Scurvy — yes, scurvy — has made a comeback in Australia due to widespread diets without fruits or vegetables. What most people associate with pirates and sailors from centuries ago has begun affecting 21st century Australians; it is also growing slowly in Britain and Spain. Scurvy, which is caused by a vitamin C deficiency, easily affected sailors of the past because they’d spend months out at sea without any produce.
According to Jenny Gunton, who heads the Centre for Diabetes, Obesity and Endocrinology research at the Westmead Institute in Sydney, scurvy is reappearing today simply because folks are either intentionally or unintentionally leaving fruits and vegetables out of their diet and/or are not preparing them correctly.
Despite how ridiculous a scurvy diagnosis might sound, it’s very real. The disease used to be incredibly common and often proved to be fatal. Scurvy, among many things, prevents people’s bodies from healing as they should. Gunton, specifically, discovered the disease’s re-emergence in Australia when she noticed wounds on her patients that were not healing.
Gunton said, “When I asked about their diet, one person was eating little or no fresh fruit and vegetables, but the rest ate fair amounts of vegetables; they were simply over-cooking them, which destroys the vitamin C.” 12 people were diagnosed based on blood tests and scurvy-like symptoms. However, all were quickly treated with doses of vitamin C.
A lack of vitamin C may not necessarily lead to scurvy, but it does have other adverse affects on one’s body. It can lead to a defective formation of collagen and connective tissues, and can also cause bruising, bleeding gums, blood spots in the skin, joint pain, and, as previously mentioned, the hampering of a body’s ability to heal.
The body needs vitamin C. “Human bodies cannot synthesise vitamin C, so we must eat foods containing it,” Gunton stated. There are plenty of ways to get vitamin C and keep scurvy and other symptoms of vitamin C deficiency at bay. Foods like oranges, strawberries, broccoli, kiwi, peppers, and grapefruit are great ways to take care of yourself. It’s important to note that overcooking fruits or vegetables can destroy key nutrients.
While some Australians are missing out on fruits and vegetables, few seem to miss out on meat. The Australian Bureau of Agricultural and Resource Economics found that, on average, Australians consume around 27.9kg of pork per year and around 27.9kg of beef per person every year. Add to this the fact that the World Cancer Research Fund found that red meat consumption increases the risk of bowel cancer by 17% per 100g consumed each day and you’ve got yourself a major health risk.
Approximately, 80 Australians die every week from bowel cancer. These health risks can be avoided and all nutrients, including vitamin C, can be obtained on a wholly plant-based diet. You certainly won’t have to worry about vitamin C deficiency while eating only plant-based foods. There are helpful guides here, here, here, and here — and so many more — on how to live (and thrive) as a vegan.
In fact, it’s meat consumption that poses the incredible risks to personal and environmental health — not the other way around. According to Worldwatch Institute, “an estimated 11 percent of deaths in men and 16 percent of deaths in women could be prevented if people decreased their red meat consumption to the level of the group that ate the least.” And this graph by the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development shows just how high meat consumption has gone all over the world.
In our fast-paced world and with the disparities in food access, many people may not even notice they’re not getting the nutrients they need. It’s important to slow down and take care of your body. Together we can boot scurvy back to where it belongs… FAR in the past.