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Lack of vitamin C linked to rise in Scurvy

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Vitamin c deficiency is a concern that often frequents our headlines. Usually, this concern voices the importance of a diet rich in fruit and vegetables.

Lack of vitamin C linked to rise in Scurvy

Vitamin c deficiency is a concern that often frequents our headlines. Usually, this concern voices the importance of a diet rich in fruit and vegetables.

Dr. Sarah Brewer says: ‘The latest National Diet and Nutrition Surveys (NDNS) show that only 27% of adults aged 19-64 meet the 5-a-day recommendation for fruit and vegetables. This is worrying, as fruit and veg are the main dietary source of vitamin C.'

A recent study by Sydney based medical professor Jenny Gunton, whilst still enforcing the importance of eating five a day, links vegetables to vitamin C from a different perspective. Overcooking vegetables results in the destruction of contained vitamin C.  By overcooking your greens, you may also be eliminating their nutritional value.


Why is Vitamin C important?

Vitamin C is responsible for the production of Collagen within the body. The production of collagen, a protein found in many types of tissue such as bones and cartilage, is reliant on a healthy reserve of Vitamin C. If the body is undersupplied when it comes to the latter, tissue health suffers. Skin, blood vessels, bones, cartilage; these are all examples of tissue that may break down without the consistent replenishment of collagen.

Society is becoming increasingly undernourished in terms of vitamin C consumption. Unfortunately, a lack of nutrients lends itself to an increase in health problems. Scurvy, a disease that manifests from a lack of vitamin C and is usually associated with old maritime sailors, has recently seen an increase.


Dr. Sarah Brewer on Scurvy  

A severe lack of vitamin C can lead to scurvy, a deficiency disease associated with bleeding gums, poor wound healing, and fatigue. If not diagnosed and treated, scurvy can prove fatal.

As a result of poor intakes of fruit and vegetables, there is concern that scurvy is becoming more prevalent. In the year up to April 2014, for example, it was the primary or secondary cause of 94 hospital admissions. This is an increase of 27% over the previous 5 years, a statistic that only includes diagnosed cases severe enough to need hospital treatment.’


Why is Scurvy on the increase?

Dr. Hilary gives an insight as to why Scurvy is on the rise:

‘The simple unpalatable answer is that too many families are existing on junk food, such as takeaways and microwave meals. In the UK, we consume less fruit and vegetables than in other parts of Europe, and 3% less than we did in 2007.  Even in people who are overweight, scurvy is being increasingly diagnosed. Some eat no fruit or vegetables whatsoever, whilst others consume vegetables but derive no benefit from the vitamins, due to over cooking. Not only this, many buy fresh fruit and veg, but lose its benefits as a result of long storage time.

There are other contributory factors. Excess alcohol consumption, chemotherapy, inflammatory bowel disease, smoking, anorexia and low income. But avoiding scurvy should be easy. There was an excuse in days gone by when fresh fruit and veg was scarce and expensive. Today it is not.’


How can I avoid Scurvy?

Dr. Sarah Brewer says ‘Scurvy can be prevented by vitamin-C intakes. 10 mg a day is sufficient, although 20mg per day is needed for adequate wound healing. For optimum immunity and health, however, the recommended intake is 80mg.’

According to Rob Hobson, head of nutrition at Healthspan, “Scurvy may be on the rise on Australia. But, like the UK, cases are still rare and are more likely to occur during illness, amongst very fussy eaters or those suffering with alcohol or substance abuse.  

Hobson also points out that ‘some of these cases are occurring amongst those following the popular carb-free way weight loss diet, which makes a case for ensuring your diet is well balanced”.


How to get enough vitamin C from your diet

Rob Hobson, states, ‘The Reference Nutrient Intake for this nutrient is 40mg per day which you can get from drinking one glass of orange juice. Eating five servings of fruit and vegetables per day from either fresh, canned, frozen or dried will provide you with more than enough vitamin C. Foods that are particularly rich in this nutrient include citrus fruits, red peppers, dark green vegetables, kiwi and berries.

Struggling to reach your five a day? A daily supplement, such as Healthspan’s Vitamin C sustained release tablets, can be used to maintain a healthy level of vitamin C.

Sarah Brewer graduated as a doctor from Cambridge University. Having worked in hospitals and general practice, she gained a Master's degree in Nutritional Medicine from the University of Surrey. She is the author of over 60 popular health books and writes widely on all aspects of health including complementary medicine. More from this expert.

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