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Diet and Lifestyle

Vitamins and Supplements: Signs You’re Low on Vitamin C

How Much Do You Need?

Adult women need 75 milligrams of vitamin C per day while men need 90 milligrams.

If you eat a balanced diet, it’s pretty easy to get enough. Adult women (who aren’t pregnant or breastfeeding) need 75 milligrams of vitamin C per day; men, 90 milligrams. A mere 1/2 cup of raw red bell pepper or 3/4 cup of orange juice will do it, while 1/2 cup cooked broccoli gets you at least halfway there. Your body doesn’t make or store vitamin C, so you have to eat it every day.

Who’s Falling Short?

Heavy drinkers, smokers, and those on dialysis need more vitamin C daily.

The most likely people include those with an overall poor diet, with kidney disease who get dialysis, heavy drinkers, and smokers. You’ll need an extra 35 milligrams of vitamin C per day to help repair the damage caused by free radicals that form when you smoke. If you’re among the 7% of Americans who aren’t getting enough vitamin C, you’ll notice symptoms within 3 months.

Slow Wound Healing

Lack of vitamin C can lead to slower wound healing.

When you get hurt, levels of vitamin C in your blood and tissue go down. Your body needs it to make collagen, a protein that plays a role in each stage of repairing the skin. And vitamin C helps neutrophils, a type of white blood cell that fights off infection, work well.

Bleeding Gums, Nosebleeds, Bruises

Bleeding gums are one potential sign of low vitamin C.

Vitamin C keeps your blood vessels healthy, and it helps your blood clot. Collagen is also essential for healthy teeth and gums. One study found that people with gum disease who ate grapefruit for 2 weeks noticed their gums didn’t bleed as much.

Weight Gain

Vitamin C may play a role in the accumulation of belly fat.

Early research has found a link between low levels of vitamin C and higher amounts of body fat, especially belly fat. This vitamin may also play a role in how well your body burns fat for energy.

Dry, Wrinkled Skin

Vitamin C is an antioxidant that helps you maintain healthy skin.

People who eat a healthy diet with plenty of vitamin C may have smoother, softer skin. One possible reason: Because vitamin C is an antioxidant, it can help protect your skin from free radicals. These break down oils, proteins, and even DNA.

Tired and Cranky

Vitamin C may help fight fatigue.

In a very small study, 6 of the 7 men who had low levels of vitamin C said they felt tired and irritable. That suggests a link, though other things could be playing a role. Another study of 141 office workers found that giving them vitamin C made them feel less tired within 2 hours, especially if their level was lower to start with. Then the effect lasted for the rest of the day.

Weak Immunity

Vitamin C has immune-boosting effects.

Since vitamin C has several jobs related to your immune system, it shouldn’t surprise you to learn you’re more likely to get sick and may have a harder time recovering. There’s some evidence that vitamin C can help protect you from illness such as pneumonia and bladder infections. It may even lower your odds of heart disease and some types of cancer.

Vision Loss

Adequate vitamin C is necessary to help protect vision.

If you have age-related macular degeneration (AMD), it may get worse faster without vitamin C and other antioxidants and certain minerals. Getting enough vitamin C from foods might help prevent cataracts, but we need more research to understand that relationship better.

Scurvy

Adequate vitamin C protects against scurvy.

Before the 1700s, this potentially deadly disease used to be a huge problem for sailors. Today, it’s relatively rare but possible if you get only 10 mg/day of vitamin C or less. People with scurvy also have problems such as loose teeth, cracked fingernails, joint pain, brittle bones, and corkscrew body hair. When you boost vitamin C, symptoms start getting better in a day, and usually it’s cured within 3 months.

Vitamin D Boosts Bone Health

A close up of a bone matrix.

Your body needs vitamin D to help absorb the calcium and phosphorus in your diet that makes for strong bones. Vitamin D deficiency can cause bone loss, low bone density, and increase your chances of breaking bones. Vitamin D deficiency can also cause rickets in children and a condition called osteomalacia in adults. Symptoms may include weakness and bone pain.

