How To Prevent and Treat Scurvy

The Dread Scourge of the Seas, and One of Today's Diseases of Malnutrition

Scurvy afflicts mankind at land as well as at sea. Back in the year 1747, scurvy killed more seamen than guns and storms put together.

To fight this dread scourge, the sixty cannons mounted on the oaken decks of the Salisbury were useless. But by a flash of genius, one man in the ship's crew -- Dr. James Lind -- was able to defeat it. The conquest of scurvy ranks as one of the major medical victories of all time. Dr. Lind is today recognized as one of the most important figures in a whole branch of science called Nutrition. Dr. Lind later gained fame as the father of naval medicine.

  1. Signs and symptoms of scurvy:
    • Tiredness and weakness.
    • The eyes look sunken.
    • The gums bleed often and ugly sores erupted all over the skin.
    • Other Hemorrhages occur, that is, nosebleeds, blood in the urine or feces, splinter hemorrhages below the fingernails, subperiosteal hemorrhages.
    • Delayed healings of wounds.
    • Anemia.
  2. Scurvy throughout history. From history, science can then say that scurvy was the disease that afflicted Job in the Bible after he lost all his flocks and grains, when Job said:

    “By the great force of my disease, is my skin changed; it bindeth me about as the collar of my coat... my skin is black upon me and my bones are burned with heat.”

    Lind, on board the Salisbury had separate reports hinting on the truth about the disease. Among was the one written by the famed French mariner Jacques Cartier about his exploration on the St. Lawrence River in 1535. Translated in to English in the collection of voyages by the great geographer Richard Hakluyt, Cartier related:

    "The said unknown sickness began to spread itself amongst us after the strangest sort that was eyther heard of or siene, insomach as some did lose their strength and could not stand on their feete, then did their legges swel, their sinnowes shrink as black as any Cole. Others also had their skins spotted with spots of blood of a purple color; then did it ascend up to their ankles, knees, thighs, shoulders, arms and neck; their mouths became stinking, their gummes rotten that all the flesh did fall out."

    Within six weeks, only ten of a crew of one hundred and ten remained and their “remedy” was a sort of broth made from boiling the twigs and needles of the evergreen trees.

    Lind, the little genius. After having seen the possible symptoms of scurvy aboard the Salisbury, Dr. Lind planned one of the most significant experiments in the whole history of medicine. Guided only by his own good judgment, Dr. Lind worked out a model controlled experiment. On the twentieth of May, 1747, he selected twelve patients with scurvy on board the Salisbury at sea. Their cases were as similar as he could have them. He laid them together but did not treat his dozen patients exactly the same.

  3. The experiment. Lind experimented with six different diet supplements: to his first group of two men, he gave a quart of apple cider three times a day in addition to the regular diet all the sick men ate; the second group got two spoonfuls of vinegar thrice daily, and several drops of vinegar in their loblolly; another group got a medicine known as elixir vitriol, composed of diluted sulphuric acid and alcohol flavored with ginger and cinnamon; still another, a medicine made of garlic, mustard and some ground-up herbs; and two other men, merely half a pint of salty sea water after meals. To the two lucky men in the sixth and final group, Dr. Lind gave oranges and lemon daily for six days, till his limited fruit supply ran out. In his own words, this is what happened:

    “The consequence was, that the most sudden and visible good effects were perceived from the use of the oranges and lemons; one of those who had taken them being at the end of six days fit for duty. The spots were not at the same time quite off his body, nor his gums sound, but without any other medicine he became quite healthy before we came into Plymouth. The other was the best recovered of any in his condition, and being deemed pretty well, was appointed nurse to the rest of the sick.”

    It is possible to use Dr. Lind’s own words because on reaching shore, he set down complete details of his experiment in a book he called A Treatise of the Scurvy. What Dr. Lind accomplished on board the Salisbury earned him and his ship a secured place in history. Lemon juice stopped scurvy because scurvy was and is a disease caused by vitamin C deficiency. Vitamins were discovered in 1912 by a Polish chemist working in London; found in many common foods in varying quantities, they are essential for life and growth. Not until 1934 would an American scientist at the University of Pittsburgh at long last isolate crystals of pure vitamin C from a beaker of lemon juice.

  4. Prevention:
    • Increased production and consumption of vitamin C-rich foods, such as citrus fruits and vegetables.
    • Provision of vegetables, fruits and fruit juice for all members of the community beginning with children in the sixth month of life.
    • Improved horticulture, e.g., provision of village and household gardens, orchards, vegetable allotments in towns and school gardens.
    • Encouragement of the wide use of edible wild fruits and vegetables known to be rich in vitamin C, (e.g., Baobab fruit).
    • Nutrition education, as well as teaching the reasons and need for eating fresh foods, should include instruction in means of minimizing vitamin C loss in cooking and food preparation.
  5. Treatment. This disease of malnutrition is still prevalent around the world today. Because of the dangers of sudden death, it is not advisable to treat this deficiency disease with only a vitamin C-rich diet. Rather, it is advisable to give 250 mg ascorbic acid by mouth four times a day, and to put the patient on a diet with plenty of fresh fruit and vegetables. Ascorbic acid by injection is only necessary if the patient is vomiting.

good luck is often with the man who doesn't include it in his plans.

Share this article!

Follow us!

Find more helpful articles: