A long-standing vitamin C deficiency can result in scurvy, a serious disease characterized by anemia, skin hemorrhages (blood spots) and gingivitis (gum disease). It's not common, but it can occur in very malnourished people or alcoholics.
People who don't get sufficient amounts of vitamin C every day (about 75 to 90 milligrams) can suffer from any of these health problems:
- bleeding gums
- bruising easily
- slow wound healing
- dry hair
- nose bleeds
- weakened immune system
- rough dry skin
- dry hair with spit ends
Habitually eating a diet of highly processed foods with an insufficient amount of fruits and vegetables may result in a vitamin C deficiency. Since vitamin C is water-soluble, your body doesn't store it well, so it needs to be replenished daily.
Scurvy may need to be treated with high doses of supplemental vitamin C, however a milder deficiency may be corrected by increasing consumption of fruits and vegetables that are high in vitamin C, especially citrus fruits, strawberries, potatoes, broccoli, tomatoes and peppers.
Vitamin C is diminished when fresh fruits and vegetables are exposed to air or heat, so fresh/raw fruits and vegetables have more vitamin C than those that are cooked or canned.
Can You Get Too Much?
Vitamin C supplements are good if you don't eat enough fruits and vegetables every day, just be sure to follow the label directions. Some people take larger amounts of vitamin C (called mega-doses) because they hope to harness the antioxidant benefits of the vitamin, defy aging, or boost their immune systems, but there's not enough research evidence to back those claims.
Vitamin C supplements have been touted as preventive for colds and flu, but while eating the right foods may help, taking supplements does not.
Currently, research doesn't show any clear benefits from taking mega-doses of vitamin C supplements, with the possible exception of cataract prevention.
Supplemental amounts of up to 2,000 milligrams per day are safe, but larger doses may result in diarrhea. It's always advisable to talk to your doctor before starting supplements.
The Merck Manuals Online Medical Library. "Vitamin C." Accessed October 6, 2010. http://www.merck.com/mmhe/sec12/ch154/ch154i.html.