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Vitamin C Deficiency: Causes, Symptoms & Health Risks

The information provided herein does not constitute an expert or medical advice, nor intended to replace such advice.

Health and Wellness

Vitamin C, which is also known as ascorbic acid, is a water-soluble essential nutrient. Vitamin C can be found in many foods, and it’s important to many functions in the human body. Learning how to recognize vitamin C deficiency symptoms can help you identify if you have this condition and when it’s time to get help.

Keep reading to learn more about vitamin C deficiency, its causes, symptoms, and health risks.

Vitamin C functions

Vitamin C is well known as an adjuvant to prevent and treat colds, but in reality, this nutrient can do a lot more for your health. According to the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health, functions of vitamin C include:

  • Controlling infections

  • Healing wounds

  • Aiding in protein metabolism

  • Protecting you from free radicals as a powerful antioxidant

  • Making collagen and connective tissue

  • Improving the absorption of non heme iron (plant-based iron sources)

  • Helping in the production of several hormones and neurotransmitters

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Research is trying to determine whether vitamin C could help prevent or delay the development of certain types of cancer, thanks to its strong antioxidant function. However, more research is still needed on this topic.

Vitamin C food sources include:

  • Citrus fruits

  • Tomatoes

  • Tomato juice

  • Potatoes

  • Red and green peppers

  • Broccoli

  • Kiwi fruit

  • Brussel sprouts

  • Strawberries

  • Cantaloupe

  • Fortified cereals

What is an ascorbate deficiency?

The fact that vitamin C is a water-soluble vitamin, as we mentioned above, means that your body can easily get rid of any excess intake. But, on the other hand, you can’t store enough vitamin C inside your cells easily. That means that vitamin C must be consumed regularly in order to maintain healthy levels of this nutrient.

Vitamin C deficiency health risks aren’t common, as long as you’re eating a healthy and balanced diet. Most healthy individuals are able to get their vitamin C daily dose simply from the foods they eat. But according to the MSD Manuals, lack of vitamin C causes include:

  • A diet with insufficient fresh fruits and vegetables

  • A diet that contains too many processed foods

  • Pregnancy

  • Breastfeeding

  • Hyperthyroidism

  • Surgery

  • Burns

  • Chronic diarrhea

  • Smoking

You can get your vitamin C levels tested through a blood test if you’re showing signs of this deficiency. You can also learn more about other at-home vitamin tests at STDWatch.com.

Low vitamin C levels

According to the National Institutes of Health, the total level of vitamin C in the human body can range from approximately 300 mg to around 2 g. However, people who have lower levels of vitamin C still within this range could be at a higher risk of developing scurvy.

According to MedlinePlus, the Recommended Dietary Allowance (RDA) to maintain healthy vitamin C levels is as follows:


  • 0 to 6 months: 40* milligrams/day (mg/day)

  • 7 to 12 months: 50* mg/day


  • 1 to 3 years: 15 mg/day

  • 4 to 8 years: 25 mg/day

  • 9 to 13 years: 45 mg/day


  • Girls 14 to 18 years: 65 mg/day

  • Pregnant teens: 80 mg/day

  • Breastfeeding teens: 115 mg/day

  • Boys 14 to 18 years: 75 mg/day


  • Men age 19 and older: 90 mg/day

  • Women age 19 year and older: 75 mg/day

  • Pregnant women: 85 mg/day

  • Breastfeeding women: 120 mg/day

The good news is that eating plenty of fruits and vegetables is typically more than enough for most people to get all the vitamin C they need everyday. In fact, eating 5 varied servings of fruits and vegetables can provide up to 200 mg of vitamin C per day.

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Symptoms of vitamin C deficiency

Vitamin C deficiency can cause a disease called scurvy. This condition is rare in the developed world; however, it can affect people with alcohol use disorder or malnourished seniors more easily.

Symptoms of low vitamin C can include:

  • Fatigue

  • Weakness

  • Irritability

  • Weight loss

  • Joint pain

  • Bleeding under the skin (especially as bruising or around hair follicles)

  • Bleeding around the gums and the joints

  • Swollen, purple, spongy gums

  • Loose teeth

  • Dry, brittle hair

  • Dry, scaly, rough skin

  • Edema or fluid accumulation in the limbs

  • Anemia

  • Increased risk of infections

  • Slow wound healing

Vitamin C toxicity

Since your body can excrete excess vitamin C through your urine, developing vitamin C overdose would require taking extremely large amounts of this nutrient. This is unlikely to happen due to vitamin C food sources; instead, it would require taking excess supplements to reach these levels. According to the NHS, taking over 1 g of vitamin C per day can lead to symptoms such as:

  • Stomach pain

  • Diarrhea

  • Flatulence

These symptoms should typically go away once you stop taking the excess vitamin C. However, remember to seek medical attention if you experience symptoms that persist or worsen over time.


Vitamin C - hsph.harvard.edu

Vitamin C Deficiency - msdmanuals.com

Vitamin C - ods.od.nih.gov

Vitamin C - medlineplus.gov

Vitamin C - nhs.uk

Dr. Andrea Pinto Lopez

Dr. Andrea Pinto Lopez

Feb 13, 2023

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