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Vitamin C deficiency signs and symptoms

Oranges and lemons on blue bowls with herbs and ginger
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Vitamin C deficiency

A healthy diet is one that is varied and balanced, with plenty of vegetables, fruits, wholegrain carbohydrates and lean protein. When you eat a balanced diet, you should be able to consume all the essential nutrients your body needs.

If you aren’t able to get all the nutrients you need in your diet, you can take supplements such as vitamin C tablets.

What is vitamin C?

Vitamin C, or ascorbic acid, is an essential nutrient that has many functions within the human body. Because vitamin C cannot be stored in the body, it must be consumed in our food.

The NHS recommends that adults need 40mg of vitamin C a day – this should be possible simply by eating a healthy, balanced diet that contains plenty of fruits and vegetables.

If you can’t get enough vitamin C through your diet alone, you may want to take vitamin C supplements. The recommended daily dosage of vitamin C is 40mg – taking more than 1000mg can cause stomach pain, diarrhoea and flatulence.

Benefits of vitamin C

Vitamin C is involved in the production of collagen, a protein which helps to maintains and repair the skin, bones, cartilage, ligaments, tendons, blood vessels and teeth. Without good levels of vitamin C, your body will have difficulty healing from wounds and fighting infection.

What is scurvy?

Scurvy is another word for a severe vitamin C deficiency. It can cause fatigue, low mood, sore joints and bleeding gums, and normally occurs in people who haven’t consumed enough vitamin C for at least three months.

The good news is that scurvy can be very easily treated once it has been diagnosed. Your doctor might advise that you add vitamin C-rich foods to your diet or that you take supplements until you feel better. If an underlying condition is thought to be the cause, you may need specialist treatment.

Who is at risk of scurvy?

You are more at risk of scurvy if you don’t eat enough, or if you eat a very restricted diet that includes few sources of vitamin C. If you have a poor diet your risk of scurvy is increased if you also smoke or if you are pregnant or breastfeeding (pregnant women and new mothers need more vitamin C than normal).

Additionally, the following groups are more at risk of a vitamin C deficiency:

  • People with a severe digestive condition e.g. Crohn's disease or ulcerative colitis
  • Very elderly people, who struggle to cook and eat a healthy diet
  • People addicted to drugs or alcohol

Vitamin C deficiency symptoms

Low vitamin C/scurvy can cause the following:

  • Fatigue and weakness
  • Irritability
  • Low mood
  • Pain in the muscles and joints
  • Swollen or bleeding gums
  • Nosebleeds
  • Blue or red spots on the skins
  • Easy bruising
  • Slow healing wounds

Scurvy is rare, even in people who don’t consume enough sources of vitamin C, so if you’re experiencing these symptoms they may not necessarily indicate a deficiency. In any case, it’s important to speak to a doctor if you’re experiencing these kinds of symptoms.

Sources of vitamin C

Vitamin C should be consumed as part of a balanced, healthy diet. If you can’t get enough in your diet, you can take vitamin C supplements.

Food rich in vitamin C

Vitamin C is mostly found in fruits and vegetables. If you’d like to get more into your diet, try incorporating the following into your meals:

  • Citrus fruits e.g. oranges, grapefruit, lemons
  • Strawberries, raspberries & blueberries
  • Blackcurrants
  • Kiwi fruit
  • Peppers
  • Spinach
  • Cabbage
  • Broccoli
  • Cauliflower
  • Brussels sprouts
  • Potatoes

Read our guide to find even more foods rich in vitamin C.

Vitamin C supplements

If you can’t get enough vitamin C through food alone, you can take supplements such as Nutri Within vitamin C. Remember, the NHS advises that taking more than 1,000mg can lead to stomach pain and diarrhoea. Make sure to always read the label to check dosages and speak to a pharmacist.

You should not take supplements as a substitute for a varied, balanced diet or a healthy lifestyle.