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Scurvy, Spots and Swelling: The Signs of Vitamin C Deficiency

From dry skin to scurvy, there are a number of concerning signs of a vitamin C deficiency – but don’t worry, you won’t have to walk the plank; luckily there are bountiful sources of vitamin-C rich foods. But first – do you have a vitamin C deficiency? We'll be diving 5 keys signs to look out for, plus everything you need to know about the disease that plagued seafarers.

Scurvy is one of the first conditions that comes to mind when we think of vitamin C deficiency – and for good reason, it only takes around 3 months of inadequate vitamin C to bring on scurvy in some people. Take a look at the symptoms:

  • Fatigue
  • Weakness
  • Irritability
  • Sadness and low mood
  • Joint pain
  • Red or blue spots on the skin
  • Swelling
  • Low immunity

There’s a reason pirates, Navy sailors and other seafarers have been synonymous with scurvy in years past – on their journeys around the seas, they often lacked fresh fruits and veggies; the best sources of vitamin C. After an alarming spread of the debilitating disease and a whopping 2 million sailor deaths between the 16th and 18th centuries, a number of ships began doling out citrus fruits to stop scurvy in its tracks. The British Navy was known to ration lime and lemon juice to sailors – hence the US nickname for the British of “Limeys” that lives on to this day. But, despite the teasing, their methods worked to prevent and treat scurvy.

It's worth noting that not everyone who eats unhealthily will develop scurvy; other health issues can also play a role in your susceptibility, like stomach ulcers, an overactive thyroid and alcoholism. But the best way to lower your risk for the disease is to load up on vitamin C rich foods, including the following (based on a cup’s serve):

  • Acerola cherries – just a cup of these tropical cherries pack a whopping 2740% of the recommended daily intake (RDI) for vitamin C.
  • Guava – this tasty fruit has an impressive 628% of the RDI in just one serve.
  • Kiwi fruit – these have 273% of the RDI.
  • Lychee – these summer fruits pack 22 of6 the RDI.
  • Lemon – these citrus fruits have an impressive 187% of the RDI.
  • Orange – a cup’s worth of orange has 160% of the RDI, while a whole orange has around 70% of the RDI.
  • Broccoli – this green veggie packs around 135% of the RDI.
  • Parsley – this popular addition to soups and salads has around 133% of the RDI.


Pictured: Acerola cherries - these vitamin C powerhouses originated in Barbados.

Now, let’s dig into a few of the other major signs you’ve got a vitamin C deficiency on your hands. 

Swollen joints

Vitamin C is essential for healthy collagen and connective tissue in the body, and that’s why a vitamin C deficiency can leave you with swollen and aching joints. In some cases, people have difficulty walking or end up with bleeding inside joints, creating more pain and discomfort. The good news is that the research shows just a week’s supplementation of vitamin C should resolve these symptoms when they’re caused by this deficiency.

Slow healing

Noticed a cut that just won’t heal? While there could be a number of different causes for slow healing wounds – from diabetes to a skin infection – a vitamin C deficiency is a potential culprit for this symptom, so it’s worth getting your levels checked and making sure you’re getting a good dose every day. Vitamin C plays a role in healthy collagen and skin tissue, and when we’re lacking this nutrient, our wounds tend to heal at a slower rate. Interestingly, research shows that those with non-healing, chronic leg ulcers are far more likely to have a vitamin C deficiency. One of the big concerns with slow-healing wounds is the potential reopening of them, which can increase the chances of infection. It’s worth noting that this symptom is more likely to show up in severe cases of vitamin C deficiency, so if you’re experiencing this symptom, you’ll likely have a lot of other signs of a deficiency, if that’s the condition you’re dealing with.

Low immunity

One of vitamin C’s best-known functions is boosting immunity – there’s a reason Lois Lane was squeezing up oranges in the office, and it all comes down to their vitamin C content. While we wouldn’t personally recommend juicing your fruit – think about the fibre! – we definitely recommend getting a good source of dietary vitamin C from fruits and veggies. Research shows that this vitamin accumulates within our immune system’s cells to fight infection. While it won’t provide you with Superman-level immunity, the research shows that vitamin C is a powerful protector. A vitamin C deficiency increased the risk for low immunity and a higher chance of serious infections like pneumonia.

Dry skin

Dry skin is a common sign of a vitamin C deficiency and this is because of the important role this nutrient plays in healthy skin. A lot of vitamin C goes into our skin, and most significantly the outer layer of skin known as the epidermis, and it helps to prevent drying, wrinkling and damage from the sun and other environmental pollutants. Vitamin C also supports collagen production for healthy skin, with research finding a 10% increased risk for dry and wrinkled skin in those with lower intakes of vitamin C.

Spotted or spoon-shaped fingernails

If your fingernails are concave in shape or brittle, thin and spotted red, you could be dealing with a vitamin C deficiency. While an iron deficiency or iron-deficiency anaemia causes similar symptoms in the nails, studies show this may also occur with a vitamin C deficiency. Red-spotted or lined nails often result from the blood vessels weakening and rupturing. 

A few other unexpected signs include:

  • Brittle bones – we don’t just need vitamin D and calcium for healthy bones, vitamin C is essential for bone formation too.
  • Comorbidity of an iron deficiency – vitamin C helps us absorb iron, so without it, our iron stores pay the price.
  • Red hair follicles – this happens when the bloods vessels in our hair follicles break, resulting in red spots surrounding the follicles.
  • Easy bruising – the lack of collagen that comes with a vitamin C deficiency can weaken blood vessels, resulting in easy bruising.
  • Fatigue and low mood
  • Weight gain
  • Inflammation

Keen more health tips and tricks? Or perhaps you’ve been having a little trouble keeping that sugar addiction at bay – whatever your health goals are, we’re here to help. We know it can be hard to stick to your resolutions – especially when you’re trying to manage it alone. Join us for the 8-Week Program where we’ll be quitting sugar and turning our health dreams into a reality. When you sign up with us, you’ll have access to clear-cut meal plans, community support and exclusive access to our sugar-free content. Here’s what’s on offer:

  1. 8 weeks of meal plans and shopping lists
  2. Delicious member-only recipes
  3. Community forums to share your journey
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  5. Exclusive content from our panel of experts

    So, if you’re ready to ditch sugar and the host of maladies that come with it, it’s not too late to join. We’d love to help you get started on your health journey. Sign up HERE today!

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