Why did Sailors get Scurvy?
What is scurvy?
Scurvy is a severe condition caused by a vitamin C deficiency over the period of many months. There are many factors that can increase your risk of developing scurvy, including:
- an eating disorder or eating very low or little food
- a poor diet
- smoking (smoking reduces how much vitamin c your body can absorb from food),
- pregnancy and breastfeeding (your body uses more vitamins and minerals at these times)
Scurvy causes your body to disintegrate, which means old wounds can re-open, skin cracks, you could develop ulcers, and gums might begin to decay. Scurvy can easily be treated by adding more vitamin C into your diet, simply by eating fresh fruit and vegetables.
The Story Behind Sailors and Scurvy
Back in the 18th century, The Royal Navy sailors were reporting symptoms of “luxuriancy of funguous flesh… putrid gums and… the most dreadful terrors” after spending months on end out at sea. Not only did the sailors see and feel the affects on their skin and teeth, but they also began to suffer with lack of motivation, chronic fatigue and an overall dejection in spirits. Months went by, and the symptoms baffled doctors who tried an array of remedies in hope of curing the unknown disease.
Enter Dr James Lind. Lind was travelling on a ship as a passenger in 1747, and became very interested in the sailors’ ongoing health problems. He began examining all of the sailors on the ship, and then started his experiment by splitting the sailors into groups to discover what was missing from their diets. Dr Lind gave each group various remedies:
- Group 1 drank one quart of cider a day
- Group 2 gargled sulfuric acid
- Group 3 had two spoonfuls of vinegar, 3 times a day
- Group 4 drank 1/2-pint seawater a day
- Group 5 drank barley water
- Group 6 ate two oranges and 1 lemon a day
It became apparent very quickly that group 6 was recovering significantly – and this is how Dr James Lind discovered the missing, vital nutrient in the sailors’ diets.
Do people still get scurvy?
Although the numbers are small, some people today still do manage to contract scurvy, due to the lack of a balanced, healthy diet. It is so incredibly important to look after your body, so we’ve rounded up all the simple ways to avoid getting this horrible, ancient disease…
- Ensure you have enough vitamin C in your diet (the best way to do this is by eating fruit and vegetables)
- Ensure you have your 5-a-day, drinking V8 juice will help you to do this
- Eating enough food – make sure you aren’t on any fad diets
- Do not smoke, this causes your body to reduce how much vitamin C your body absorbs from food
If you’re looking for more diet or healthy lifestyle advice, make sure you check out our blog for monthly updates on all things health.