Vitamin D: Is it a Wonder Pill?

A collage of vitamin D including fish oil, salmon, and sunlight.

Vitamin D is a fat-soluble vitamin that regulates the absorption of calcium and phosphorus as well as facilitates normal immune system function. This vitamin is an essential nutrient important for strong bones. Vitamin D has 2 forms: D2 (obtained from foods you eat) and D3 (obtained from sun exposure). Vitamin D is produced by the body when your skin is exposed to sunlight. You can also get vitamin D through certain foods and supplements. It’s important to get enough of this vital nutrient so you don’t end up with a vitamin D deficiency.

Benefits of Vitamin D

Vitamin D can boost your immune system, support muscle function, keep your heart healthy, and aid in brain development. Vitamin D may also reduce your risk of multiple sclerosis and depression.

Vitamin D and Multiple Sclerosis

A woman with multiple sclerosis has vitamin D deficiency.

Higher blood levels of vitamin D seem to be associated with a lower risk of developing multiple sclerosis (MS). A recent study shows vitamin D may slow the progression of the disease, though the connection between the vitamin and MS is not clear. It is unknown if low levels of vitamin D cause MS or are a result of the disease. MS is more common in areas north of the equator, suggesting that the amount of sunshine one receives is connected to their likelihood of developing MS. People are less likely to develop MS if they have higher vitamin D levels. Supplementation with vitamin D may be beneficial for MS patients, but the dose is yet to be determined.

Vitamin D Deficiency and Depression

A depressed woman with a vitamin D deficiency in bed.

There may be an association between low levels of vitamin D and depression, but studies show mixed results and further research is needed. Vitamin D receptors in the brain have been linked to the development of depression. Vitamin D itself may not ward off depression, but patients who are taking antidepressants along with vitamin D may help reduce symptoms of depression.

Sunlight and Vitamin D

A man soaking up vitamin D from the sun.

The easiest way to get vitamin D is by exposing your skin to direct sunlight, specifically, ultraviolet B (UVB) rays. The more you expose your skin, the more vitamin D your body produces. You only need to spend about half as much time as it takes to turn pink and get sunburn. This means if you are fair-skinned and normally start to turn pink in 30 minutes, you only need 15 minutes of pre-sunscreen sun exposure to produce the vitamin D3 your body needs. The darker your skin, the more time you need in the sun to produce vitamin D. The amount of vitamin D you get from sun exposure depends on the time of day, your skin tone, where you live, and how much skin you expose.

Vitamin D Foods

Vitamin D rich foods: salmon, cereal, milk, and egg yolk.

Generally, sun exposure is the best way to get the vitamin D your body needs. Most foods that contain vitamin D only contain small amounts and won’t give you the total amount your body needs.

Foods High in Vitamin D

  • Fatty fish such as salmon or mackerel
  • Beef liver
  • Egg yolks
  • Milk
  • Orange juice fortified with vitamin D
  • Fortified cereals
  • Infant formulas

Breakfast Foods High in Vitamin D

A man eating cereal, high in vitamin D, for breakfast.

If you are unable to obtain enough vitamin D from sun exposure, there are foods containing this vitamin that can start kick-start your day. Many foods typically eaten for breakfast are fortified with vitamin D. Read labels to find out how much vitamin D is in the food you eat for breakfast.

Breakfast Foods Good for a Vitamin D Boost

  • Milk (fortified)
  • Cereal (fortified)
  • Orange juice (fortified)
  • Breads (fortified)
  • Yogurt (fortified)
  • Egg yolks

If you don’t get enough sun exposure, food is unlikely to give you the amount of vitamin D your body needs. In this case, your doctor may recommend you take vitamin D supplements. There are two forms of vitamin D: D2 (ergocalciferol), found in food, and D3 (cholecalciferol), produced by your body from exposure to sunlight. Most over-the-counter vitamin D supplements contain vitamin D3, which is not usually vegetarian. If you have concerns about this, your doctor may prescribe vitamin D2 supplements.

