Most people in developed countries aren’t at risk of developing a Vitamin C deficiency, but it can still happen in rare cases. You may have low ascorbic acid levels if you eat an unvaried diet, smoke, or have chronic diseases. Acute Vitamin C deficiency can lead to scurvy, and symptoms may occur within one month of consuming below 10 mg daily.

Early symptoms of inadequate ascorbic acid levels include fatigue, inflammation of the gums, depression, and bodily weakness. As the condition progresses, you may notice joint pain, dry skin, nosebleeds, and slow-healing wounds. Since ascorbic acid helps collagen synthesis, a deficiency can weaken connective tissues and capillaries.

Scientists discovered the dangers of low vitamin C levels in the 18th century when sailors began dying from a mysterious illness. Researchers investigating the disease realized that a lack of ascorbic acid caused the pirates to develop scurvy. While this condition still exists, it’s almost unheard of in the developed world and rarely occurs even in developing countries.

How Much Vitamin C Do You Need?

vitamin c deficiency

The Food and Nutrition Board at the Institute of Medicine of the National Academies set the following guidelines for ascorbic acid intake:

Age Male Female Pregnancy Lactation
0–6 months 40 mg* 40 mg*
7–12 months 50 mg* 50 mg*
1–3 years 15 mg 15 mg
4–8 years 25 mg 25 mg
9–13 years 45 mg 45 mg
14–18 years 75 mg 65 mg 80 mg 115 mg
19+ years 90 mg 75 mg 85 mg 120 mg
Smokers Individuals who smoke require 35 mg/day

more vitamin C than nonsmokers.

Some people take supplements to boost their ascorbic acid levels, but you should eat foods with vitamin C instead. Your body absorbs the vitamins more efficiently by eating fruits and vegetables. Whole foods offer additional health benefits like fiber, antioxidants, and vital nutrients.

What Foods Have the Highest Ascorbic Acid Levels?

According to the FDA, you can avoid a deficiency by consuming fruits and vegetables with vitamin C. Research shows that a native Australian fruit called the Kakadu plum contains the highest known concentration of vitamin C. One of these small, juicy fruits includes 100 times more ascorbic acid than oranges, about 436mg. You might not find these in your local grocery store, but it’s also sold as powders and extracts online.

Raw red peppers, containing 95mg per 1/2 cup serving, have the most abundant vitamin c levels among common foods. Orange juice is another substantial source of ascorbic acid, with 3/4 cup containing 93 mg, or 103% of your daily value (DV). A medium-sized orange will give you 83mg of ascorbic acid, or 92% of the RDI. Other excellent sources of ascorbic acid include acerola cherries, green chili peppers, guavas, sweet yellow peppers, mustard greens, and kale.

One serving of these foods provides over 100% of your DV for ascorbic acid and potent antioxidants that fight inflammation. Remember to steam or microwave leafy greens instead of boiling them, to retain more vitamins. Cooking vegetables at high heat destroys some nutrients, especially water-soluble vitamin C.

What Causes a Vitamin C Deficiency?

As we said earlier, a vitamin C deficiency may occur if you eat less than 10mg/day for a month. Since most people eat more than this in a single serving of fruits and vegetables, it’s rare to become deficient. Plus, supplements and vitamins ensure most people meet the RDI, even if their diet contains scant ascorbic acid.

However, lifestyle choices and medical conditions can make a vitamin C deficiency more likely. For example, studies confirm smokers and those exposed to secondhand smoke have lower ascorbic acid levels. Researchers believe that enhanced oxidative stress and inflammation caused by smoking may lead to nutrient deficiencies.

In addition, intestinal malabsorption disorders, cancer, and chronic kidney disease may lead to vitamin c deficiency. Finally, those with a limited diet containing few fruits and vegetables also risk low vitamin C levels. If you have a medical condition, talk with your doctor before increasing your intake or taking supplements.

What Are the Symptoms of Low Vitamin C Levels?

vitamin d deficiency

1. Low Energy

When you don’t eat enough foods with Vitamin C, you may experience fatigue or depression. One mouse study by the Vanderbilt University Medical Center analyzed the effects of inducing a severe ascorbic acid deficiency. Researchers observed depressive-like behavior and reduced physical strength in the mice.

However, research on people with a vitamin c deficiency showed participants had enhanced energy and immunity with supplementation.

2. Gum swelling and bleeding

Research suggests that low vitamin C levels can lead to periodontitis, a condition causing inflammation and infections of the gums. Because ascorbic acid helps protect the body from disease, a deficiency can result in bacterial overgrowth.

3. Weakened immune system

If you have a vitamin C deficiency, it could make you more susceptible to colds and the flu. A powerful antioxidant, vitamin C assists in producing white blood cells that fight bacteria and viruses.

4. Anemia

You might associate anemia with an iron deficiency, but poor levels of ascorbic acid can also cause it. Vitamin C helps improve nonheme iron absorption and bioavailability, the iron found in plant-based foods. According to one study, taking ascorbic acid supplements may also reverse anemia in children.

5. Poor eye health

Studies show that a vitamin C deficiency may lead to age-related macular degeneration and cataracts. Ascorbic acid helps reduce damage from free radicals and supports blood vessels in the retina.

6. Joint pain

Because vitamin C helps reduce inflammation, it may help prevent or lessen joint pain and swelling. Studies show that people who suffer from arthritis benefit from taking ascorbic acid supplements for its anti-inflammatory effect. Other research shows ascorbic acid can lower the risk of gout because it reduces uric acid, which can crystallize and form painful deposits in the joints.

7. Unhealthy skin and hair

Since vitamin C helps with collagen production and tissue repair, an insufficient intake can cause dry, damaged skin and hair. Studies show that ascorbic acid can prevent signs of aging caused by ultraviolet exposure. Since it improves iron absorption, an essential mineral for hair growth, it can benefit those with hair loss associated with anemia.

vitamin c deficiency

Final Thoughts on the Effects of Vitamin C Deficiency

You may not notice symptoms if you have a Vitamin C deficiency. After a month, you might experience fatigue, irritability, dry hair and skin, and gum swelling. Luckily, it’s uncommon to have an extreme deficiency today since most people can access fruits and vegetables. Regularly eating foods with vitamin C will ensure you maintain adequate levels and avoid unwanted health issues.