02:55am Monday 23 September 2019

Smoke and poor diet cause low vitamin C levels in India's elderly population

Vitamin C is an essential nutrient for human health, playing a role from maintenance and repair of tissues to antioxidant activities. This study is the first ever large screening of vitamin C blood levels in the older Indian population.

Vitamin C deficiency is primarily due to a diet which is low in fruit and vegetables. Vitamin C blood levels can also be depleted by smoking or chewing tobacco and cooking with fuels such as wood crops or dung (used by 70% of the rural population). 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 study, coordinated by Professor Astrid Fletcher of the London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine in collaboration with Aravind Eye Hospital Pondicherry and the All India Institute for Medical Sciences in Delhi, has been published in PLoS One.

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% in the north and 46% in the south. Only 11% and 26% 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 more than 5,000 people aged 60 years or over from rural villages and small towns and included interviews about their diet, blood analysis and malnutrition assessments.

Dr Ravindran, principal author of the study, said: “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. 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.”


For further information contact Dr.R.D.Ravindran (Chairman, Aravind Eye Care System, 1, Anna Nagar,Madurai – 625020, Tel: 91-452-4356100, Fax: 91-452-2530984, Mobile: 91-94430-68183),

Astrid Fletcher (Professor of Epidemiology of Ageing, London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine, Tel: +44 (0)20 7927 2253, Mobile: +44 (0) 79 50019805) or the press office at +44 (0) 207 927 2801, giorgio.defaveri@lshtm.ac.uk.

Notes to Editors:

1. The manuscript “Prevalence and Risk Factors for Vitamin C Deficiency in North and South India: A Two Centre Population Based Study in People Aged 60 Years and Over” will be available to download upon publication at the following link http://dx.plos.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0028588 and for journalists on request.

2. The London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine (LSHTM) is a renowned research-led postgraduate institution of public health and global health. Its mission is to improve health in the UK and worldwide through the pursuit of excellence in research, postgraduate teaching and advanced training in national and international public health and tropical medicine, and through informing policy and practice in these areas. Part of the University of London, the School is the largest institution of its kind in Europe with a remarkable depth and breadth of expertise encompassing many disciplines associated with public health. http://www.lshtm.ac.uk

3. About the Wellcome Trust. The Wellcome Trust is a global charitable foundation dedicated to achieving extraordinary improvements in human and animal health. It supports the brightest minds in biomedical research and the medical humanities. The Trust’s breadth of support includes public engagement, education and the application of research to improve health. It is independent of both political and commercial interests. www.wellcome.ac.uk

4. Other participating institutions:

Aravind Eye Hospital Pondicherry, Pondicherry, India; Dr. Rajendra Prasad Center for Ophthalmic Sciences, All India Institute of Medical Sciences, New Delhi, India; Centre for Public Health, School of Medicine, Dentistry and Biomedical Sciences, Queen’s University Belfast, Belfast, UK; Dipartimento di Scienze Otorino-Odonto-Oftalmologiche e Cervico Facciali, Sezione di Oftalmologia, Universita` degli Studi di Parma, Parma, Italy; Centre for Vision & Vascular Science, School of Medicine, Dentistry and Biomedical Sciences, Queen’s University Belfast, Belfast, UK; Lions Aravind Institute of Community Ophthalmology, Madurai, India.

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