Vitamin C, or ascorbic acid, is an essential nutrient for humans and other animal species. It is necessary for the formation of connective tissues. As an antioxidant, it helps your body to fight stress and promote good health. Your body doesn’t make vitamin C, so it is important to eat fruits and vegetables high in the vitamin and take supplements as needed. Severe deficiency of vitamin C results in a disease called scurvy.
Scurvy was a serious consideration of marine travel throughout history. It was common among sailors, pirates and others aboard ships at sea, as well as soldiers, all of whom were separated from perishable fruits, vegetables and other food sources of natural vitamin C. Dr. James Lind, pioneer of 18th-century naval hygiene, proved by clinical trial that scurvy could be treated with citrus fruits. Today, scurvy is rare, except among the malnourished.
Vitamin C helps the body absorb iron, so anemia is a common symptom of scurvy. Your anemia will become more severe as the disease progresses, internal bleeding being a later symptom. Other symptoms include loss of appetite and weight loss, sore and bleeding gums, skin hemorrhages and bruising, especially on the legs, and a general paleness and weakness. Aching and swelling joints and muscular pain make mobility difficult and eventually impossible.
Treatment for scurvy consists of a diet including lots of vitamin C-rich foods. Citrus fruits, tomatoes, sweet and white potatoes, cabbage, green peppers, leafy greens, and many kinds of berries are sources of vitamin C. Vitamin C supplements may also be added to your daily routine to speed recovery, and iron supplements can be added to help with your anemia. Most of your symptoms will disappear after two weeks of treatment.
Milder individual symptoms may indicate deficiency of vitamin C. If your immunity is low and your cold won’t go away, or you find that wounds take longer to heal, it might mean your vitamin C intake is insufficient. Lack of the antioxidant can result in premature aging of the skin as well as weakened bones and decreased muscle strength. Thyroid-related problems are also an indicator that you are in need of vitamin C.