Scurvy Symptoms: It’s 2018, But You Might Have Scurvy

Scurvy isn’t something people typically think of unless they’re learning about pirates or watching an old film. The disease, which is caused by a severe deficiency in vitamin C, is typically associated with the 15th to 18th centuries. However, it may still be prevalent in our modern society.

Symptoms of scurvy include:

  • loss of teeth
  • bleeding sores
  • eroding gums
  • skin rashes
  • anemia
  • and more

These symptoms occur because vitamin C is a necessary component in making collagen, which is essential to connective tissues. Vitamin C is also needed for mood stabilization because it aids in synthesizing chemicals such as dopamine, which are needed for positive mood and energy.

You may be at risk for scurvy if you don’t eat a lot of fresh fruit and vegetables, have an eating disorder, have a restrictive diet, or use drugs, alcohol, or tobacco excessively. The elderly are also at an increased risk of developing scurvy because of weakened immune systems.

In 2003 and 2004, researchers for a Centers for Disease Control and Prevention study collected data about vitamin C levels in the general population, and approximately 7 percent of people had deficiencies so low that they were considered at scurvy levels.1

The disease often affects people who are left out of typical studies, the poor and mentally ill. This may be because people in poverty often have limited access to fresh fruits and vegetables. Produce tends to be more expensive than processed foods such as bread and rice, so people living in poverty may not be taking in the levels of vitamin C they need to remain healthy.

Scurvy is also found at higher numbers in people with mental illness because some mental illnesses lead to unhealthy eating habits.

For example, in 2010, doctors from Springfield Baystate Medical Center treated a man who came into a hospital with bleeding gums, bruises, and severe fatigue. He had a mental illness and had only eaten white bread and American cheese for years. This led to severe vitamin C deficiencies, which led to scurvy, according to Doctor Eric Churchill.2

The doctors who had studied that man’s case at Springfield Baystate Medical Center tested 120 patients with similar symptoms, and 29 of them turned out to have scurvy level deficiencies.2 Cases like these show the importance of having a balanced diet and intake of plenty of vitamins.

Another example is a different patient of Doctor Churchill’s, who ate mainly pizza, Chinese takeout, and burgers and fries. When he was diagnosed with scurvy he was surprised, because he didn’t feel that his diet was that out of the ordinary. But, as he learned, even getting some vegetables into your diet doesn’t guarantee that you won’t get scurvy.2

Everyone absorbs vitamins at different rates. Some people naturally absorb and retain less nutrients from their food than others. These people are at a particular risk of getting scurvy because even if they’re eating what would be enough vitamin C for one person, it may not be enough for them. This is why supplementation may be an important routine to adopt.

Even having vitamin C levels that are low, but not low enough to get scurvy, can be problematic. When you have low vitamin C levels it starts affecting your mood, energy, skin, and overall health. Some less noticeable and less severe warning signs of a vitamin C deficiency are:

  • easily bruising
  • dry scalp
  • frequent nosebleeds
  • inflamed or swollen joints
  • irritated gums
  • and more

To get an adequate intake of vitamin C on a daily basis, incorporate foods that are high in vitamin C in your diet, like oranges, kale, bell peppers, and kiwi. It is best to consume these raw and fresh for optimal vitamin absorption.

If you’re concerned about your vitamin C level, talk to your doctor. A simple blood test can help you understand the levels of many nutrients in your blood.

Understanding nutrition and balanced eating is one key to a healthy life. I bet you’ve heard the saying an apple a day keeps the doctor away, but an orange a day keeps the scurvy away.

*These statements have not been evaluated by the Food and Drug Administration. This product is not intended to diagnose, treat, cure or prevent any disease.


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