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December 2009 Chirurgeon's Message

Scurvy - Then and Now

Scurvy is an ancient disease that first plagued sea explorers centuries ago. Although it is comparatively rare nowadays, it still affects people of all ages…especially poor people, or older people living on a poor diet. If Scurvy is left untreated, it will result in death. Treatment, however, is not that difficult…hence; death due to Scurvy is not common in modern times.

Scurvy was at one time common among sailors, pirates and others aboard ships at sea longer than perishable fruits and vegetables could be stored, and by soldiers similarly separated from these foods for extended periods. Herbal cures for scurvy have been known in many native cultures since prehistory. The disease was first described by Hippocrates, but it was James Lind, a Scottish surgeon in the British Royal Navy, who first proved it could be treated with citrus fruit in experiments he described in his 1753 book, A Treatise of the Scurvy.

Scurvy is caused due to a deficiency of Vitamin C (ascorbic acid). It is important in the formation of collagen, which makes up normal tissues. Without it, normal tissue synthesis cannot take place. Scurvy is one of the accompanying diseases of malnutrition and thus is still widespread in areas of the world depending on food relief. The symptoms associated with scurvy are very noticeable. They begin with weakness, aching joints and muscles, and spontaneous bleeding. Other symptoms are loosening of the teeth, anemia, and dry skin and hair.

In modern western society, Scurvy is rarely present in adults, although infants and elderly people are affected. Vitamin C is destroyed by the process of pasteurization, so babies fed with ordinary bottled milk sometimes suffer from Scurvy if they are not provided with adequate vitamin supplements. Virtually all commercially available baby formulas contain added vitamin C for this reason, but heat and storage destroy vitamin C. Human breast milk contains sufficient vitamin C, if the mother has an adequate intake.

Scurvy is treated with large amounts of Vitamin C. In addition to being present in foods, it is also available in syrup or tablet form for easy consumption. Scurvy can be prevented by a diet that includes certain citrus fruits such as oranges or lemons. Other sources rich in vitamin C are fruits such as black currants, guava, kiwifruit, papaya, tomatoes and strawberries. It can also be found in some vegetables, such as carrots, bell peppers, broccoli, potatoes, cabbage, spinach and paprika, as well as some pickled vegetables. Many animal products, including liver and oysters, contain vitamin C.

THL Blase di Angelo
Kingdom Chirurgeon


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