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Diet and Lifestyle

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Diet and Lifestyle

Get Your Gut Back On Track!

An estimated 110,000 people consume antibiotics daily in Ireland, between December/March. (Source: Health Protection Surveillance Centre).

We asked Nutritional Therapist Rosanna Davison for her Top Tips to get your gut back on track after an illness.

1. Take time out

Don’t push yourself too quickly.  Remember your body needs time to rebuild its reserves and regain strength.

Take more rest than usual.  If you need to sleep longer, go to bed earlier.

Cut back on non-essential activities; they can wait until you are feeling 100%.

  1. Embrace fibre-rich foods full of protective nutrients

Fresh vegetables and fruits are rich in dietary fibre, vitamins and antioxidants.  Try eating seven to nine portions over the course of each day. Choose different colours so that you nourish your body with a variety of phytonutrients.

Eat a portion of complete protein at each meal, such as poultry, fish, eggs, beans, pulses or tofu.

Consume essential omega-3 fatty acids daily.  Avocados, seeds (flax, chia) and oily fish (mackerel, wild and organic salmon), are naturally rich in anti-inflammatory fats.

  1. Go ‘fermented’

Fermented foods are rich in ‘friendly’ bacteria.  Sauerkraut is simple to make at home or buy kefir or kimchi in your local health store.

  1. Reduce or eliminate sugary foods

Processed foods often contain refined sugars to enhance taste. Excess refined sugar and processed foods may encourage the growth of ‘unfriendly’ bacteria, so aim to buy and eat fresh food.

If you have a sweet tooth, try eating berries (strawberries, blackberries, blueberries, raspberries).  They are rich in antioxidants and naturally low in sugar.

If you need a sweetener, try Stevia which is extracted from plant leaves and doesn’t impact blood sugar levels.

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Diet and Lifestyle

Do vegans need to take supplements?

Do vegans need to take supplements

A varied, wholesome vegan diet provides almost all essential nutrients in sufficient quantities. I hear you shouting ‘Noooo! It provides absolutely everything we need!’ and you may be right, but only if you regularly eat certain fortified foods. The sad truth is that modern food production systems and lifestyles make it more difficult for everyone – vegans or not – to get all they need from diet alone. It doesn’t mean a vegan diet is unnatural or unhealthy, in fact the opposite is true. It means that how we grow, produce and consume food has changed and, with an ever-growing population, the demands on the systems that produce our food are so high that certain nutrients become harder to obtain.

Confusion, confusion

I get a lot of questions about supplements and understand why people are confused. Over the years, I’ve worked on many vegan research projects and as science and population studies reveal ever more data, the guidelines and recommendations change and evolve. Hence, what we were told 10 years ago may no longer be up-to-date and that’s why different opinions arise, depending on where and when we got our information. It’s my job to keep up-to-date, so hopefully I can bring some clarity to the supplement discussion!

So what’s needed? The trio of nutrients to keep a close eye on are vitamin B12, vitamin D and iodine. You may not need to supplement with all these, all year long, but it depends on several factors. Read on…

Vitamin B12

Vitamin B12 naturally comes from bacteria in the soil and both people and animals would traditionally have got it from eating unwashed plants. However, we not only wash vegetables before we eat them (and for good reasons), but food production is now so sanitised that most vegetables are washed in chlorine, or other sterilising solutions, so there’s not a trace of B12 left.

People are not generally aware that most farmed animals are given B12 supplements and this is how the vitamin eventually ends up in their flesh. So, the argument that meat is a natural source of B12 doesn’t really stack up as meat-eaters essentially consume B12 supplements recycled by the animals that were given them!

