Vitamin C deficiency: What happens when your body senses low levels of blood vitamin C?
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We all know the importance of vitamins in our diet, but what exactly happens when vitamin C dips to low levels?
Even though vitamin C is known for boosting the immune system, it performs many other functions in the body as well.
In this blog post, we’ll take a look at some of the things that can go wrong when your blood vitamin C levels are low.
You’ll also learn about the series of biochemical processes that occurs in the body to compensate for nutrient deficiency, and how the body responds to a lack of vitamin C, even when there are no clear symptoms.
Things to know about vitamin c
Here’s what you need to know about vitamin C:
- The recommended daily intake (RDI) of vitamin C for adults is 90 mg for men and 75 mg for women.
- Pregnant and breastfeeding moms need an additional 85 mg and 120 mg of vitamin C, respectively.
- Vitamin C is water-soluble, which means that any excess is excreted in the urine.
- Vitamin C is a good antioxidant, that protects cells from damage caused by free radicals.
- Vitamin C also helps make collagen.
What is Blood Vitamin C?
Blood vitamin C is the amount of vitamin C that is present in your blood. It is a measure of the body’s vitamin C status.
Vitamin C is a water-soluble vitamin that helps fight off infections, heals cuts, and makes collagen.
The normal range of blood vitamin C levels is 0.2 to 2.0 milligrams per deciliter (mg/dL). A level below 0.2 mg/dL is low, and a level above 2.0 mg/dL is high.
High blood vitamin C levels are not harmful, but they can sometimes be a sign of a vitamin C overdose.
Low blood vitamin C levels are caused by several factors, including:
- Inadequate dietary intake of vitamin C-rich foods.
- Some people may have problems absorbing vitamin C efficiently from the gastrointestinal tract.
- Situations like infections and scurvy increases the body’s metabolic demand for vitamin C.
- Cigarette smoke contains reactive oxygen species that can rapidly consume vitamin C.
- Some types of chemotherapy and antiretroviral drugs interfering with vitamin C metabolism.
When your body senses low levels of blood vitamin C, it takes steps to try to increase those levels.
The body does this is by boosting the absorption of vitamin C from the food. When you eat foods that are high in vitamin C, your body absorbs more of the vitamin than it would if your vitamin C levels were normal.
Your body also stores vitamin C in the liver and kidneys, so when its low, stored vitamin C is released into the bloodstream.
If these measures are not enough to raise vitamin C levels, the body may start to show symptoms of vitamin C deficiency. Symptoms include:
- Gum disease
- Easy bruising
- Slow wound healing
- Swollen and bleeding gums
- Internal bleeding
In severe cases, if vitamin C is too low, a condition called scurvy can develop.
The symptoms can get even worse than just having a slight shortage of the vitamin. Symptoms include:
- Bleeding gums
- Loose teeth
- Bone pain
- Swollen joints
Consequences of having low levels of blood vitamin C
Here are some of the things that happens when the body senses low blood vitamin C levels:
- The production of collagen for bones, cartilage and blood vessels decreases.
- The immune system becomes weak, making it more difficult to fight off infections.
- The body’s ability to heal wounds is impaired.
- The absorption of iron from food is decreased.
- Neurotransmitters that transmit signals between nerve cells is decreased.
What happens when your body senses low levels of blood vitamin C?
When the body senses low levels of blood vitamin C, it releases a certain hormone called adrenocorticotropic hormone (ACTH).
ACTH signals the adrenal glands to produce cortisol, a hormone that helps the body to cope with stress.
Cortisol can also break down stored vitamin C, which can further deplete the body’s vitamin C levels.
In addition to releasing ACTH, the body also tries to conserve vitamin C by reducing its excretion in the urine.
When you have low levels of blood vitamin C, biochemical steps are triggered to maintain homeostasis:
1. Intestinal absorption increases
Vitamin C is primarily obtained from the diet. When blood vitamin C is low, the intestines increases vitamin C absorption from ingested food.
Intestinal epithelial cells use what’s called sodium-dependent vitamin C transporters (SVCTs) to regulate this process. 
2. Renal reabsorption improves
The kidneys are important for regulating vitamin C levels in the body.
As serum vitamin C levels drop, the renal tubules reabsorb more vitamin C to prevent excessive loss through urine.
Vitamin C is carried into the kidney cells by sodium-dependent vitamin C transporters. These transporters help move vitamin C around in the body.
SVCTs are located in the proximal tubule and are responsible for the reabsorption of approximately 90% of filtered vitamin C. 
3. Hepatic storage utilization
The liver is the major storage site for vitamin C, with a capacity of about 1500 mg.
During deficiency, the liver releases stored vitamin C into your blood to help maintain adequate levels.
The liver uses 2-oxo-3-hydroxy-L-ascorbic acid (ODSH) as a storage form of vitamin C.
ODSH is a modified form of vitamin C that is more stable than ascorbic acid. It is produced in the liver and stored in the liver and other tissues.
When the body needs vitamin C, ODSH is converted back to ascorbic acid. 
4. Activation of transcription factors
Hypoxia-inducible factor 1-alpha (HIF-1α) is activated in response to low vitamin C levels. 
This transcription factor controls genes related to oxygen balance and metabolism.
HIF-1α activation can improve the cellular uptake of vitamin C and regulate its transporters. 
5. The production of collagen changes
Vitamin C is essential for making collagen, which is important for the strength of connective tissues.
During deficiency, reduced collagen synthesis leads to impaired wound healing, weakened blood vessels, and skin problems like scurvy. 
How can you prevent low levels of blood vitamin C?
The best way to prevent low levels of blood vitamin C is to eat a healthy diet that includes plenty of fruits and vegetables.
Citrus fruits such as oranges, and lemons, are good sources of vitamin C for you.
Other good sources include broccoli, strawberries, tomatoes, apples, and potatoes.
Tips to increase vitamin C intake
Here are some additional tips for increasing your intake of vitamin C:
- Add oranges to your breakfast cereals, yogurt, and oatmeal.
- Snack on fresh fruits and vegetables throughout the day.
- Drink orange juice or other vitamin C-rich beverages.
- Take vitamin C supplement.
When you have enough vitamin C in your blood, it helps your body to work well. Vitamin C not only helps boost the immune system but also plays a vital part in making collagen, healing wounds, and protecting cells.
Low levels of blood vitamin C can cause various problems, including weaker immune responses, slower wound healing, and even more serious conditions like scurvy.
However, the body has adaptive mechanisms to respond to vitamin C deficiency, such as increasing intestinal absorption, improving renal reabsorption, and using stored vitamin C in the liver.
To prevent low levels of blood vitamin C, eat a balanced diet rich in citrus fruits and vegetables.