What deficiency causes scurvy


The captain as a taster

The name for the disease comes from "scorbutus", the Latin word for mouth rot. It wasn't until the 18th century that scurvy was recognized as a diet-related disease and that sauerkraut was an antidote.

Captain James Cook knew his men well: they would not like this dish. Alcohol kept them happy. And with sweet things. But how was he supposed to get the sour herb into her? One evening in 1776 he was sitting in his galley, perplexed, when an idea occurred to him.

The very next day he invited his sailors to the officers' mess. He served sauerkraut in large pots, and Cook swallowed the vegetables. Instead of beer, he drank diluted lemon juice.

The sailors looked at him in disbelief - then they too struck. After all, what the captain ate had to be a delicacy. Cook sat in front of his plate, grinning with pleasure.

The mysterious disease

British ship doctors had discovered that scurvy could be defeated with sauerkraut and juice. And indeed: Cook was the first great captain to manage to keep his crew almost free from this disease - unusual at a time when up to three quarters of a crew died on long voyages.

Because up until the 18th century no one had anything to counter this enigmatic disease, not even the best doctors. They just observed the same course over and over again.

After about three months at sea it started: the men got tired. Some complained of muscle pain, others suddenly had large purple spots, and their skin was bloodshot.

The navigator Jacques Cartier wrote in his logbook during an expedition on the St. Lawrence River in 1542: "It is terrible: your gums became so rotten that all the flesh fell off to the roots of your teeth and almost all of them fell out. With such infectious power If the disease spread across our three ships, by mid-February of the 100 people we were, no ten were healthy. "

Deciphering the riddle

That it could be due to the bad food on board, the meat that is so heavily salted that it scares off the rats, the ship's biscuit, baked so hard that even the maggots can't eat it, the putrid water - for a long time nobody thinks about it . It was not until 1753 that Dr. James Lind, a doctor in the British Navy, came up with the idea.

Lind gives twelve sailors suffering from scurvy a meal, which he combines with various foods: two men each receive cider, two diluted sulfuric acid, one duo receives vinegar, another sea water, oranges and lemons or a medicine with which they can rinse their palates .

The doctor meticulously notes down every change he sees. After just a few weeks he notices that the stains in the men who have received citrus fruits are receding and the gums are growing again.

James Lind continues his series of experiments. And in the following years fresh potatoes, sauerkraut and herbs also prove to be effective remedies against scurvy. Lind informs the captains of the Navy, makes lists of food that should be loaded on board the ships.

James Cook, who set out on his third expedition in 1776, was the first seafarer to adhere to these lists. He rolls vast quantities of sauerkraut barrels into the belly of his bulky ships and piles crates of lemons.

All the following expedition leaders imitate the successful explorer and serve their men lemon juice with every meal, and later also lime juice.

This habit quickly got around and everyone was talking about English sailors as "lime-juicers". An American still says "Limey" to a British man he doesn't think much of.

Scurvy Killer Vitamin C.

In the 18th century, English seafarers didn't care, they swore by the healing properties of citrus fruits - which they observe but cannot explain.

The first explanations only emerged at the beginning of the 20th century: In 1919, the British Jack Drummer suggested adding the letter C to this scurvy-fighting something in fresh fruit. In 1927 the Hungarian biochemist Albert Szent-Györgyi succeeds in vitamin C isolate from paprika.