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The link between bleeding gums, lack of vitamin C, and serious complications

The link between bleeding gums, lack of vitamin C, and serious complicationsLack of vitamin C can cause bleeding from the gums, the eyes, and possibly even complicated internal bleeding, according to a study from the University of Washington. It is vital to get enough vitamin C from your diet because the nutrient is important for the collagen production, the immune defense, and numerous other functions. You may have an increased need for vitamin C if your gums bleed when you brush your teeth, if you bruise easily, or if you show other signs of lacking this essential nutrient.

The American Dental Association recommends brushing and flossing your teeth twice daily if your gums bleed because it may be a sign of gingivitis, which is an early stage of periodontal disease. If you have the slightest suspicion that you suffer from periodontal disease in its early stages you should visit your dentist. However, the bleeding from your gums could also be a sign that you lack vitamin C, a problem which you can easily solve by improving your diet or taking a supplement. The important thing is to find out why your gums bleed and address the matter.
According to the lead investigator of the new study, Philippe Hujoel, a dental practitioner and professor of oral health sciences, dentists for the past decades have ignored vitamin C’s vital role in healthy gums. In the new study, Hujoel and his team of researchers poured over 15 clinical studies from six different countries with over 8,000 participants. Their meta-analysis showed that bleeding from the gums and from different parts of the eye was linked to low blood levels of vitamin C. The scientists also noted that increased intake of vitamin C in connection with a deficiency reduced the bleeding.

Bleeding gums may be a sign of serious health matters

According to the new study, bleeding gums and bleeding from the eye may also be a sign of general health problems in the tiny blood vessels, including the capillaries that carry blood and oxygen to the brain, the heart, and the kidneys. Just for the record, because a vitamin C supplement can help against bleeding gums, it will not automatically prevent stroke and other serious health issues. Still, it appears that the official recommendations for vitamin C, which are primarily intended to prevent scurvy, are actually insufficient.
One of the early symptoms of scurvy just happens to be bleeding gums and subsequent loss of teeth, severe internal bleeding, delirium, and death. Although scurvy is believed to have been eradicated in modern society, subclinical scurvy is still widespread. Symptoms of this condition, besides bleeding gums, include bruising, impaired immunity, and fatigue.

Antiquated and forgotten knowledge about vitamin C deserves a comeback in dentistry

Vitamin C is a structural element of collagen, a vital protein that is important for the structure of tissues like gums, bones, blood vessels, and skin. Vitamin C is also important for our immune defense and for wound healing. The nutrient is even a powerful antioxidant that protects the cells against free radicals. According to the authors behind the new study, the link between bleeding gums and lack of vitamin C was discovered over 30 years ago. However, this knowledge vanished into the background when dentistry starting focusing more on proper tooth brushing techniques and the use of dental floss. Bleeding gums became the single telltale sign of poor oral hygiene.
The problem is that if you ignore a possible relation between bleeding gums and lack of vitamin C it may have serious consequences for your health, simply because the underlying cause is not addressed. Therefore, the researchers behind the study call for more attention on getting enough dietary vitamin C from food sources like fruit and vegetables. People who do not eat enough of these foods should consider taking a supplement. The researchers suggest getting 100-200 mg of vitamin C daily, but it is perfectly safe to take supplements with even higher doses. The new study is published in Nutrition Reviews.

  • Most animals are able to synthesize their own vitamin C but humans, apes, bats, and certain other species have lost this ability to evolution
  • We humans have to get vitamin C from our diet
  • Good sources of the nutrient are vegetables such as cabbage, broccoli, red bell pepper, citrus fruits, kiwi, berries, new potatoes, tomatoes, horse radish, spinach, and herbs
  • Storing and/or cooking food depletes its vitamin C content

How do we get enough vitamin C – and what causes a deficiency?

If you adhere to the official dietary recommendations it should not be a problem to get enough vitamin C. However, it should be added that factors like smoking, chronic illnesses, stress, ageing, poisoning, lesions, and overuse of stimulants can increase the need for the nutrient.
The same is the case with overconsumption of sugar. Vitamin C and sugar compete for the same channels that lead into the cells. The more sugar you ingest, the more it blocks the effect of vitamin C.
The current recommendations (in Denmark) – also known as the daily reference intake (RI) – cal for 80 mg of vitamin C per day for adults and children from the age of 11 years. This is far less than the 100-200 mg suggested by the authors. Particularly vulnerable groups may benefit from getting even more. Mono supplements with vitamin C typically contain 500-1,000 mg of the nutrient. It can be a good idea to choose a non-acidic vitamin C source like calcium ascorbate that is gentle towards the stomach lining.

Vitamin C content (in mg)

Rosehip (raw), 840
Kale (raw), 169
Red bell pepper (raw), 163
Cauliflower, 76
Orange, 54
Strawberries, 40
New potatoes, 22
Apples, 8


Philippe P Hujoel et al. Bleeding tendency and ascorbic acid requirements: systematic review and meta-analysis of clinical trials. Nutrition Reviews 2021

University of Washington. Bleeding gums may be sign you need more vitamin C in your diet. ScienceDaily.1 February 2021

Sam Rowe and Anitra C. Carr. Global Vitamin C Status and Prevalence of Deficiency: A cause for Concern? Nutrients 6 July 2020

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