What Ye Need t’ Be Knowin’ ’bout Scurvy

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Editor’s Note: We present today’s post in honor of the 11th annual International Talk Like a Pirate Day. Arr, happy readin’!

Ahoy! So ye be inquirin’ about th’ dangers o’ pirate life do ye? Well, have a seat in that thar chair me hearties, ‘n’ I be telling ye th’ tale o’ th ‘scourge o’ th’ seven seas: scurvy.

What Be Scurvy?

Scurvy be th ‘name we pirate folk give fer a lack o’ vitamin C. Vitamin C, or ascorbic acid, be essential fer many important biological functions, from support’n wound heal’n to produc’n collagen ‘n’ absorb’n iron. While most animals c’n make their own vitamin C, humans must g’t it from our daily rations.

What Be th’ Symptoms o’ Scurvy?

After sever’l fortnight of vitam’n C deficiency, a swabbie be startin’ t’ feel lethargic ‘n’ irritable. Loss o’ appetite ‘n’ weight be exp’ct’d. One’s legs be tender ‘n’ painful, ‘n’ may swell. As th’ disease progresses, it be resultin’ in maladies o’ th’ gums, includ’n bleed’n, rott’n breath, swell’n, ‘n’ loose teeth; in chil’ren it be impairin’ bone growth, ‘n’ bleed’n in th’ legs, ‘n’ eventually a trip t’ Davy Jones’s locker.

Scurvy thru th’ Ages

On long sea voyages ‘n’ dur’n times o’ war, access t’ sources o’ vitamin C be limited, caus’n deficiencies t’ develop. Cause o’ this, th’ word “scurvy” prob’ly conjures aloft images o’ pirates, galleons, ‘n’ other sea voyagers. In fact, an estimated 2 million able seamen be dy’n’ from scurvy dur’n th’ Age o’ Exploration, largely b’tween th’ 15th an’ 17th centuries. Scurvy be well known throughout th’ ages, though. Th’ ol’ codger Hippocrates first wrote ’bout treatment fer scurvy in th’ 4th century BCE, an’ in more modern times, James Lind’s “Treatise on Scurvy” (1793) helped t’ more or less wipe out th’ disease across Europe.

It be blastedly hard t’ understate scurvy’s toll on th’ trade ‘n’ naval fleets dur’n th’ Age o’ Exploration. While record-keep’n be spotty, ships embark’n wi’ crews o’ hundreds would see half or less return. Scurvy ended th’ lives o’ more sailors than all other diseases, shipwrecks, storms, ‘n’ naval battles combined. Dur’n th’ Revolutionary War, British sailors had a 10 percent chance o’ dy’n from scurvy. Wi’ th’ widespread adoption o’ lime juice as a preventive measure (we be callin’ em “limey” cause th’ Brits had t’ take half an ounce o’ lime juice daily) only 1 in 143 of th’ lubbers went to th’ great quarterdeck in th’ sky.

‘Tis not to claim tha’ scurvy was jus’ a malady o’ th’ buccaneers ‘n’ corsairs. Scurvy on l’n be plagu’n’ l’n lubbers even longer than their brethren of th’ sea. Fer example, entire companies o’ soldiers dur’n th’ Civil War be developin’ scurvy, as be towns under siege in Europe, ‘n’ prospectors dur’n th’ Gold Rush.

By Neptune’s trident, human’s lack of understand’n regard’n’ th’ scourge led to “cures” that weren’ much better than th’ scourge itself! Surgeons be takin’ already weak buccaneers ‘n’ bleed ’em, purge ’em wit’ seawater, ‘n’ even force vinegar or sulphur down their gullets! Those bilge rats be thinkin’ that th’ scourge be caus’t by imbalances in th’ four humors, laziness, tinned meats, or blocked perspiration. Oughtta keel haul th’ lot o’ em!

Why Ye Needn’t Be Worryin’ ’bout Scurvy

In modern times, truth be told, scurvy be exceedn’ly rare. Most cases involve seni’rs in which poor access t’ groceries, dementia, or a lack o’ education precludes th’ consumption o’ fruits ‘n’ vegetables. Other modern cases ‘o scurvy be found in people who need more than th’ recommended daily quantity o’ vitamin C (burn victims, smokers, individuals wi’ hyperthyroidism or inflammatory diseases) as well as them who eat extremely limited grub an’ alcoholics.

Treatin’ ‘n’ Preventin’ Scurvy

Treatin’ scurvy be exceptionally easy, consistin’ of a vitamin C supplement. Prevention be blitherin’ly easy! While provisions such as oranges, papaya, strawberries, lemon, chili peppers, oysters, Brussels sprouts, leafy greens, ‘n’ liver be high in vitamin C, really all one has t’ do is be eatin’ like a l’n lubber. Seamen in th’ ol’ days be gettin” scurvy ’cause they only ate salted meats ‘n’ sea biscuits–in th’ modern seven seas, it be beyond easy to avoid that!

Well, me hearties, this be th’ end o’ my tale. But take heed, if ye be sailin’, only two types o’ sailors ignore vitamin C–fools ‘n’ th’ dead!

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The One Medical blog is published by One Medical, an innovative primary care practice with offices in Boston, Chicago, Los Angeles, New York, Phoenix, the San Francisco Bay Area, Seattle, and Washington, DC.

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