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These are the Symptoms of a Vitamin C Deficiency, Including Hair Loss

Learn why a vitamin C deficiency can be harmful and what the signs are. 
FACT CHECKED BY Emilia Paluszek

To have a well-functioning immune system, the intake of essential vitamins is necessary, yet many are lacking the nutrients needed for overall wellness. A study published in the National Library of Medicine states, "Micronutrients such as vitamins A, C, D, E, and zinc have several functions throughout the immune system, yet inadequate nutrient intakes are pervasive in the US population. A large body of research shows that nutrient inadequacies can impair immune function and weaken the immune response."

The study, which followed 26,282 adults for 19 years, showed "45% of the U.S. population had a prevalence of inadequacy for vitamin A, 46% for vitamin C, 95% for vitamin D, 84% for vitamin E, and 15% for zinc." Vitamin deficiencies are common for a couple of reasons. One, if you don't have a balanced diet and skip a food group like meat, fish, vegetables or fruit. Two, people with conditions such as Crohn's disease have trouble absorbing some vitamins. 

Vitamin C is a main nutrient we need and according to Lindsay Tullis, CHC, Health Coach at Mighty Health, "The recommended daily intake for vitamin C will vary depending on age and gender. For adult males, the RDI is 90mg per day and in women the RDI is 75 mg per day." Eat This, Not That! Health spoke with experts who explain what to know about a vitamin C deficiency and signs that indicate you are lacking it. As always, please consult your physician for medical advice.  Read on—and to ensure your health and the health of others, don't miss these Sure Signs You've Already Had COVID.


Why Vitamin C is Vital

Tullis tells us, "Vitamins C is essential for growth and development. It is needed for growth and repair of tissue, aids in healing wounds and forming scar tissue, and aids in the absorption of iron. Vitamin C is also an antioxidant, which blocks some of the damage from free radicals."

The Mayo Clinic says, "Vitamin C (ascorbic acid) is a nutrient your body needs to form blood vessels, cartilage, muscle and collagen in bones. Vitamin C is also vital to your body's healing process. Vitamin C is an antioxidant that helps protect your cells against the effects of free radicals — molecules produced when your body breaks down food or is exposed to tobacco smoke and radiation from the sun, X-rays or other sources. Free radicals might play a role in heart disease, cancer and other diseases. Vitamin C also helps your body absorb and store iron."

Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health states, "Vitamin C plays a role in controlling infections and healing wounds, and is a powerful antioxidant that can neutralize harmful free radicals. It is needed to make collagen, a fibrous protein in connective tissue that is weaved throughout various systems in the body: nervous, immune, bone, cartilage, blood, and others. The vitamin helps make several hormones and chemical messengers used in the brain and nerves." 


A Vitamin C Deficiency Can be Harmful

Smiling young lady looking at her vitamins

Nima Majlesi, DO, Director of Medical Toxicology at Staten Island University Hospital tells us, "Vitamin C is used to prevent scurvy.  Scurvy is a disease which includes gingivitis, poor wound healing, bleeding, and easy bruising.  Scurvy can also result in pain in muscles and joints, in addition to spontaneous bleeding in joints and muscles.  This disease is exceedingly rare in the western world as almost all of our diets are fortified with some type of Vitamin C.  

However, the elderly, alcoholics, and those with inadequate diets fortified with vitamin C such as infants with formula that is not fortified with vitamin C are at risk.  Generally speaking, 500 mg/day should be an adequate amount of vitamin C to prevent scurvy.  Most of this is obtained through our diets.  However, supplementation is popular and relatively harmless."  


Signs of a Vitamin C Deficiency

woman suffering from pain in wrist at home.

Tullis says, "Signs that you may have a vitamin C deficiency are anemia, swollen and painful joints, decreased ability to fight infection and gingivitis. Vitamin C-Ascorbic acid has many functions, including the synthesis of collagen, some neurotransmitters, epinephrine and steroidogenesis. Deficiency leads to scurvy, a disease quite rare in developed countries, but consists of symptoms of bleeding gums, poor wound healing and defective bone development."

Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health states, "Vitamin C deficiency is rare in developed countries but may occur with a limited diet that provides less than 10 mg daily for one month or longer. In developed countries, situations at greatest risk for deficiency include eating a diet restricted in fruits and vegetables, smoking or long-term exposure to secondhand smoke, and drug and alcohol abuse. The following are the most common signs of a deficiency.

Scurvy, the hallmark disease of severe vitamin C deficiency, displays symptoms resulting from loss of collagen that weakens connective tissues:

–Skin spots caused by bleeding and bruising from broken blood vessels

–Swelling or bleeding of gums, and eventual loss of teeth

–Hair loss

–Delayed healing of skin wounds

–Fatigue, malaise

–Iron-deficiency anemia due to decreased absorption of non-heme iron"


You Can Get Vitamin C from Several Different Foods Sources

eat fiber foods

The Mayo Clinic says, "Because your body doesn't produce vitamin C, you need to get it from your diet. Vitamin C is found in citrus fruits, berries, potatoes, tomatoes, peppers, cabbage, Brussels sprouts, broccoli and spinach. Vitamin C is also available as an oral supplement, typically in the form of capsules and chewable tablets.

Most people get enough vitamin C from a healthy diet. Vitamin C deficiency is more likely in people who:

–Smoke or are exposed to secondhand smoking

–Have certain gastrointestinal conditions or certain types of cancer

–Have a limited diet that doesn't regularly include fruits and vegetables."


The Risk of Taking Vitamin C

Man with kidney problem

According to Dr. Majlesi, "The only potential risk to excessive oral vitamin C is the potential for kidney stones.  This is controversial however.  Theoretically there is some concern that oxalate absorption and high urine oxalate concentrations are more common in those patients taking 1000 mg or greater.  And its use was associated with a twofold increased risk of kidney stones.  IV administration of vitamin C has been reported to also lead to the presence of oxalate stones. 

High doses of vitamin C can lead to localized esophagitis and diarrhea as well. Generally, however, vitamin C is a very safe vitamin overall.  In patients with normal kidney function, excessive vitamin C is efficiently eliminated.  Taking Vitamin C on an empty stomach is the best way to ensure maximal absorption.  Therefore, first thing in the morning when you wake up 30 minutes before breakfast makes the most amount of sense." 

Heather Newgen
Heather Newgen has two decades of experience reporting and writing about health, fitness, entertainment and travel. Heather currently freelances for several publications. Read more about Heather