Much of what we know about the Eskimo diet comes from the legendary arctic anthropologist and adventurer Vilhjalmur Stefansson, who made several daredevil journeys through the region. Stefansson noticed that the traditional Eskimo diet consisted largely of meat and fish, with fruits and vegetables (the usual source of vitamin C) accounting for as little as 2% of total calorie intake. Yet, the Eskimos did not suffer from scurvy.
Scurvy was recognized as far back as the ancient Greek healer Hippocrates. It plagued the crusaders. But its real death toll came as European sailors started voyaging farther and farther from home, starting in the 1500s. Living for months on end without fresh fruits and vegetables, sailors died in droves from the disease – during some years in the British Navy, more men succumbed to scurvy than died in combat.
Vitamin C can be found in a variety of traditional Eskimo staples, including the skin of beluga whales (known as muktuk), which is said to contain as much vitamin C as oranges. Other reported sources include the organ meats of sea mammals. There are speculations that Eskimos could get Vitamin C from berries during the summer months.
Stefansson argued that the native peoples of the arctic got their vitamin C from muscle meat that are raw or minimally cooked. Harsh cooking destroys Vitamin C. The extremely cold environment also protected the Eskimos from food poisoning by bacterial e.g. food poisoning by E. coli, streptococcus infections, etc. so that eliminates a concern.
Though Vitamin C is naturally vast in fruits and vegetables, Vitamin C is most present in the liver and least present in the muscle. However, since animal muscle provides the majority of meat consumed in the human diet, animal products are not a reliable source of Vitamin C.
Here’s a table showing the relative abundance of vitamin C in various foods of animal origin (raw), given in milligram of vitamin C per 100g of food:
Find out more about What is Vitamin C, and the effects of Vitamin C deficiency and toxicity.Read more
There’s a misconception that B-group vitamins provide the body with fuel for energy. Truth is, the body uses energy-yielding nutrients such as Carbohydrates, Fat and Protein for fuel and the B-group vitamins help the body to use that fuel by activating the necessary reaction and when making new DNA.
Although most Vitamins daily requirement amount is small but Vitamin B is a water-soluble and gets lost easily in the process of food preparation. Furthermore, most people do not consume a variety of food in moderation hence, deficiencies and toxicities do happen.
Here’s what happens when there’s a deficiency or toxicity of the B-group vitamins:
Vitamin B1 (Thiamine)
Deficiency: Generally found in countries where the dietary staple is white rice. Deficiencies in the Western world are generally caused by excessive alcohol intake and/or a very poor diet. Symptoms include confusion, irritability, poor arm or leg (or both) coordination, lethargy, fatigue and muscle weakness. Serious deficiency may results in diseases such as edema beriberi and Wernicke-Korsakoff syndrome. The secondary cause could be due to increased demand of Thiamine due to hyperthyroidism, pregnancy, or fever. In alcoholics, many mechanisms contribute to thiamin deficiency as well. They include impaired absorption (such as prolonged diarrhea) and metabolism (such as heptic insufficiency), and possibly an apoenzyme defect.
Toxicity: Possible anaphylaxis caused by high-dose thiamin intravenous injections. However, the doses were greater than the quantity humans can physically absorb from oral intake.
Vitamin B2 (Riboflavin)
Deficiency: causes an inflammation of the tongue known as ariboflavinosis. Other symptoms may include cracks in lips (cheilosis), high sensitivity to sunlight, inflamed eyelids, seborrheic dermatitis (flaky scalp), pharyngitis (sore throat), hyperemia, and oral ulcers.
Cause: Riboflavin is easily destroyed by UV rays but not cooking. Hence, milk is packed in opaque packaging and fortified with Vitamin D. People with Lactose Intolerant should supplement Riboflavin with dark green leafy vegetables.
Vitamin B3 (Niacin or Nicotinic acid)
Deficiency: usually caused by the absence of Vitamin B3 in the diet and may result in pellagra which causes symptoms such as diarrhea, dermatitis, dementia, insomnia, mental confusion, and death.
