Scurvy Could Be on the Rise Amongst Vegetable-Avoiding Australians

A dozen patients at a Sydney hospital were recently found to be suffering from scurvy—a condition more usually associated with 18th century sailors.

by Phoebe Hurst
30 November 2016, 1:45pm

Bild via Imago.

If you've ever been a kitchen-shy student or surly teenage with an aversion to putting anything green in their mouth, you will have been on the receiving end of a "You'll get scurvy!!!" warning—probably from a concerned parent desperate for you to try their wholesome carrot and onion soup.

But in Australia, there are fears that scurvy may be more than an empty threat used to get adolescents to lay off the Domino's.

READ MORE: This Baby Got Scurvy After Drinking Only Almond Milk

Professor Jenny Gunton of the Centre for Diabetes, Obesity, and Endocrinology research at Sydney's Westmead Institute has reported in the Diabetic Medicine journal that around a dozen diabetes patients at Westmead Hospital in Sydney were recently found to be suffering from scurvy.

The condition, which is caused by vitamin C deficiency and impacts the body's ability to make collagen, was discovered after Gunton treated a patient with a leg wound that wouldn't heal. Rife among 18th century sailors with no access to fresh fruit or vegetables while away at sea, cases of scurvy were now thought to be largely nonexistent. Australian health authorities do not generally test for the condition or even keep statistics on it.

Gunton added that scurvy could affect anyone with a poor diet, not just those with diabetes. She told the BBC: "There's no particular link to diabetes ... except that if you have a poor quality diet you're more likely to get diabetes. But of course, a lot of people with diabetes eat perfectly reasonable diets."

Gunton's discovery has raised fears that scurvy could be more widespread than previously thought in Australia, due to poor diet. Indeed as the Guardian reports, a recent study in the Nutrition & Dietetics journal, only 7 percent of Australian adults consumed the recommended daily amount of vegetables. Study author Reetica Rekhy told the newspaper: "If we are not eating what we are meant to eat, it will have a reflection on our health and there will be all these conditions [like scurvy] that will emerge or re-emerge."

READ MORE: A Brief History of Drunken British Sailors

On the bright side, scurvy is fairly easy to prevent—if people have access to fresh fruit and vegetables.

Gorton advised: "Eat some fruit, eat some vegetables—and don't overcook the vegetables. If you really can't manage that, take one vitamin C a day. But healthy diet is the better fix."

But with millions of people across the world living in "food deserts" and the cost of fruit and veg remaining prohibitively high for those on low incomes, this may not the last modern case of scurvy we see.