What You Need to Know About Scurvy

Scurvy is the name for a vitamin C deficiency. It can lead to anemia, debility exhaustion, spontaneous bleeding, pain in the limbs, and especially the legs, swelling in some parts of the body and sometimes ulceration of the gums and loss of teeth. Scurvy  has been known since ancient Greek and Egyptian times.

It is often associated with sailors in the 15th to 18th centuries, when long sea voyages made it hard to get a steady supply of fresh produce that caused many to die from the effects. Modern cases of scurvy are rare, especially in places where enriched bread and cereals are available, but it can still affect people who do not consume enough vitamin C.

Scurvy happens when there is a lack of vitamin C or ascorbic acid. The deficiency leads to symptoms of weakness, anemia, gum disease, and skin problems because vitamin C is needed for making collagen, an important component in connective tissues. connective tissues are essential for structure and support in the body, including the structure of blood vessels. A lack of vitamin C will also affect the immune system, absorption of iron, metabolism of cholesterol and other functions.

Fast facts

Here are some key points about scurvy

  • Symptoms of scurvy result from severe vitamin C deficiency.
  • It can be fatal if left untreated.
  • Scurvy is treatable with oral or intravenous vitamin C.

How it affects the body

Vitamin C is a necessary nutrient that helps the body absorb iron and produce collagen and if the body does not produce enough collagen tissues will start to break down. It is also needed for synthesizing dopamine, norepinephrine, epinephrine and carnitine, needed for energy production. The symptoms for vitamin C deficiency  can start to appear after 8 to 12 weeks. Early signs include a loss of appetite, weight loss, fatigue, irritability and lethargy.

Within 1 to 3 months, there may be signs of anemia, myalgia, or pain, including bone pain, swelling, corkscrew, gum disease and loss of teeth, poor wound healing, and shortness of breath. Sometimes the person will show signs of generalized edema, severe jaundice, destruction of red blood cells, known as hydrolysis, sudden and spontaneous bleeding, nephropathy, fever and convulsion. A person with scurvy will become anxious and irritable. They may experience pain that causes them to assume a frog-leg posture for comfort.

What are the risk factors

Humans cannot synthesize vitamin C and so it needs to come from external sources, especially fruits and vegetables or fortified food. A deficiency may result from:

  • A poor diet lacking in fresh fruits and vegetables, possibly due to low income or famine.
  • Illnesses such as anorexia and other mental health issues.
  • Restrictive diets due to allergies, difficulty orally ingesting foods or other reason.
  • Older ages.
  • Excessive consumption of alcohol or use of illegal drugs.

How to prevent scurvy

Scurvy can be prevented by consuming enough of vitamin C, preferably in the diet, but sometimes as a supplement. The United States(US) office of Dietary supplements (ODS) advise the following intake of vitamin C:

  • Up to 6 months:  40mg, as normally supplied through breastfeeding.
  • 7 to   12 months: 50mg
  • 1 to 3 years: 15mg
  • 4 to 8 years: 25mg
  •  9 to 13 years 45mg
  • 14 to 16 years 75mg for men and 65 mg for women.

during pregnancy and antenatal care, women should consume 85 mg of vitamin C and rising to 120 mg while breastfeeding. Smokers needs 35mg more than nonsmokers everyday.

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