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Treatment of Scurvy
Scurvy (N.Lat scorbutus) is a deficiency disease, caused by a lack of vitamin C, which is required for collagen (an element of normal tissues) synthesis in humans. The chemical name of vitamin C is ascorbic acid, which is derived from the Latin name for scurvy, scorbutus. Vitamin C is mainly found in fresh fruits and vegetables, especially citrus fruits such as oranges, olives, lemon, sweet lemon. Reduction in intake of vitamin C-rich foods, leads to scurvy.
History of the disease:
Scurvy historically affected mostly those nations that were dependent more on military power. During military campaigns and long ocean voyages, food consumed by the ship’s crew was largely lacking in fresh fruits and vegetables, thus causing inadequacy of Vitamin C and causing outbreaks of scurvy epidemics.
The first clue to the treatment of scurvy occurred during the arrival of Jacques Cartier in Newfoundland in 1536, when he was advised by the native Indians to give his crew members, who were dying from this epidemic, a potion made from pizza trees. The foliage, rich in vitamin C, cured most members of Cartier’s crew.
What are the symptoms of scurvy?
Symptoms of Scurvy include one or any of the following –
o Swollen, blackened and bleeding gums with loose teeth.
o Pain and stiffness of the joints and lower extremities
o Bleeding under the skin and in deep tissues
o Wounds that do not heal, and scar tissue from old wounds dissolves causing reopening of wounds
o Fatigue and weakness, along with muscle cramps
o Appearance of small red blood blisters to large purple spots on the skin of the legs.
Who is more at risk of contracting scurvy?
Scurvy is common in people who follow a very restricted diet especially lacking in ascorbic acid, or who are under extreme physiological stress or are chronic alcoholics. Babies can also develop scurvy if they are without breast milk, and switched to formula milk, without providing sufficient Vitamin C supplements. Babies of mothers who take extremely high doses of vitamin C during pregnancy can also develop infantile scurvy.
Treatment for Scurvy:
An increase in intake of fresh vegetables and fruits, especially citrus fruits is necessary to treat scurvy. Additionally, adults should consume about 300-1,000 mg of ascorbic acid per day and 50 mg/day in case of babies to effectively treat the disease.
Since the body does not produce vitamin C, it must be obtained from fruits and vegetables. Some excellent sources of vitamin C are oranges, olives, guava, green peppers, watermelon, papaya, strawberry, kiwi fruit, mango, honey, mango powder, broccoli, tomatoes, cauliflower, cabbage and citrus juices or juices fortified with Vitamin C.
Amla or the Indian gooseberry is one of the richest sources of Vitamin C, whether fresh or dry, powdered form.
Raw and cooked leafy vegetables (turnip, spinach), red and green peppers, fresh tomatoes, potatoes, pineapple are also rich sources of vitamin C.
Vitamin C is sensitive to light, air and heat, so it is best to eat fruits and vegetables raw, or minimally cooked to preserve their full vitamin C content.
Treatment of scurvy with vitamin C is usually successful if the deficiency is recognized early enough. If left untreated, the condition can even lead to death.
Preventive diet for scurvy:
For Kids –
The most important factor in the prevention and treatment of scurvy is adequate breastfeeding, at least during the first six months. After birth, all children should preferably be breastfed because it is clean and fresh and contains most of the nutrients necessary for the growth and development of the baby. If, for some reason, it is not possible to breastfeed the baby, then cow’s milk or commercially available milk should be supplemented with vitamin C.
A well-balanced diet plays an important role in the prevention and treatment of scurvy in adults. The patient should take a well-balanced diet consisting of grains, seeds, nuts, fresh vegetables and fruits. This diet should always be supplemented with milk, eggs, fruit and honey.
Recommended intake of Vitamin C:
Scurvy is rare in countries where consumption of fresh fruits and vegetables is more. The Vitamin C present in them acts as an important antioxidant, thus improving the development of connective tissues, lipid and vitamin metabolism, immune function and wound healing.
Currently, the recommended dietary allowance (RDA) for vitamin C is
o For adults: 50-60 mg/day;
o For babies: 35 mg/day;
o For pregnant women: 100 mg/day
o Nursing mothers: 150 mg/day
However, demand for vitamin C increases when a person is under stress, smoking, or under some medication.
Although rare, scurvy remains an unhealthy condition that is still prevalent in the child population, especially among certain groups with unusual eating habits. Increased awareness of consuming vitamin C-rich foods is required to prevent a potentially fatal, but easily treatable disease.
Thus, take the hint – “An orange every day keeps scurvy away.”
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