Avitaminosis translates as a state of being without vitamins, also known commonly as vitamin deficiency. In normal times, vitamin deficiencies of any kind are rarely seen; hence most medical practitioners are unfamiliar with their effects.
Health care personnel unfamiliarity won’t affect most people, if for no other reason than that when “stumped,” the family doctor will admit the patient to the nearest hospital for diagnostic testing to determine what the problem is, its cause, and how to correct it.
In non-normal times, it will be up to the individual prepper to recognize the signs of vitamin deficiency that may present itself and to ensure that no one in group or family becomes vitamin deficient. To familiarize readers with vitamin requirements and vitamin deficiencies, each vitamin, and a few minerals will be presented and discussed separately. But first, here’s a look at examples of possible avitaminosis from history and popular fiction.
The Wars and Vitamin Deficiency
The scene is an isolated trench somewhere in France during World War I. The soldiers have existed on hard French bread, wine, and sausages for more than a week. Days and nights are filled with battle stress and isolation. By the eighth day, the men are restless and irritable. They snap at imagined offenses. Few can sleep. Several fired their rifles at nothing, revealing their position to enemy snipers. All are killed or wounded as a result.
World War II brings death marches in which many prisoners sicken and die as a result of being forced to travel on foot for long distances with very little food.
During the Korean conflict, prisoners of war confined in camps die as a result of dysentery-induced dehydration. Others become irrational and die at the hands of their captors. In the Vietnam War, long-range recon patrols, special-mission teams, and “out-of-town” Green Beret units earn a reputation for being crazy and are credited with acts that no normal man would do.
After the next war, in an uncertain future, a family eats food stored for decades, perhaps centuries with no ill effects, and leads a normal life on vegetables grown in gardens. Of these war stories, only the last is fiction. Yet some people believe that they will be able to live off of stored foods after the passage of long periods of time.
How Vitamins Work
Understanding how some vitamins work, and why they are required involves understanding how much food the average person needs, but also what will happen in case vitamin deficiency is present.
The number of calories required by a man at rest can be calculated with the “Harris-Benedict formula for resting-state basal metabolism rate” as follows:
For men it’s 66.4 + 13.7W + 5H — 6.7A = Number of calories.
In this formula, A is the age in years, W is body weight in kilograms, and H is height in centimeters. For example, a 35-year-old man who is 5 feet, 10 inches tall, and weighs 160 pounds requires about 1.000 per day—while lying in bed!
The more work, a human, does, the more calories are required.
Moreover, the number of calories required increases in relationship to physical problems, as follows:
- Surgical procedures raise the needed amount by 10 to 20 percent.
- Trauma raises the needed amount by 20 to 30 percent.
- Infection raises the amount by 30 to 60 percent.
- Burns raise the amount by 50 to 110 percent.
- Uncomplicated starvation decreases the required number of calories by about 10 percent.
Other factors, such as physical condition, overweight, underweight, race, and medical history, alter needs for calories and vitamins. Because people are so different, this article will be general in content. Bearing this in mind, here’s a look at individual vitamins.
Vitamin A deficiency
This is a relatively stable compound when exposed to heat and oxygen, but the presence of oxidizing agents may destroy it in food. Vitamin A is an absolute necessity for the formation of retinene, which is needed for vision. It is equally necessary for the stimulation of new cell growth and, as such, aids in healing wounds. The presence of Vitamin A increases human lifespan and delays senility.
People who are deficient in Vitamin A experience eye problems, including night blindness, permanent eye damage up to total blindness, and, in about 50 percent of long-term deficiencies, death. Frequently children exhibit far more complex symptoms such as photophobia, the aversion to sunlight, and loss of color vision.
Additionally, children and some adults experience “toad skin,” when the epidermis becomes dry and rough, nausea and other digestive problems, breathing troubles, decreased urine secretion (as low as 100cc per day), thin or defective tooth enamel, impaired bone end and edge formation, liver problems, retarded growth, a tendency toward infection, mental retardation, in-creased cranial pressure, and finally, urine containing blood and/or pus.
Vitamin A is somewhat dependent on the presence of Vitamin E, and a deficiency of E may cause the patient to become deficient in Vitamin A as well. The U.S. recommends a daily allowance (USRDA) of 5,000USP units or about 1.5 milligrams. For example, 3.5 ounces of beef liver contains about four times the USRDA of Vitamin A.
