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What Are the Symptoms of Scurvy?

Updated on December 29, 2017
Anita Hasch profile image

I live on a homestead in Port Elizabeth, South Africa. Writing and reading are my passion.

Fruit, Veggies for Vitamin C

Scurvy occurs after vitamin C has been eliminated from the diet for at least three months. This vitamin is obtained from fruit and veggies.

  • Humans cannot synthesize vitamin C, which is necessary for the production of collagen and iron absorption.
  • Vitamin C plays an important part in the formation of collagen, a component of connective tissue. It is metabolized in the liver by oxidation and sulfation.
  • Vitamin C is required to remove free radicals thereby protecting DNA and vessel walls from damage caused by free radicals.


Symptoms of Scurvy

Scurvy is a condition which is characterized by weakness, fatigue, and aching limbs, especially in the legs.

  • Bleeding in the joints causes extreme pain.
  • Joints may be swollen and tender so that patients cannot walk.
  • Gums may become red, soft and spongy.
  • Shortness of breath occurs and skin bruises easily.
  • Scurvy can then cause jaundice. Oedema (which is swelling caused by a buildup of fluid)The patient becomes thin and anemic and the skin is infected and covered with black blotches.
  • This is caused by a long deficiency of vitamin C in the diet.

Those that are at Risk of Scurvy

Although scurvy is not common it still occurs occasionally

  • People that smoke need more vitamins because of lower vitamin C absorption.
  • Pregnant women need to take more vitamin C
  • People with Aids and Cancer
  • People with type 1 diabetes
  • Children on restrictive diets because of food allergies

People at risk also include those with malnutrition, alcoholics and those who are on diets with no fresh fruits and veggies.

Columbus Reaches the Americas

Christopher Columbus and his crew might have avoided scurvy if they’d sailed directly from Spain to La Isabella, a journey of two months or less.

It took up to three months of vitamin C deprivation for the sailors to become sick with scurvy. But when Columbus and his companions reached the Americas, they landed at San Salvador where Columbus had left nearly 40 men from his 1492 voyage of discovery. He returned to find all of those men dead. Unfortunately the fruits growing on the Island were unknown to them. If they had eaten the fruit they would not have died.

So the ships set sail again and spent another month at sea before landing at the site that would become La Isabella. By then the voyagers were weak and malnourished. Many of their provisions had been spoiled so they did not have much fresh food.

Columbus first trip to the New World

The skeletons that were found suggest scurvy killed America’s first settlement. Christopher Columbus and his crew landed at the island that he named San Salvador, which is today called Bahamas.

In 1494 he founded the colony ‘La Isabella,’ in the New World. On his second trip Columbus faced many obstacles. The seafarers planned to settle in an unknown land far from home, among hostile locals.


Attempts at Farming Failed

  • The settler’s attempts at farming failed and they sent letters to Spain requesting food such as salted fish and salt pork.
  • They ate none of the local fruits such as guavas which were rich in vitamin C.
  • Neither did they eat fish that were plentiful. Many of the colonists died. La Isabella was abandoned in 1498.

The Importance of Fruit in Your Diet

Including fruit into your diet. Is it important for your health.

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© 2016 Anita Hasch


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    • Blond Logic profile image

      Mary Wickison 3 months ago from Brazil

      How interesting that what they (the settlers) needed, vitamin c, was there and they just didn't realize it.

      I recently read that a boy in the UK had scurvy and because it is almost unheard of in a first world country, the doctors took some time to diagnosis it.

      Where I live, we get an abundance of fresh fruit so our vitamin c levels must be okay.

    • pstraubie48 profile image

      Patricia Scott 18 months ago from sunny Florida

      We have so many opportunities in our country to prevent scurvy. Sadly that is not the case worldwide. We learned about scurvy many moons ago when I was in elementary school...thanks for the refresher.

      Angels are on the way as the beautiful Florida morning prepares to dawn. ps

    • Anita Hasch profile image

      Anita Hasch 19 months ago from Port Elizabeth

      Thanks Nadine. I find it amazing that they knew what to add to their diets to avoid scurvy, but just ignored it.

    • Nadine May profile image

      Nadine May 19 months ago from Cape Town, Western Cape, South Africa

      How ignorant that the settlers did not eat what was locally available like local fruits - guavas or fish. Interesting article Anita