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Nutrient Deficiency Diseases

Scurvy

Scurvy is one of the oldest vitamin deficiency diseases recorded and the first one to be cured by adding a vitamin to the diet. Scurvy was a common malady of sailors of the age of exploration of the New World. It has been recorded that Vasco da Gama was supposed to have lost half of his crew to scurvy in his journey around the Cape of Good Hope at the end of the fifteenth century and Richard Hawkins reported that he lost 10,000 sailors from the disease a century later.

The main symptom of scurvy is hemorrhaging. Hemorrhage marks appear as spots under the skin or bruises, given the medical terms of petechiae and ecchymoses. The gums are swollen and usually become infected (gingivitis). Bleeding can take place in the membranes covering the large bones as well as in the membranes of the heart and brain. Wounds heal slowly and the bleeding in or around vital organs can be fatal. The disease is slow to develop and is manifested early by fatigue, irritability, and depression.

In 1747 a British naval physician, James Lind, in a response to a an outbreak of scurvy conducted a controlled experiment. He took 12 of the sailors who had developed scurvy and divided them up into six groups and gave each pair different medicines such as nutmeg, cider, seawater, and vinegar, while others were given lemons or oranges. The two men given the oranges and lemons both completely recovered in about a week after the experiment.

His Treatise of the Scurvy published in 1753 is the first example of a controlled clinical trial experiment. In his treatise, Lind gave a thorough review of other authors who had written on scurvy along with a careful clinical description of the condition. It was not until the end of the eighteenth century that the British navy finally had its sailors drink a daily portion of lime or lemon juice to prevent scurvy.

Vitamin C (ascorbic acid) is necessary for collagen formation, which is the protein component of connective tissue, strong blood vessels, healthy skin and gums, formation of red blood cells, wound healing, and the absorption of iron. In addition to scurvy, other scurvy-like conditions can develop from a deficiency of vitamin C, such as adult acne, easy bruising, sore gums, and hemorrhages around bones. Good sources for vitamin C are citrus fruit, broccoli, strawberries, cantaloupe, and other fruits and vegetables.


Additional topics

Science EncyclopediaScience & Philosophy: Nicotinamide adenine dinucleotide phosphate (NADP) to Ockham's razorNutrient Deficiency Diseases - Early Vitamin Deficiency Diseases, Scurvy, Beriberi, Pellagra, Rickets, Other Vitamin Deficiency Diseases - Mineral deficiency diseases