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Not just immunity, here are all the reasons why your body needs vitamin C

Updated on:6 April 2021, 19:04pm IST
We all know that vitamin C is essential for our body’s immune system. But this micronutrient has a bigger role to play in your well-being.
Dr Gaurav Jain
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Vitamin C is one of the most crucial nutrients your body needs. Image courtesy: Shutterstock
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James Lind helped to conquer a killer disease in 1747. His experiment on a naval ship showed that oranges and lemons were a cure for scurvy, a disease caused by a lack of vitamin C and that killed two million sailors between the years 1500 and 1800. Ever since the scurvy outbreak days, it is a known fact that micronutrients are a crucial part of the immune system and their deficiency can have an adverse impact.

Today, a century and half later, given the gaps in nutrient intake in India due to suboptimal dietary habits or lifestyle, there is a dire need to ensure that people have access to the requisite vitamin and mineral supplements, especially the vulnerable cohort.

Vitamins are classified based on their solubility. The ones which dissolve in water and are called water-soluble vitamins. Unlike the fat-soluble vitamins, water-soluble vitamins like vitamin C are generally not stored in the body.

Also, it is an essential nutrient which cannot be synthesized by humans due to loss of a key enzyme in the biosynthetic pathway. Hence, there is a need of getting them regularly from diet or when that is not adequate, from supplements.

vitamin c
Vitamin C is great for immunity. Image courtesy: Shutterstock
But why do we need vitamin C to be healthy?

Vitamin C is a potent antioxidant that reduces the risk of chronic disease, helps in managing high blood pressure, lowers risk of heart disease, reduces blood uric acid levels, prevents iron deficiency, boosts immunity and reduces the risk of dementia.

Vitamin C is a crucial micronutrient for humans as it helps in the development and maintenance of connective tissues, plays an important role in wound healing, bone formation, and the maintenance of healthy gums.

It also helps in several metabolic functions including the activation of the B vitamin, folic acid, and the conversion of cholesterol to bile acids lowering blood cholesterol levels. Vitamin C is used as a therapeutic agent in scurvy and other vitamin C deficiency disorders. Most importantly, vitamin C boosts the immune system, reduces the severity of allergic reactions and helps to fight off infections.

A recently published clinical study in elderly people in India, there was a deficiency of vitamin C among 74% and 46% north and south Indians respectively.

In acute infections such as common cold and respiratory infections, there is a depletion of vitamin C and hence, there’s a need to replenish vitamin C through supplements to boost immunity. In chronic diseases such as Diabetes, atherosclerosis and heart disease, there’s a reduction in the vitamin C status of the body and hence, consuming vitamin C supplements would help in improving the vitamin C.

Vitamin C, also known as ascorbic acid, is needed to make a substance collagen that is required for the repair of various tissues in the body such as skin, cartilage, bone, ligaments and tendons, blood vessel walls, and teeth. It improves absorption of iron and calcium and other minerals in the gut.

vitamin c
Including vitamin C in your daily skin-care routine can go a long way! Image courtesy: Shutterstock
These signs suggest that you are deficient in vitamin C

Symptoms of vitamin C deficiency are tiredness, weakness, muscle and joint pains, bruises on the skin, splitting hair, swelling and discolouration of the gums, unexpected bleeding from the gums, poor healing of wounds, problems fighting infections and weight loss. If not diagnosed and treated in time, vitamin C deficiency can lead to nerve problems, fits, fever and shortness of breath.

What to do when you experience symptoms of vitamin C deficiency

It is imperative to see the doctor to ensure that there is no deficiency of this essential micronutrient. The doctor may detect the problem after asking the person about their diet and listening to the symptoms they have experienced. Vitamin C is also required for the absorption of iron from food; therefore, iron deficiency is often seen in people who have inadequate vitamin C. The doctor can also suggest X-rays or scans to test the bones as the vitamin deficiency is associated with thinning of the bones.

Persistent lack of vitamin C in the diet can lead to a condition called scurvy. Bleeding gums, foul smelling breath are some of the commonly seen symptoms of scurvy. Scurvy can be treated with high dose Vitamin C supplements as recommended by your physician.

Natural sources of vitamin C such as citrus fruits, green leafy vegetables, strawberries, papaya, broccoli, etc. help in preventing vitamin C deficiency disorders and scurvy in the long term. Along with a healthy diet, supplements go a long way in maintaining the right amount of vitamin C in the body boosting immunity. The recommended intake of the vitamin in daily diet is subject to the age and gender, for instance, pregnant and breastfeeding women need higher amounts.

vitamin c
Vitamin C is not constricted to just citrus fruits. Image courtesy: Shutterstock
Addressing vitamin C deficiency with healthy diet and supplements 

Staying healthy in the face of the pandemic is the need of the hour. But how can we achieve this? Numerous studies have found that even in developed countries, where there is no shortage of fresh fruit and vegetables, those who consume supplements have significantly higher vitamin C status and or lower prevalence of deficiency.

Our focus should be on immune system which is the body’s defence against illnesses. Vitamin C deficiency could impair our immunity and lead to more frequent illnesses due to infections. This can be addressed by eating a healthy diet and taking vitamin C supplements. As the body does not make vitamin C on its own, eating vitamin C rich food and vitamin C supplements on a regular basis is a viable solution to prevent vitamin C deficiency and build immunity.

Dr Gaurav Jain Dr Gaurav Jain

Dr Gaurav Jain, Internal Medicine, Dharamshila Hospital