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A Historical past of Scurvy

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When Europeans started crusing the excessive seas on prolonged voyages, essentially the most lethal factor they encountered wasn’t enemy navies, hunger, and even shipwrecks. 

It was a painful illness the place your physique would actually begin falling aside and it killed greater than 2,000,000 sailors between the voyage of Columbus to the center of the nineteenth century. 

Be taught extra about scurvy and the way it was ultimately conquered on this episode of The whole lot In all places Day by day.


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As soon as once more that’s


Any dialogue of scurvy has to start out with what the illness is. 

At its easiest, scurvy is attributable to an absence of vitamin C. Most mammal species can produce their very own vitamin C. People, nonetheless, are one of many solely species which can’t. 

So, this then raises the query, why is vitamin C so essential?

In all probability an important protein in your physique is collagen. It serves as the first element of most of the connective tissues in your physique. It’s present in your cartilage, bones, gums, tendons, ligaments, and pores and skin.

Vitamin C is a crucial element to your physique to construct collagen. With out vitamin C you’ll be able to’t produce collagen, and if you happen to can’t produce collagen, you actually can’t construct the stuff which holds your physique collectively. 

That is why scurvy is such a nasty illness. Your physique begins to collapse, and it’s will be extremely painful. 

The signs of scurvy can start after solely a month with out vitamin C. It begins with simply feeling sluggish. You then would possibly bruise simply. Lastly, your gums would possibly bleed, your enamel would possibly fall out, and your pores and skin would possibly overtly begin bleeding. 

These are simply the outward signs. Internally, all your connective tissues are falling aside, and plenty of of your inner organs could be bleeding as nicely. 

One unnamed sixteenth century English ship surgeon spoke about his private expertise with scurvy, He wrote, “It rotted all my gums, which gave out a black and putrid blood. My thighs and decrease legs had been black and gangrenous, and I used to be pressured to make use of my knife every day to chop into the flesh to be able to launch this black and foul blood. I additionally used my knife on my gums, which had been furious and rising over my enamel. . . . After I had minimize away this lifeless flesh and prompted a lot black blood to move, I rinsed my mouth and enamel with my urine, rubbing them very laborious. . . . And the unlucky factor was that I couldn’t eat, wanting extra to swallow than to chew. . . . A lot of our folks died of it each day, and we noticed our bodies thrown into the ocean consistently, three or 4 at a time.”

The historical past of this illness and the way it was ultimately solved is a captivating one, which includes discovering and forgetting the remedy many instances all through historical past.

Scurvy was identified to the ancients. There are information of historic Egyptians and Greeks who knew about Scurvy. 

A Fifth-century Chinese language monk known as Faxian wrote about how Chinese language sailors suffered from scurvy and the way they carried ginger on board to assist hold it at bay.

Traditionally, it was by no means a standard illness. It might seem right here and there, and often below particular circumstances. 

It was with the beginning of the age of exploration when scurvy turned a significant drawback. 

When ships set out on an extended voyage, they took meals with them which might carry on a ship. They didn’t have refrigeration and so they didn’t actually have any meals storage expertise past drying and salting. 

The everyday food regimen on board a ship on the time consisted of about 3,000 every day energy. The typical sailor would get a couple of pound of salted pork or beef, a pound of hardtack, which was a particularly dense and laborious biscuit, and a gallon of ale. There additionally could be some dried beans or lentils.

Nevertheless, there was nothing of their food regimen that was recent.

Though scurvy was essentially the most pronounced drawback, there have been different nutrient deficiencies that confirmed up as nicely. The shortage of vitamin B1 prompted beriberi and an absence of vitamin B2 causes pellagra. These situations would typically go hand in hand.

The bizarre factor about scurvy is that in this era, it was an enormous drawback that affected thousands and thousands of sailors. Nevertheless, it wasn’t as if there wasn’t a number of opinion on how you can deal with scurvy, and most of the individuals who had theories on treating scurvy had been proper. 

Again then, nobody had any clue there have been issues known as cells or micro organism, not to mention molecules like vitamin C. There weren’t even managed experiments on the time, so the whole lot was simply anecdotal proof and conjecture.

