Scurvy is a disease that results from insufficient intake of vitamin C and leads to the formation of livid spots on the skin, spongy gums and bleeding from almost all mucous membranes. The spots are most abundant on the thighs and legs, and a person with the ailment looks pale, feels depressed, and is partially immobilized. Scurvy was at one time common among sailors whose ships were out to sea longer than perishable fruits and vegetables could be stored and by soldiers who were similarly separated from these foods for extended periods.
- joint pain
- black-and-blue marks on the skin
- gum disease
- corkscrew hairs
Scurvy was probably first observed as a disease by Hippocrates. In the 13th century the Crusaders suffered from scurvy frequently, and it has inflicted terrible losses on both besieged and besieger in times of war. Scurvy was one of the limiting factors of marine travel, often killing large numbers of the passengers and crew on long-distance voyages. It even played a significant role in World War I. The plant known as "scurvy grass" acquired its name from the observation that it cured scurvy, but this was of no great help to those who spent months at sea: the discovery by James Lind of treatment and prevention of scurvy by supplementation of the diet with citrus fruit such as lemons and limess led directly to the discovery of vitamins.
In modern society, scurvy is rarely present in adults. However, vitamin C is destroyed by the process of pasteurization, so babies fed with bottled milk sometimes suffer from scurvy if they are not provided with adequate vitamin supplements (breast milk contains sufficient vitamin C to prevent scurvy on its own).
Scurvy is one of the accompanying diseases of malnutrition (other such micronutrient deficiencies are Beriberi or Pellagra) and thus is still widespread in areas of the world depending on external food aid. (See also the report from the WHO referenced below.)