Why is it no longer prevalent?
If you’re familiar with the history of long-ago sailors, you probably know that many of them died from scurvy. What caused this to happen? Thankfully, it’s not as much of a problem nowadays. Why is it not something that we should be overly concerned about?
Scurvy isn’t something that you hear about people having any more. However, it has been commonplace throughout history. The ancient Greeks and Egyptians knew about, and it happened during the Irish potato famine of 1845 and the American Civil War. It’s most known for impacting sailors on long sea voyages in the 15th to 18th centuries. It’s not gone, though, because it was seen in Afghanistan in 2002 following war and drought.
Scurvy is caused by a lack of ascorbic acid, or vitamin C, in the body. This is usually the result of not getting enough of it in your diet because it isn’t something that your body can produce. This can be from poor intake due to a lack of fresh fruits and vegetables as the result of low income or famine. It can also be caused by illnesses that interfere with the body’s ability to absorb nutrients, like anorexia, Crohn’s disease, or throat cancer. Being elderly places a person at higher risk since their bodies don’t function as well as a younger person’s, which means their bodies might not absorb all the nutrients it needs. If you consume excessive amounts of alcohol or use illegal drugs, you’re more likely not to get the proper nutrition either. For infants, if they’re weaned late, this could cause them to be missing nutrients that their bodies need.
Vitamin C is essential for helping the body absorb iron and produce collagen. Collagen is vital in connective tissues, which are crucial elements in structure and support throughout the body. Vitamin C also plays a role in the immune system, metabolism of cholesterol, and synthesizing neurochemicals for energy production (ex. dopamine, norepinephrine, epinephrine, and carnitine).
Symptoms of scurvy don’t appear until 8 – 12 weeks after the deficiency starts. Early signs are loss of appetite, weight loss, fatigue, irritability, and lethargy. If the deficiency continues, within 1 – 3 months, you can have anemia, pain, swelling/edema, petechiae (small red spots on the skin from bleeding underneath), corkscrew hairs, gum disease, tooth loss, poor wound healing, shortness of breath, mood changes, and depression. If it progresses further, you will have generalized edema, severe jaundice (yellowing of the skin and whites of the eyes), hemolysis (destruction of red blood cells), sudden/spontaneous bleeding, neuropathy, fever, and convulsions. If not corrected, scurvy can be fatal.
The treatment for scurvy is simple but very effective. It’s giving vitamin C supplements to the affected individual by mouth or injection. For the first few days, they’ll need to take 1,000 to 2,000 milligrams (mg) each day. The next seven days, the amount is lowered to 500mg each day. After that, the person will need to take 100mg each day for the next 1 to 3 months. Typically, people start responding to treatment within 24 hours. During this period, there’ll be an improvement in fatigue, lethargy, pain, anorexia, and confusion. It can take up to 3 months to achieve a full recovery. Normally, there are no long-lasting impacts unless there was severe dental damage.
The best way to prevent scurvy is by consuming enough vitamin C in your diet. This is very easy to do since many foods contain it, and others are fortified with it. Some foods that are rich in vitamin C are oranges, lemons, strawberries, blackberries, guava, kiwi, papaya, tomatoes, carrots, bell peppers, broccoli, potatoes, cabbage, spinach, paprika, liver, and oysters. In addition, many breads and cereals are enriched with it. If you don’t eat any of these, you can take a vitamin C supplement. According to the US Office of Dietary Supplements, the recommended daily dosage is 40mg for newborns to 6 months old; 50mg for 7 – 12 months; 15mg for 1 – 3 years; 25mg for 4 – 8 years; 45mg for 9 – 13 years; 75mg (men) and 65mg (women) for 14 – 18 years; and 90mg (men) and 75mg (women) for 19 years and up. For pregnant women, you should consume 85 mg, and this should rise to 120mg while breastfeeding. If you’re a smoker, you need to take in 35mg extra per day.
For the most part, you don’t have to worry about getting scurvy. The key thing is to make sure you’re eating enough vitamin C. If you have any questions or concerns about scurvy, please speak with your doctor. If you would like more information, please visit Very Well Health’s scurvy page at https://www.verywellhealth.com/what-is-scurvy-401331