You Don't Have to Be a Sailor on a Pirate Ship to Suffer Vitamin C Deficiency

The form of vitamin C deficiency known as scurvy was once the scourge of sailors on the seven seas. Especially deadly on poorly provisioned ships manned by sailors kidnapped into service, lack of fruits and vegetables providing vitamin C caused the appearance of sores, loose teeth, dementia, and even death in as little as 90 days. Even young sailors in their teens and 20's died from the disease.

In the late eighteenth century, however, the British navy discovered that limes and other citrus fruit, which are rich in vitamin C, prevented scurvy. That is how British sailors came to be known as "limeys." Preventing the scourge of scurvy helped make the British navy invincible for nearly 100 years.

Even though it takes 90 days to develop scurvy, it takes less than 90 minutes for most the vitamin C in your bloodstream to break down. In fact, it only takes about half an hour for half of the vitamin C in circulation to be used up.

Our bodies have to have a constant supply of vitamin C from food and supplements. And because the supply of vitamin C vanishes so quickly, even in the twenty-first century, there are people who get scurvy.

Who Comes Down with Vitamin C Deficiency?

Orange Juice

Some people just don't eat their fruit and vegetables, either because they don't like them, or because they absolutely cannot afford them. In most developed countries, including places like the USA, UK, Turkey, Saudi Arabia, and Japan, the people most prone to lack of vitamin C are:

Many young parents do not realize that babies cannot be fed exclusively on cow's milk. Cow's milk does not contain vitamin C in any appreciable amount. When babies or older children do not get other sources of vitamin C, their symptoms can include:

Adults who are deficient in vitamin C can develop similar symptoms. Fortunately, it's very easy to correct a lack of vitamin C and the effects are dramatic.

How Do You Treat Vitamin C Deficiency?

A baby who is deficient in vitamin C begins to perk up after getting just 100 mg a day for several days and then changing the diet so fruit is eaten every day. Older children may benefit from taking 250 mg twice a day for 2 or 3 days and then dropping back to 100 mg a day, with a glass of juice every day. Adults usually need 500 mg twice a day for 2 or 3 days followed by 100 mg a day for 2 or 3 months. It's very hard to get these levels of vitamin C without eating a lot of fruit, so vitamin C supplements work best.

The results are usually dramatic. The gums stop bleeding in 24 hours. They usually heal in just 2 or 3 days. Bone and muscle pain usually go away in just 2 or 3 days. Any problem with walking or carrying heavy loads may resolve in a few weeks as the joints heal.

If these dosages seem low to you, remember that treating vitamin C deficiency is a matter of getting vitamin C into tissues and the tissues can only hold about 350 mg total. High-dose vitamin C works not by correcting vitamin C deficiency, but by changing the way other antioxidants work.

There is no reason for anyone to suffer scurvy. Just take vitamin C every day and you need never fear this once-dread disease.

Selected Reference:

Haffner SM. Relationship of metabolic risk factors and development of cardiovascular disease and diabetes. Obesity (Silver Spring). 2006 Jun;14 Suppl 3:121S-7S.