Vitamin A is present in about all solid foods, except refined grains and sugars, chestnuts, coconuts, beef organs other than liver, pork other than liver, and codfish other than liver.
In fact, Vitamin A is so abundant that overdoses are much more common than deficiencies. A defective diet, lasting for 4 to 6 months, usually is necessary before symptoms of this type of vitamin deficiency become apparent.
Toxic levels are about 20 times the USRDA for several days in adults, and intake of 10 times the USRDA for long periods will have a like effect. Excessive Vitamin A causes bones to become fragile, the liver and spleen to enlarge, drying and peeling of the skin, falling hair, itching over the entire body, headache and nausea, and, in women, menstrual irregularities.
In infants and children, an intake of 60 times the USRDA in a single day is toxic and may be lethal. Exposure to cold weather increases the need for Vitamin A in everyone, but trauma has no major effect on the amount required by the body. Vitamin A is stored in the liver; thus, anything that damages the liver will interfere with availability and the body’s use of it.
Recommended article: Building Resistance To Infections – Anti-infective Vitamin
Vitamin D deficiency
This vitamin is stable when exposed to heat, but is somewhat sensitive to light, even though it is synthesized by normal skin in the presence of ultraviolet light. Because of this synthesis caused by sunlight, this type of vitamin deficiency is relatively rare, except in parts of the world where winters are long, or other conditions prevent exposure of human skin to sun-light—fog, smog, volcanic dust, or where there is no intake because of dietary problems.
Vitamin D is essential to bone and tooth formation, and continued strength of both. Vitamin deficiency causes rickets in children and softening of bones in adults, practically the same disease. Rickets affects all developing bones in children, producing bowed legs, curved spinal column, lumps on the ribs, and oddly shaped skulls—often square seeming.
In adults whose bones are mature, the effect is to soften longer bones and allow them to bend, without most of the other effects of rickets. The pelvis and ribcage will deform somewhat and may result in strange body configuration.
Tetany— muscle spasms and twitching— may develop in either children or adults. Muscle tone will degenerate, in particular those of the lower abdomen, which will produce a characteristic “potbelly.” Children will experience late development and early decay of their teeth. It takes several months without Vitamin D for the onset of rickets.
While the USRDA for Vitamin D is low—only 12 micrograms, it is not very easily found in nature. Fish, liver, and egg yolks are the prime sources. As an example, 3 ½ ounces of raw beef liver has about 1 microgram present, while the same weight of salmon has about 7 ½ micrograms present.
An extremely high amount of Vitamin D is present in wild bees, which some foraging books recommend as a food source. It is reported that 3 ½ ounces of wild bees contain 180,000 micrograms of Vitamin D— about 15,000 times the USRDA!
Toxic effects begin when the intake of Vitamin D exceeds about 60 micrograms per kilogram of bodyweight. In other words, someone who ate one serving of 3 ½ ounces of wild bees would have to have a bodyweight of around 7,000 pounds in order to be unaffected by that dose!
Less dangerous, but still unpleasant, effects can be caused by taking as little as 120 micrograms per day for one to three months. These effects include the symptoms of excess calcium in the bloodstream, loss of appetite, nausea, vomiting, excessive urination, headaches, loss of strength, slowing of growth, and most probably, the formation of kidney stones, one of the most painful of human experiences.
Vitamin E deficiency
This is a heat-stable compound, but it can be oxidized easily, especially in sunlight, and in the presence of alkalis. Vitamin E is required by the body as an anti-oxidant for Vitamin A and has been shown to protect against such noxious agents a carbon tetrachloride, alloxan, and methyl cholanthrene. While it has not been shown to have a physiological effect on sexual dysfunction, it does make sperm more mobile, and aids in anchoring the placenta in the womb.
Because it is present in nearly all-natural plant oils, this vitamin deficiency is rare. When it does occur, the deficiency takes the form of increased oxygen consumption, lowered utility of Vitamin A. progressive muscular dystrophy (nutritionally based), in men a loss of the sex instinct and, in women, possible sterility.
With a USRDA of 10 milligrams, overdoses are equally rare but have been reported as causing fatigue and interfering with the formation of Vitamin A from its precursor, beta carotene. A deficiency of Vitamin E during pregnancy can result in fetal damage.
