small blood vessels. Adequate vitamin C, though, decreases their fragility.
7. Poor immune function
The immune system is what helps the body protect against infection and disease. Consuming a diet rich in vitamin C can promote better functioning of the immune system as several cells rely on this vitamin to perform their tasks. Being deficient in vitamin C can therefore lead to a reduced resistance against certain pathogens. Vitamin C may also reduce the duration of the common cold (despite popular belief, it does not ward it off, rather, it affects its incidence or severity).
8. Swollen and painful joints
Pain and swelling in the joints caused by inflammatory arthritis may be another sign that you need to check your vitamin C intake. A study conducted in 2004 in Great Britain, found that people with low levels of vitamin C were three times more likely to develop rheumatoid arthritis, than those whose diets included foods rich in the vitamin.
9. Fatigue or depression
The two could be a result of many underlying illnesses and causes. However, one such cause may be a lack of vitamin C intake. Research has indicated that there is a link between vitamin C deficiency and psychological states. Most hospitalized patients with suboptimal vitamin C levels demonstrate a perceived improvement in mood after taking a supplement, by up to 34 percent.
10. Unexplained weight gain
Not having enough vitamin C in the bloodstream can lead to an increase in body fat and waist circumference. A study conducted in 2006 at the Arizona State University found that the amount of vitamin C absorbed by the body directly affects its ability to use fat as a fuel source during both exercise and when at rest.
The four week study was conducted on 20 obese men and women who were put on a low-fat diet which contained 67 percent of the recommended daily allowance of vitamin C. In a random order, some of the participants were given a 500mg vitamin C capsule each day, or a placebo. It was found that those with low concentrations of vitamin C in their blood had higher body fat mass. Yet a steady amount of vitamin C concentration in the blood resulted in the ability to oxidize fat by 11 percent.