Scurvy is a nutritional disease that develops due to insufficient dietary intake of vitamin C. This disease is not observed in infants as breast milk contains required amounts of vitamin C. Even the milk formulas used for infants are fortified with required doses of vitamin C. Scurvy is most commonly observed in adults, old age people and in malnourished children. Deficiency generally develops due to poor intake of fruits and vegetables and increased use of vitamin by the immune system and in the detoxification process. Scurvy symptoms develop if the deficiency of vitamin C continues for few months.
Commonly observed scurvy symptoms include:
- Bleeding of the gums, under the skin especially around the hair follicles and bleeding under the nails. Due to bleeding tiny red spots appear around hair follicles.
- Cementing substance observed in connective tissues and bones is not formed appropriately. This results weakening of capillaries, hemorrhage and defective bones.
- Swollen gums that are spongy and purple in color. Lack of treatment may even result in loss of teeth. Gingivitis also develops in few patients.
- Poor or impaired bone growth in children and infants due to poor bone tissue formation. This increases the risk for bone fractures.
- Loss of appetite in infants. They also do not gain weight as they should normally.
- Increased risk for infections and poor wound healing. Lack of vitamin c reduces the efficiency of vitamin C to fight against disease causing microorganisms.
- Edema in the lower extremities.
- Dry and brittle hair.
- Rough, scaly dry skin.
- Anemia, Fatigue.
- Irritability, Depression.
- Unexplained weight loss.
- Aching joints and muscles due to effusion and bleeding.
Scurvy can be treated easily by using vitamin C supplements and by taking well balanced diet rich in fresh fruits and vegetables.
Before using vitamin C supplements it is essential to distinguish scurvy from diseases with similar symptoms such as arthritis, protein energy mal nutrition, gingivitis and hemorrhagic disorders.
If the physician suspects of vitamin C deficiency depending on the symptoms revealed by the patient then blood tests to know the levels of vitamin C are performed. X-rays of bones are taken to check for impaired bone growth in children.
Daily dose of vitamin C supplements relieves scurvy symptoms in just one to two weeks. However, symptoms such as gingivitis and subcutaneous bleeding take time to heal. Adults should take a daily dose of 100-250mg per day to cure scurvy. If scurvy is associated with anemia then iron supplements along with vitamin C should be used.
In few healthy individuals increased intake of vitamin C results in diarrhea, flatulence or nausea. It even interferes with results of other blood tests. Pregnant women should be very careful of vitamin C over dosage as diarrhea may result in dehydration. This in turn initiates early contractions. Hence, pregnant women should take dosage as suggested by physician.
Scurvy symptoms can be prevented by taking fresh fruits and vegetables especially citrus fruit. Required amounts of vitamin C can be obtained by taking fruits such as papaya, mango, orange juice, guava, strawberries, cantaloupe and vegetables such as broccoli, tomatoes and peppers. Smokers should take a daily dosage of vitamin C if deficiency symptoms are observed. A daily dose of 75 mg per day in women and 90mg per day in men prevents scurvy symptoms. Intake of fruits and vegetables not only gives the required daily dose of vitamin C but also offers antioxidants that boost the detoxification process.