Friday, November 18, 2016


Scurvy is an extremely debilitating condition that had a simple cure (Vitamin C). The cure was even "discovered" a few hundred years ago. However, competing (but non-functional) cures from established figures delayed the widespread adoption of the real cure, leading to the loss of many lives.

Scurvy was often seen on ships, where crews had to travel for long periods of time, subsisting on barely edible, preserved food. It was also seen among the poor in the cities. These people had limited access to fresh food, and thus the needed vitamin C. On ships, the officers were less likely to get scurvy as they would often carry aboard some of their own fresh food or meat. Some theorized that it was the "Bad air" on the ship that caused the problems. (There were plenty of problems caused by the poor sanitary conditions on ships, but scurvy was not one of them.) Captain Cook lead a voyage to in part find a solution for scurvy. They did verify that citrus did prevent scurvy. However, it was expensive and "wort of malt" was the more popular solution. Not willing to rock the boat, Cook did not firmly denounce the "cheap cure", thus leading to its attempt to be adopted. IT took many more years before the citrus was more firmly adopted. (But even then, it was some of the least effective citrus.)

The delay in adopting a cure for scurvy may have also contributed to the American Independence. The British had trouble manning all of their ships due to the poor health of the mariners. They would round up men from the slums and overload their ships in anticipation of great casualties. (And thus overloading would contribute to more casualties.) They were thus unable to adequately man a defense of their remote outpost in the Americas. Later, however, their implementation of the cure would help them to dominate Europe and the world.

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