What was once connected to pirates and seafarers of days past is finding its way back into the public health spotlight: scurvy. Cases of scurvy are popping up in the United States and other developed countries such as Australia.

What exactly is scurvy? It is a health condition caused by lack of vitamin C, leading to complications such as black gums, inflamed/sore joints, wasting away of muscle, loose teeth, and skin lesions. It can also affect the brain, causing cognitive imbalance, seizures, or hallucinations.

Early symptoms may present as nausea, fatigue, bleeding gums or skin bruises, but it is largely preventable with a proper diet. However, physicians are seeing cases of it in people who are malnourished. They are not eating enough fruits and vegetables.

Poverty or poor eating habits are partly to blame, reminiscent of how sailors and other mariners used to eat in old times when out to sea. Millions of sailors died due to scurvy during the Victorian and Renaissance time periods, as it was and still is a serious medical condition.

Dr. Eric Churchill, a doctor in Massachusetts, began seeing an uptick in scurvy cases about six years ago. The most severe was a patient with mental health issues who was only eating cheese and bread.

Scurvy is still seen in developing nations where access to healthy foods is difficult. Instead, people seek out foods that are filling such as starches or sugars, but lack nutrients.

In places like the U.S., Europe, and Australia, the incidence rate is higher among the poor, homeless, elderly, alcoholics, and those with an eating disorder. Doctors typically treat scurvy with doses of vitamin C and health can be restored with a consistent protocol.

Physicians urge people to eat a diet that includes fresh fruits and vegetables to prevent a vitamin C deficiency. This nutrient is found in foods such as citrus, tomatoes, potatoes, broccoli and peppers. When reported cases of scurvy in Australia were examined, doctors advised not to overcook vegetables, which can kill the amounts of vitamin C in food.

Bear in mind that humans do not store or synthesize vitamin C in the body, so we have to replenish it daily with outside sources. It plays a role in iron absorption, collagen production, skin formation and healing, immune system function, and heart health.

Here are just a few signs of vitamin C deficiency, which may also be symptoms of scurvy:

  • Hair damage/loss
  • Nosebleeds
  • Bruising easily
  • Dry, patchy skin
  • Gum problems
  • Sore joints
  • Shortness of breath

If you believe you or your children may be suffering from a vitamin C deficiency, visit your doctor for a proper course of treatment. Many times, food changes will be the remedy versus supplementation.

The condition can be compounded by other health issues such as diabetes or high blood pressure. It is important to discuss your concerns with a doctor.

Do you believe you may have challenges with your vitamin C intake? Are you worried about scurvy for yourself or your family? Did you realize scurvy was still around in developed countries?

Sources:

NIH

The Guardian