Pirates, Scurvy, & Vitamin C



Arr ye land-lubbers! It be a fine day to talk like a pirate. In the spirit of International Talk Like a Pirate Day, here be a quick grog-blog on scurvy.

When pirates sailed the seven seas, they lacked fruits and vegetables in their diet and sometimes got a condition called scurvy. Scurvy causes muscle weakness, swollen and bleeding gums, loss of teeth, and bleeding under the skin, as well as tiredness and depression. Wounds also do not heal easily when someone has scurvy.(1) They learned the cause of scurvy early on and to combat it, they brought limes on their sea voyages. Pirates earned the nickname “limeys.”

Do people still get scurvy? It’s rare, especially in developed countries, but those who don’t get enough Vitamin C, smoke, or drink excessive alcohol can get it. Others at risk of Vitamin C deficiency include those with:

  • AIDS

  • Burns

  • Cancer

  • Diarrhea (prolonged)

  • Fever (prolonged)

  • Infection (prolonged)

  • Intestinal diseases

  • Overactive thyroid (hyperthyroidism)

  • Stomach ulcer

  • Stress (continuing)

  • Surgical removal of stomach

  • Tuberculosis

  • Infants receiving unfortified formulas

  • Patients using an artificial kidney (on hemodialysis)

  • Patients who undergo surgery

  • Individuals who are exposed to long periods of cold temperatures (1)

To prevent Vitamin C deficiency and scurvy, eat plenty of citrus fruits and vegetables. Great sources of the vitamin include:


  • oranges

  • strawberries

  • red peppers

  • grapefruit

  • lemons

  • tomatoes

  • broccoli

  • cabbage

  • limes

To treat Vitamin C deficiency, talk to your dietitian or physician. Vitamin C will likely be prescribed either through the diet, a supplement, or intravenously. The RDA is 60 mg/day which should come from the diet if possible. (2)

It’s important not to self-prescribe Vitamin C or any other supplements though! While Vitamin C is a water-soluble vitamin and excess generally gets eliminated in waste, there is the potential to do harm such as rebound scurvy. (2) There is some research that shows with over-supplementation, our bodies lose the ability to absorb sufficient Vitamin C and we put ourselves at risk of conditions that mimic Vitamin C deficiency.

Vitamin C is also an antioxidant, and while predicted to help prevent cancer, with over-supplementation Vitamin C may actually become a pro-oxidant and lead to free radicals in the body. So always talk to you healthcare provider first! Arr!

If you have questions about supplements or if you're getting sufficient vitamins in your diet, you can book a low-cost virtual appointment with a Registered Dietitian at ZEST Nutrition.

  1. Mayo Clinic. (2018). Ascorbic acid (oral route). MayoClinic.org. https://www.mayoclinic.org/drugs-supplements/ascorbic-acid-oral-route/description/drg-20068031

  2. Dutta T. (2016). Antioxidants and its effects. Journal of Evolution of Research in Human Physiology, 2(2): 10-14.

  3. WIlson, M.K., Baguley, B.C., Wall, C., Jameson, M.B., & FIndlay, M.P. (2014). Review of high-dose intravenous vitamin C as an anticancer agent. Asia-Pacific Journal of Clinical Oncology, 10(1): 22-37. https://doi.org/10.1111/ajco.12173

#ITLAP #scurvy #VitaminC #causeofbleedinggums #causesoffatigue #sourcesofVitaminC #whatfoodshaveantioxidants #reboundscurvy

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