Vitamin K deficiency
This vitamin occurs both in nature and is produced by intestinal bacteria in all humans. It is absolutely essential for the body’s production of the substance “Thrombin,” a glycoprotein in plasma that is converted as needed into “Thrombin” to aid in the formation of blood clots. Some medical sources refer to this as “Clotting Factor II.”
Vitamin deficiency states will prolong the clotting time of blood and may result in multiple hemorrhages, especially in the eyes, bladder, testes, kidneys, brain, interior abdominal tissues, and just under the surface of the skin. Because of its formation within the intestines, deficiencies are nearly always caused by the death of bacteria (flora). This death can be caused by exposure to radiation, oral antibiotics, liver damage, and/or massive hemorrhage.
Alfalfa is the best natural source of Vitamin K, supplying about 0.8 milligrams per 3 ½ ounces. At this writing, the USRDA for Vitamin K is 0.20 milligram as the amount required per day for normal use.
B Complex Vitamins
All of the B vitamins are water-soluble and are lost easily in cooking and food processing because water loss occurs with these activities. For example, Vitamin B1 is lost at a rate of 40 percent from cooked potatoes, and from any leafy, green or yellow vegetables. Meat, eggs, or any vegetable other than legumes lose approximately 25 percent of their B1 while being cooked.
Nicotinic acid—Niacin—is lost at the rate of 25 percent from meats and all vegetables, except legumes, during cooking. Any process which removes water will remove some percentage of all water-soluble vitamins, including Vitamin C.
Vitamin C is lost at the rate of 60 percent from cooked vegetables, other than legumes. Most, if not all, of these losses, are made up in the form of “added” vitamins by responsible food processors. These added vitamins, in chemical form, are equally as water-soluble as natural vitamins and can be lost as easily when canned, bagged, freeze-dried, or other processed foods are heated and/or drained.
The loss of that 60 percent of Vitamin C can easily make people really sick in a survival situation. An article will follow in the near feature covering most types of Vitamin B deficiency.
Vitamin C deficiency
This has been called the most fragile of vitamins, and is easily lost during cooking, and can be oxidized readily, especially in the presence of iron or copper ions. It is synthesized by all higher plants and all animals, except primates, and some rodents. While the human body tissues are saturated with Vitamin C, it has a body half-life of only 16 days.
If humans stop the intake of Vitamin C, level of 3,500 milligrams would be depleted to about 220 milligrams in only 64 days—if these humans did not require additional Vitamin C for any reason.
Because external conditions affect the amount of Vitamin C that people require, they would run out of it long before that. For instance, working in a cold climate raises the USRDA from 60 milligrams to between 150 and 250 milligrams per day.
The effects of trauma increase the body’s need to about 75 milligrams per day for mild cases on up to 300 milligrams per day in severe cases. And the amount stored in the body is rapidly depleted by major trauma.
Vitamin C is needed by the body for the formation of collagen, the primary substance that heals wounds and produces scar tissue. It also regulates the production and uses of dentine, cartilage, and bone salts/ callus, making it absolutely necessary for the repair of damaged bones, and the formation and growth of teeth.
Additionally, it is needed to make minor blood vessels — capillaries— function properly. It aids in the absorption and usage of iron and helps red blood cells to mature. It is used in the metabolism of the aromatic amino acids. It’s necessary for the body’s production of noradrenaline, which is used in the transmission of nerve signals. It is thought to be related to the body’s usage of Vitamin A as well.
This type of vitamin deficiency causes many problems, not the least of which is scurvy. This disease results in swollen gums that bleed easily, looseness of teeth, loss of capillary integrity, causing bleeding under the skin, and black-and-blue spots, poor appetite, anemia due to blood loss and reduced copper/ iron absorption, trouble breathing, and a racing heartbeat.
Additionally, Vitamin C deficiency delays healing of wounds with lowering of tensile strength being present in those wounds, either completely or partially healed. Cells that normally cause the healing of wounds will not mature and will fail to lay down collagen. New capillaries will not enter the healing tissues.
Hematomas— blood masses such as bruises— will not be re-absorbed as quickly as when Vitamin C levels are normal. The total appearance of these symptoms may take anywhere from 3 to 12 months in adults, but some symptoms may appear in as little as a few weeks under proper conditions, such as major trauma or working in a cold climate.
If scurvy should appear in either adults or children, it can be reversed by administering Vitamin C. For adults, the dose is 100 milligrams 5 or 6 times per day. For children administer 25 milligrams 4 times per day. These doses should be spread out evenly over the 24 hour period.
