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Frequent and serious: Vitamin C deficiency in alcohol dependency

Vitamin C deficiency is a common, unfortunately mostly unrecognised problem among problem drinkers. Only one in three alcoholics has sufficient vitamin levels during withdrawal, French doctors found out.

They investigated how common vitamin C deficiency is in people who stop drinking – and found that only one in three had adequate vitamin levels at all. The vitamin C deficient patients had apparently been lacking this vitamin for so long that they had developed signs of incipient scurvy. This vitamin deficiency disease, still known to many as the classic sailor’s disease, manifested itself in their patients mainly through fatigue and weakness.

These symptoms are classic for the early form of scurvy, muscle pain and frequent infections can be added, sometimes wounds also heal badly – the body needs vitamin C to build up connective tissue. Later, bleeding, including the classic “bruises”, inflamed and bleeding gums can occur, possibly supplemented by joint inflammation, high fever, severe diarrhoea and sudden dizziness. In severe scurvy, depression may also occur. In severe cases, scurvy can lead to death from heart failure – often the cause of death for seafarers who have fallen ill – and increases the likelihood of a heart attack.

“Scurvy practically no longer occurs as a disease”, however, is what the medical textbooks say, and for most people this is probably true. For alcoholics, however, this is not true. Some time ago, Australian doctors therefore titled an article in the prestigious British Medical Journal “Vitamin C and Alcohol: A Call to Action”.

They call for a strict watch for signs of scurvy in alcoholics – and suggest vitamin C as a food supplement for people with problematic alcohol consumption. They say it is necessary to review and adapt current treatment guidelines.

Alcohol increases the excretion of vitamin C in the urine – this is probably one of the main reasons why alcoholics slip into a vitamin C deficiency. Another reason: the vitamin is an important antioxidant that prevents the formation of aggressive free radicals in many chemical reactions in the body, which can cause many kinds of damage in the body. Chronic alcohol consumption overtaxes this defence system of the body against chemical damage.

However, scurvy is not the only problem alcoholics can get from vitamin C deficiency. In the case of the frequent inflammation of the pancreas, administration of vitamin C can support healing. But that’s not all: vitamin C plays an important role in the brain. It is also one of, if not the most important antioxidant in our metabolically intensive thinking organ. And it plays an important role as a so-called neuromodulator in signal transmissions involving glutamate, GABA or dopamine – all systems that chronic alcohol consumption massively damages.


Journal of Clinical Medicine Research. Alcohol Withdrawal: Possible Risk of Latent Scurvy Appearing as Tiredness: A STROBE-Compliant Study

British Medical Journal, Nutrition, Prevention & Health: Vitamin C and alcohol: a call to action

Alkohol adé (german): Häufig und folgenschwer: Vitamin C-Mangel bei Alkoholikern (we recoment for translation)

Image by Photo Mix from Pixabay

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