Dr. Mark Kestner (crop)


Since the mid-1800s, British sailors have often been called “limeys.” That is because they had a habit of eating limes and other citrus fruits while aboard ship for any length of time. 

This habit protected them from scurvy. It is not likely that you will ever encounter scurvy but you might be at risk of a related disorder.

Sailors historically have spent weeks and months aboard their vessels, often far from land. Prior to the mid 1800s sailors on long voyages often fell prey to a disabling condition called scurvy. They would experience extreme weakness, begin to bruise easily and eventually begin losing teeth due to the disorder. 

In May of 1747, a Scottish doctor serving aboard the Royal Navy vessel HMS Salisbury carried out an experiment that would eventually protect sailors around the world from the ravages of scurvy. Dr James Lind had been seeking a cure for scurvy for years. His observations had led him to conclude that the food available to sailors was key to the disease.

When a ship would disembark on a voyage, there would be an assortment of food stored on board for the crew. The fruits and vegetables aboard would spoil within weeks. If the voyage lasted longer than a month, there were no fresh foods available. Dr. Lind observed that the sailors that suffered most from scurvy were the ones that served on the longer voyages. 

He conducted a simple but effective experiment to test his theory of possible solutions. He chose 12 sailors, each showing obvious signs of scurvy. They had bleeding gums, loose or missing teeth, multiple hemorrhages and generalized weakness and fatigue.

He divided them into pairs, giving each pair a different food remedy. The remedies included cider, vinegar, seawater, oranges and lemons or a mixture of garlic, horseradish and mustard.  While the sailors in the other groups showed mixed responses, it was very obvious that the pair that received the oranges and lemons improved the most dramatically.

Although it had been hypothesized that various foods were related to scurvy, this simple experiment led the way to concluding that citrus fruits would definitively prevent the disease.

At the time, the medical community did not know about vitamins. Food acidity could be measured and it was thought that the acid in the citrus fruits was responsible for the cure. Since limes are more acidic than oranges or lemons, ships began stocking limes aboard ships. Amazingly, it took the British Royal Navy 40 years after this experiment to generate an official policy of carrying limes aboard seagoing vessels. (And we thought our government acted slowly!)

We now know that the dietary acid that helped the British sailors was not just any acid, but specifically ascorbic acid, otherwise known as vitamin C.  Except in extremely backward or impoverished areas, it is very uncommon to encounter vitamin C deficiency severe enough to cause scurvy. 

However, modern research has demonstrated that even mild deficiency of this very important vitamin may be related to health problems.

You may have noticed news articles about Vitamin C being helpful in treating or preventing COVID-19.  The short story is that it probably is. The longer story is that it may be years before it can be determined for certain what role Vitamin C plays in preventing or treating COVID-19. 

Vitamin C is so beneficial for so many aspects of your health that it is likely that you will benefit from making sure you are obtaining an adequate amount. How much is adequate?

That answer depends on who you ask. The Recommended Daily Allowance is only 90 milligrams of Vitamin C. However, many health experts ridicule such a paltry amount and claim this number is artificially low to allow food producers to claim a higher percentage of this essential vitamin being present in their products.

Many clinical researchers insist that at a minimum most people should be taking 1,000 mg Vitamin C or more for vitality and good health. In fact, many of the research studies looking at the potential role of Vitamin C in preventing or treating COVID-19 begin with levels around 1,000 mg and go higher.

This article obviously cannot commit to a specific amount of Vitamin C for readers to take, due to so many variables. However, it is likely that most readers would benefit from being more intentional about their intake of this very important nutrient.

Dr. Mark Kestner is a licensed chiropractic physician in Murfreesboro. His office is at 1435 NW Broad St. Contact him at mkestner@DrKestner.com.

Recommended for you