For surgical patients, the dose between 150 and 300 milligrams per day should be given, and for burn patients, this should be upped to anywhere from 10 to 100 times the normal amount, depending on the extent of the burns. Major trauma or burns can deplete the body’s Vitamin C totally in as little as 2 days!
Overdoses are possible in people who have no need for increased amounts of Vitamin C, with doses of several thousand milligrams being responsible for poor copper absorption, which results in anemia. Doses of around 12 grams (that’s 12,000 milligrams) per day possibly will result in the formation of kidney stones, renal tubular acidosis, and crystals in the urine, none of which makes people feel good!
Okay, by now, readers have a good idea as to what will happen if any kind of vitamin deficiency is encountered.
So what can be done to ensure that this will not happen?
First and foremost, readers can determine whether the foods they have selected for storage plans are adequate to supply nutritional needs.
Do these foods contain the proper vitamins?
If the foods have been processed, has any attempt been made by the processor to re-establish the proper vitamin content?
Have they been fortified?
Fortified simply means that some vitamin(s) have been added to processed food.
As stated earlier, many food processors— the responsible ones— add vitamins back into processed foods. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration requires that this be done to certain food items. Vitamin D added to milk is one example.
Contacting the processor may be necessary in order to determine whether canned, dehydrated and/or freeze-dried foods have been fortified. Or, the label on the package may tell you all that you need to know. If the information you wish is not apparent, then contact the processor. It won’t do a bit of good to find out the hard way that your food stocks are lacking in the proper vitamins.
Take a look at the difference between fresh string beans (Phaseolus vulgaris) and the processed kind, packed into metal cans. Fresh green beans contain 600 IU Vitamin A, 0.07 milligrams of B1, 0.11 milligrams of B2, 0.14 milligrams of B6, 0.5 milligrams of Niacin, 0.2 milligrams of pantothenic acid, and 19 milligrams of Vitamin C per each 3 ½ ounce portion.
Processing lowers these amounts to: 470 IU of A, 0.03 milligrams of B1, 0.05 milligrams of B2, 0.043 milligrams of 86, 0.3 milligrams of niacin, 0.07 milligrams of pantothenic acid, and 4 milligrams of C. These represent changes of 22, 57, 55, 69, 40, 65, and 79 percent respectively.
Another way of saying this is that, in order to obtain the USRDA of Vitamin C from fresh green beans, one would have to eat only about 3/4 pound, whereas to get the same amount of C from canned green beans it would be necessary to eat 3 ¼ pounds. That 3/4 pound of fresh green beans would supply nearly 1/3 of the USRDA of A, 1/8 of the B1, 1/5 of the B2, 1/12 of the B6, only 1/26 of niacin and 1/50 of pantothenic acid.
Freeze-dried foods may have a weight advantage (and lengthened storage times) over fresh or canned, but how many of the water-soluble vitamins are left in them after processing? Even where the processor adds vitamins to the processed foods, these seem to be added by way of a chemical soup that is put onto the finished product. When foods are reconstituted, this “soup” may go into solution with the water that you use for that purpose. If it does and you discard the leftover water, what percentage of the vitamins have you tossed out with it?
Even the water or fluids present in canned foods contain some of these vitamins, and discarding it will lower the amount of water and, in some cases, oil-soluble vitamins! Because of these facts, and because of the other factors shown to affect human vitamin intake and/or absorption, it’s obvious that preppers should store not only foods that contain adequate amounts of the needed vitamins, but that they should also store vitamins themselves and, if possible, vegetable seeds.
Selection of vitamins for long-term survival
Selecting vitamins for storage should be done on the basis of:
- projected need,
- length of period that the prepper will be without proper vitamin sources,
- storability of the vitamins themselves.
Examine these points individually:
- The projected need is a purely subjective item of consideration and will depend totally on what is seen as being a specific threat. Those who expect a nuclear war will wish to store all of the vitamins in their most natural form or not as they believe necessary. However, those who are preparing for something of a shorter duration will find their needs somewhat lowered.
- Duration of need depends on what is decided about the projected need but may be influenced by location, and the size and age of a family or group, plus other factors. The needs of a family of four during several months of isolation will be considerably different than those of a group of 20 for only a few weeks or so.
