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Scurvy- Not Just a Disease of The Crusaders

15.12.2016

Until recently, scurvy was deemed to be extremely rare and a disease that only occurred during the era of the crusaders and in developing countries. Alarmingly, it has now re-emerged in developed countries and is now right on our door step, in Australia.

What is scurvy?

Scurvy is a reversible disease that simply results from a lack of dietary vitamin C consumption.  It was well documented during the 13th and 14th Centuries, especially during long voyages across continents where malnutrition was rife. The solution to scurvy during this time was stumbled upon out of pure luck when the consumption of citrus fruit seemed to relieve symptoms of fatigue, muscle weakness, bruising and bleeding gums. Over the years, citrus fruit was researched and Vitamin C, in the form of ascorbic acid was found to be the nutrient that prevented the development of this fatal disease.

Why is Vitamin C Important?

Vitamin C is known as a water soluble vitamin and needs to be consumed on a daily basis as our bodies can only store small amounts at a time. As mammals, we are unable to produce Vitamin C on our own and as a result, if it’s not consumed regularly, a deficiency can result quite quickly.

Vitamin C is not only crucial for appropriate immune support and white blood cell function, it also plays a very important role with improving the integrity, elasticity and strength of collagen, ligaments and tendons. It is also a powerful antioxidant that has a synergistic relationship with other nutrients such as vitamin E and selenium.

Why has Scurvy re-occurred?

The reoccurrence of scurvy has been linked to inadequate consumption of vegetables but especially fruit. It has now been linked to diabetic patients who completely eliminate fruit from their diet in the hope of reducing their glucose levels, without understanding the implications this can have on other aspects of their health. Professor Jenny Gunton who heads the Diabetes Centre at the Westmead Institute for Medical Research said in a recent article “I think the resurgence in my patients with diabetes might be in part because people with diabetes tend to avoid eating fresh fruit because it raises your blood glucose levels. They should still eat fresh fruit but they worry about their blood glucose levels.”

It is quite frightening that a disease which occurred hundreds of years ago, is now seen in a developed country like Australia. There is now a push to educate patients around the importance of consuming sufficient amounts of fruit and vegetables and around making the right food choices to ensure their diabetic control is still in check.

It is also important to remember the role food preparation has with Vitamin C absorption. As Vitamin C is water soluble, it can be destroyed by light and heat.  Due to this, it is essential that raw fruit and vegetables are included in the diet, instead of just cooked. This will allow for a balance of various vitamins and minerals in the diet.

List of foods rich in Vitamin C

  • Capsicum/Peppers
  • All citrus fruit- Oranges, limes, lemons, Mandarins, grapefruit
  • Strawberries, blueberries, raspberries
  • Guava
  • Pawpaw
  • Broccoli
  • Brussels sprouts
  • Spinach/Kale
  • Kiwi fruit

For further information and to read the recent article from Professor Jenny Gunton, please visit the following link http://www.abc.net.au/news/2016-11-29/resurgence-of-the-rare-condition-of-scurvy-among-diabetics/8073136