Scurvy, the debilitating condition remembered as a disease of pirates, is still found in Canada, according to a new study from McMaster University in Hamilton, Canada.
Scurvy can lead to bruising, weakness, anemia, gum disease, hemorrhage, tooth loss, and even death if undiagnosed and untreated. Symptoms appear to be related to the weakening of blood vessels, connective tissue and bone, which all contain collagen, a protein that’s made from vitamin C. Early symptoms of scurvy include fatigue.
By the late 1700s, the British navy became aware that scurvy could be cured by eating oranges or lemons, even though vitamin C would not be isolated until the early 1930s.
Scurvy is rare in developed countries because it can be prevented by consuming as little as 10 mg of vitamin C daily. The onset of scurvy is a slow; it usually appears after 60-90 days of a vitamin C deficient diet.
About the study
The researchers surveyed the data of patients of Hamilton, Ontario’s two hospital systems over nine years and found 52 patients with low vitamin C levels. This included 13 patients who could be diagnosed as having scurvy, and an additional 39 whose blood vitamin C level indicated scurvy but did not have symptoms.
Among those with scurvy, some were related to alcohol use disorder or to bariatric surgery but most cases were related to other causes of malnutrition such as persistent vomiting, dietary restrictions, mental illness, social isolation and dependence on others for food.
While scurvy is considered irrelevant in the modern world, it still exists, and doctors caring for at-risk patients should be aware of it,
The patients with scurvy who were given supplemental vitamin C had a rapid recovery of their symptoms.
What does vitamin C do in the body?
Vitamin C acts as an antioxidant to protect cells from damage caused by free radicals that we are exposed to in our environment. Vitamin C is also needed for the body to make collagen, which is a protein that helps with growth and repair of skin, bones, teeth and other tissues.
Vitamin C also helps to maintain the immune system so that it can work to protect us from diseases. And it improves the absorption of iron from plant-based foods.
How much vitamin C?
You need to include vitamin C rich foods in your diet every day. It’s a water soluble vitamin meaning what your body doesn’t use, it excretes.
The official daily recommended intake for vitamin C is 75 mg for women and 90 mg for men. If you smoke, you need an extra 35 mg. This is the amount that’s needed to maintain a sufficient concentration of the vitamin in white blood cells. However many experts recommend getting 200 mg of vitamin C each day to help reduce the risk of chronic disease.
Vitamin C content of selected foods (milligrams)
Yellow bell pepper, raw, ½ cup chopped, 140
Kiwifruit, 2 small, 128
Strawberries, 1 cup, 100
Red bell peppers, raw, ½ cup chopped, 100
Papaya, ½ fruit, 95
Pineapple, 1 cup, 90
Grapefruit, 1 medium, 90
Clementines, 2, 70
Orange, 1 medium, 70
Green bell peppers, ½ cup, 50
Broccoli, raw, ½ cup, 40
All research on this web site is the property of Leslie Beck Nutrition Consulting Inc. and is protected by copyright. Keep in mind that research on these matters continues daily and is subject to change. The information presented is not intended as a substitute for medical treatment. It is intended to provide ongoing support of your healthy lifestyle practices.