Vitamin C is vital nutrient that easily can be consumed from food and supplements on daily basis.Vitamin C Deficiency is very rare among people in developed countries, but still occurs and the medical name for this condition is Scurvy ( scorbutus).
What is scurvy?
Scurvy happens when there is a lack of vitamin C, or ascorbic acid. The deficiency leads to symptoms of weakness, anemia, gum disease, and skin problems.
This is because vitamin C is needed for making collagen, an important component in connective tissues. Connective tissues are essential for structure and support in the body, including the structure of blood vessels.
A lack of vitamin C will also affect the immune system, absorption of iron, metabolism of cholesterol and other functions.
The most common risk factors for vitamin C deficiency are poor diet, alcoholism, anorexia, severe mental illness, smoking and dialysis (1, 2).
While symptoms of severe vitamin C deficiency can take months to develop, there are some subtle signs to watch out for.
Vitamin C is a necessary nutrient that helps the body absorb iron and produce collagen.
If the body does not produce enough collagen, tissues will start to break down.
It is also needed for synthesizing dopamine, norepinephrine, epinephrine, and carnitine, needed for energy production.
Symptoms of vitamin C deficiency can start to appear after 8 to 12 weeks. Early signs include a loss of appetite, weight loss, fatigue, irritability, and lethargy.
Within 1 to 3 months, there may be signs of:
- myalgia, or pain, including bone pain
- swelling, or edema
- petechiae, or small red spots resulting from bleeding under the skin
- corkscrew hairs
- gum disease and loss of teeth
- poor wound healing
- shortness of breath
- mood changes, and depression
In time, the person will show signs of generalized edema, severe jaundice, destruction of red blood cells, known as hemolysis, sudden and spontaneous bleeding, neuropathy, fever, and convulsions. It can be fatal.
Infants with scurvy will become anxious and irritable. They may experience pain that causes them to assume a frog-leg posture for comfort.
There may also be subperiosteal hemorrhage, a type of bleeding that occurs at the ends of the long bones.
Animal studies have shown that vitamin C deficiency in a woman during pregnancy can lead to problems with fetal brain development.
Humans cannot synthesize vitamin C. It needs to come from external sources, especially fruits and vegetables, or fortified foods.
A deficiency may result from:
- a poor diet lacking in fresh fruits and vegetables, possibly due to low income
- illnesses such as anorexia and other mental health issues
- restrictive diets, due to allergies, difficulty orally ingesting foods, or other reasons
- older age
- excessive consumption of alcohol or use of illegal drugs
Late or unsuccessful weaning of infants can also lead to scurvy.
Conditions, treatments, or habits that reduce the body’s ability to absorb nutrients, such as Crohn’s disease, ulcerative colitis, chemotherapy, and smoking, increase the risk.
Treatment involves administering vitamin C supplements by mouth or by injection.
The recommended dosage is:
1 to 2 grams (g) per day for 2 to 3 days
500 milligrams (mg) for the next 7 days
100 mg for 1 to 3 months
Within 24 hours, patients can expect to see an improvement in fatigue, lethargy, pain, anorexia, and confusion. Bruising, bleeding, and weakness start 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.
Foods that contain vitamin C include:
- fruits, such as oranges, lemons, strawberries, blackberries, guava, kiwi fruit, and papaya
- vegetables, especially tomatoes, carrots, bell peppers, broccoli, potatoes, cabbage, and spinach
- Other good sources are paprika, liver, and oysters
One medium orange contains 70 mg of vitamin C, and a green bell pepper contains 60 mg.
Ascorbic acid can be destroyed by heat and during storage, so fresh, raw fruit and vegetables offer the best supply.
Vitamin C supplements are also available to purchase in health food stores.