Posts Tagged ‘vitamins’

The Science of Scurvy

// August 2nd, 2009 // Comments Off on The Science of Scurvy // How Things Work, Science at Home

It has been a shocker of a weekend, to be honest. Not completely crap (new shoes only $67, and SEXY! plus lots of time spent with SexyMan *grin*), but today has been a bit of a write-off as the ex came over to pick up his stuff resulting in a fair amount of awkwardness. As a result, Captain Skellett has extra ARRGH! today and would like to blog about scurvy, most piratey of all diseases.

Scurvy Man

Scurvy be a devil of a disease, afflicting in yon olden days mostly sailors and soldiers (and pirates obviously), which would be struck down with bleeding gums, sores, and eventually death. Often more people were lost to scurvy on the WAY to the battle, then at the actual battle itself.

Nowadays scurvy be a rare disease, at least in the more developed parts of the world, as we are well educated about the causes and conditions under which it begins. Namely – scurvy be caused by a deficiency of Vitamin C, and thus can be prevented and cured by a healthy amount of citrus fruits and other sources of C in your diet. Back in those olden days, though, they didn’t know WHAT caused it – plenty of things are different when you’re on a long sea voyage, salted and preserved foods, ocean air, damp environments and so on. It was hard to pinpoint what was actually causing the dreaded scurvy. What they needed was a controlled experiment.

Indeed, the FIRST CLINICAL TRIAL was performed by James Lind in 1747 as he looked for a cure for scurvy. On a voyage, as people began to succumb to scurvy he separated twelve of them who were at a similar stage of the disease, and tried six different treatments on them. The patients were put in one room to control their environment, and as well as standard rations, one group received cider, one sulfuric acid (tastes like burning), one vinegar, one seawater (!), one citrus fruit, and one barley water and a spicy paste.

The results were telling – the group that received citrus fruit showed tremendous improvement, and the group that had cider had a minor improvement. The rest showed no improvement at all. He published his results in A Treatise of the Scurvy. It was another 50 years before it was recognised as a prophylactic as well as a cure. Now people everywhere can so no to scurvy (behold the ubercute t-shirt below.)

Say no to scurvy

It was still a long time before they identified that it was a vitamin C deficiency that causes scurvy. Did you know that most animals (including S. cerevisiae, the yeast used to make beer and bread) can make their own C from glucose, and don’t need to have it in their diet? It’s really just monkeys, humans, bats, guinea pigs and some birds that have lost this ability – I guess that’s why you don’t often see a cat eating an orange. To make up for it, monkeys and humans can recycle ascorbic acid to some extent by reducing the oxidised (inactive) version. It is a cofactor for several enzymes, and plays a crucial role in the synthesis of collagen, which explains why a deficiency in it causes bleeding gums.

Reduced (active) version Ascorbic Acid <----> Dehydroascorbic Acid Oxidised (inactive) version

It is also a reducing agent, so it can mop up reactive oxygen species which form particularly in times of stress and injury. That’s why it’s good to eat an orange if you feel a cold coming on, and you should also eat one when you’ve had a busy week and an exhausting weekend. Matter of fact, methinks I’ll have one now. That or a strawberry daiquiri.






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