Vitamin C is essential for humans. The vitamin is involved in numerous metabolic processes. However, the body cannot produce the vitamin itself, therefore you have to ensure a daily intake of the vitamin yourself. Find out more in this article about how much vitamin C the body needs. We collected for you in this article which symptoms indicate a vitamin C deficiency and which methods can be used to detect and treat a deficiency.
Brief reminder: Vitamin C and its importance for the human organism
Vitamin C (ascorbic acid) is considered an essential nutrient because it is involved in very many metabolic reactions. These include the build-up of gums, cartilage, bones and connective tissue, the production of hormones and messenger substances, the support of the immune defense and wound healing. In addition, vitamin C improves the absorption of plant iron, protects against cell damage as an antioxidant and prevents the formation of harmful substances such as the carcinogenic nitrosamines in the body.
Unfortunately, the human organism cannot produce the water-soluble vitamin and cannot store it in large quantities. It must therefore be supplied regularly through the diet.
Symptoms: What are the effects of deficiency?
In Western countries, vitamin C deficiency, which is known in its most severe form as scurvy in adults and Möller-Barlow disease in infants, is rare. Nevertheless, people repeatedly suffer from deficiency states that can even be fatal. The reason is usually malnutrition, with insufficient vitamin C. Anorexia, severe mental illness, alcoholism, smoking, and dialysis are also considered risk factors.
The development of scurvy requires several months. However, even a less severe undersupply can lead to symptoms. Typical effects include:
– Increased susceptibility to infections.
– Worsened wound healing.
– Bleeding gums, gingivitis and even tooth loss.
– Internal bleeding under the skin, on mucous membranes, muscles or organs.
– Susceptibility to bruises (haematomas).
– Joint problems (pain or swelling, sometimes restricting movement).
– Rough skin sometimes with small bumps on the skin surface.
– Frizzy hair (hair grows bent and twisted, often breaking off after a few centimeters).
– Red hair follicles, often on the lower extremities.
– Nails bent upwards (concave), often thin and brittle.
– Fatigue, bad mood, depression.
– Weakness or muscle pain.
– Susceptibility to bone fractures and osteoporosis (adults) or bone deformities (children).
– Long-term iron deficiency anemia (iron deficiency is often accompanied by vitamin C deficiency).
– Weight gain (sudden and without reason).
Not all symptoms are immediately visible. Especially in the case of a slight deficiency, the effects are rather unspecific. Tiredness, poor performance, susceptibility to infections and bleeding gums are not really taken seriously by many people. Only when the vitamin C deficiency becomes more severe more symptoms appear.
The good news is that most of these effects correct themselves quickly. If the body gets sufficient amounts of vitamin C again, an improvement in symptoms can often be observed after just a few weeks.
How is vitamin C deficiency diagnosed?
Vitamin C deficiency is diagnosed by blood test. If you suspect you may have a deficiency, head to your primary care physician. Once there, a medical history will be taken. This means that the doctor will ask you about your living conditions (for example, your diet) and your medical history. Report the reason why you suspect there may be an undersupply. A physical examination may follow. You will then have some blood sampled, which will be tested in the lab for vitamin content. Sometimes you may have to come back to the office early in the morning on an empty stomach. After the blood is drawn, it usually takes several days to get the results. When the health care provider gets the results, it will become clear if you have a vitamin C deficiency and how severe it is.
What can I do about a vitamin C deficiency?
If you have been diagnosed with a vitamin C deficiency, the acute deficiency must be quickly corrected. To do this, your doctor will prescribe a vitamin C preparation. You must maintain this therapy for a certain period of time and, if necessary, go for a check-up (further blood test) after a while.
In acute cases, doctors prescribe vitamin injections. The preparations are highly concentrated and are administered directly into the body without going through the digestive tract. Another option is an infusion. If you are deficient in vitamin C, you may also be prescribed drops or tablets to take at home. The prescription preparations are usually higher doses than vitamin C tablets from the drugstore. Don’t worry, overdose (hypervitaminosis) with vitamin C is not known to occur. The vitamin is water-soluble and what the body does not need is excreted again. Nevertheless, extremely high doses (that would be about 3 to 4 g per day for adults) can cause gastrointestinal symptoms such as diarrhea).
If you suspect a slight vitamin C deficiency or want to prevent it, you can also use over-the-counter vitamin preparations. Pay attention to the dose in the preparation and whether it comes from natural sources, for example as acerola cherry extract, or is synthetically produced (ascorbic acid, usually from China).
When you take a supplement, it’s best to note if and when your symptoms improve. If your symptoms do not go away after a month despite the supplement, you should seek medical advice. The deficiency may be more severe, or it may be a different vitamin deficiency or disease.
It is also advisable to take a critical look at your own diet. It may be time to adjust your diet so that you regularly consume enough vitamin C from natural sources.
Which natural foods are high in vitamin C?
The best way to prevent vitamin C deficiency is to eat a healthy diet with plenty of vegetables and fruits. You don’t have to eat everything raw; you can also make delicious juices and smoothies from it. Particularly high in vitamin C are:
citrus fruits like lemons and oranges
Important: Vitamin C is sensitive to heat and light. Much of the vitamin is lost through transport and storage, prolonged soaking (water soluble) and long cooking times.
Fresh vegetables and fruit from the market or the garden are therefore the best sources of vitamin C. But processed foods also often contain vitamin C, as it is added as an antioxidant (E 300). Next time you go shopping, pay attention to what’s on the label.