Scurvy is the name for vitamin C deficiency. It can lead to blood loss, weakness, fatigue, spontaneous bleeding, pain in the limbs, especially the legs, inflammation of other parts of the body, and sometimes gum ulcers and tooth loss. Scurvy has been known since ancient Greek and Egyptian times. It is often associated with sailors in the 15th to 18th century when long sea voyages made it difficult to keep up with the latest products.
Signs and Symptoms of Vitamin C Deficiency
Rough, Skin Bumpy
Vitamin C plays an important role in the production of collagen, a protein that binds to skin, hair, joints, bones, and blood vessels. When vitamin C levels are low, a skin condition known as keratosis pilaris can develop. In this case, forms of “chicken skin” have bumps on the back of the arms, thighs, or buttocks due to the formation of keratin protein inside the pores.
Keratosis pilaris caused by vitamin C deficiency only occurs after three to five months of an inadequate diet and is resolved with supplementation. However, there are many other possible causes of keratosis pilaris, so its presence alone is not enough to detect the deficiency.
Corkscrew-Shaped Body Hair
Vitamin C deficiency can also cause hair to grow back or collapse due to growing defects in the formation of hair proteins as they grow. Cork-shaped hair is one of the most common signs of vitamin C deficiency but may not be noticeable, as damaged hair may be brittle or fall out. Hair loss is usually resolved within one month of treatment with adequate amounts of vitamin C.
Bright Red Hair Follicles
The hair follicles on the surface of the skin contain many tiny blood vessels that carry blood and nutrients to the area. When the body lacks vitamin C, these tiny blood vessels become weak and easily broken, creating small, bright red areas around the hair follicles. This is known as perifollicular hemorrhage and a well-documented sign of severe vitamin C. Taking vitamin C supplements usually resolves this symptom within two weeks.
Spoon-Shaped Fingernails With Red Spots or Lines
Spoon-shaped nails are characterized by their concave shape and tend to be thin and cracked. They are strongly associated with iron deficiency anemia but are also linked to vitamin C deficiency. Red spots or vertical stripes on the nail bed, also known as splinter hemorrhage, can also appear during vitamin C deficiency due to weak blood vessels that break easily. While the appearance of fingernails and toenails can help detect the possibility of vitamin C deficiency, be aware that they are not considered diagnostic.
Dry, Damaged Skin
Healthy skin contains high amounts of vitamin C, especially in the epidermis, or the outer layer of the skin. Vitamin C keeps the skin healthy by protecting it from oxidative damage caused by the sun and exposure to pollutants such as tobacco smoke or ozone. It also stimulates the production of collagen, which keeps the skin looking fat and youthful.
High vitamin C intake is associated with better skin quality, while the low intake is associated with a 10% increased risk of developing dry, wrinkled skin. While dry, damaged skin can be linked to vitamin C deficiency, it can also be caused by many other factors, so this symptom alone is not enough to diagnose deficiency.
The rash occurs when the blood vessels under the skin are torn, causing blood to flow to the surrounding area. Mild damage is a common symptom of vitamin C deficiency because poor collagen production weakens blood vessels. Acne-related abrasions can cover large areas of the body or appear as small purple dots under the skin. Mild injuries are often one of the first obvious signs of a deficiency and should ensure further investigation of vitamin C levels.
Slow Healing Wounds
As vitamin C deficiency slows the rate of collagen formation, it causes wounds to heal slightly. Studies have shown that people with chronic, non-chronic leg ulcers are more likely to be deficient in vitamin C than those without chronic leg ulcers. In severe cases of vitamin C deficiency, old sores may re-open, increasing the risk of infection. Slow wound healing is one of the most advanced symptoms of dementia and is usually not seen until a person has had a problem for months.
Pain, Swollen Joints
Since the joints contain a lot of collagen-rich connective tissue, they can also be affected by vitamin C deficiency. There have been many reported cases of joint pain associated with vitamin C deficiency, which is often severe enough to cause lameness or difficulty walking. Bleeding inside the joints can also occur in people who do not have vitamin C, which causes more inflammation and pain. However, both of these symptoms can be treated with vitamin C supplements and are usually resolved within one week.
Vitamin C deficiency can also affect bone health. In fact, a poor diet has been linked to an increased risk of fractures and osteoporosis. Studies have shown that vitamin C plays an important role in bone formation, so a deficiency can increase bone loss. Bones in children can be particularly affected by a lack of vitamin C, as they grow and develop.
Bleeding and Loss of Teeth
Red, swollen and bleeding gums are other common symptoms of vitamin C. deficiency. Without adequate vitamin C, the gum tissue becomes weak and inflamed and blood vessels easily bleed. In the advanced stage of vitamin C deficiency, the gums may appear purple and rotten. Eventually, the teeth may fall out due to unhealthy gums and weak dentin, the inner layer of the teeth is covered.
Studies show that vitamin C accumulates within a variety of body cells to help them fight infections and eradicate pathogens. Vitamin C deficiency is associated with poor immune systems and increased risk of infection, including serious illnesses such as pneumonia. In fact, many people with scurvy, a disease caused by a deficiency of vitamin C, eventually die from the infection as a result of the immune system.
