A low intake of fruits and vegetables is the most common contributor to vitamin C deficiency symptoms. In the United States, about one third of all adults get less vitamin C from their diet than is recommended by the National Academy of Sciences, and 1 out of every 6 adults gets less than half the amount recommended.
Severe vitamin C deficiency symptoms are associated with the disease named scurvy. Scurvy was quite common throughout ancient history, primarily among soldiers who went out on long military campaigns. Months without access to fresh fruit or vegetables caused soldiers to exhibit classic vitamin C deficiency symptoms, although it was not known at the time that scurvy was caused by a mere nutritional deficiency of this one nutrient.
This caused devastation in many armies and navies, as almost half of the men suffered from scurvy. There were also about a hundred epidemics of scurvy throughout Europe between the 16th and 19th century as well, before the cause was finally identified.
Symptoms which might be indicative of vitamin C deficiencies include loss of appetite, fever, tenderness, discomfort in legs, diarrhea and rapid breathing. As the condition worsens, more symptoms occur, such as bleeding and spongy gums, skin discoloration due to ruptured blood vessels, formation of spots on skin, loosened teeth, pale appearance, depression and partial immobilization.
Other vitamin C deficiency symptoms include wounds and cuts that take a long time to heal, and dry hair and skin. Weak immune function, including susceptibility to colds and other infections, can also be a telltale sign of vitamin C deficiency.
Vitamin C is critical to the body's immune and detoxification systems. Overload in either of these areas can increase the risk of vitamin C deficiency. The immune system relies on a wide variety of mechanisms to help protect the body from infection, and vitamin C is especially important in the function of these immune components.
Vitamin C is also critical during the first phase of your body's detoxification process, which is especially active in your liver. Excessive toxic exposure is therefore a risk factor for vitamin C deficiency.
The need for dietary vitamin C is also increased by inflammatory disorders (particularly diarrhea), iron deficiency, cold or heat stress, surgery, burns, and protein deficiency. Smoking and exposure to second-hand smoke also increases the risk of vitamin C deficiencies. Cooking fruits and vegetables can destroy some or all of the vitamin C content, and lead to low vitamin C intake.
Categories of drugs that can diminish the body's supply of vitamin C include oral contraceptives (birth control pills), NSAIDs (non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs, including aspirin), corticosteroids (like cortisone), antibiotics and barbiturates.
Vitamin C deficiency does not affect most mammals, as they can synthesize their own vitamin C. Humans, guinea pigs, apes and a few other species cannot, because they lack the enzyme which is required to carry out this process. That's the reason why vitamin C must be obtained through your diet. Fortunately, most fruits and vegetables contain some amount of vitamin C.
In most cases, the symptoms can be treated by simply eating more vitamin C foods. Someone with a severe condition may need more vitamin C than would be practical to get from diet alone. This can be accomplished by taking vitamin C supplements in addition to fruits and vegetables.
Other pages on this website about vitamin C:
Protect the Future of Your Food Supply