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Supplements | Vitamin C Deficiency Not Uncommon in the US

Vitamin C Deficiency Not Uncommon in the US

Many Americans may not be getting enough vitamin C, potentially leading to a deficiency of this important nutrient, according to the Third National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (NHANES III) reported in the American Journal of Public Health (2004;94:870–5).

Vitamin C is a water-soluble nutrient found in many fruits and vegetables. Rich food sources of vitamin C are strawberries, potatoes, broccoli, red peppers, citrus fruits, and kale. Vitamin C functions as an antioxidant, protecting against heart disease and neutralizing toxins such as those found in cigarette smoke. It also plays a central role in wound healing, and may protect against the development of certain cancers such as stomach and breast cancer. An overt deficiency of vitamin C causes scurvy: a condition characterized by weakness, anemia, gum disease, easy bruising and bleeding, and defects in tooth and bone development. Scurvy was once considered a disease of the past; however, new questions are arising concerning the possibility of vitamin C deficiency among Americans. Recent studies have reported that while the average intake of vitamin C by Americans is well above the United States recommended daily allowance (USRDA), many people actually consume far too little of this vitamin.

The new study investigated vitamin C status among Americans. Information from 15,769 people aged 12 to 74 years was collected during in-home and clinic interviews. Participants answered questions regarding dietary intake and health history, type, and frequency of supplement use. Blood levels of vitamin C were measured and participants were categorized as deficient (low blood levels of vitamin C), depleted (marginally low levels), or normal.

The average vitamin C intake among the participants was 177 mg per day, well above the USRDA of 75 and 90 mg per day for women and men, respectively. However, 14% of all men and 10% of all women were deficient in vitamin C. Men aged 25 to 64 years were more likely than other groups to be deficient. Smokers had the highest risk of vitamin C deficiency, and people who hadn’t taken vitamin C–containing supplements in the past month had a greatly increased risk. Non-Hispanic black men had a higher risk of deficiency than white males. Mexican-American men and women had the lowest risk, perhaps owing to the influence of the traditional Mexican diet, which is rich in vitamin C. The rate of vitamin C depletion ranged from 15 to 23% among men and 13 to 20% among women.

Many of the fruits and vegetables commonly eaten by Americans have a relatively low vitamin C content, such as iceberg lettuce and french fries. Heating and storage both decrease the vitamin C content in foods. The results of this study suggest that Americans, especially cigarette smokers and poor eaters, should increase their consumption of vitamin C–rich foods and consider taking a vitamin C supplement.

Kimberly Beauchamp, ND, received her bachelor’s degree from the University of Rhode Island and her Doctorate of Naturopathic Medicine from Bastyr University in Kenmore, WA. She is a co-founder and practicing physician at South County Naturopaths, Inc., in Wakefield, RI. Dr. Beauchamp teaches holistic medicine classes and provides consultations focusing on detoxification and whole-foods nutrition.

Copyright © 2004 Healthnotes, Inc. All rights reserved. Republication or redistribution of the Healthnotes® content is expressly prohibited without the prior written consent of Healthnotes, Inc. Healthnotes Newswire is for educational or informational purposes only, and is not intended to diagnose or provide treatment for any condition. If you have any concerns about your own health, you should always consult with a healthcare professional. Healthnotes, Inc. shall not be liable for any errors or delays in the content, or for any actions taken in reliance thereon. Healthnotes and the Healthnotes logo are registered trademarks of Healthnotes, Inc.

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The health information contained in this site is not intended as medical advice and should not be considered a substitute for appropriate medical care. Any products mentioned in studies cited in Healthnotes articles are not necessarily endorsed by Bastyr. As with any product, consult with a natural health practitioner to discuss what may be best for you.

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