15 Signs and Symptoms of Vitamin C Deficiency

15 Signs and Symptoms of Vitamin C Deficiency

Vitamin C is an essential nutrient that must be consumed regularly to prevent deficiency.

The most common risk factors for vitamin C deficiency are poor diet, alcoholism, smoking and dialysis (12).

Here are the 15 most common signs and symptoms of vitamin C deficiency.

1. Rough, Bumpy Skin

Vitamin C plays a key role in collagen production, a protein that is abundant in connective tissues like skin, hair, joints, bones and blood vessels (3).

When vitamin C levels are low, a skin condition known as keratosis pilaris can develop.

In this condition, bumpy “chicken skin” forms on the back of the upper arms, thighs or buttocks due to a buildup of keratin protein inside the pores (4).

Keratosis pilaris caused by vitamin C deficiency typically appears after three to five months of inadequate intake and resolves with supplementation (5).

2. Corkscrew-Shaped Body Hair

Vitamin C deficiency can also cause hair to grow in bent or coiled shapes due to defects that develop in the protein structure of hair as it grows (6).

Corkscrew-shaped hair is one of the hallmark signs of vitamin C deficiency but may not be obvious, as these damaged hairs are more likely to break off or fall out (7).

Hair abnormalities often resolve within one month of treatment with adequate amounts of vitamin C (8).

3. Bright Red Hair Follicles

Hair follicles on the surface of the skin contain many tiny blood vessels that supply blood and nutrients to the area.

When the body is deficient in vitamin C, these small blood vessels become fragile and break easily, causing small, bright red spots to appear around the hair follicles.

This is known as perifollicular hemorrhage and a well-documented sign of vitamin C deficiency (6, 7).

Taking vitamin C supplements typically resolves this symptom within two weeks (8).

4. Spoon-Shaped Fingernails With Red Spots or Lines

Spoon-shaped nails are characterized by their concave shape and often thin and brittle.

They are more commonly associated with iron deficiency anemia but have also been linked to vitamin C deficiency (6, 9).

Red spots or vertical lines in the nail bed, known as splinter hemorrhage, may also appear during vitamin C deficiency due to weakened blood vessels that rupture easily.

While the visual appearance of fingernails and toenails may help determine the likelihood of vitamin C deficiency, note that it’s not considered diagnostic.

5. Dry, Damaged Skin

Healthy skin contains large amounts of vitamin C, especially in the epidermis, or outer layer of skin (11).

Vitamin C keeps skin healthy by protecting it from oxidative damage caused by the sun and exposure to pollutants like cigarette smoke or the ozone (12, 13).

It also promotes collagen production, which keeps skin looking plump and youthful (14).

High intakes of vitamin C are associated with better skin quality, while lower intakes are associated with a 10% increased risk of developing dry, wrinkled skin (15, 16, 17).

6. Easy Bruising

Bruising occurs when blood vessels under the skin rupture, causing blood to leak into the surrounding areas.

Easy bruising is a common sign of vitamin C deficiency since poor collagen production causes weak blood vessels (18).

Deficiency-related bruises may cover large areas of the body or appear as small, purple dots under the skin (7, 19, 20).

Easy bruising is often one of the first obvious symptoms of a deficiency and should warrant further investigation into vitamin C levels (21, 22, 23).

7. Slowly Healing Wounds

Since vitamin C deficiency slows the rate of collagen formation, it causes wounds to heal more slowly (2).

Research has shown that people with chronic, non-healing leg ulcers are significantly more likely to be deficient in vitamin C than those without chronic leg ulcers (24).

In severe cases of vitamin C deficiency, old wounds may even reopen, increasing the risk of infection (7, 25).

8. Painful, Swollen Joints

Since joints contain a lot of collagen-rich connective tissue, they can also be affected by vitamin C deficiency.

There have been many reported cases of joint pain associated with vitamin C deficiency, often severe enough to cause limping or difficulty walking (20, 21, 23, 28).

Bleeding within the joints can also occur in people who are deficient in vitamin C, causing swelling and additional pain (2).

Yet, both of these symptoms can be treated with vitamin C supplements and commonly resolve within one week (21).

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