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Vitamin C (Ascorbic Acid) - Deficiency Risk and Symptoms

3 min read

Nutrient Name

Vitamin C - also known as Ascorbic Acid. It is best known as an antioxidant.

Potential for deficiency


Across European countries, nutrition surveys have found that only close to 50% of the population meet national intake recommendations for Vitamin C therefore mild deficiencies are common.

Smoking cigarettes lowers the amount of Vitamin C in the body, so smokers are a particular group of people more at risk of deficiency.

What does Vitamin C do?

It is an antioxidant, helping to stop some of the damage caused by oxidative stress by blocking damage done by free radicals.

Vitamin C is essential for the body to make collagen - a key component of skin and cartilage - some evidence suggests that people who eat diets rich in vitamin C are less likely to be diagnosed with osteoarthritis or rheumatoid arthritis.

It also helps rebuild tissue, bones and blood vessels and boost the body’s ability to absorb iron from supplements and plant foods. Vitamin C also helps calcium absorption, but too much can have a detrimental effect on calcium stores so the correct balance must be consumed.

Studies have shown that taking Vitamin C supplements regularly (not just at the beginning of a cold) produces a small reduction in the duration of a cold (about 1 day).

The European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) confirms that clear health benefits have been established for the dietary intake of Vitamin C (ascorbic acid) in contributing to:

  • the protection of cell constituents from oxidative damage
  • normal collagen formation and the normal function of bones, teeth, cartilage, gums, skin and blood vessels
  • the increase of non-heme iron absorption
  • the normal function of the nervous system
  • a normal function of the immune system
  • normal energy-yielding metabolism
  • the maintenance of the normal function of the immune system during and after intense physical exercise
  • the regeneration of the reduced form of vitamin E
  • normal psychological functions
  • the reduction of tiredness and fatigue

Food Sources

Vitamin C is widely found in fruits and vegetables: citrus fruits, blackcurrants, peppers, green vegetables such as broccoli, Brussels sprouts, and fruits like strawberries, guava, mango and kiwi are particularly rich sources.

Despite their reputation for being loaded with Vitamin C, the amount an orange provides is actually less than many other common fruits and vegetables. Papaya, peppers, broccoli, sprouts, strawberries, pineapple, kiwi fruit and even cauliflower (not an exhaustive list) all have a higher nutrient density of Vitamin C than oranges.

Vitamin C is a water-soluble vitamin and as such, it is unlikely to reach toxic levels. Because the body doesn't store excess Vitamin C, it must be obtained daily via your diet. There is little danger of toxicity when it is taken orally, however a high consumption of Vitamin C can cause diarrhoea and gastrointestinal disturbances.

Symptoms of deficiency

  • dry and splitting hair
  • inflammation of the gums
  • bleeding gums
  • muscle cramps
  • tooth decay
  • depression
  • rough, dry, scaly skin
  • slow healing wounds
  • easy bruising
  • nosebleeds
  • a decreased ability to ward off infection (poor immune system function)

A severe form of vitamin C deficiency is known as scurvy.

A low intake of Vitamin C has been associated with a number of cardiovascular disorders, including heart disease, hypertension and strokes.

A healthy balanced diet is the best way to consume all the nutrients we need. Sometimes however this isn't possible and then supplements can help. This article isn't intended to replace medical advice. Please consult your healthcare professional before trying any supplements or herbal medicines.