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HEALTH NEWS FLASH:
October 31, 2017
Scurvy, also called scorbutus, is the name for a vitamin C deficiency, a disease resulting from a lack of vitamin C. Scurvy is one of the oldest known nutritional disorders of humankind.
Vitamin C (also called ascorbic acid) is a necessary nutrient that helps the body absorb iron and produce collagen. 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 main cause is an insufficient intake of vitamin C, or ascorbic acid.
Humans cannot synthesize vitamin C. It needs to come from external sources, especially fruits and vegetables, or fortified foods.
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 reasons
excessive consumption of alcohol or use of illegal drugs
Late or unsuccessful weaning of infants can also lead to scurvy.
Conditions, treatments, or habits that reduce the body's ability to absorb nutrients, such as Crohn's disease, ulcerative colitis, chemotherapy, and smoking, increase the risk.
Children with autism spectrum disorder (ASD) may also be at risk of getting scurvy if they will only eat certain foods that aren’t good sources of vitamin C.
Scurvy currently is rare. It occurs more often in the developing world in association with malnutrition. Rates among refugees are reported at 5% to 45%.
It takes at least a month of little to no vitamin C before symptoms occur.
Early signs include a loss of appetite, weight loss, fatigue, irritability, and lethargy.
Within 1 to 3 months, there may be signs of:
myalgia (pain in the muscle), including bone pain
swelling, or oedema
petechiae, or small red spots resulting from bleeding under the skin
gum disease and loss of teeth
poor wound healing
shortness of breath
mood changes, and depression
Infants with scurvy will become anxious and irritable. They may experience pain that causes them to assume a frog-leg posture for comfort.
There may also be subperiosteal hemorrhage, a type of bleeding that occurs at the ends of the long bones.
Animal studies have shown that vitamin C deficiency in a woman during pregnancy can lead to problems with foetal brain development.
Scurvy can be fatal if left untreated.
A physician will conduct a physical exam, and request lab tests to assess vitamin C levels in the blood.
Imaging tests can reveal internal damage resulting from scurvy.
Treatment involves administering vitamin C supplements by mouth or by injection.
Within 24 hours, patients can expect to see an improvement in fatigue, lethargy, pain, anorexia, and confusion. Bruising, bleeding, and weakness start to resolve within 1 to 2 weeks.
After 3 months, a complete recovery is possible. Long-term effects are unlikely, except in the case of severe dental damage.
Scurvy can be prevented by consuming enough vitamin C, preferably in the diet, but sometimes as a supplement.
Foods that contain vitamin C include:
fruits, such as oranges, lemons, strawberries, blackberries, guava, kiwi fruit, and papaya
vegetables, especially tomatoes, carrots, bell peppers, chile peppers, broccoli, potatoes, cabbage, and spinach
Other good sources are paprika, liver, and oysters.
One medium orange contains 70 mg of vitamin C, and a green bell pepper contains 60 mg.
Ascorbic acid can be destroyed by heat and during storage, so eating fresh, raw fruit and vegetables offers the best supply.
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