- Storability reflects the fact that certain vitamins are easily damaged by exposure to air. Others cannot be exposed to the light of any kind. Still, others are damaged by heat. For these reasons, storability may present problems. In general, single vitamin pills of low dosage are the best for storage and should be contained in as small a bottle as possible. Bottles should be made of brown glass, not of any color plastic. And they should have easy-to-open, air-tight caps. Bottles should be opened as infrequently as possible in order to limit the amount of air that gets into them. Everyone who is going to take a vitamin pill from that bottle should have his or hers removed at the same time.
Taking too much of certain vitamins will be either as bad or worse for human health than too little of that vitamin. It is not necessary to take or store vitamin pills that contain more than two or three times the USRDA!
To do that may mean considerable pain and discomfort for yourself and your loved ones. Indeed, it may mean the death of that person or persons.
Minerals were promised in this article, but it would be impossible to cover any of them simply on the basis of importance, so the two most abused, iodine, and iron, will be discussed here.
Iodine is readily available in the form of iodized table salt, and as the additive in many multi-vitamin/ mineral tablets. Usually, this iodine is in the form of potassium iodide.
Does this sound familiar?
It should because some people have touted this as being a necessary part of survival supplies in order to prevent the intake of radioactive iodine, which might result in thyroid cancer. What the folk failed to mention, or quite possibly didn’t know, was just how common this particular mineral is. People who do not use table salt can get all of the needed K Iodide from the various multi-vitamin/ mineral tablets available on the market.
Iodine water purification tablets would supply some, if not all, of the needed amount when such purified water is ingested. But be careful as iodine in any form is a dangerous poison!
Read next: Food Poisoning Symptoms and Prevention
A small amount is needed in order to live, but too much can result in anything from diarrhea through to death. Toxic levels vary with the age, weight, sex, race, and physical condition of the individual, so it is impossible to provide an accurate idea of the overdose. However, the iodine content of the human body is about 0.00005 percent—that’s five ten thousandths of one percent!
Because of the short life of radioactive iodine— there are three of them— iodine supplements will not be required for very long, if at all. The USRDA is 1.5 milligrams, with an optimum dose of only 360 micrograms! Find out now whether you are one of the people who cannot tolerate much more than the USRDA.
Some U.S. troops in Vietnam found out the hard way, in the field. Diarrhea is unpleasant enough when flush toilets and soft toilet paper are available. Imagine how it would feel cooped up in a shelter or out in the field!
Iron is another very essential mineral needed to prevent anemia, etc. But it has been shown that people deficient in iron have fewer problems with bacterial infections! This seems that Iron is a micro-bacterial nutrient in that many bacteria are iron-dependent for their growth.
Lowered iron levels may work to decrease the severity and duration of infections caused by those bacteria. Too much iron may result in an obscure disease known as “iron overload anemia.”
In general, the onset of any vitamin deficiency is slow, and the victim does not realize that anything is going wrong. In the case of certain B-Complex deficiencies, the victim will start to act irrationally early in the disease, and may even violently resist your attempts to help.
Vitamin deficiency in children, once established, is usually not as easy to treat as the example previously given. Such deficiency states may take months to appear, and by then have become serious. Some of the mental disorders will become apparent considerably earlier than that, and if you are aware of them and their causes, it may give you the opportunity to arrest and then reverse the deficiency.
The water-soluble vitamins are much affected by the loss of intake or absorption, but, except for cases of major trauma, replacement or make-up can usually be delayed up to 72 hours. The best way to make up these vitamins is to give them by mouth rather than by injection.
In the case of major trauma, the additional vitamins should be given as soon as the patient is able to take them by mouth or by intravenous injection, if available.
If your group contains competent medical people, the decision as to when to start treatment should be left up to them. In the event that they become patients, have them start training your group in how to make the decisions, and administer the supplemental vitamins. Please note that certain vitamins can only be injected intramuscularly.
Concluding on vitamin deficiency
Stockpiling individual vitamins in low-dose-pill form may pose a problem, as many companies offer them only in doses considerably higher than the three times USRDA that this article recommends. And only a few companies offer Vitamin K, which should definitely be in your storage program.
If you cannot locate low-dose vitamins, buy the lowest that you can find, and use them accordingly. If possible, buy tablets or pills that can be easily broken into equal parts so that doses can be halved or quartered.
This article has been written by James H. Redford MD for Prepper’s Will.
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