Researchers at the Flinders Medical Centre in Adelaide found 75 per cent of their general medical patients had lower than normal levels of vitamin C, and 40 per cent of the patients sampled over three months had a severe Vitamin C deficiency.
Dr Sharma, who led the study, said low vitamin C levels slowed healing and meant that patients had longer hospital stays. He recommended that patients have their vitamin C levels tested on admission to hospital so that this could be boosted to aid healing if needed.
Vitamin C levels are now so low that Australian, American and British doctors are seeing cases of “the sailor’s curse” – scurvy.
In Britain, between 2009 and 2014, hospital admissions related to scurvy went up by 27 per cent although total numbers were under 100 in 2014.
The symptoms of scurvy include bleeding gums, fatigue, bruises that are slow to heal and joint pain.
One sign of vitamin C deficiency is superficial haemorrhages, the bloody areas under the skin. Another sign is bright red hair follicles where blood vessels have broken and blood has pooled at the base of the follicle.
Scurvy is fatal if untreated. Due to the lack of collagen, teeth become loose, gum disease sets in and bones collapse. As your system breaks down, you bleed for no apparent reason.
Vitamin C is essential for the production of healthy collagen, the major protein that gives structure to skin, bones and connective tissues.
In recent studies, vitamin C has been shown to help prevent and manage osteoporosis. It stimulates the bone-building cells known as osteoblasts, boosting your bone density. If you do fall, you are less likely to break your bones.
Vitamin C is also crucial for wound healing and helps absorb iron from your diet. As it is powerful antioxidant, it protects bone cells from damage. It is also anti-inflammatory.
Older Australians who are housebound and people who rely on packaged meals are most at risk of Vitamin C deficiency.
If you live alone, it’s easy to lose interest in preparing food. Those with dementia who may not have an appetite or forget to eat are also at risk.
Vitamin C is water soluble. Our bodies cannot store it or make it so it needs to be taken each day. Getting an affordable fresh supply of vitamin C can be a challenge for some older Australians who have limited mobility and find it hard to get to the supermarket regularly.
The recommended daily intake of vitamin C for adults over 70 is 45mg.
There are many summer fruits with good supplies of vitamin C, including mangoes, pineapples, papaya and rockmelon. Berries and citrus fruits are also reliable sources.
For vegetables, consider tomatoes, broccoli and capsicum. If you enjoy coleslaw, one cup of cabbage has about 36mg of vitamin C. Sprinkle coleslaw with orange juice instead of a cream dressing.
Red cabbage is higher in vitamin C than green cabbage. Vitamin C levels drop once fruit is cut, so it is best to prepare the fruit when you are ready to eat it.
Enjoy some vitamin C in drinks, snacks and salads this summer. Check with your doctor before taking vitamin C supplements though, as excess vitamin C is excreted via the kidneys. An oversupply can put a strain on your renal system.
If you are concerned about your diet or that of an older family member, speak to your doctor. You may be eligible for support from a dietician.
Kendall Morton is Director of Home Care Assistance Sunshine Coast to Wide Bay. Call 5491 6888 or email firstname.lastname@example.org