DEAR DR. GOTT: I am a healthy and active 67-year-old male. Several years ago I developed psoriasis on my right forearm, left ankle and other minor places on my chest and back. I went to my family doctor who prescribed a cream (hydrocortisone). The irritations receded but did not go away. I also went to see a skin specialist who prescribed a stronger cream which also did not improve the problem much.
About four months ago I started counting my vitamin C intake. Since I exercise a lot (usually 16-20 hours of vigorous exercise per week by climbing, swimming, biking and cross-country skiing), I became concerned about taking enough vitamin C. After counting my amount, I was surprised to find that it came out to 3000% of the recommended daily dose. I decided to cut back to 1000% and within five days all my skin irritations were gone.
Since then I tested the system by going back up to 3000% and almost immediately the same skin irritations came back. Again, I dropped back down and the irritations went away within a few days.
My question to you, having read your columns, I remember in one you said taking too much vitamin C will only get your body to naturally remove it. Am I overdosing on vitamin C?
DEAR READER: Vitamin C is a water-soluble antioxidant vitamin, most commonly associated with preventing colds. Vitamin C is required by the body for the growth and repair of tissues, wound healing and repair and maintenance of cartilage, bones and teeth. It is vital to the formation of collagen which is used in the making and maintenance of the skin, blood vessels, tendons, ligaments, and scar tissue.
Vitamin C deficiency (scurvy) is rare, especially in today’s modern societies which often adds vitamin C to all sorts of products as a preservative. More natural sources include sweet and white potatoes, spinach, tomatoes, strawberries, citrus fruits, broccoli, green peppers, and more, many of which are foods that even those with relatively unhealthy eating habits consume. Symptoms of deficiency include hair and tooth loss, easy bleeding and bruising, and joint pain.
Vitamin C overdose is much more common, but is usually mild, because C is water-soluble, meaning it isn’t stored in the body and is excreted via urine. Problems typically arise when large quantities are taken regularly, although short-term excess consumption can be to blame as well. Diarrhea and gastrointestinal upset are the most commonly seen adverse reactions, but kidney stones, increased iron absorption and more may occur, primarily with long-term, high-dose use.
Psoriasis is an autoimmune skin disorder in which the body fails to shed dead skin cells properly that then build up, most commonly as white or silver plaques ringed by red skin. It can occur anywhere on the body, including the scalp, nails, hands, arms, legs, and body. Based on your affected areas, I assume you have the most common form known as plaque psoriasis. For that reason, I will only discuss this form.
Treatment typically involves lifestyle changes and medication. Exposing the plaques to a small amount of sunlight or other sources of UV light may lead to improvement. Daily bathing with gentle exfoliation and moisturizing creams may also be beneficial. Medication can range from topical ointments such as the hydrocortisone cream you were prescribed to weekly injections of an immunosuppressant medication. Your doctor will determine the best course of action based on the severity of symptoms.
All that said, here is where things get interesting. Some sufferers have found that not only vitamin C rich foods, but unbuffered vitamin C supplements can adversely affect their psoriasis. Unbuffered C supplements are the most common form available today. When buffered powdered vitamin C is used, flare ups are reduced or stop all together. This doesn’t mean that vitamin C over-supplementation is the cause of psoriasis, but it may be a contributing factor for some individuals such as yourself.
As for your specific questions, I can definitely say that you are overdosing on vitamin C; however, that doesn’t mean you are adversely affected by it. Unless you are also experiencing any of the symptoms of overdose that I mentioned above, your lowered vitamin C intake should be okay. (The tolerable upper intake recommended by the FDA is 2000 mg daily, with the normal recommended daily allowance being a scant 90 mg daily for males and 75 mg daily for females).
Readers who are interested in learning more can order my Health Reports “Vitamins and Minerals” and “Dermatitis, Eczema and Psoriasis” by sending a self-addressed, stamped number 10 envelope and a $2 (for each report) US check or money order to Dr. Peter Gott, PO Box 433, Lakeville, CT 06039. Be sure to mention the title when writing or print an order form from my website www.AskDrGottMD.com.