Vitamin C deficiency – Causes and symptoms

Vitamin C deficiency can cause scurvy, lead to bleeding gums and weak bones. Your body doesn’t store it so daily intake is advisable.

vitamin cvitamin cVitamin C, also called ascorbic acid is important for producing a protein called collagen present in skin, bone and blood vessels and absorbing iron into the body. The body does not store it which means we need it from our food on a continuous basis. Vitamin C is good for our immune system and in extreme cases its deficiency leads to scurvy. Scurvy is rarely seen in adults but can occur in small children or the elderly due to poor nourishment.

Sources of vitamin C

Vitamin C is abundant in Indian gooseberry or amla, citrus fruits like oranges and sweet limes, papayas, guavas, strawberries and vegetables like tomatoes, broccoli, potatoes and cabbage. Animal sources include oysters and meat like liver.

Causes of vitamin C deficiency

  1. Vitamin C is easily absorbed by the body from fresh fruit, vegetables and meat. Cooking reduces the content especially in vegetables and canned fruit. The body does not store it hence it is important to get it from the diet on a regular basis.
  2. In the past, sailors used to suffer from it as at sea they did not have access to fruits and veggies.
  3. In developing countries, people below the poverty line especially babies and the aged may exhibit signs of vitamin C deficiency. Infants fed on bottle milk may develop a deficiency but those fed on breast milk of adequately nourished mothers do not.
  4. Chronic alcoholics and people who abuse drugs may also have a lack of vitamin C.

Symptoms and signs of vitamin C deficiency

Vitamin C is essential for the production of collagen which is a protein found in skin, bones and cartilage.

Mild deficiency leads to lethargy, fatigue, bone pain and shortness of breath. Skin may show easy bruising, poor wound healing and bleeding gums.

Scurvy causes muscular and joint pain, red spots on the skin, lack of weight and appetite and bleeding of gums which may cause teeth to fall out. Jaundice, swelling all over the body, convulsions and fever occur in the later stages. Fractures may occur due to deteriorating bone health and loss of cartilage found in the joints.

Diagnosis for vitamin C deficiency

The above symptoms and signs will lead the physician to suspect a lack of vitamin C.

Investigations for vitamin C deficiency

A blood test called serum ascorbic acid test is done and acid levels are requested. If bone or joint involvement is suspected, X -rays of those areas are asked for.

Treatment for vitamin C deficiency

A diet rich in foods containing vitamin C is advised. In people diagnosed with scurvy, oral or injectable vitamin C is prescribed.

Requirement of vitamin C

On an average, we need about 60 mg of vitamin C daily.

Photographs by sxc.hu

Written by Dr Nisreen Nakhoda, General Physician 

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