Originally published on phlabs.org
By Joy Stephenson-Laws, JD, Founder
As a young adult, I knew vitamin C was good for my health. I associated it with citrus fruits like oranges, grapefruits, lemons or products like Emergen-C. And I recall learning somewhere in my educational process that people who didn’t get enough vitamin C in their diets may get scurvy. For example, some sailors on long voyages in the 17th and 18th centuries died from scurvy when they ran out of fresh food supplies. But I never met anyone who had scurvy.
Scurvy severely impacts the immune system. It may cause the gums to bleed easily and become infected. The teeth may become rotten and start to fall out. If not treated, scurvy can be fatal. But with the prevalence of citrus fruits today, I did not think that vitamin C deficiency or scurvy was something I needed to worry about.
I was wrong.
It has been reported that more than 40% of American adults have an inadequate intake of vitamin C. And while the deficiency may not result in bleeding gums and missing teeth, it might be enough to wreak havoc on our immune systems and make us age faster.
Vitamin C protects the immune system from deficiencies that may lead to cardiovascular illnesses and other diseases. It is one of the most important nutrients needed for our survival. It is also an antioxidant, which means it protects our bodies from free radicals and other harmful molecules. It is a major producer of collagen, which is the main ingredient behind the repair of bone and skin tissue, cartilage, ligaments, tendons and teeth. Vitamin C also helps moisturize and nourish the skin, which may increase skin elasticity and may even restore a youthful appearance.
People who smoke are likely to be deficient in vitamin C. Smoking may cause oxidative stress, which may result in a decrease of vitamin C levels. Smoking is so dangerous that even secondhand smoke may decrease vitamin C levels. Because of this, the Institute of Medicine (IOM) suggests that smokers need an additional 35 mg of vitamin C per day than nonsmokers. They haven’t determined a specific amount for those who are regularly exposed to secondhand smoke.
Daily amounts of fruits and vegetables generally provide more than enough vitamin C. On the other hand, people who make a diet out of fast food and junk food or abuse alcohol and drugs increase their risk of vitamin C deficiency.
The real victims of vitamin C deficiency generally reside in low-income and impoverished neighborhoods, where the environment may make them more prone to having an unhealthy diet. Of course, adding fruits and vegetables to their diet may be enough to offset deficiency.
People who suffer from malabsorption may also be deficient in vitamin C. Malabsorption is when the body is incapable of absorbing nutrients. The inability to absorb nutrients like vitamin C is usually caused by chronic health conditions like Crohn’s disease, celiac disease, cachexia and severe intestinal malabsorption.
Vitamin C cannot be naturally produced by the human body, making it a crucial dietary component. In order for us to maintain a healthy intake of vitamin C, we have to consume it.
Vitamin C can usually be found in a variety of fruits and vegetables such as oranges, watermelon, green and red peppers, grapefruit, tomatoes, spinach, papaya, Brussels sprouts and cabbage.
The Recommended Dietary Allowance (RDA) for men is around 90 milligrams (mg) per day. For women, it is about 75 mg. Women who are pregnant or breastfeeding should increase to 120 mg per day. To put these amounts in perspective, one cup of raw oranges is about 95 milligrams. To get an idea about which foods contain vitamin C and how much, visit the National Nutrient Database. It is a great source of information.
But be careful! While it’s not a common occurrence, it is possible to take too much vitamin C. It’s not likely that a ton of vitamin C will be harmful, but there are negative side effects to look out for. When taking doses above 400 mg, the extra vitamin C is excreted in the urine. However, if you consume more than 2,000 mg, you may experience negative side effects such as abdominal pain, diarrhea and nausea, heartburn, insomnia and even the rare case of kidney stones.
It’s never too late to get tested for vitamin C deficiency! The sooner you learn about your vitamin C levels, the sooner you can get back to living a healthier life.
Enjoy your healthy life!
The pH professional health care team includes recognized experts from a variety of health care and related disciplines, including physicians, attorneys, nutritionists, nurses and certified fitness instructors. This team also includes the members of the pH Medical Advisory Board, which constantly monitors all pH programs, products and services. To learn more about the pH Medical Advisory Board, click here.