When Life Gives You Lemons, Beat Scurvy

Scurvy is a disease caused by severe and chronic vitamin C deficiency. In the past, sailing ships loaded up on citrus fruits like lemons and oranges to stave off scurvy among sailors. Although it is caused by the lack of vitamin C in the diet, leaving it untreated can lead to anemia, debility, exhaustion, spontaneous bleeding, pain in the limbs and legs, swelling in various parts of the body and sometimes loss of teeth and formation of an ulcer in the gums.

The power of Vitamin C

Vitamin C, also known as ascorbic acid, is necessary for the body to absorb iron and produce collagen. Lack of required amount of collagen in the body causes the tissues to break down. They are also necessary for synthesizing various components for producing energy. Early signs of vitamin C deficiency include a loss of appetite, sudden weight loss, frequent fatigue, irritability and lack of energy and enthusiasm. If not treated, it can even lead to severe jaundice, destruction of red blood cells and depression. Vitamin C is one of the essential antioxidants and a lack of it can affect the immune system in the long run.

Although the symptoms can be severe, scurvy is fairly easy to treat. It can be prevented and treated by consuming adequate quantities of vitamin C in the form of diets or as a supplement. Sources of vitamin C include:

  • Fruits such as pineapples, guavas, oranges, lemons, papayas, tomatoes, kiwifruits, mangoes, grapefruits, strawberries etc.
  • Green leafy vegetables such as cabbage, broccoli, capsicum, spinach, cauliflower etc.
  • Green peas, sweet pepper, berries, potatoes etc.

It’s always best to eat vitamin C rich food items raw and as fresh as possible, since cooking, canning and prolonged storage can greatly reduce their vitamin contents. Vitamin C also dissolves in water and hence over-washing can also lead to a reduction in the vitamin content.

Care should be taken while consuming vitamin C rich foods as their over-consumption can cause various health problems in the future. This includes diarrhoea, nausea, abdominal cramps and kidney stones. It may also lead to a decreased effect of some medications.

People who often eat healthy food are not considered to be at risk of scurvy. It is caused by not eating adequate amounts of vitamin C in the diet for at least 3 months. Women who are pregnant or breastfeeding and who consume a poor diet are at a higher risk.

Symptoms to look for:

  • Feeling tired and weak all the time.
  • Having severe leg or joint pains.
  • Skin bruising easily.
  • Losing teeth.
  • Swollen and bleeding gum.
  • Development of red or blue spots on the skin.
  • Feeling irritable all the time.

Your body cannot synthesize vitamin C, nor store it. Hence it is advised to take the daily dose of vitamin C in the diet. So have your lemons and win the battle against scurvy!

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