Continued Iron Orex Deficiency
Vitamin C and iron deficiency anemia often occur together. Symptoms of iron deficiency anemia include paleness, fatigue, shortness of breath during exercise, dry skin and hair, headaches, and claw-shaped nails. Low levels of vitamin C can contribute to iron deficiency anemia by reducing the absorption of iron from plant-based foods and adversely affecting iron metabolism.
Vitamin C deficiency also increases the risk of excessive bleeding, which can contribute to hemorrhage. If iron deficiency anemia persists for a long time without obvious causes, it may be wise to check your vitamin C levels.
Fatigue and Mood Poor
The first two symptoms of vitamin C deficiency are fatigue and nausea. These symptoms may appear even before full development. While fatigue and irritability are probably some of the first symptoms to appear, they are usually resolved after a few days of adequate food or within 24 hours of supplementation in large doses.
Unexplained Weight Loss
Vitamin C can help prevent obesity by regulating the release of fat from fat cells, reducing stress hormones, and reducing inflammation. The study found a consistent link between a low vitamin C diet and high body fat, but it is unclear whether the relationship of cause and effect.
Interestingly, low levels of vitamin C are linked to high levels in the stomach, even in people with normal weight. While too much body fat is not enough to indicate a vitamin C deficiency, it may be best to check it out after other things have been removed.
Chronic Inflammation and Oxidative Depression
Vitamin C is one of the water-soluble antioxidants in the body. It helps prevent cell damage by reducing free radicals that can cause oxidative stress and inflammation in the body. Oxidative stress and inflammation have been linked to many chronic diseases, including heart disease and diabetes, so reducing levels may be beneficial.
Low intake of vitamin C has been linked to high levels of inflammation and oxidative stress, as well as an increased risk of heart disease. One study found that adults with low levels of vitamin C were about 40% more likely to develop heart failure within 15 years than those with high blood pressure, even though they did not have vitamin C.
Causes of Vitamin C Deficiency
The main reason is an insufficient amount of vitamin C or ascorbic acid.
People cannot synthesize vitamin C. It needs to come from external sources, especially fruits and vegetables or fortified foods.
- Lack of diet due to lack of fresh fruits and vegetables, probably due to low income or famine
- Illnesses such as anorexia and other mental health problems
- Difficulties are due to restricted food, allergies, oral feeding, or other reasons
- Old age
- Excessive alcohol consumption or illegal drug use
Babies can also fall ill due to late or failed breastfeeding.
Conditions, treatments, or habits that reduce the body’s ability to absorb nutrients such as Crohn’s disease, ulcerative colitis, chemotherapy, and smoking.
Treatment involves administering vitamin C supplements by mouth or injection.
The recommended dose is:
- 1 to 2 grams (g) daily for 2 to 3 days
- 500 mg (mg) for next 7 days
- 100 mg for 1 to 3 months
Within 24 hours, patients can expect to see improvement in fatigue, lethargy, pain, stiffness, and confusion. Injury, bleeding, and weakness begin to resolve within 1 to 2 weeks.
After 3 months, a complete recovery is possible. Long-term effects are unlikely except in the case of severe dental damage.
A physician will conduct a physical examination and request a lab test to determine the level of vitamin C in the blood. Imaging tests can reveal internal damage as a result of scurvy.
Scurvy can be prevented by taking adequate amounts of vitamin C in the diet but sometimes as a supplement.
The Office of Dietary Supplements (ODS) in the United States recommends the following vitamin C intake:
- Up to 6 months: 40 mg, usually supplied through breastfeeding
- 7 to 12 months: 50 mg
- 1 to 3 years: 15 mg
- 4 to 8 years: 25 mg
- 9 to 13 years: 45 mg
- 14 to 18 years: 75 mg for men and 65 mg for women
- 19 years or older: 90 mg for men, 75 mg, and women
During pregnancy, women should take 85 mg of vitamin C, increased to 120 mg during breastfeeding. Smokers need 35 mg more per day than non-smokers.
Vitamin C-rich foods include:
- Fruits like orange, lemon, strawberry, blackberry, guava, kiwi fruit, and papaya
- Vegetables, especially tomatoes, carrots, bell peppers, broccoli, potatoes, cabbage, and spinach
- Other good sources are paprika, liver, and oysters
A medium orange contains 70 milligrams of vitamin C and a green bell pepper contains 60 milligrams. Ascorbic acid can be destroyed during heat and storage, so fresh, raw fruits and vegetables provide the best supply.
Which disease is caused by a lack of vitamin C?
Severe deficiency, called scurvy, causes bruising, gum and dental problems, dry hair and skin, and anemia. The diagnosis is based on symptoms and sometimes blood tests. Increasing consumption of fresh fruits and vegetables or taking vitamin C supplements by mouth usually corrects the deficiency.
How long does it take to correct a vitamin C deficiency?
In adults, the treatment is 300 to 1000 mg daily for one month. Symptoms should start to improve within 24 to 48 hours. You should be fully better within 7 days. Lower doses may be enough for vitamin C deficiency with no symptoms.
Who is most at risk for vitamin C deficiency?
The most likely people include those with an overall poor diet, with kidney disease who get dialysis, heavy drinkers, and smokers. You'll need an extra 35 milligrams of vitamin C per day to help repair the damage caused by free radicals that form when you smoke.