Scurvy

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Pirate ship

Welcome aboard, matey, to the SS Scurvy. While on board, please enjoy all the amenities, including toxic canned meats, a lack anything fresh, and a good flogging every other day.

Scurvy is a disease resulting from a deficiency of vitamin C, which is required for the synthesis of collagen in humans. The cure for scurvy is to eat all your vegetables like you mom told you to (see she wasn't so stupid after all). Scurvy often presents itself initially as lethargy, followed by formation of spots on the skin, spongy gums, and bleeding from the mucous membranes. A person with the ailment looks pale, feels depressed, and is partially immobilized. Symptoms of scurvy are similar to symptoms presented in teenagers addicted to video games and social media with the only difference being that the teenagers are fully immobilized.

Scurvy was at one time common among sailors, pirates and others aboard ships at sea longer than perishable fruits and vegetables could be stored (subsisting instead only on cured and salted meats and dried grains) and by soldiers similarly deprived of these foods for extended periods. It was described by Hippocrates and early Egyptians, and scholars claim that herbal cures for scurvy have been known in many native cultures since prehistory. However, since it was prehistory, there are no records about it, so one wonders how the scholars could possibly know anything of the sort.

While today scurvy is known to be caused by a nutritional deficiency, until the isolation of vitamin C and direct evidence of its link to scurvy in 1932, numerous theories and treatments were proposed, often on little or no experimental data. For example, a 1707 handwritten book by Mrs. Ebot Mitchell, that was discovered in a house in Hasfield, Gloucestershir, contains a "Recp.t for the Scurvy" that consists of extracts from various plants mixed with a plentiful supply of orange juice, white wine or beer. Unfortunately, the sailors usually opted to just drink the beer which rather limited the usefulness of the recipe.

Scurvy does not occur in most animals because they can synthesize their own vitamin C. However, humans and other higher primates lack an enzyme (L-gulonolactone oxidase) necessary for such synthesis and must obtain vitamin C through their diet, which makes one wonder about the term "higher primate".

edit Vitamin C

The chemical name for vitamin C, ascorbic acid, is derived from the Latin name of scurvy, scorbutus, which also provides the adjective scorbutic ("of, characterized by or having to do with scurvy"). This name was chosen over the English 'scurvy goodness' for obvious reasons, but if it can ever be proven that vitamin C helps to cure the common cold, the scientific community is planning on renaming it to 'phlegmtasic acid'.

edit Symptoms

Early symptoms are malaise and lethargy. After 1–3 months, patients develop shortness of breath and bone pain. Other symptoms include skin changes with roughness, easy bruising and gum disease, loosening of teeth, poor wound healing, emotional changes, fever, convulsions, and eventual death. All of these contribute to the most severe symptom, an inability to date women (especially the death part), this however did not greatly affect 18th century sailors, who generally chose to become sailors because of an already-present inability to date.

edit Pathogenesis

Ascorbic acid is needed for a variety of biosynthetic pathways, by accelerating hydroxylation and amidation reactions. In the synthesis of collagen, ascorbic acid is required as a cofactor for prolyl hydroxylase and lysyl hydroxylase. These two enzymes are responsible for the hydroxylation of the proline and lysine amino acids in collagen. Hydroxyproline and hydroxylysine are important for stabilizing collagen by cross-linking the propeptides in collagen. Defective collagen fibrillogenesis impairs wound healing. Collagen is an important part of bone, so bone formation is affected. Defective connective tissue leads to fragile capillaries, resulting in abnormal bleeding.

(No, I didn't really understand any of that either, but I think it basically means eat your vegetables or you're going to be royally borked.)

edit Prevention

Scurvy can be prevented by a diet that includes certain citrus fruits such as oranges or lemons. Other sources rich in vitamin C are fruits such as blackcurrants, guava, kiwifruit, papaya, tomatoes, bell peppers, and strawberries. Additionally, many animal products, including liver, Muktuk (whale skin), oysters, and parts of the central nervous system, including the brain, spinal cord, and adrenal medulla, contain large amounts of vitamin C, and can even be used to treat scurvy. However, a diet rich in these animal products is likely to give you mad cow disease so you'd be better off dying of the scurvy.

If, after you die, you come back as a zombie, you might look like you have scurvy, but due to your diet of nothing but brains, you won't actually have the disease.

Horse meat can also ward off scurvy. The surgeon-in-chief of Napoleon's army at the Siege of Alexandria (1801), Baron Dominique-Jean Larrey, wrote in his memoirs that the consumption of horse meat helped the French to curb an epidemic of scurvy. The meat was cooked but was freshly obtained from young horses bought from Arabs and was nevertheless effective. This helped to start the 19th-century tradition of horse meat consumption in France, which you can still find there today. This is the main reason the horse meat is substituted for beef in schools and restaurants across the world. Not to save money, but to prevent scurvy.

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