The discovery that the lack of certain essential substances in the body-either because they were not in the diet or failed to be absorbed and utilized-would cause serious disturbances of growth and health, was one of the most startling in all the history of medicine. Now these substances are called “vitamins”-a word coined by Casimir Funk around 1910.
Scurvy-a disease known for centuries-is now definitely established as resulting from a lack of vitamin C, also called ascorbic acid. The chief sources of vitamin C are the citrus fruits, the leafy green vegetables, Irish potatoes, and tomatoes. Milk contains a little vitamin C but even this little is lessened by pasteurization, or boiling, or any form of treatment that results in oxygenation.
Physicians see few cases of scurvy nowadays. Such cases as are reported affect chiefly people who live alone on greatly restricted diets, or people addicted to strange eating habits which interfere with normal nutrition. Sometimes the condition is seen in babies fed artificially, when mothers or nurses have failed to make certain that proper amounts of vitamin C-containing substances are included in the diet.
Among the chief symptoms of scurvy are bleeding from the gums and black and blue spots over the body, showing easy bleeding. Wounds of the skin heal slowly in those with vitamin C deficiency.
Scurvy can be controlled by taking plenty of vitamin C, which is now available in several medicinal forms. The material need not be injected into the blood but can be taken by mouth, after which the condition usually clears up promptly. Much better is the prevention of scurvy by the daily taking of some citrus fruit juice, tomato juice, or by eating leafy green vegetables, which add other important factors to the diet.