Vitamin C is very important micronutrient essential for maintaining bone, teeth, cartilage health. Persistent vitamin C deficiency is the major cause of scurvy among the human population.  Vitamin C is also known as ascorbic acid and it is not produced by the body. The inability of internal production force us to rely on external sources of vitamin C (1, 2). 

What is Vitamin C Deficiency?

Vitamin C deficiency is the health condition caused by prolonged deprivation of Vitamin C. It may be caused by inadequate intake of Vitamin C rich diet and malabsorption due preexisting health conditions like gastrointestinal disorders, diabetes, smoking and alcoholism (3).

Functions of Vitamin C

Vitamin C water soluble micronutrient which are present in many food items This hormone is essential for facilitating the wound healing process and plays vital role in absorption of iron in the body. Through the past it has also been used as antioxidant and immunity booster. 

Causes of Vitamin C Deficiency

The condition of Vitamin C deficiency can be developed due to various factors. Some of the major cause have been illustrated below:

  • Inadequate Diet: The most common cause of Vitamin C deficiency across the globe is our diet. We often consume foods which are poor in essential vitamins and minerals such as Vitamin C. Especially poor people who can’t afford vegetables and fruits.
  • Iron Availability: Excess iron content in the body leads to excessive flushing of vitamin C through kidney and causes vitamin C deficiency. However, ascorbic acid deficiency causes malabsorption of iron in the system.
  • Alcoholism: Excessive and prolonged alcoholism leads to vitamin C deficiency as it is water soluble nutrient. It leads to disruptive absorption and excessive excretion of ascorbic acid from the body.
  • GI Disorders: Vitamin C deficiency disorders can also be caused by malabsorption. The inadequate absorption of Vitamin C can occur due to presence of preexisting health conditions like gastrointestinal disorders.  

Symptoms of Vitamin C Deficiency 

The common symptoms of Vitamin C deficiency include (1, 3):

  • Lassitude
  • Weakness
  • Irritability
  • Weight loss
  • Fatigue
  • Depression
  • Gingivitis
  • Petechiae
  • Rash
  • Internal bleeding
  • Impaired wound
  • Corneal erosion & ulceration
  • Impaired bone growth

Health Risks due to Vitamin C Deficiency

  • Scurvy: It is the most uncommon disorders caused by persistent deficiency of vitamin C. The common symptoms of scurvy are swollen, purple, spongy gums and bleeding in extreme deficiency.  
  • Impaired Bone Growth: Vitamin C is responsible for maintaining healthy bone and connective tissues. Extreme deficiency can cause impaired bone growth in children.  Early changes resemble atrophy however, it should be treated different than arthritis.
  • Impaired Immunity: Prolonged deficiency of vitamin C leads to impaired immunity. It hampers with the wound healing process and causes frequent infections

Tests for Vitamin C Deficiency

There are several tests available for the diagnosis of Vitamin C deficiency in our body out of which blood test is the most widely used method of diagnosis. In general, we don’t need to do any preparations for the test but in case you are on Vitamin C supplements you need to stop before the test. 

  • Serum Test: Serum tests measures the concentration of vitamin C in our blood stream. This is the quickest and most accurate test for the identification of retinol deficiency. Levels of < 0.6 mg/dL (< 34 mcmol/L) are considered marginal; levels of < 0.2 mg/dL (< 11 mcmol/L) indicate vitamin C deficiency 
  • Imaging Techniques: The scurvy in children can be identified using skeletal-x-ray. It helps in diagnosis of impaired bone development in children. Changes are very evident especially the extremities of bone for example bone growth at knee.  

Remedies of Vitamin C Deficiency 

  • Vitamin C Supplements: If you are diagnosed with severe Vitamin C deficiency, you should consider medical supplements under supervision of doctors. As higher Vitamin C may lead to deadly health condition.
  • Vitamin C Rich Diet: Vitamin C rich food items will help in minimizing the Vitamin C deficiency. Some of the Vitamin C rich food items are like includes citrus fruits, bell peppers, brussels sprouts, spinach, cabbage, tomato juice, broccoli.
  • Fortified Food Items: Several agricultural lands across the globe are poor in micronutrients which will serve nutrient deficient food produces. Fortified seeds will help in providing nutrient rich agriculture produce.

Prevention of Vitamin C Deficiency

It is often said that “Prevention is better than Cure” and indeed this is very much true with reference to micronutrient deficiencies. Vitamin C deficiency can be prevented through consumption of Vitamin C rich diet.

Food items rich in Vitamin C:

  • Citrus fruits
  • Bell peppers
  • Brussels sprouts
  • Spinach
  • Cabbage
  • Tomato juice
  • Broccoli

Ideally, we should consume adequate quantity of fruits and vegetables which are the major source of vitamin C in our diet. 

Adequate Intake (>19 yrs.):

Simple way to prevent Vitamin C deficiencies is to maintain recommended daily intakes. The recommended daily intake of Vitamin C for an adult is 75-90 mg. However, it may be higher in case of fever, inflammation, diarrhoea, smoking, hyperthyroidism, iron deficiency, cold or heat stress, surgery, burns, and protein deficiency (1).

Vitamin C is very important water-soluble vitamin essential for maintenance of healthy bone, teeth, connective tissues, absorption of iron in the body and immunity boosting.  It prevents scurvy in adults and bone impaired bone development in children.  

Although Vitamin C deficiency has several ill effects, it can be treated with the right consultation and medical supplements as prescribed by medical experts. The best possible way to avoid these complications by consuming adequate amount of Vitamin C as per RDA through various Vitamin C rich diet.