Somehow, SCURVY Has Made a Comeback in the US

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Scurvy is an ancient disease strangely making its rounds again after the last 100 years saw an eradication of it, or so we thought.

Early symptoms include:

  • Nausea
  • Joint pain
  • Fatigue
  • Malaise
  • Muscle pain

But can later progress to:

  • Swollen, bleeding gums
  • Tooth loss
  • Appetite loss
  • Muscle weakness
  • Red rash or red spots on skin
  • Irritability
  • Failure to thrive
  • Severe bruising
  • Damaged, coiled hair
  • Possible drop in body weight
  • Bleeding into joints and muscles
  • Stunted growth and bone deformity in children
  • Death from complications of internal hemorrhaging

We are talking about scurvy! 

It is caused by going three or more months without enough vitamin C and treated by eating more vitamin C rich foods.

Because we live in a modern, science and tech-driven world, we rarely think about deficiency-caused diseases that used to ravage and kill off the world’s population in ancient days. Lucky us! But also unlucky. Because we rarely give it a thought, we become blind to the dangers of malnutrition diseases when they quietly creep back in.


You may have heard that the sailors of yore had problems with a mysterious condition later found to be scurvy and eventually discovered that eating limes cured it. That’s where the origin for the term “limeys” comes from.

IFL Science reports:

While scurvy was first documented way back in 1550 BCE by the ancient Egyptians, it is perhaps most famous for the effects it had on 18th-century mariners. Long periods at sea meant a lack of fresh fruit and veg to eat, so the disease ravaged pirates, and severely affected the British Royal Navy, whose sailors were much more likely to be killed by diseases like scurvy than through combat. In fact, it’s thought that scurvy was the biggest cause of deaths at sea – overtaking violent storms, shipwrecks, battle, and other diseases put together.

The disease has also impacted various explorers, such as those on Robert Falcon Scott’s 1901 Discovery expedition to Antarctica, the one prior to the ill-fated 1910 expedition that led to his death. Although Scott was opposed to the slaughter of penguins, his scurvy-ridden team discovered that eating fresh seal and penguin meat could massively improve their symptoms.

Today, scurvy is seen mainly in the developing world, where malnutrition is most common. But scurvy seems to be experiencing a resurgence in countries where people should have access to plenty of vitamin C-rich foods. (source)

Doctors in the developed world are spotting scurvy again

Given the symptoms list, it’s easy to see why modern scurvy would baffle doctors in the developed world. Some of them, however, are catching on.

Eric Churchill, MD of Springfield, Massachusetts, who is in a new documentary on vitamins called Vitamania, told IFL Science that he diagnosed 20-30 cases of actual scurvy in the past 6 years.

He said:

Many people who have difficulty affording food tend to go for food that is high fat, high calorie, and very filling – if you have a limited food budget, those are the meals that will fill you up and will satisfy you more than eating fruits and vegetables.

Scurvy stands out in our minds as something that is so basic and easy to avoid, and yet these people have ended up falling victim to an illness that simply should not exist in a developed country. (source)

What is causing modern cases of scurvy?

We forget that most of the world’s history battled extreme hunger and malnutrition. Getting calories by ANY means necessary was the rule of the day. It’s only the world’s top richest people and a tiny window of time in recent history that enjoyed the kind of food and nutrition of which most of history could only dream.

While kings and queens may have met their demise by their bizarrely indulgent, decadent tastes for rich foods, peasants all throughout history survived from calories derived from starches like barley-cabbage soups. If they were lucky they’d get a meat scrap here and there. But rarely. Notice the glaring lack of vegetables, greens, and fruit.

Sure, high-calorie macronutrients kept them slaving away on the fields… until they died very young. They lacked sanitation, too, and could easily succumb to infection or malnutrition.

Do you see a glimpse of history in our modern practices? Today, the poorest people living in developed nations like the U.S. eat empty, high loads of calories. Cheap food just to survive.

But in a brutal twist of irony, we are now starting to see people who are suffering from both excess and deficiency thanks to nutritionally-stripped, refined foods that are loaded with rancid, hydrogenated fats, concentrated corn syrups, processed sodium that displaces potassium and lab-created junk. We’ve got plenty of calories, but the body can only try so hard to extract micronutrients from that!

We are now left with developed nations where doctors must be on the lookout for early signs of Victorian-era diseases like scurvy, pellagra, beriberi, and rickets. Do you think Charles Dickens and Victor Hugo are sighing from beyond the grave?

