One of the most interesting things about chronic disease is the recognition of “levels of disease.” We used to only diagnose diabetes. Now we diagnose prediabetes, hypoglycemia, and other sugar imbalances. As we look at disease processes, we’ve moved away from only the most dramatic to the more subtle. One area that has lagged behind is the diagnosis of chronic low grade scurvy: a shortage of Vitamin C that is essential for a variety of body processes including the production of serotonin. (here)
Scurvy, in its advanced form, causes bleeding of the gums, and a variety of pains as the connective tissue of the body gradually disintegrates in the absence of Vitamin C. In the subacute situation, an infant may only experience “fussiness” with easy bruising and an unwillingness to move their legs easily. (here) Older patients may present with fatigue and swelling of the feet, or have “nonspecific clinical symptoms“ (here)
The diet of a person developing scurvy may seem to be complete. They eat “well-cooked foods and small amounts or no vegetables and fruits” and are likely to be misdiagnosed. The expectation of bleeding gums occurred only in a few (less than 4%), while most experienced limping and tenderness in their lower limbs.(here)
In older patients the onset of symptoms is likely to generate a referral to a Rheumatologist, not a dietitian. A wise rheumatologist described these advanced symptoms: “three patients presented with symptoms including fatigue, purpuric rash, synovitis with effusion, anemia, and markedly elevated erythrocyte sedimentation rate and C-reactive protein levels. One patient presented with severe pulmonary hypertension” (here) In all three cases, symptoms resolved with the addition of Vitamin C. These were not patients in a developing country, nor were they a special risk group. It is important to understand that Vitamin C deficiency can occur in “normal populations in affluent countries.”
In mice, one of the most disturbing signs of Vitamin C deficiency is “increased preference for a highly palatable sucrose reward.” (here) Sugar cravings? Not something that would immediately make a person reach for the orange juice. But symptoms resolved when the mice had sufficient Vitamin C.
When mice were deprived of Vitamin C as infants, they moved more slowly than control mice, but they also exhibited hyperactivity and an extreme response to dopamine (gambling and addictive behaviors of all kinds secrete dopamine). (here) Again, hyperactivity does not have us immediately thinking of Vitamin C deficiency.
What are the side effects of taking Vitamin C? Besides the “good” side effects like a possible decrease in cancer (mouse study here and here ) When mice, rats, and guinea pigs were fed enormous quantities of Vitamin C over years they did not develop side effects. Even injecting mice with large quantities of Vitamin C over weeks did not seem to harm them. With the exception of sodium ascorbate, Vitamin C seems to be pretty harmless. (toxicity report here)
If low grade scurvy can occur in the normal population, sensitive groups like autistic children can be more susceptible. Many autistic children have self-selected restrictive diets, and may develop low-grade deficiencies without the ability to communicate their pains. (case reports: one, two, and three)
So maybe it is time to add fruits and vegetables back into your diet. Not simply because they are the best cancer prevention you can do. They can also help you keep your teeth, avoid bruising, and maybe even avoid internal hemorrhaging. If that sounds like a stick approach, just eat your carrot, already.