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Vitamin C, or ascorbic acid, is naturally produced in fruits and vegetables. The vitamin, which can be taken in dietary or supplementary form, is absorbed by the intestines.
Certain health conditions may cause vitamin C depletion, including diabetes and high blood pressure. People who smoke and women who take estrogen may also have lower vitamin C levels. In addition, men are more likely to be vitamin C depleted, as are the elderly. High stress levels have also been linked to vitamin C deficiency.
In addition, certain medical and surgical procedures may lower the levels of vitamin C in the body. It has been found that hemodialysis causes patients with kidney disease to lose as much as 66 mg per session. Similarly, patients who have had kidney transplants are at increased risk of vitamin C deficiency.
Severe vitamin C deficiency leads to scurvy, a disease common on ships prior to the eighteenth century, due to the lack of fresh fruits and other dietary vitamin C sources. Symptoms of scurvy include weakness, bleeding, tooth loss, bleeding gums, bruising, and joint pain. Less serious vitamin C depletion can have more subtle effects such as weight loss, fatigue, weakened immune system (as demonstrated by repeated infections and colds), bruises that occur with minor trauma and are slow to heal, and slow healing of other wounds.
Low vitamin C levels have also been associated with high blood pressure, increased heart attack risk, increased risk for developing cataracts, and a higher risk for certain types of cancer (i.e., prostate, stomach, colon, oral, and lung).
Vitamin C is a critical component of both disease prevention and of basic body building processes. The therapeutic effects of vitamin C include:
Other benefits of vitamin C are less clear cut and have been called into question with conflicting study results. These include vitamin C's role in treating the common cold, preventing heart disease, and treating cancer.
Author Info: Paula Ford-Martin, Rebecca J. Frey PhD, The Gale Group Inc., Gale, Detroit, Gale Encyclopedia of Alternative Medicine, 2005
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