Scurvey! That scourge of old-time sailors, stuck at sea for months with no fresh food. It’s back! Tiredness, aching limbs, hair and tooth loss, skin blotches and even spontaneous bleeding. Horrific, but it’s back! And I don’t mean in war-torn regions or among malnourished refugees. I mean in your neighbourhood.

If you think scurvey went the way of the big rigs, you're wrong. It's back but it's totally and easily preventable!
If you think scurvey went the way of the big rigs, you’re wrong. It’s back but it’s totally and easily preventable!

The human species, along with some others, needs a regular intake of vitamin C in order to produce collagen. Collagen is the primary structural protein that does an amazing job of holding you together. This little hero makes up around 30% of the total protein in our body. It keeps your skin in good shape and your tendons and ligaments strong. It accounts for about 5% of your muscle weight and it’s critically important in keeping your teeth where they are supposed to be!

Scurvey was the curse of an 18th century sailor's life. Tooth loss was exceptionally common.
Scurvy was the curse of an 18th century sailor’s life. Tooth loss was exceptionally common.

It’s simple… inadequate vitamin C intake leads to a breakdown of collagen. Scurvy isn’t a virus or a bacteria. It’s a symptom with devastating effects. It’s your body telling you it is starving for vitamin C. Your stomach may be full, but that critical vitamin may be missing.

Why is scurvey back in the ‘burbs?

The big contributors are poor diets, long work hours, nutritional ignorance, drug and alcohol abuse, bad gut flora and the simple, yet common, overcooking of foods.

Poor diets:
Fast and convenient foods are frequently heavily processed. That processing often leads to the destruction of the nutritional elements that should be abundant in foods.

Long work hours:
Work pressures often lead people to skip meals or snack on the wrong foods, foods high in salts and sugars but little else. Excessive work hours also often lead to skipped meals, lost sleep and poor digestion.

Nutritional ignorance:
Most of us find it hard to imagine but there are many in our communities who simply don’t understand the way balanced diets lead to better health. Most vitamins and minerals work together in a way that allows our bodies to use them efficiently.

Drug and alcohol abuse:
Both commonly lead to poor eating habits but many drugs and alcohol either destroy or prevent the absorption of nutrients critical to our well being.

Bad gut flora:
We are not alone! In fact, we’re walking petri dishes with more bacteria in and on our bodies then there are human cells. In a healthy human, those foreigners play a vital role in helping us to break down foods for maximum nutritional efficiency. They also play a major role in our immune defences.

There are more bacteria in and on our bodies than there are human cells!
There are more bacteria in and on our bodies than there are human cells!

Antibiotics are notorious for destroying the good bacteria along with the bad. Other factors can also throw your bacterial balance out of whack. Yoghurt and probiotics are excellent at helping to restore that balance.

Most vitamins are effected by heat and most are water soluble but none more so than vitamin C. Put simply, when you overcook your vegetables, you are destroying much of the nutritional content. And, if you’re still boiling your vegetables, that water you’re discarding might just have more nutritional value than the food that is left!

Compare two cooking styles – Indian and Japanese:

Vegetables in Indian food are typically cut into small pieces and cooked until soft and ‘mushy’. If they are not ‘curried’, they are typically fried at high heat. Potatoes are peeled before cooking, with the vitamin C rich skins being discarded.

Japanese vegetables are typically served lightly cooked and still ‘crunchy’. Leaf vegetables are still bright green when served and even tempura vegetables are cooked at such high heat that the batter cooks almost instantly leaving the vegetable itself fresh and lightly cooked.

The scurvy antidote…

The really good news is that scurvy is easily preventable and easily cured. All it takes is an adequate intake of vitamin C. ‘Adequate’ will mean different things to different lifestyles, but eating well is all that’s needed for most of us. There are many foods that are high in vitamin C so there is no need to resort to supplements. All of the pepper family – capsicum, chili, bell pepper etc, are a great source. So are all citrus, papaya, guava and strawberries. The Brassicaceae family of vegetables – broccoli, cabbage, bok choy and cauliflower etc., are also rich sources of vitamin C.

Even some meats, such as liver, are rich sources, so there is no reason for scurvy to exist in first world countries such as ours. So unless you like that pirate look of sallow, blotched skin and missing teeth, buckle up me hearty – it’s simply a matter of eating well.

Go here to find out which foods in your diet are rich in vitamin C