Scurvy: symptoms, causes and treatment of this disease

Scurvy is a disorder caused by a deficiency of ascorbic acid (vitamin C), Which alters the production of collagen, and thus affects the composition of vital tissues. It is linked to poor 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.

    What is scurvy?

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

    This is because vitamin C, chemically called ascorbic acid, is an organic compound with antioxidant properties, which means that they prevent cell and cell tissue death. In many species of animals and plants (which have the enzymes necessary for synthesis) this acid is produced in the same organism.

    However, since humans do not have these enzymes (we have 3 of the 4 needed), we must consume vitamin C externally, and thus, compensate for the nutritional properties that allow the synthesis and function of our tissues.

      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 in 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 too participates in the synthesis of neurotransmitters and hormones such as dopamine (Essential for motor function), noradrenaline and epinephrine (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 shelf life of around 30 minutes once absorbed from the intestinal tract.

      brief history

      Scurvy is one of the most studied and described disorders since the earliest history of medicine. In fact, in the 15th and 16th centuries it was a very common disease among sailors.

      In 1747, the surgeon of the British naval force, James Lind, carried out the first experiment on vitamin C deficiency with sailors. He found that a vitamin C intake compensated for the first symptoms of scurvy.

      main symptoms

      Scurvy usually has an asymptomatic developmental phase, so the first symptoms are visible months after the vitamin C stores are depleted. This in fat and muscle and other tissues. It usually manifests from the first 8 to 12 weeks of insufficient ascorbic acid intake.

      The first symptoms are usually fatigue, pain, stiffness in the joints and lower limbs. Later there is inflammation and bleeding of the gums and later the teeth may start to loosen.

      Other symptoms, which indicate a high degree of scurvy, are bleeding under the skin and deep tissue, slow healing, anemia and severe mood swings. Finally, if left untreated, it can lead to death (usually from infection with unhealed wounds or from bleeding).

      Causes and risk factors

      The main risk factors for scurvy are low socioeconomic levels, alcohol and other drug abuse and the resulting chronic psychiatric disorders. consequence of poor diet or excessive drug use.

      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 elimination of ascorbic acid. In other words, even though vitamin C is consumed, it does not stay in the body.

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

      Prevention and treatment

      As we have seen before, humans do not have the ability to synthesize vitamin C, so we need it. get it from external resources, such as citrus fruits (grapes, limes, lemons, oranges) and vegetables (Red pepper, potatoes, spinach, broccoli). These retain ascorbic acid especially if they are not cooked, as they are 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 commonly used treatments is the prescription of dietary supplements rich in vitamin C. as well as the accompaniment of this type of treatment with d ‘other.

      Bibliographical references:

      • Agriello, MF, Buonsante, EM, Abeldaño, F., Neglia, A., Zylberman, M. and Pellerano, G. (2010). Scurvy: an entity that still exists in modern medicine. Ibero-Latin American Skin Medicine, 38 (2): 76-80.
      • Leger, D. (2008). Scurvy. Recurrence of nutritional deficiencies. Family Physician of Canada, 54 (10): 1403-1406.
      • Scurvy (2018). Encyclopaedia Britannica. Accessed October 18, 2018.Available at

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