Vitamin C deficiency

Vitamin C deficiency

Description, Causes and Risk Factors:

ICD-10: E54

Vitamin C is also known as ascorbic acid, an antioxidant which helps in protecting human body against pollutants. Dangerous free radicals are released in our bodies as by-products of the conversion of food to energy, and when we fight off the toxic effects of stress, prescription drugs, and pollutants like pesticides, cigarette smoke, car exhaust, UV rays, and radiation. These free radicals cause oxidative stress to cells and damage them. Free radicals that build up in our bodies over time are the main cause of aging, and contribute to a whole host of diseases linked to oxidative stress, such as cancers, diabetes, arthritis, cataracts, and cardiovascular diseases.

Vitamin C deficiency

Antioxidants play a vital role as they block such damage by free radicals, and neutralize them. Vitamin C is one of the most important antioxidants. In addition, vitamin C benefits our body and is important to health in many other ways:

Vitamin C helps us to protect from infections and maintain healthy gums.

  • Plays critical role in the body's immune system function as it stimulates production of interferon and antibodies that fight bacteria and viruses to protect against infections and illnesses.
  • It also helps prevent cancer by blocking the formation of cancer-causing nitrosamines (produced in the stomach from nitrites) that increase risk of cancer, especially those of the digestive system.
  • It also strengthens many parts of human body such as muscles and blood vessels.
  • Vitamin C helps in synthesis of collagen, a component of ligaments, blood vessels, bones and tendons. It is found throughout the body; it is present in cartilage and connective tissues and is used to separate skeletal and smooth muscle cells.
  • Essential for the healing of wounds.
  • Helps the body absorb iron needed to make red blood cells.
  • Vitamin C also helps in lower the levels of low-density lipoprotein (LDL or “bad”) cholesterol and raise levels of high-density lipoprotein (HDL or “good”) cholesterol in some studies, which might help prevent atherosclerosis and heart diseases.
  • Reduces susceptibility to allergens (has powerful anti-histamine action).

Sources of Vitamin C include grapefruits, lemons, blackcurrants, oranges, kiwi fruit, broccoli, green peppers, tomatoes, cabbage, sprouts, and sweet potatoes. Fresh milk is also a good source of vitamin C.

Causes of vitamin C deficiency may include:

Poor diet is the main cause of vitamin C shortage in your body. Fast, convenience foods are usually low in nutrients, and if you are relying on that type of food, you may develop a deficiency of vitamin C and other nutrients as well. Fresh fruits and vegetables are the richest natural sources of vitamin C. Vitamin C need to be consumed every day as the body does not store it. Deficiency is usually caused by a diet low in it, such as one short of fresh fruits and vegetables. One-third of all adults in the US take less vitamin C in their diet than is recommended in the RDA (Recommended Dietary Allowance).

  • Birth control pills and medications such as antidepressants, analgesics, and anticoagulants may reduce your blood levels of vitamin C.
  • Disease, stress, fever and toxic exposures (such as cigarette smoke) increase your demand for vitamin C.
  • Alcohol and smoking seriously deplete your stores of vitamin C. Smokers tend to show lowered utilization of vitamin C with less storage and higher excretion than in nonsmokers. Smokers need twice as much vitamin C intake as non-smokers to maintain comparable blood levels.
  • Poor digestion can cause a shortage of vitamin C because your body can't properly digest food that you eat and then absorb its valuable nutrients including C vitamin.
  • Depression and stress are also known to decrease vitamin C in the body.
  • In addition, illnesses that cause high fever or inflammation, surgery, oral estrogen, prolonged high alcohol consumption, smoking, pollutants, burns, antibiotics, steroids, and barbiturates, tend to deplete vitamin C.


Symptoms may include the following:

  • Bleeding gums.
  • Bruising easily.
  • Slow wound healing.
  • Dry hair.
  • Nose bleeds.
  • Fatigue.
  • Weakened immune system.
  • Rough dry skin.
  • Dry hair with spit ends.


Diagnosis for vitamin C deficiency is clinical, based on the various vitamin C deficiency symptoms the patient is showing. Blood tests are a common diagnosis tool along with bone x-rays, especially for infants and children, as they are likely to depict an impaired bone growth.

  • The plasma or leukocyte vitamin C level can confirm the diagnosis. Levels can be low in patients who have tuberculosis, rheumatic fever or other chronic illnesses, cigarette smokers, and women taking oral contraceptive drugs.
  • A positive capillary fragility test is an almost constant finding, and anaemia is common.


Treatment by Mouth:

You can treat a vitamin C deficiency effectively by taking vitamin C supplements by mouth or simply by eating foods or drinking juices that are rich in vitamin C. Infants who can't chew vitamin C supplements can drink orange juice to recover from a vitamin C deficiency. If you have a vitamin C deficiency, you can usually clear it up by including more fresh fruits and vegetables in your diet, as many fruits and vegetables contain vitamin C.

  • It is rarely necessary to prescribe more than 100 mg daily, except early in the treatment of scurvy. Patients with scurvy should take ascorbic acid at 100 mg 3-5 times a day until a total of 4 g is reached, and then they should decrease intake to 100 mg daily.
  • Supplements should be combined with the intake of foods high in vitamin C.
  • Parenteral doses are required for those with gastrointestinal malabsorption.

Treatment by Injection: Most often, you can treat a vitamin C deficiency by mouth without resorting to injections, but injections might be useful if you're suffering from a severe case of vitamin C deficiency. Your doctor can test the levels of vitamin C in your body through a blood test to determine what type of treatment to choose.

Note: Gastrointestinal effects are the most common adverse clinical events associated with acute, high doses of vitamin C given over a short period of time.

NOTE: The above information is educational purpose. The information provided herein should not be used during any medical emergency or for the diagnosis or treatment of any medical condition.

DISCLAIMER: This information should not substitute for seeking responsible, professional medical care.


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