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Vitamin C Deficiency

February 18, 2009 Written by JP    [Font too small?]

It’s often difficult to notice marginal nutrient deficiencies. If you’re severely lacking in vitamins and minerals, your body will generally let you know by exhibiting a clear set of symptoms such as those found in iron-deficiency anemia, rickets (a lack of vitamin D) and scurvy (a vitamin C deficiency). But, if like many people, you’re getting just a little less than the optimal amounts of vital nutrients, your body often doesn’t give you tell-tale signs until many years have passed. By then, you may find yourself in a rather unwelcome situation.

Today I want to give two examples about how getting optimal levels of vitamin C may help to keep you well and active in the long term. The same basic principles apply to a great many nutrients. So while I’ll focus on vitamin C, please use this example when making your overall dietary choices. By doing so, you’re setting yourself up for life long nutritional success.


C for Cardiovascular Health

A new study published in the journal Nutrition, Metabolism and Cardiovascular Diseases hails vitamin C as a valuable protector of our coronary arteries. The Norwegian study piggybacked on the data collected in a previous study called the Diet and Omega-3 fatty acid Intervention Trial (DOIT). Here are the specifics of how they studied this topic:

  • The trial lasted a total of 3 years and originally included 563 male senior citizens.
  • The men were split into several groups. The two groups that this study focused on were a) a group that was educated about how to eat a healthier diet and; b) a group that was given no nutritional guidance.
  • Both sets of men filled out food frequency questionnaires. These were used to assess how often and how much vitamin C was consumed in their diets.
  • All of the participants were given a specific ultrasound test called a “B-mode ultrasound” (of the carotid artery) at the beginning and end of the trial period. This measured the thickness of the carotid artery walls. The rate at which the artery walls thicken is associated with the rate of atherosclerosis (hardening of the arteries) progression.

The results of the study showed a clear connection between the consumption of vitamin C rich foods and a slowing in the progression of atherosclerosis. An author of the study, Dr. Ingrid Ellingsen, commented that, “Increased intake of vitamin C and fruit and berries seemed to contribute to the lesser progression of the carotid intima media thickness (IMT) in elderly men who were given dietary advice”. Her follow-up remarks are the take home message of this research, “Focusing on the intake of vitamin C-rich plant foods may be an important therapeutic intervention in regard to their risk of cardiovascular disease.”

Other recent findings lend additional support to this study. For instance, a soon to published study from Japan found that vitamin C can help to prevent the oxidation of cholesterol. This may help to prevent the build up of cholesterol plaque within our arteries. Another study published in the Nutrition Journal found that young women with the highest levels of vitamin C in their blood tended to have lower blood pressure. This is important because it’s best to address these health issues as early in life as possible.


C-ing Clearly Forever

A cataract is a condition whereby the lens of the eye becomes cloudy. This, of course, affects the ability to see clearly. The primary way of dealing with advanced cataracts is a surgical intervention in which the diseased lens is removed and replaced with a plastic lens. It’s fairly minor surgery. But what if there was a way to reduce the likelihood of developing cataracts in the first place? Modern research suggests that there are some nutritional strategies that just might provide an edge in that department.

The most recent piece of evidence was just reported in the journal Current Eye Research. In the February issue, they describe a study that involved 50 cataract sufferers and 50 participants who had healthy eyes. The groups shared the same average age.

All the study subjects were asked to provide information about their age, gender and whether they lived in a rural or urban setting. The researchers also drew blood samples and analyzed them for their vitamin C content. The results of the blood work and personal data were as follows:

  • The participants with cataracts had a significantly lower quantity of vitamin C in their blood.
  • Those who lived in rural regions tended to have higher levels of vitamin C.
  • Women generally had higher levels of vitamin C than their male counterparts.

This first finding is the most important of the bunch, in my opinion. The authors of the study seem to agree based on their concluding statement, “Antioxidant vitamins, in particular vitamin C, found in Mediterranean fruits and vegetables, can help with the prevention of cataracts, which is a major health service burden in many countries.”

But let’s not forget about the second and third points. Those living in rural areas may have higher levels of vitamin C because they’re eating more fresh fruits and vegetables. Or perhaps their bodies expend fewer antioxidants to combat urban city problems such as a greater amount of pollution. The exact reason can’t be definitively known. We can, however, compensate for this reality by making sure to eat more vitamin C rich foods if we live in an urban location.

The third point is an obvious one. Men, we need to eat more like women, at least when it comes to eating vitamin C rich foods. Life is tough enough when we can see it clearly. Let’s do our best to keep our eyes on the C and our hearts pumping healthfully too.

Note: Please check out the “Comments & Updates” section of this blog – at the bottom of the page. You can find the latest research about this topic there!

Be well!


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Posted in Food and Drink, Nutrition

5 Comments & Updates to “Vitamin C Deficiency”

  1. David D. Richardson, M.D Says:

    I would like to believe that Vitamin C has a beneficial effect with regard to delaying the onset of cataracts. However, a study of only 100 people (50 in each arm) is simply not large enough to support any causal connection. At best, as suggested in the article, there may be a correlation. I look forward to the result of larger trials that may provide stronger evidence.


    David D. Richardson, M.D.
    Medical Director

    San Gabriel Valley Eye Associates, Inc.

  2. JP Says:

    Thank you for your thoughtful comments, Dr. Richardson.

    I’ll be on the lookout for supportive evidence that may help to strengthen the link between vitamin C and cataract prevention.

    Be well!


  3. liverock Says:

    This latest study of over 5,000 subjects shows a strong correlation between Vitamin C levels and cataract formation.


  4. JP Says:

    Thanks, Liverock!

    Be well!


  5. JP Says:

    Updated 06/09/16:


    Nutrients 2016, 8(6), 341

    Marginal Ascorbate Status (Hypovitaminosis C) Results in an Attenuated Response to Vitamin C Supplementation

    Inadequate dietary intake of vitamin C results in hypovitaminosis C, defined as a plasma ascorbate concentration ≤23 μmol/L. Our objective was to carry out a retrospective analysis of two vitamin C supplementation studies to determine whether supplementation with 50 mg/day vitamin C is sufficient to restore adequate ascorbate status (≥50 μmol/L) in individuals with hypovitaminosis C. Plasma ascorbate data from 70 young adult males, supplemented with 50 or 200 mg/day vitamin C for up to six weeks, was analyzed. Hypovitaminosis C status was identified based on plasma ascorbate being ≤23 μmol/L and the response of these individuals to vitamin C supplementation was examined. Of the participants consuming 50 mg/day vitamin C for up to six weeks, those with hypovitaminosis C at baseline achieved plasma concentrations of only ~30 μmol/L, whereas the remainder reached ~50 μmol/L. Participants who consumed 200 mg/day vitamin C typically reached saturating concentrations (>65 μmol/L) within one week, while those with hypovitaminosis C required two weeks to reach saturation. Regression modelling indicated that the participants’ initial ascorbate status and body weight explained ~30% of the variability in the final ascorbate concentration. Overall, our analysis revealed that supplementation with 50 mg/day vitamin C, which resulted in a total dietary vitamin C intake of 75 mg/day, was insufficient to achieve adequate plasma ascorbate concentrations in individuals with hypovitaminosis C. Furthermore, increased body weight had a negative impact on ascorbate status.

    Be well!


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