Vitamin C and the Modern Day Scurvy

(Originally posted on bcotoronto.com on May 2nd, 2013)

We all know that Vitamin C is an essential antioxidant in our bodies but, like Vitamin D, it has so many more uses. Today we are going to discuss one such role Vitamin C plays and explore its implications.

Collagen is a protein that is ubiquitous throughout the body. It is the main component of our connective tissues which make up all the ligaments, strips of fibre holding our organs in place, blood vessel walls, and layers of tissue under our skin anchoring it to the structures underneath. It also makes up a large part of our cartilage and our bones before they harden.

Vitamin C is the key catalyst in the production and maintenance of collagen. This is actually how that age old disease Scurvy works. A lack of Vitamin C in the sailors’ diets lead to a breakdown of collagen which cased the teeth to fall out (the gums are almost completely collagen) and the blood vessels to weaken and break. Of course, it is extremely rare to find cases of Scurvy in the Western World now but a lot of the population does not get enough Vitamin C. This is what’s called a “Subclinical Deficiency” and it can go unnoticed until bad things start happening.

In Subclinical Vitamin C deficiency we find cases of gum recession, easy bruising, and joint laxity. Now don’t jump to the conclusion that all cases of these conditions are caused by Vitamin C, each has many factors that can influence it. In this case we are talking about Vitamin C though so let’s not get side tracked. With a subclinical deficiency collagen is being broken down more quickly than it can be replaced and this leads to certain unhealthy situations. Cartilage will wear away faster and our blood vessels will become weakened.

With cartilage maintenance impaired this puts us in greater risk for developing arthritis which can be managed but not reverse once it has started.

The collagen in our blood vessels is extremely important because that provides the stability needed to withstand the pressures of the pumping blood. The weakened blood vessels can burst which causes the easy bruising but more importantly puts us in great risk of aneurysms and strokes.

So are you getting enough Vitamin C in your life? Vitamin C can be found in all the citrus fruits as well as almost all brightly coloured veggies (peppers, radishes, etc.) and, of course, our favourite dark green leafy vegetables. Make sure you are getting the nutrients you need in quantities that are sufficient.

Thanks for reading,
Dr. Ben

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