Vitamin C is a nutrient that is crucial to health. In fact, a vitamin C deficiency can wreak havoc on just about everything, from immune function to skin health and energy levels. In the long term, it may even have more serious consequences, including a higher risk of chronic disease and certain health conditions.
Fortunately, it’s often easy to prevent by simply enjoying a variety of vitamin C foods alongside a healthy, balanced diet. So what is the disease caused by lack of vitamin C, and what should you eat to prevent or correct a deficiency? Let’s dive in and explore.
Why You Need Vitamin C
Vitamin C is an important water-soluble vitamin that doubles as a powerful antioxidant. It helps fight harmful free radicals and protect cells against oxidative damage. Vitamin C also plays a role in several other aspects of health, including wound healing, bone formation, collagen synthesis and the development of connective tissues in the body.
Plus, some research shows that this key vitamin is also involved in disease prevention and immune function. For example, one study in the Annals of Nutrition & Metabolism reported that getting enough vitamin C could decrease symptoms and shorten the duration of respiratory infections like the common cold.
What happens if vitamin C is low? The deficiency disease associated with vitamin C is scurvy, which is characterized by symptoms like bleeding gums, loose teeth and skin rashes. However, the symptoms of deficiency don’t stop there. Some of the other common signs of vitamin C deficiency include fatigue, depression, swelling and poor immune function.
Vitamin C Deficiency Symptoms
What are the symptoms of low vitamin C? In addition to scurvy, which is the most well-known vitamin C deficiency disease, other symptoms of a vitamin C deficiency include:
- Impaired wound healing
- Chronic pain
- Weakened bones
- Poor immune function
- Corkscrew hairs
- Weight gain
- Rough skin
- Shortness of breath
- Bleeding gums
- Loose teeth
- Easy bruising
- Dry skin
- Red patches on skin
- Spoon-shaped fingernails
Vitamin C Deficiency Causes
Vitamin C deficiency is uncommon, especially in developed countries. However, it can often be caused by undernutrition/malnutrition or a poor diet lacking in ingredients like fresh fruits and vegetables. Conditions like anorexia or an overly restrictive diet may also contribute to deficiency.
Other potential vitamin C deficiency causes include underlying health conditions that affect nutrient absorption, such as Crohn’s disease and ulcerative colitis. Smoking may also increase the risk of deficiency, which is why smokers need a higher amount of vitamin C per day to meet their needs.
Dangers and Complications
With proper treatment, many of the symptoms of vitamin C deficiency can be easily resolved within a few weeks. For example, issues like vitamin C deficiency hair loss, impaired wound healing and dry skin often subside shortly after a vitamin C deficiency diagnosis has been made and treatment has begun.
Long term, a deficiency of vitamin C could have more serious effects on health and may even contribute to chronic disease. Studies show that a deficiency in vitamin C may be associated with higher levels of inflammation and oxidative stress, plus an increased risk of heart disease and a higher body mass index. More research is needed to determine whether these conditions are actually caused by a deficiency in vitamin C or if other factors may be at play.
Fortunately, a healthy, well-rounded diet can virtually eliminate the risk of any vitamin C deficiency diseases for most people and can reduce short-term symptoms like skin changes, bleeding gums and easy bruising within a matter of weeks.
How to Prevent and Overcome Vitamin C Deficiency
At this point, you may be wondering: How can I increase my vitamin C level? The easiest and most effective vitamin C deficiency treatment is to simply start switching up your diet. In fact, including a variety of healthy, nutrient-rich whole foods in your diet can help ensure you get enough of this vital vitamin each day to prevent vitamin C deficiency and weight gain, impaired immunity and anemia — as well as other deficiency symptoms.
Fruits and vegetables are especially high in vitamin C and can usually supply enough to meet your daily needs with just a few servings. Some of the top vitamin C foods include:
- Black currant
- Red pepper
- Kiwi fruit
- Green bell pepper
In some cases, supplementation may also be recommended to treat a deficiency. Adult men and women are recommended to get at least 90 milligrams and 75 milligrams of vitamin C per day, respectively. However, these needs are increased in smokers as well as women who are pregnant or breastfeeding.
If you suspect that you may have a vitamin C deficiency, it’s best to consult with a trusted health care practitioner to determine the best course of treatment for you.
Risks and Side Effects
Vitamin C is a water-soluble vitamin. This means that extra amounts are not stored in the body but are excreted through the urine instead. For this reason, consuming large amounts of vitamin C-rich foods is unlikely to cause any adverse side effects.
Although vitamin C supplementation is generally safe for most people, it can cause negative symptoms when used in high amounts. Some of the most common side effects associated with supplementation include nausea, diarrhea and stomach pain. The use of vitamin C supplements may also be tied to a higher risk of developing kidney stones, especially in men.
If you suspect that you have a deficiency in vitamin C, you should talk to your doctor. Not only can doctors help develop a treatment plan that’s right for you, but they can also evaluate whether or not there may be other underlying conditions playing a role.
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