Scurvy is a disease caused by lack of ascorbic acid (vitamin C) in the diet. Foods especially rich in this vitamin include citrus fruits, tomatoes, lettuce, celery, onions, carrots, and potatoes. These foods should be fresh to be most useful in supplying vitamin C. Including such foods in the diet will prevent or cure scurvy.
If a person does not get enough vitamin C, any wound he or she might have heals poorly. The person also bruises easily. The walls of the capillaries (small blood vessels) become so weak that slight pressure may cause them to break. The mouth and gums become sore. The gums bleed, and the teeth may become loose. Patients lose their appetite, their joints become sore, and they become restless. Anemia may also develop.
Scurvy has been known since ancient times. It was once a common disease among sailors. During long voyages, sailors rarely had fresh fruits and vegetables. They lived on salt beef and hardtack (dry biscuits) for weeks at a time. Portuguese navigator Vasco da Gama once lost about 100 out of 170 men from scurvy. In 1753, James Lind, a Scottish physician, showed that eating oranges and lemons would cure scurvy, and that adding lemon juice to the diet would prevent the disease. In 1795, the British Navy followed his advice and began issuing daily rations of juice to its men.
Improved understanding of nutritional requirements has made scurvy rare. Today, scurvy is mainly a disease of babies and elderly people whose diets are inadequate. Scurvy in infants is called Barlow’s disease. It usually occurs when breast feeding stops. Bottle-fed babies should drink orange juice or tomato juice after the first month.
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