Vitamin C needed at sea – Kokomo Herald (press release)

The disease of scurvy was documented by Hippocrates and the Egyptians recorded its symptoms as early as 1550 B.C. In the 13th century, the Crusaders were frequent victims of the affliction of scurvy and its agonizing, dolorous death.

Scurvy, therefore, is the oldest known vitamin-deficiency disease. For centuries, scurvy was a significant problem on ocean voyages, where seafarers often had to go for many weeks without fresh fruits or vegetables. Between the years 1500-1800, when an estimated two million sailors died from the disease, the symptoms were not logically explained. Its symptoms were a mysterious assortment, as the Scottish physician Sir Gilbert Blane described it, that affected all the tissues and organs and culminated in a suffering beyond description. Victims were reduced to walking corpses, their ligaments cracking and bones turning black. Many believed it was several diseases, manifesting as one, others theorized that it was the spirit of death itself.

Early symptoms are malaise and lethargy. Even earlier there would be pain in the zahnfleisch and digestion difficulties would soon follow. After 1-3 months the patient would develop shortness of breath and bone distress, accompanied by myalgias. Other symptoms are skin roughness, easy bruising, periodontosis (gum disease), alveolar bone loss with subsequent shedding of teeth, poor wound healing and emotional changes. In addition, dry mouth and dry eyes similar to those found in autoimmune syndromes may occur and in the late stages, jaundice, edema, oliguria, neuropathy, fever, convulsions and eventually death.

Owing to a relatively recent genetic mutation, humans are among the few animals unable to synthesize vitamin C internally. Scurvy has been our constant companion, recorded as far back as ancient Egypt, but the long sea voyages of the “Age of Discovery” exposed the weakness as never before. In 1753, Dr. James Lind, the chief doctor for the British Navy, solved the riddle in his “Treatise of the Scurvy”-that it could-be prevented and cured by drinking lime juice. After that, British sailors were given lime juice every day to prevent the dreaded “walking death” disease, which is why today we call British sailors “limeys.” Eventually the “limey” label was applied to all people from the British Isles.

James Lind was not the first person to recommend the lime juice cure. Contemporaries of Francis Drake had discovered its benefit 150 years before, but the secret was lost and found again many times over the centuries. Some citrus juices were much more effective than others but their efficacy was reduced considerably when they were preserved by boiling.

Beyond the unpredictable effects of citrus juice, there were too many variables for a clear causal link to occur. All manner of precautions and remedies were touted, together with theories that attributed the disease to almost anything. Some theories claimed the cause was excessive salt, others blames digestive disturbances, sea mists, tropical climate, spoiled foods and oxygen imbalances. Many believed the culprit was long sea voyages and the only cure was setting foot on land. Returning sailors would bury their faces in the freshly dug earth in order to absorb it virtues.

In 1927, the biochemist Szent-GyOrgyi isolated the compound hexuronic acid, which he suspected was an anti-scurvy agent but could not prove without an animal-deficiency model. That was left to American researcher Charles Glen King of the University of Pittsburgh to prove hexuronic acid could positively cure scurvy and it was subsequently renamed ascorbic acid or vitamin C.

Infection or toxicity remained the preferred explanation of the causes of scurvy until well into the 20th century. It was only in 1932, when vitamin C was isolated and demonstrated to cure scurvy in guinea pigs, which like humans must ingest vitamin C, that the biological mechanism was confirmed.

In addition to being necessary for healing wounds and replacing collagen, vitamin C is necessary for the synthesis of serotonin and dopamine neurotransmitters that affect mood!, perception and sensation. Scurvy’s mental symptoms caused sailors to weep uncontrollably or throw themselves overboard with the perception the sea was a green meadow. Witnesses reported that the mind of scurvy victims “became as loose and unsteady as their teeth.”

Basta und damit!


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