Vitamin C: Recognise Deficiency Signs and Know the Best Food Sources

Recognise Deficiency Signs of Vitamin C and Know the Best Food Sources

Vitamin C is crucial for the functioning of the body. But humans – like guinea pigs – cannot make this vitamin and must rely on food sources. Many people lack sufficient intake to keep the body in optimum health. And did you know that scurvy is on the rise!

There is a significant difference between the “NRV” (nutrient reference value set at a level to prevent deficiency), and the optimum daily amount (ODA) for maintaining good health. Scurvy cases may only be in the hundreds in the UK, but they have doubled in the past decade despite the belief it was eradicated centuries ago.

Let’s explore the many roles of vitamin C and how you can obtain sufficient intake of the vitamin with your food choices.

Deficiency signs

Vitamin C Recognise Deficiency Signs and Know the Best Food Sources

First though, these are some common signs and symptoms that can be associated with low vitamin C status. Do you experience any of these?

  • Bleeding or swelling gums
  • Frequent colds and infections that are hard to shake off
  • Persistent iron deficiency anaemia
  • Inflammation (and oxidative stress)
  • Weak bones and teeth
  • Painful joints
  • Slow wound healing
  • Bruising easily
  • Excess wrinkles
  • Rough bumpy skin (often upper arms)
  • Increasing tiredness

Important roles of Vitamin C

Vitamin C Recognise Deficiency Signs and Know the Best Food Sources

This vitamin plays an important role with collagen production. Collagen is fundamental to healthy bones, teeth, skin, hair, gums, muscles, cartilage, ligaments and tendons. It is why it is essential to wound healing and helps prevent gums from bleeding. It helps develop strong bones, skin and joints. It also helps to maintain the strength of the lining of arteries and capillaries.

Vitamin C assists the absorption of non-haem iron (from plant sources) from the gut into the bloodstream. With a low animal diet, iron deficiency can quickly develop, It is also involved with the utilisation of fats ion the energy cycle.  Hence why a lack of energy can be a sign of vitamin C deficiency.

It’s also is one of the main anti-oxidants. Anti-oxidants neutralise harmful free radicals in the body, which cause illness and damage DNA structures. Vitamin C, together with selenium and vitamin E, helps prevent oxidation of the bad cholesterol LDL 

It has a crucial role in the health of the immune system and is an overlooked player in the fight against Covid by our medical profession. It stimulates white blood cell production to fight viral and bacterial infection. It’s my immediate go to at the first sign of a sore throat or cold symptoms. 

And finally, the adrenal glands use up more vitamin C than any other organ in the body. It is essential for the formation of the stress hormones adrenaline and cortisol. Consider the immense stress we often find ourselves experiencing and appreciate how we can lack vitamin C for other important processes. Do you ever find that you cannot shake off cold like symptoms when you experience chronic stress?

Ensuring adequate intake from your food sources

Vitamin C Recognise Deficiency Signs and Know the Best Food Sources

The NRV is set as low as 80mg with the NHS website stating just 40mg are required! But for optimum health it is not unusual to take up to 1000mg in order to assist the body to effectively perform all those functions described above. 

It is a water-soluble vitamin. Vitamin C is not stored in the body and is excreted in 2-3 hours. It needs to be replenished throughout the day to top up levels. It is easily destroyed through oxidation (e.g. after cutting fruits and vegetables it is lost to the air) and cooking at high temperatures. It is also depleted from the body due to the following lifestyle factors: smoking (one cigarette is thought to use 25-100 mg of vitamin C); alcohol; the pill; pollution; stress; aspirin and NSAIDs (enhances excretion from the body). 

So with this knowledge, it is not surprising that a large daily intake is required. Good food sources are fruit and vegetables. People associate oranges with vitamin C and whilst they are a good source they are not the richest source. This list provides your best daily sources:

  • Acerola cherry
  • Guava
  • Blackcurrants
  • Bell peppers all colours
  • Sweet peppers all colours
  • Kiwifruit
  • Lychee
  • Lemon
  • Orange
  • Strawberry
  • Papaya
  • Dark green leafy vegetables: Broccoli, kale, Brussel sprouts 
  • Parsley
  • Peas
  • Watercress
  • Cauliflower
  • Melon
  • Tomatoes
  • Chilli peppers

It’s yet another reason why I so frequently say we should be eating 10 portions of vegetables with fruit every day.

To supplement or not?

Vitamin C Recognise Deficiency Signs and Know the Best Food Sources

If you are conscious of eating a wide variety of fruit and vegetables every day, you may have sufficient intake for your daily needs. But if you are experiencing high levels of stress, or you’re aware you may have any of the deficiency signs I mention above, you may choose to supplement for a while. Together with the good food sources, a supplement, ideally 500 mg taken twice daily (since it is excreted from the body every few hours) is recommended to help achieve the optimum amount.

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Gut Health Nutritionist Caroline Peyton Principles
Caroline is a Professional Nutritionist, Naturopath based in Wiltshire.

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Providing expert, personalised, health advice utilising 10 years of nutritional therapy and naturopathy experience with a strong emphasis on digestion and gut health. Zoom or face to face Consultations.

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