Scurvy: A Historical, Nutritional Disease

Scurvy is a disease of historical importance caused by a deficiency in vitamin C (ascorbic acid). Though mostly found among sailors of the past centuries, scurvy remains a real risk when the recommended intake of vitamin C is not adequately fulfilled. Untreated scurvy can be fatal.

Signs and Symptoms of Scurvy

The signs and symptoms of scurvy are caused by a lack of collagen. Collagen is a tough, structural protein produced by cells in the body that is found in tendons, ligaments, and skin. It's also found in the walls of blood vessels.

Some of the signs of scurvy include:

  • Lethargy and overall weakness
  • Easy bruising or bleeding
  • Spontaneous bleeding of the gums or of other mucous membranes
  • A swollen, inflamed gum tissue
  • Sharp pains in the limbs or joints
  • Rough, dry, scaly skin
  • Decreased red blood cells

Who Is At Risk of Developing Scurvy?

Any person who is not getting an adequate amount of vitamin C from foods or supplements is at risk for scurvy. Conditions that may increase the risk of scurvy include malabsorption, eating disorders, anorexia nervosa, and alcoholism. Vegetarians may also be at a higher risk unless they eat enough fruits and vegetables.

Preventing Scurvy

The World Health Organization recommends that adults consume at least 40 mg of vitamin C per day to help avoid scurvy. For most adults, a balanced diet that includes various fruits and vegetables should provide more than enough vitamin C. Fresh fruits and vegetables are excellent sources of vitamin C, as are fortified juices and cereals. Ascorbic acid supplements are also available.