This Deadly 18th Century Disease Is Making A Frightening Comeback To Developed Countries

Against all odds, scurvy is making a comeback in developed countries. More than a health problem, it is above all revealing a social crisis.

This Deadly 18th Century Disease Is Making A Frightening Comeback To Developed Countries
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If you've heard his name before, you probably associate it with the navy, pirates, and more generally, with a bygone era. Yet scurvy is gradually returning to the developed world.This deadly disease is caused by a lack of vitamin C is taking over the United States, the nation that throws away a quarter of their food each year and also other corners of the world.

Scurvy was first observed during the Renaissance and accompanied the first maritime expeditions around the world like a threatening shadow. Also nicknamed "sea plague", it occurs mainly among sailors, deprived of certain foods for several months during their long travels (the crews of Vasco de Gama and Magellan paid the price); but other environments on land were also affected (prisons, hospitals, workshops).

Between the end of the 16th century and the start of the 17th century, doctors noticed that the consumption of citrus fruits - especially lemons and oranges - as well as certain herbs such as sorrel, allowed travellers to be protected against this disease, although they didn't know exactly why yet.These discoveries were repeated in the Treatise of scurvy, published in 1754 by the Scottish doctor James Lind.

It was only in the 1930s that vitamin C was identified and isolated as the cause and the disease was finally recognised as a dietary deficiency. Since then, there has been a significant decline in the disease thanks to faster means of transport that reduced the length of journeys, better health education and increased access to fruit and vegetables containing vitamin C. Scurvy seemed to have almost completely disappeared, at least from the industrialised countries.

An insidious return to poor areas

Unfortunately, it seems that this age-old disease is gradually gaining ground again. In a new documentary entitled Vitamania, the famous Youtuber Derek Muller notes the sad return of scurvy to the United States. There he meets Sonny Lopez, a Massachusetts resident whose bleeding gums, decaying teeth and hair loss led him to see Dr. Eric Churchill. The diagnosis: Sonny Lopez has scurvy.

The primary cause of the return of this disease lies in the poor living conditions of the people it affects. Sonny Lopez was prescribed one orange a day, but for this man who is forced to limit himself to a single daily meal, this simple remedy is far from achievable.

"Many people in financial difficulty tend to choose foods high in fat, calories, and appetite suppressants," Churchill explains. Unfortunately, the distinction between eating a lot and eating well is evident here: while fatty and sweet foods are the most affordable today, they far from meet individuals complete nutritional needs.

Is it an international problem?

A report published in 2016 also reported cases of scurvy, this time in Australia, in patients with diabetes. "Most ate a reasonable amount of vegetables," says researcher Jenny Gunton, who initiated the study. "They just overcooked them, which destroyed the vitamin C."

It would therefore seem that the instability in education has a role to play in the reappearance of this disease that we thought had disappeared. So remember to keep eating fresh, vitamin C-rich fruits and vegetables regularly and if you want to help someone in need of food, if you can, consider leaving out the pasta.