Toxicity: Intake of 3000 mg/day of nicotinamide and 1500 mg/day of nicotinic acid are associated with nausea, vomiting, and signs and symptoms of liver toxicity. Other effects may include glucose intolerance, and (reversible) ocular effects. Additionally, the nicotinic acid form may cause vasodilatory effects, also known as “Niacin Flush”, including redness of the skin, often accompanied by an itching, tingling, or mild burning sensation, which is also often accompanied by pruritus, headaches, and increased intracranial blood flow, and occasionally accompanied by pain. Medical practitioners prescribe recommended doses up to 2000 mg per day of niacin, usually in time release format, to combat arterial plaque development in cases of high lipid levels.
Vitamin B5 (Pantothenic acid)
Deficiency: this deficiency is rare. It results in acne and paresthesia, although it is uncommon. Extreme symptoms involve a general failure of all the body’s systems and include fatigue, GI distress, and neurological disturbances.
Vitamin B6 (Pyridoxine, pyridoxal, pyridoxamine)
Deficiency: affects the synthesis of key neurotransmitters, and abnormal compounds produced during tryptophan
metabolism accumulate in the brain. Early symptoms of deficiency include depression and confusion; advanced symptoms include abnormal brain wave patterns and convulsions.
Causes of deficiency: Alcohol contributes to the destruction and loss of Vitamin B6 from the body. Another Vitamin B6 antagonist is INH, a medication used to treat tuberculosis. Oral contraceptives may create a shortage of vitamin B6 by stimulating the breakdown of tryptophan, a process that requires the vitamin.
Toxicity: large doeses of vitamin B6 taken for months or years may cause irreversible nerve degernation.
Causes of toxicity: Some women use Vitamin B6 supplements in an attempt to treat pre-menstraul syndrome (PMS) while some take Vitamin B6 supplements in an attempt to cure carpal tunnel syndrome and sleep disorders.
Vitamin B7 (Biotin)
Deficiency: may lead to impaired growth and neurological disorders in infants caused by multiple carboxylase deficiency, an inborn error of metabolism, can lead to biotin deficiency even when dietary biotin intake is normal. Taking more than 2 dozen egg whites for several months may induce biotin deficiency which results in symptoms such as skin rash, hair loss, and neurological impairment.
Vitamin B9 (Folic acid)
Deficiency: impairs cell division and protein synthesis – processes critical to growing tissues. The first symptoms of this deficiency are macrocytic anemia and GI tract deterioration. This deficiency also causes elevated levels of homocysteine which increase the risk of fatal heart disease by clotting blood and deterioration of arterial wall.
Effects of Folate deficiency in Pregnant Women: Researches have shown that folic acid might also slow the insidious effects of age on the brain. Deficiency in pregnant women can reduce the risks of neural tube defects.
Causes of deficiency: Folate deficiencies may develop from inadequate intake, impaired absorption or an unusual metabolic need for vitamin e.g. pregnancies involving twins and triplets, cancer, chicken pox, GI tract damage, etc. Folate is also very vulnerable to interactions with drugs. Some medications displace the vitamin from enzymes and interfere with normal metabolism e.g. anti-cancer drugs, aspirin and antacids. Oral contraceptives may also impair folate status, as may smoking.
Toxicity: lead to permanent neurological damage.
Vitamin B12 (Cyanocobalamin)
Deficiency: results in a macrocytic anemia, elevated homocysteine, peripheral neuropathy, memory loss and other cognitive deficits. It is most likely to occur among elderly people, as absorption through the gut declines with age; the autoimmune disease pernicious anemia is another common cause. It can also cause symptoms of mania and psychosis. In rare extreme cases, paralysis can result.
Cause: damage to cells of the stomach developing atrophic gastritis or pernicious anemia, which may be due to an inherited defective gene.
Toxicity: results in skin, spinal lesions, and Acne-like rash
Here are the Top 10 foods to include in your meals for a Vitamin B rich diet:
Find out more about What is Vitamin B, its effects and benefits to our body.Read more