In the early sixteenth century many sea-going adventurers lost their lives to a dread full disease called ‘scurvy’. In 1747, Dr James Lind a British physician, found that scurvy cured by the intake of orange and lemon juice; but it was not until 1933 that Dr Charles G King the University OF PITTSBURG AND Szent Georgia in Hungary identified the anti-scurvy factor as ascorbic acid or vitamin C.
Vitamin C is a white crystalline compound of relatively simple structure and closely related to the mono-saccharide sugars. It can be prepared synthetically at low cost from glucose.
Of all vitamins, Vitamin C is the most easily destroyed. It is highly soluble in water. Heat, light, alkalis, oxidative enzymes and traces of copper and iron accelerate the oxidation of ascorbic acid. It is relatively stable in an acid medium and at lower temperatures. Loss of the Vitamin often results from storage, processing and cooking.
This vitamin is important for the formation and maintenance of collagen, a protein widely distributed in the body. Collagen is the cementing material that holds the cells of the body together. Collagen is also important factor in the healing of cuts and wounds. Ascorbic acid is necessary for the production of tissue for quick post operative healing and for the maintenance of previously formed scared tissue. Ascorbic acid also plays a vital role in the normal metabolism of the amino acid, tyrosine, and in the function of the adrenal gland. It helps in easy absorption of iron from the gastrointestinal tract by the reduction of ferric iron to ferrous iron.
Fruits and vegetables are the main sources of ascorbic acid. Citrus fruits(oranges, grapefruit, lemon and limes), berries melons, pine-apples, guava, pears, bananas, apples, leafy green vegetables, green pepper, cabbage, chilies, mangoes, amla, tomatoes, are good source of ascorbic acid, chilies are usually consumed in very small amounts, and there for their value as a sources of ascorbic acid is negligible, apart from their other harmful effects. Dry legumes contain small amounts (10 to 8 mg per 100gm) which increases manifold, approximately 7 times, during germination. Sprouted cereals are found to contain 50to 10 mg per 100gm and sprouted legumes 15 to 90mg.
Milk, eggs, meat and poultry, as they are consumed do not have any Vitamin C. Human milk contains four to six times as much ascorbic acid as cow’s milk to protect the infant from scurvy. Liver contains a small amount of Vitamin C, but it is normally lost in cooking.
The minimum requirement of ascorbic acid for an adult man is to be 40mg per day. Ascorbic acid requirement is believed to be related to the body weight so that children require less.
There is no data to indicate that the requirement during pregnancy is increased. The increase due to foetal requirement may be small. Therefore, an extra allowance may not be necessary during pregnancy since the normal adult allowance includes a sufficient safety margin.
The ascorbic acid requirement of a nursing mother is considered to be the sum of the normal recommended allowance for an adult and the amount of Vitamin C secreted through milk, Therefore, the allowance during lactation may be about 80mg per day.
There is an increased requirement of this Vitamin treatment with drugs, exposure to cold, infections and prolonged fevers. Excessive intake of Vitamin C (more than 1gm) may leads to formation of kidney stones. Vitamin C intake through natural foods cannot provide such large amounts and this situation can occur only when one takes a large number of Vitamin C tablets.
Deficiency of ascorbic acid results in defective formation of the inter-cellular cementing substances, collagen. Fleeting joint pain irritability, retardation of growth in the infant or child, anaemia, shortness of breath, poor healing of wounds and increased susceptibility to infection are some of the sign of deficiency.
Scurvy is one of the major diseases due to gross deficiency of Vitamin C, common in infants, pain, tenderness and swelling of thighs and legs are the usual symptoms of infantile scurvy.
Scurvy in adults is a result of several month of ascorbic acid deficiency. The symptoms include swelling, infection and bleeding of gums tenderness of the legs, anaemia, formation of horny growth in their follicles called ‘follicular keratoses and the appearance of redness around them. The teeth may become loose and may be lost eventually. In advance stages of scurvy even slight injuries produce excessive bleeding and large hemorrhages may be seen underneath skin. Degeneration of muscle structure and cartilages may also occur.