For the longest time, I used to associate vitamin C deficiency with scurvy. Maybe this was from watching too many pirate movies when I was younger or my interest in maritime history that came from growing up on an island. For whatever reason, whenever I heard about not getting enough vitamin C in my diet, I immediately conjured up visions of toothless pirates in the 18th Century.
Back then, sailors started their long voyages with tons of fresh fruits and vegetables which they had to eat before it spoiled. So, they often went for very long periods without having any fruits or vegetables. Their gums would swell and bleed, their teeth would fall out, their legs would swell and they were generally exhausted and in poor health. As you can imagine, I was terrified of not getting enough vitamin C and ending up liking fruits and most veggies.
Luckily, today, scurvy is relatively rare since most of us have access to a wide variety of fruits, vegetables and vitamin C fortified foods in our local markets. But vitamin C deficiency that may not rise to the level of scurvy is still a problem… especially for older women.
Why Vitamin C Is So Important for Older Women
Various studies have reported the incidence of vitamin C deficiency ranges anywhere from 10-26% of men and 7-14% of women.
For us boomer women, we need to be especially careful with our vitamin C intake since the respected and authoritative Linus Pauling Institute recommends that women over 50 increase their vitamin C intake to at least 400 mg a day. To give you a point of reference, the U.S. Government recommends 75 mg a day for women.
This higher level of intake is now recommended since vitamin C may be particularly important as we get older. We run increasingly higher risks for age-related chronic diseases such as heart disease, stroke, certain cancers, and cataracts.
But vitamin C does a lot more than protect us from these age-related diseases. It also is necessary for helping our bodies heal and better metabolize and use such nutrients as carbohydrates, fats and proteins. Vitamin C also helps boosts the immune system, lower hypertension and maintain our skins’ elasticity.
How to Identify a Vitamin C Deficiency
So, other than waiting for your teeth to fall out, what are some of the symptoms of inadequate vitamin C? Here are a few:
- Feeling tired or a generalized fatigue
- Malaise or a general feeling of a general feeling of discomfort, illness, or uneasiness
- Inflammation of the gums
- Joint pain
- Poor wound healing
A few years back, I wondered if there wasn’t something askew with my vitamin C levels when I started to have inflamed gums despite excellent dental care and hygiene. I also started to feel fatigued even with enough sleep.
So, my doctor checked my vitamin C levels and it turned out I was vitamin C-deficient even though I was eating more than enough vitamin C-rich foods and occasionally taking multivitamins that included vitamin C.
My doctor and I ruled out all the other conditions that could increase my need for vitamin C such as alcoholism, smoking, cancer, chronic infection, intestinal diseases, chronic stress or exposure to cold temperatures.
After some additional testing, we found out that I have a gene that limits my ability to absorb vitamin C. As a result, my doctor recommended that I up my intake of vitamin C and start taking vitamin C supplements.
I dutifully did for about a year and then I had my nutrient levels checked a few weeks ago. You can imagine my surprise and frustration when the test showed that, despite my best efforts, my vitamin C levels continued to be low.
With a little more research with my doctor, I learned that it can sometimes be hard for our bodies to absorb vitamin C, or other nutrients for that matter, from certain types of supplements. Sometimes you need to do a trial-and-error to determine which type of supplement will work best with your body.
So, my takeaway from this recent nutrient test is that just doing what we think will correct a nutrient deficiency may not do so. It reinforces my belief that getting our nutrients tested at least once a year along with our annual physical is the way to go.
When it comes to nutrition and making sure our bodies are getting what they need, the solution is to test, not guess.
So please talk with your healthcare provider about adding nutrient testing to your healthcare routine.
Have you had your vitamin C levels tested? Do you have vitamin C deficiency? What did you do about it and did it work? What is your experience with having your nutrient levels tested? Have you even done this test? If so, what did you learn and what lifestyle changes did you make? Tell us about it. Please join the conversation.
Editor’s note: None of the information in this article should be considered medical advice. Please consult your doctor before making any changes to your diet or taking new supplements.