This X-ray of an infant afflicted by scurvy shows some of the skeletal effects of the disease, including bowed legs, stunted bone growth, and swollen joints. Infants who are fed only cow’s milk are at risk of developing scurvy, since cow’s milk is not an adequate source of vitamin C.
Scurvy is a condition characterized by hemorrhages around the hair follicles of the arms and legs, generalized weakness, anemia, and gum disease (gingivitis) resulting from a lack of ascorbic acid (vitamin C) in the diet. Early epidemics of scurvy occurred during the Renaissance (1600–1800s) among explorers and seafaring men. In 1746, James Lind, a British naval surgeon, established that eating lemons and oranges cured the disease.
Vitamin C is destroyed by heat, and thus not present in pasteurized and commercially processed foods. Children and teenagers who consume too many processed foods and few fresh fruits and vegetables may be getting inadequate amounts of vitamin C. (In 1914, an increased incidence of scurvy among infants was attributed to consumption of heated (pasteurized) milk and vitamin C–deficient commercially processed foods.) Though rare, scurvy is now frequently observed among elderly persons, alcoholics, and malnourished adults. In addition, smokers have higher requirements for vitamin C, and are therefore more at risk.