What is Vitamin deficiency?

   Vitamin deficiency is the absence in the body of necessary materials ordinarily found in a well-balanced diet. If this deficiency is due to lack of proper foods, it can be corrected by a well-planned diet.

   Vitamin deficiencies affect the health by causing nervousness, weakness, fatigue, underweight and poor vision. When deficiencies exist for a period of four months to a year, serious diseases may develop.

   Before 1911 doctors did not know what caused scurvy, beriberi, pellagra, rickets and other deficiency diseases. In the last decades better education and improved standards of living have greatly decreased these diseases.

   Except in very poor countries, when these diseases are found today it is generally among people who have badly selected diets, or are addicted to alcohol, or those who diet unwisely to reduce.

   Scurvy was the first disease recognized as being caused by lack of proper food. When lime juice was added to the diet, scurvy was controlled, although the doctor did not know why. It is now known that deficiency of Vitamin C causes scurvy.

   Pellagra is caused by a lack of several vitamins, particularly the B and B-complex vitamins. This was common among people who lived on a diet of corn. The first symptoms were tiredness, lack of appetite, nervousness. Later the skin and tongue developed sores, the skin became dry and then ulcerated. Mental changes were noted and eventually many of these patients died in institutions for the insane.

   Beriberi is similar and is caused by the lack of B and B-complex vitamins. In countries where people live almost entirely on rice this disease has been common. The victim suffers from pain and partial paralysis, the limbs swell and fluid accumulates in the tissue. In some cases the heart is affected.

   A deficiency of vitamin B12 may cause a disease called sprue. In sprue the sufferer becomes anemic, develops diarrhea and indigestion and the abdomen becomes swollen.

   Rickets, a vitamin D deficiency disease, occurs primarily in children who have inadequate diet and little sunshine. This deficiency causes enlarged joints, deformed legs and distended abdomen. If the disease is untreated in childhood, these bone deformities may be permanent.

   There is still much to be learned about vitamin deficiency diseases and the mechanisms affected by vitamins.