It is absolutely necessary that we have a reliable source of vitamin B12 for our bodies. We need it to make red blood cells, for a healthy heart and circulation, and it’s essential for the nervous system. It takes years to develop a B12 deficiency, so on one hand, you don’t need to worry about not having taken B12 for a while. On the other hand, you do need to pay attention, as when symptoms develop, it’s usually serious.

Do vegans need to take supplements

To ensure adequate intake, you should have at least 5µg (micrograms) daily from supplements or fortified foods. The B12 used in both foods and supplements is produced commercially by growing bacterial cultures in large vats – and it’s always suitable for vegans.

There are two forms of B12 in supplements – cyanocobalamin (cheap) and methylcobalamin (expensive). Cyanocobalamin is the stable ‘inactive,’ form of B12 and is used in supplements and to fortify foods and drinks. Once ingested, it’s activated by your body so it can be used. Methylcobalamin is the ‘active’ form of vitamin B12 as it does not require any metabolic reactions to be activated. It costs more and is not so stable.

So which one to choose? Unless you’re a heavy smoker, have kidney failure or any other serious condition affecting your metabolism, cyanocobalamin – the cheap form of B12 – is perfectly fine. Intakes up to 2,000µg a day are safe and you can take either a lower dose daily or a higher dose a couple of times a week.

Vitamin D

We need vitamin D for healthy bones, teeth and muscles and it also performs other essential functions in our metabolism. It is produced in the skin when exposed to sunlight and this is the main source of vitamin D for most people. However, if you always use sun-block, cover most of your skin or live in a country, like the UK, where we don’t get enough sunlight over the winter, you need a supplement, whether you’re vegan or not.

The UK Government now recommends that we all take a supplement from October to April and, if you protect your skin ferociously over the sunnier spring and summer months, you should take a supplement all year long. Otherwise, just 20 minutes of sunlight on the face and arms is all that is required by the body to manufacture sufficient vitamin D.

Do vegans need to take supplements

Fortified breakfast cereals, bread, plant milks and vegan margarines can be useful sources if exposure to sunlight is not practicable, but may not be enough. When it comes to supplements, there are two types and your body can use both, but it’s advisable to check the source – vitamin D2 is always vegan, but vitamin D3 can be of animal origin. Many vegan foods are fortified with vitamin D2 and labelled so, but if not specified, especially on cereal products, vitamin D tends to be of animal origin. If you choose to supplement your diet, there’s a range of quality and affordable vegan supplements with vitamin D2. There are also those made from algae or mushrooms that contain D3 and these are recommended if you need a higher dose. When deciding on your dosage, 10µg per day is enough and you shouldn’t go above 25µg.

Iodine

Iodine has been a hot topic lately, especially with plenty of tabloid ‘experts’ warning that vegans are missing out. This mineral is necessary for thyroid function and helps to regulate how energy is produced and used in the body.

The amount of iodine in plants depends upon the iodine content of the soil in/on which they are grown. The closer to the sea, the more iodine and therefore vegans can get enough from plant foods, but there’s no guarantee. Seaweed, which of course grows in seawater, is always a good source and includes nori, laver, dulse and the kelp family (kombu, arame, wakame). But be warned – kelp absorbs far more than other seaweeds and you can get too much iodine from it. So, while seaweed consumption is encouraged, kelp should be used only sparingly.

Do vegans need to take supplements

It’s best to use a kelp supplement so you know exactly how much iodine you’re taking – it’s cheap, reliable and you don’t have to worry about taking too much. The recommended daily intake is 140µg and intakes up to 500µg are considered safe. In many countries, iodised salt is commonly used to ensure iodine intake, but it’s not the norm in the UK.

The dairy industry has been boasting about the iodine content of cow’s milk. What they don’t tell you is that it’s not a natural component of milk, but comes from iodinated cattle feed, supplements, iodophor medication, iodine-containing sterilisers of milking equipment, teat dips and udder washes. Cow’s milk is neither a natural nor the best source of iodine, so we can happily leave all that dairy out of our diet.

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