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Scurvy: symptoms, causes and treatment of this disease

Scurvy: symptoms, causes and treatment of this disease

May 9, 2024

Scurvy is a disorder caused by ascorbic acid (vitamin C) deficiency , which alters the production of collagen, and with this, affects the composition of vital tissues. It is related to low nutrition, as well as excessive consumption of substances such as alcohol.

In this article we will see what scurvy is and why vitamin C deficiency can cause serious problems in our body. Later we will see what are the main symptoms and risk factors; and finally its prevention and treatment.

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What is scurvy?

Scurvy is a nutritional disorder caused by vitamin C deficiency. As such, it is characterized by a difficulty in synthesizing tissues, especially collagen. Externally it manifests itself in the skin (with spots), in the mucous membranes, in the teeth and in the gums. Internally manifests itself as an impoverishment of the blood , and sometimes produces ulcerations and hemorrhages.


This is true because Vitamin C, chemically called ascorbic acid, is an organic compound with antioxidant properties, that is, prevent the death of cells and cell tissues . In many species of animals and plants (which have the necessary enzymes to synthesize it) this acid is produced within the organism itself.

However, because humans lack such enzymes (we have 3 of the 4 necessary), we must consume vitamin C externally, and thus, compensate the nutritional properties that allow the synthesis and functioning of our tissues.

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Importance of vitamin C

In addition to being an antioxidant and improving the absorption of iron in the intestinal tract, Ascorbic acid plays a very important role for the hydroxylation of collagen , essential step for the configuration of connective tissues. For example, the skin, gums, mucous membranes and bones contain a high percentage of collagen.


But not only that, ascorbic acid also participates in the synthesis of neurotransmitters and hormones such as dopamine (essential for motor function), norepinephrine and adrenaline (the latter important for physiological functions and for the activity of the circulatory system).

Although they do not have a fixed concentration site, ascorbic acid is usually contained in the adrenal glands, blood cells and the pituitary gland. It also has a life of approximately 30 minutes once absorbed in the intestinal tract.

Brief history

Scurvy is one of the most studied and described disorders since the first medical history. In fact, in the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries It was a very frequent disease in marine .

In the year of 1747, the surgeon of the British naval force, James Lind, performed the first experiment on vitamin C deficiency with navigators. Found that an intake of vitamin C offsets the first symptoms of scurvy .


Main symptoms

Scurvy usually has an asymptomatic phase of development, with which the first symptoms are visible months after the vitamin C stores have been depleted. This applies to fats as well as muscles and other tissues. It usually manifests itself from the first 8 to 12 weeks of having had an insufficient intake of ascorbic acid .

The first symptoms are usually fatigue, pain, stiffness of the joints and lower extremities. Later there is inflammation and bleeding of gums and, later, the teeth can begin to loosen.

Other symptoms, which indicate an elevated degree of scurvy are Bleeding under the skin and deep tissue, slow healing, anemia and significant alterations of mood. Finally, if left untreated, it can lead to death (usually as a result of an infection caused by unhealed wounds or, as a result of a hemorrhage).

Causes and risk factors

Among the main risk factors for scurvy are low socioeconomic levels, abuse of alcohol and other drugs, and chronic psychiatric disorders that have had consequence of low nutrition or excessive consumption of drugs .

Although research on the relationship between substance abuse is recent, the hypothesis is that the prolonged presence of psychotropic substances (where alcohol is included) accelerates the metabolism and waste of ascorbic acid. That is to say that, although vitamin C is consumed, it does not remain in the organism.

Other risk factors related to food intake and the inability to absorb some vitamins, are fast diets, anorexia, Crohn's disease, hemodialysis, celiac disease, and numerous allergies to different foods.

Prevention and treatment

As we saw earlier, humans do not have the ability to synthesize vitamin C, which we need obtain it from external resources, such as citrus fruits (grapes, limes, lemons, oranges) and vegetables (red pepper, potatoes, spinach, broccoli). The latter maintain ascorbic acid especially if they are not cooked, since it is easily lost at high temperatures.

The recommended daily doses of vitamin C are between 75 and 90 mg per day, so one of the most used treatments is the prescription of food supplements with high vitamin C content. Depending on the symptoms developed, the dose and time of intake of these supplements varies, as well as the accompaniment of this type of treatment with others.

Bibliographic references:

  • Agriello, M.F., Buonsante, M.E., Abeldaño, F., Neglia, A., Zylberman, M. and Pellerano, G. (2010). Scurvy: an entity that still exists in modern medicine. Ibero-Latin American Cutic Medicine, 38 (2): 76-80.
  • Léger, D. (2008). Scurvy. Reemergence of nutritional deficiencies. Canada Family Physician, 54 (10): 1403-1406.
  • Scurvy (2018). Encyclopaedia Britannica. Retrieved October 18, 2018. Available at //www.britannica.com/science/scurvy.

Scurvy ¦ Treatment and Symptoms (May 2024).


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