Symptoms Of Scurvy, The Illness Caused By Vitamin C Deficiency

James Blunt says he had scurvy after eating nothing but meat for two months. We explain the symptoms, causes and treatment.

Singer James Blunt has revealed he developed scurvy after embarking on a carnivore diet for eight weeks at university.

Speaking on the Table Manners podcast, the artist said he ate nothing but chicken, mince and mayo for two months while at university, after finding himself surrounded by vegetarians and vegans.

A doctor swiftly diagnosed him with scurvy, which is caused by a lack of vitamin C. “It took me about six to eight weeks for me to get very, very unhealthy,” he said.

The singer then took it upon himself to drink a litre of orange juice every evening to up his vitamin C intake – and ended up developing acid reflux. “So, as you can see, food’s not necessarily my forte,” the singer joked.

What is scurvy?

Scurvy was the 18th century illness feared by sailors all over the seven seas (until James Lind came along with his oranges and lemons, that is), yet statistics suggest it’s on the rise in the UK. The number of hospital admissions for scurvy rose from 82 to 167 between 2010 and 2018, NHS data shows.

Vitamin C plays an important role in the body’s function: it helps to form collagen, enables the immune system to absorb iron, and helps to maintain healthy skin and bones.

Low levels can have a wide range of effects on the body. However, Nicola Read, clinical fellow from Bupa UK, told HuffPost UK: “Someone would probably need to completely cut out fruit and vegetables for at least three months to get it.”

Or, in Blunt’s case, two.

Symptoms

Scurvy can cause bruises, bleeding gums, red or blue spots on the skin, and tooth loss, according to Read. “You may also feel very tired and weak most of the time, feel irritable or sad, and experience intense pain in your joints or legs,” she said.

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Causes

Scurvy is caused by a vitamin C deficiency, but there are other factors which can increase a person’s risk. “If you are on a particularly strict diet, or have a medical condition such as a bowel condition or anorexia, you could be at increased risk of developing scurvy,” said Read.

Having a poor diet can also cause scurvy if you are pregnant or breastfeeding, as you require more vitamin C. Likewise, smoking can put you at a slightly higher risk of developing it as cigarettes can prevent your body from taking in the required nutrients from food.

With increasing rates of child poverty since 2011-12, some children are experiencing higher rates of malnutrition, obesity and adverse health outcomes like scurvy.

Treatment

Scurvy is easily treatable by adding vitamin C to your diet, according to NHS Choices. A GP might also recommend taking vitamin C supplements – if you’re pregnant, speak to your GP or midwife before taking any supplements or making changes to your diet.

You can prevent scurvy by ensuring your diet has plenty of fresh fruits and vegetables, while avoiding extreme or fad diets, said Read. “Foods like oranges, strawberries, broccoli and peppers are great sources of vitamin C,” she explains. “To get the best health benefits, try to avoid overcooking as this can destroy the vitamins.”

Nutritionist Charlotte Stirling-Reed said a single kiwi fruit provides around 90% of your recommended vitamin C intake for the day (40g) for adults, and a large orange will take you over that amount. “If you’re getting anywhere close to your five-a-day, you’re likely to be getting enough vitamin C,” she said.

She recommends the following for boosting vitamin C intake:

  • Include a handful of berries at breakfast.
  • Snack on either fruit or vegetables during the day (e.g. orange slices with nuts, pepper sticks with hummus).
  • Include vegetables such as peas, sweetcorn and carrots in your evening meal.