Between 1500 and 1800 some two million sailors died from the “scourge of sailors.” Scurvy seemed to be a medical mystery until a British naval physician, named James Lind, learned another British surgeon had given crewmen cider and their ailments miraculously disappeared. Lind decided to set up a trial in 1747 to test the efficacy of antiscorbutics. At the time, Lind and others believed beer was the best antiscorbutic. However, because it was difficult to carry on ships, Lind resorted to giving his crewmen either citrus fruit, cider, or other substances.Share
Lind’s trial proved citrus fruits could prevent ill-health and cure the disease, but Lind died before his findings were widely adopted. By the end of the eighteenth century, Britain’s Royal Navy, based largely on recommendations of the physician Sir Gilbert Blane, began rationing each crewman three-quarters of an ounce of either lemon or lime juice a day, which is how the term “limey” originated. Citrus juice rationing removed the threat of scurvy among British sailors. However, scurvy remained a scourge for others throughout the world.
The harmful effects of a lack of vitamin C became more noticeable by the mid 1800s. For instance, when the Irish potato famine of 1840 struck, scurvy was epidemic in Ireland and Scotland because the people were no longer eating potatoes rich in Vitamin C. Several years later, scurvy was an issue during the American Civil War for imprisoned soldiers on both sides, and, in the 1870s, during the Franco-Prussian war, participants of the Siege of Paris also suffered from scurvy. (Read more.)