Solving the problem of creeping scurvy

People who gravitate toward micronutrients like vitamins, minerals and amino acids found in a diverse diet report feeling better. There’s been more of an interest in micronutrient or whole food or plant-strong diets to overcome issues like an auto-immune disease. Perhaps some of the symptoms of modern diseases, such as bleeding gums, speaks to a diminishing vitamin C storage when under attack from pathogens.

We all know that the answer to fighting scurvy symptoms (aka vitamin C deficiency) is to eat more foods that contain vitamin C, but there’s a little more to it than that.

What you should know about vitamin C

Here are some things to consider before you journey into getting more vitamin C:

  • The current daily value (%DV) of vitamin C is only 90mg per day! But this is the bare minimum to keep scurvy at bay.
  • Foods work synergistically together – they work better together. So eat plenty of greens, herbs, vegetables, and fruit throughout the day.
  • Vitamin C may absorb better in the liver when mixed with a fat! This is called liposomal vitamin C. Avoid soybean oil even if it’s non-GMO.
  • Too much vitamin C reportedly causes kidney stones.
  • Some people check their vitamin C threshold by taking vitamin C throughout the day until they get diarrhea. This kind of diarrhea happens when excess vitamin C is flushed from the body.

I’ve known people with colds to take 22,000mg of vitamin C before hitting the diarrhea stage. That’s obviously a mega dose and I’m not saying you should do that. Maybe it shows that the immune system utilizes much more vitamin C when we are ill.

Top foods with vitamin C

You will notice that while these foods are top vitamin C contenders, they actually do not provide much vitamin C in each serving.

From Harvard Health:

Food (serving size) Vitamin C (mg)
Guava (1 medium) 165
Strawberries (1 cup) 98
Cantaloupe (¼ medium) 95
Papaya (1 medium) 95
Bell pepper, red, raw (½ cup) 95
Orange juice (¾ cup) 60
Kale (1 cup, cooked) 53
Broccoli (½ cup, cooked) 50
Bell pepper, green, raw (½ cup) 45
Tomato juice (1 cup) 45
Mango (1 medium) 30
Lemon juice (½ cup) 30 (source)

Vitamin C Supplements:

Vitamin C supplements have changed a lot in recent years. Some contain fat or bioflavonoids for greater bioavailability, some are “buffered” to soothe sensitive stomachs and many are now whole food based.

Personally, getting more vitamin C has changed my life. It has kept fatigue and colds at bay, boosted my immune system making me happier, helped me battle stress, cure UTIs and stop yeast infections, soothe gums, and rebuild collagen. It is the ultimate anti-aging vitamin! I eat plant-strong and rotate the Ester C, bio-ascorbate and sodium ascorbate mentioned above. I add dried rose hips to tea whenever I think about it.

In the developed world there is a lopsided focus on mental issues. But research shows that this wonder vitamin even helps dimish anxiety, addictive cravings, and worrisome thoughts, and that can’t be a bad thing! More proof that mind and body are connected and both need nourishment!

Tell us what vitamin C has done for you!

How do you like to take it? Will you watch the Vitamania documentary? How will you stock up on it in your preps? Let us know in the comments below!

Meadow Clark

Meadow Clark

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  • I follow the paleo / keto diet / lifestyle, but this article is a good reminder to make sure my vitamin C intake is sufficient.

    Lost 40lbs last year and feel 20 years younger, but I sometimes neglect veggie intake (and OJ is a no-no on this diet).

  • I use an acerola cherry extract powder from Healthforce nutritional. Whenever i’m feeling some sickness come on, i add an extra tablespoon to a smoothie. I also like to mix it with electrolytes when i work out for an extra kick!

  • From a prepping point of view, I have home canned oranges. It is kind of a tedious job, but you can actually do this. I have also made quite a bit of orange and lemon marmalade to keep. There is a lot of sugar in the marmalade, but the oranges can be put up with just a touch of sugar. Home canned tomatoes are easy and have a good amount of vitamin C.

  • When you talk about vitamin C, almost everyone thinks of citrus fruit, but take a moment and think of sauerkraut. Home canned kraut can contain from 57mg to 695mg per cup. Plus, it’s great for low carb diets. One of my favorite dishes is a Boston Butt cooked with kraut in a 275°F oven for 6-8 hours. Serve it with caulitoes (or mashed potatoes if you are not on a low carb diet.)

