Elderly people in India have low vitamin C levels due to poor dietary habits, smoking and tobacco consumption, suggests study.
The study, coordinated by Professor Astrid Fletcher of the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine in collaboration with Aravind Eye Hospital Pondicherry and the All India Institute for Medical Sciences in Delhi, is the first-ever large screening of vitamin C blood levels in the elderly Indian population.
Vitamin C is an essential nutrient for human health, playing a role from maintenance and repair of tissues to antioxidant activities. This study itamin C deficiency is primarily due to a diet, which is low in fruit and vegetables.
Smoking or chewing tobacco and cooking with fuels such as wood crops or dung (used by 70 percent of the rural population) can cause depletion of Vitamin C blood levels. One of the effects of tobacco and inhaling fumes from home or cooking fires is oxidative stress (which can cause damage to cells) and the body uses vitamin C to combat this.
The research, funded by the Wellcome Trust, highlights marked differences between the study locations in the north and south of the country, although in both regions the percentages of vitamin C deficient people over 60 years of age were extremely high, with 74 percent in the north and 46 percent in the south.
Only 11 percent and 26 percent respectively, met the criteria for adequate levels. Vitamin C levels were also found to vary seasonally, in conjunction with the monsoon months, thought to reflect the lower intake of fruit and vegetables.
The large population-based study involved over 5000 people aged 60 years or over from rural villages and small towns and included interviews about their diet, blood analysis and malnutrition assessments.
" While much attention has focused on increasing levels of obesity in India, the problem of poor nutrition in the older population has received much less attention even though India has one of the fastest growing older populations," Dr Ravindran, principal author of the study said.
"In poor communities, such as in our study, consideration needs to be given to measures to improve the consumption of vitamin C rich foods, and to discourage the use of tobacco and biomass fuels," he added.
The study has been published in PloS One.