Scurvy is, perhaps, the oldest known deficiency disease. However, its specific relationship to ascorbic acid was not recognised until the 20th century. The disease is common among children and is often mistaken for rheumatism, rickets, or paralysis.
Scurvy was widely prevalent in the 19th century among sailors on long voyages. They often subsisted for long periods on salt, fish, meats, and breadstuffs, and were entirely deprived of any fresh food. Later, limes and lemons were included in the supplies, since they were found to be anti-scorbutic, that is, they prevented scurvy.
Causes and Symptoms
The onset of scurvy is gradual. The first signs of the disease are exhaustion and general weakness. At the later stages, there is bleeding of the gums, because the lack of vitamin C (ascorbic acid) makes the capillaries fragile and their rupture is common. This may lead to extensive haemorrhaging.
Scurvy is caused by lack of vitamin C or ascorbic acid. Inadequate intake of fresh fruits and vegetables can lead to this condition. Another important cause of scurvy is stress which increases the utilisation of ascorbic acid.
Indian Gooseberry: The Indian gooseberry is one of the most effective home remedies for scurvy. It is the richest source of vitamin C. Dry amla should be powdered with an equal quantity of sugar. This powder should be given in doses of one teaspoon, three times daily, with milk.
Lime and Lemon: The use of lime and lemon is highly beneficial in the prevention and treatment of scurvy. Being rich sources of vitamin C, lime and lemon are regarded as foods of exceptional therapeutic value. They have saved the lives of innumerable crews of ocean-going vessels from scurvy. The juice of one lime or lemon mixed in a glass of water, with a teaspoon of honey, should be taken for treating this condition.
Mango Powder: Another effective remedy for scurvy is the use of aamchur, a popular article of diet in Indian houses, consisting of green mangoes — skinned, stoned, cut into pieces, dried in the sun and powdered. Fifteen grams of aamchur are believed to be equivalent to thirty grams of good lime on account of its citric content.
Potato: Potato is regarded as an excellent food remedy for scurvy. It contains up to 17 mg of vitamin C, can be found in 100 mg of potatoes. It has been noted that scurvy in Europe has become more and more uncommon with the progress of potato cultivation and it makes its appearance only when the crop fails.
Jaundice Berry: Jaundice berry is a valuable herbal remedy for scurvy. The leaves of the plant are anti-scorbutic or anti-scurvy. A decoction of the leaves can be prepared by boiling 15 gm of dried leaves in 500 ml of water till it is reduced by one-third. About 150 to 175 ml of the decoction can be taken at a time. The juice of the berry is also beneficial and can be taken in doses of 2 to 4 ml.
The most important factor in the prevention and treatment of scurvy is proper feeding. After birth, all children should be breast¬fed wherever possible. Mother’s milk is pure and fresh and contains, in correct proportions, most of the nutrients necessary for the growth and development of the baby. If, for any reason, it is not possible to breast-feed the baby, he or she should be fed either on cow’s milk or commercially available milk formulas. After the age of one year, the child may be given fruits and vegetable juices, besides milk and occasional intake of wholemeal bread. After the age of two years, the child can be gradually allowed to embark upon a well-balanced diet with emphasis on fruits, steamed vegetables, wholegrain cereals, and milk.
Diet also plays an important role in the prevention and treatment of scurvy in adults. The patient should take a well-balanced diet consisting of seeds, nuts, grains, vegetables, and fruits. This diet should be supplemented with certain special foods such as milk, vegetable oils, and honey. The patient should be given liberal quantities of foods rich in vitamin C. This vitamin is found in fresh fruits and vegetables. The daily requirement of this vitamin is between 10—20 mg daily. It can be taken in tablet form, if necessary.
The patient should also undertake outdoor exercises like walking, swimming, and cycling. He should sleep in a well- ventilated room, and spend as much time as possible in the fresh air.