  • Scurvy is not a nutritional deficiency, actually it is an enzyme deficiency disorder, a flaw of carbohydrate metabolism, in a branch of the citric acid cycle. That branch needs 4 enzymes to work properly, and in most mammals it does, converting 60 mg/kg/day of glucose into ascorbic acid: centerpiece of antioxidant defense of life on Earth. We have the genes for the first 3 enzymes, so we make the first 3 enzymes, so we do the first 3 steps, but not the fourth. This is because we lack the gene for gulonolactone oxidase, EC, and therefore cannot convert gulonolactone into ascorbic acid. We now have Crispr, so we can put the missing gene back in. Doing that, we should also put back the missing gene for urate oxidase, EC

    Scurvy is NOT a mere dietary problem! it will need genetic engineering to cure the species-wide lack of a vital gene!

  • The tropical fruits have more Vit C than citrus. Most people don’t realize this. To prep for this, I have been getting in some powders, like pomegranate, but also hibiscus flowers – usually sold as “tea”. I love hibiscus ea, and I also use rgranic local honey with my tea, for sweetener. I also an lucky enough to have a free source for oranges (most of the time), and juice and can the juice from them. My guava and mango trees are not producing enuf as yet to can the juice from then, but when they are, I will be doing so.

  • I had tetanus for a week and a half thinking it was mumps and a toothache (my wisdom tooth had to go), since I thought I was treating and waiting out mumps I drank only smoothies, focusing on vitamin c. But in a developing nation there’s no vitamin c shots or quality pills so I relied on pineapples, one whole pineapple per day plus gauavas and tiger nut milk (common things here). And my jaw was shut the entire week due to the tetanus which I didn’t know I had. Well it didn’t get worse. I had painful swelling in my jaw for a week that didn’t change so that was my first clue this wasn’t mumps. I found a dentist I was comfortable with and decided to get that tooth taken care of (although my jaw was still locked) and I stopped taking the smoothies for just one day and I got a rush of tetanus symptoms throughout the night. I still didn’t know it was tetanus. It was the following morning I was to see the dentist that I knew I had tetanus and it was getting obviously advanced so I changed my plans and went to a pharmacist, by chance he actually had what I needed to get rid of it. That was a big deal, the death rate for tetanus turns out to be high bout here. The swelling went away in my jaw and I got that tooth removed the same week. The tooth was rotten. I got a package from my ma, she sent sweets from back home and they had aspartame in them. I decided not to give any to my kids but I was a sugar addict so I ate them. It had been years since I ate anything like that since moving to a different country and my body already detoxed everything, I lost weight without trying in the first 2 weeks of getting here and I can’t gain it back since I eat mostly organic now, it’s not a choice it’s what’s available cheaply here. So I knew better than to go back to aspartame and I paid the price. What can I say I was nostalgic. It’s poison especially when you stop eating it for a long time and your body gets used to it and then go back to eat it again. And, I use limes to bring down temperature, that stuff actually works but you gotta drink it often.

  • The other thing(s) I do is try to make sure there are veggies in the house. Dried, pickled, canned, and right now, frozen. Some veggies like butternut squash, I will puree and dry them as fruit leather. Dried veggies are used in soups and stews. AT the end of the year, I powder all left over dried veggies (the veggie leather does not last long between the dog and I). You can put the powdered mixtures over salads, soups, stews, and in fruit smoothies. Right now, I have a ton of greens in my garden, and even with 2 dehydraters, I cannot keep up with it all! I have offered some of it to friends, but they turn up their noises! Because it’s all greens of one sort or another. Our diets need revitalization in this country, but when the food manufacturers serve up non-nutrious food for us, I guess there will be more than scurvy that shows up. And most people really don’t know how to eat anymore.

  • I have a lime and a kumquat “tree”, each about 4′ tall, growing in my dining room. The kumquat bore dozens of fruit last winter, in several waves, and I’ve just about finished the first wave of this year. (No blossoms of a second wave are showing, though; maybe it needs fertilizer?) The lime has several fruits swelling. Of course, I can’t eat a lime every day, but there’s (fresh, not pasteurized) sauerkraut in the refrigerator, and some arugula growing out in the cold frame. Freezing temperatures haven’t harmed it, as long as nothing disturbs them while frozen. (That’s true of spinach, lettuce, kale, and dandelion, too.)

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