This Morning: Dr Chris discusses vitamin D and Covid
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Until the end of the 18th century many sailors who went on long sea voyages would have little or no vitamin C intake, and were known to contract scurvy. Fruits and vegetables are the best sources of vitamin C. These days scurvy is more rare, but there are a number of foods you need to eat as part of your diet to make sure you are not lacking in vitamin C. Due to its function as an antioxidant and its role in immune function, vitamin C has also been suggested as a means to help prevent and treat a number of health conditions.
The NHS says scurvy is caused by not having enough vitamin C in your diet for at least three months.
Thankfully the health body says even people who do not eat very healthily all the time are not usually considered at risk of scurvy.
Nonetheless, there are several factors which can put you more at risk. These include having no fresh fruits or vegetables in your diet for a while, allied medical having anorexia, or having a long-term dependency on drugs or alcohol that affects your diet.
The NHS also warns that smokers may be more at risk, because smoking reduces how much vitamin C your body gets from food. Exposure to second-hand smoke may also decrease vitamin C levels.
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“Babies, children and older people who find it hard to have a healthy diet may also be more at risk of scurvy,” the NHS adds.
If you are pregnant or breastfeeding, your body needs more vitamin C at these times.
There are a number of symptoms of scurvy to be mindful of, some of which will show up on your skin and around your mouth.
The NHS says having swollen, bleeding gums can be a sign of vitamin C deficiency, and warns that sometimes teeth can fall out.
Moreover, you should be mindful of changes to your skin.
If you develop red or blue spots on the skin, usually on your shins, or have skin that bruises easily, these may be symptoms of scurvy.
The NHS also lists several other signs. It says you should see a GP if you are at risk of scurvy and you feel very tired and weak all the time or you feel irritable and sad all the time.
Finally, if you have severe joint or leg pain, go and see your GP for advice.
Scurvy is easily treated by adding some vitamin C to your diet such as fresh fruit and vegetables, or by taking vitamin C supplements.
Fruits, particularly citrus fruits, fruit juices, and many vegetables are excellent sources of vitamin C. Some breakfast cereals are fortified with vitamin C.
“Most people treated for scurvy feel better within 48 hours and make a full recovery within two weeks,” notes the NHS.
Vitamin C supplements have the potential to interact with other medications, so you may need to discuss vitamin C intakes with your GP.
Humans are unable to synthesize vitamin C from within their bodies, so it is an essential part of your diet.
According to the National Institutes of Health, vitamin C has low toxicity and is not believed to cause serious adverse effects at high intakes.
“The most common complaints are diarrhoea, nausea, abdominal cramps, and other gastrointestinal disturbances due to the osmotic effect of unabsorbed vitamin C in the gastrointestinal tract,” it says.
It adds that overt deficiency symptoms occur only if vitamin C intake falls below approximately 10 mg a day for many weeks.
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