What is Vitamin-C deficiency? Are there any harmful effects of Vitamin-C deficiency on health?

Human body neither synthesize Vitamin-C on its own nor it stores. We have to consume It through food. Lack of or insufficient consumption of Vitamin C in diet for a prolonged period of time (Approx. 4 weeks) can result in its deficiency.

If the insufficient dietary intake or absence of Vitamin C in dietis limited for a shorter duration, it does not show any harmful effect on our body but if this trend continues for a longer period (Approx. >4 weeks) then it can result in deficiency which can be harmful.

Apart from insufficient dietary intake, the Vitamin-C deficiency can also occur in certain situations where the need for Vitamin-C in our body is increased. If this increased requirement of Vitamin-C is not met by increasing its intake through diet, the deficiency can develop. The increased requirement of Vitamin-C can occur during certain health issues such as:

  • Inflammatory Diseases
  • Febrile illness (High fever)
  • After Surgery
  • Burns
  • Hyperthyroidism (Overactive Thyroid gland)
  • Iron Deficiency
  • Cold or heat stress
  • Smoking

The deficiency of Vitamin-C manifests as a disease called as Scurvy.

In the state of deficiency, the functions which Vitamin-C performs in human body are not done effectively. Which can result in multiple health issues, such as:

  • Vitamin C helps in the formation of cementing substance in our body i.e. Collagen. Collagen is necessary for:
  1. Wound healing
  2. Development and maintenance of Bones
  3. Maintaining integrity of gums and teeth
  4. Maintaining integrity and structure of blood vessels.

Deficiency of Vitamin C leads to insufficient collagen synthesis, which can manifest as poor wound healing, loosening of teeth, swelling of gums, bleeding from gums, weakening of bones and abnormal bleeding from fragile blood vessels.

  • Vitamin-C deficiency can make the immune system weak and predispose a person to the repeated episodes of infections such as Cold, fever etc.
  • Its deficiency can affect the biosynthesis of certain neurotransmitters (Chemicals that carry signals between nerve cells), which can manifest asmuscle and nerve pain, Depression, Fatigue, mood swingsetc.
  • In the status of Vitamin-C deficiency, the absorption of Non-heme iron (Iron from plant source) is affected (Reduced). This can result in deficiency of iron and manifest as Anaemia.
  • Vitamin-C is an important antioxidant which can nullify the harmful chemicals/molecules like reactive oxygen species/free radicals that are generated during normal metabolism and also when the body encounters different kinds of stress (chemical, physical, environmental, etc.) and offers protection to the human body from their harmful effects. Deficiency of Vitamin-C can reduce the protection offered against these harmful molecules and increase the risk of certain Cancers, Cardiovascular disease, allergy, etc.
  • Vitamin-C protects the health of our eyes and skin. Its deficiency can increase the risk of dryness and inflammation in the Eyes and skin. The risk of early Cataract formation is also increased.

Though inadequate intake of Vitamin-C for a pronged period of time results in its deficiency in any person, there are certain people who can be more susceptible to Vitamin-C deficiency as compared with general population. Such as:

  • Smokers and people who get repeatedly exposed to second hand smoke (Passive smoking).
  • Infants fed on boiled Cow’s milk instead of Breast milk, since Cow’s milk contains very low Vitamin-C and boiling the milk destroys it.
  • Individual suffering from certain medical conditions of gastrointestinal tract which reduce the absorption of Vitamin-C.

Vitamin C, Inflammatory Diseases, High fever, Iron Deficiency, Collagen,Wound healing, Bones

The Symptoms of Vitamin C deficiency can be summed up as:

  1. Fatigue, Mood swings, Depression
  2. Loss of appetite
  3. Muscle pain and cramps
  4. Dry and pale skin
  5. Dryness of eyes
  6. Dry, fragile and easily pluck able hair
  7. Swollen, spongy and bleeding Gums
  8. Loose teeth
  9. Weak bones (Osteoporosis, increased risk of fractures), bone pains.
  10. Swollen and painful joints.
  11. Abnormal bleeding under skin
  12. Repeated infections
  13. Poor wound healing- wound takes longer time to heal or sometimes do not heal/ tear easily
  14. Low haemoglobin (Anaemia)

Can excess of Vitamin- C be harmful?

Vitamin-C consumption when exceeds the upper limit of daily consumption i.e. >2000mg per day can have some adverse effects on our health. It is very difficult to exceed this upper limit through regular dietary consumption of Vitamin-C. It can happen only in case of excess intake ofVitamin-C supplements:

Though excess vitamin C consumption is associated with some health issues, they are not as serious as Vitamin-C deficiency:

The health effects due Vitamin-C excess are:

  • Nausea
  • Vomiting
  • Diarrhoea
  • Abdominal cramps
  • Heartburn/Acidity
  • Headache
  • Insomnia
  • In severe cases – formation of kidney stones.

In the next article we will see the role Vitamin-C plays as an Adjuvant in the prevention and treatment of certain Diseases and health issues and why it so important for us!