The remedy for scurvy was found repeatedly. 

In 1536, the French explorer Jacques Cartier was exploring the Saint Lawrence River in Canada when his crew was affected by scurvy. The natives within the space taught his crew how you can make tea out of ceratin pine needles. These needles contained vitamin C.

Early Portuguese explorers who sailed round Africa to achieve India planted fruit and veggies on the islands of St. Helena for ships to cease and get recent provides on their voyage.

In 1579, Spanish monk and physician Agustin Farfán suggest the consumption of oranges and lemons. 

In 1593, British Admiral Sir Richard Hawkins advocated consuming orange and lemon juice to remedy scurvy. 

Whereas many individuals had been proper, there have been additionally a number of mistaken concepts.

Many individuals thought that scurvy wasn’t a deficiency in one thing, it was resulting from consuming the salt pork or salt beef on the ship.

Others had a loopy concept that it was resulting from sailors who longed for the Earth. They thought the remedy was to deliver a field of filth from the house nation and to cowl the particular person affected by scurvy in it and allow them to take an Earth bathtub. 

One of many first individuals who can first be credited with taking a significant step in direction of fixing the issue of scurvy in a sensible sense was Captain James Prepare dinner. In his very lengthy voyages within the Pacific, he had tremendously decreased, however not eradicated, scurvy by requiring his crew to devour sauerkraut each day. He additionally insisted on getting recent fruit and veggies at each cease.

The one who is credited with actually fixing the scurvy drawback is Scottish Physician James Lind. He was a naval physician who did an precise scientific trial which confirmed that lime juice labored, and it labored higher than anything he tried to remedy scurvy.  Lind isn’t simply credited with fixing the issue of scurvy, but in addition with conducting the primary scientific trial in historical past.

His recommendation was ultimately adopted by the Royal Navy who within the late 18th century mandated lemon juice be served each day to sailors. In 1794, the HMS Suffolk set off from England for India. The Suffolk arrived in India with no single case of scurvy, and the studies had been that the crew arrived more healthy than after they left.

In 1867, Rose’s lime juice was invented which was the primary fruit focus and allowed for the preservation of lime juice with out alcohol. That very same yr, the Royal Navy mandated the every day consumption of lime juice for all its sailors, thereby principally eliminating scurvy.

That is the place the time period “Limey” got here from as a pejorative for the English.

I ought to notice that that citrus wasn’t the one remedy for scurvy. In 1801, when  Napoleon’s Military was pinned in on the Siege of Alexandria in Egypt, his chief physician ordered the consumption of recent horse meat to stop scurvy…..and it labored. 

Contemporary meat does have vitamin C, albeit not as a lot as citrus fruit. That’s the reason Inuits who reside north of the Arctic Circle and tribes just like the Massai in Africa who eat nearly solely animal-based diets don’t get scurvy. 

One purpose which is given as to why Roald Amundsen beat Robert Scott to the South Pole is that Amundsen discovered from a earlier expedition that by consuming recent penguin meat, he and his crew had been capable of delay scurvy. Scott’s workforce suffered from scurvy which was in all probability a contributing issue to the failure of their mission. 

The Vitamin C molecule was found in 1912, remoted in 1928, and in 1933 it turned the primary vitamin that was artificially produced. 

In 1937 Albert Szent-Györgyi was awarded the Nobel Prize in Medication and Walter Norman Haworth was awarded the Nobel Prize in Chemistry for his or her work on the invention of vitamin C. 

Right this moment, scurvy could be very uncommon. So uncommon, that when docs encounter it they typically misdiagnose it as a result of they by no means see it in sufferers. Nevertheless, it does often happen. 

One such case was a teenage boy who spent weeks taking part in video video games, consuming nothing however junk meals and Mountain Dew.  Different circumstances have come from individuals who had been overweight, however they solely devour processed meals and no recent meals. 

Scurvy is a horrible situation to undergo from. Fortunately, resulting from centuries of trial and error, and Twentieth-century discoveries, we’ve got all however eradicated it within the fashionable world. 


The affiliate producer of The whole lot In all places Day by day is Thor Thomsen.

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