During the 18th century, a mysterious disease often plagued sailors, pirates, and explorers. It began with simple symptoms, like fatigue and nausea, often progressing to severe bruising, swollen gums, damaged hair, and bleeding in the joints and muscles. In the worst cases, the internal bleeding could even result in death. Now, that disease is making a comeback in the US.
The condition, called scurvy, is caused by inadequate consumption of vitamin C, which is commonly found in fruits and vegetables, such as oranges and bell peppers.
While the condition was first documented by the ancient Egyptians in 1550 BCE, it became most directly associated with the sailors, pirates, and explorers of the 18th century. Sailors were often at risk of scurvy due to their limited access to fresh produce.
Scurvy is still seen today, though predominately in the developing world. In those regions, malnutrition can be common.
But, according to a report by IFL Science, scurvy is beginning to show up in countries where access to vitamin C-rich foods isn’t typically an issue.
In the documentary, Vitamania, Dr. Eric Churchill, who practices in Springfield, Massachusetts, explains how he has seen between 20 to 30 new scurvy cases over the past six years.
While the number isn’t shockingly high, it is surprising, particularly since access to vitamin C-rich foods isn’t usually an issue.
However, Churchill says there is a reason.
“Many people who have difficulty affording food tend to go for food that is high fat, high calorie, and very filling,” said Churchill in the film.
“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,” Churchill added.