Scurvy – can fresh meat prevent it ?

Some excerpts from the wikipedia article on scurvy follow.

The whole article on the history of scurvy is worth reading. Millions of sailors and others in times past have died from it. Some navies ‘budgeted’ on losing up to half their sailors on long voyages.

You might be surprised to learn that fresh meat, apart from vitamin C containing fruits and vegetables, was known a long time ago to be antiscorbutic.

“Scurvy is a disease resulting from a lack of vitamin C (ascorbic acid).[1] Early symptoms include weakness, feeling tired, and sore arms and legs.[1][2] Without treatment, decreased red blood cells, gum disease, changes to hair, and bleeding from the skin may occur.[1][3] As scurvy worsens there can be poor wound healing, personality changes, and finally death from infection or bleeding.[2]  Typically, scurvy is caused by a lack of vitamin C in the diet.[1]”

“Scurvy currently is rare.[2] It occurs more often in the developing world in association with malnutrition.[2] Rates among refugees are reported at 5 to 45 percent.[4] Scurvy was described as early as the time of ancient Egypt.[2] It was a limiting factor in long distance sea travel, often killing large numbers of people.[5]”

“Scurvy can be prevented by a diet that includes vitamin C-rich foods such as bell peppers (sweet peppers), blackcurrants, broccoli, chili peppers, guava, kiwifruit, and parsley….etc..”

“Some animal products, including liver, Muktuk (whale skin), oysters, and parts of the central nervous system, including the adrenal medulla, brain, and spinal cord, contain large amounts of vitamin C, and can even be used to treat scurvy. Fresh meat from animals which make their own vitamin C (which most animals do) contains enough vitamin C to prevent scurvy, and even partly treat it. In some cases (notably French soldiers eating fresh horse meat), it was discovered that meat alone, even partly cooked meat, could alleviate scurvy. Conversely, in other cases, a meat-only diet could cause scurvy.[18]”

[This reference [#18] points to a newspaper article: , headed ” Dubai boy, 4, suffers scurvy after meat-only diet; Youngster, who developed sickness when in Dubai, could not walk for two months before going to clinic in Pakistan with swollen joints”. The details of the diet are not given, save that it was an ‘all meat diet’, because the doctors were unable to get details from the parents. Possibly it was an all fresh meat diet, or maybe meat that had been processed in some way? Or not even any of the above!??  Who knows? On the other hand, in addition to the Stefannson reference below, and various tribes/peoples with meat only or meat-heavy diets, there are accounts of modern human carnivores who have maintained good health for a number of years, some more than 10 years. (It might take several years (the time for liver stores to deplete) for symptoms of Vitamin B12 deficiency to appear in vegans, but in the case of Vitamin C, symptoms appear within one to several months).  z_wp ]

“Scott’s 1902 Antarctic expedition used lightly fried seal meat and liver, whereby complete recovery from incipient scurvy was reported to have taken less than two weeks.[19]”

“The surgeon-in-chief of Napoleon‘s army at the Siege of Alexandria (1801), Baron Dominique-Jean Larrey, wrote in his memoirs that the consumption of horse meat helped the French to curb an epidemic of scurvy. The meat was cooked but was freshly obtained from young horses bought from Arabs, and was nevertheless effective. This helped to start the 19th-century tradition of horse meat consumption in France.[56]”

“The belief that scurvy was fundamentally a nutritional deficiency, best treated by consumption of fresh food, particularly fresh citrus or fresh meat, was not universal in the 19th and early 20th centuries, and thus sailors and explorers continued to suffer from scurvy into the 20th century.

“(In the 19th century Royal) Navy expeditions continued to be plagued by scurvy even while fresh (not jerked or tinned) meat was well known as a practical antiscorbutic among civilian whalers and explorers in the Arctic. Even cooking fresh meat did not entirely destroy its antiscorbutic properties, especially as many cooking methods failed to bring all the meat to high temperature.

The confusion is attributed to a number of factors:[23]

  • while fresh citrus (particularly lemons) cured scurvy, lime juice that had been exposed to light, air and copper tubing did not – thus undermining the theory that citrus cured scurvy;
  • fresh meat (especially organ meat and raw meat, consumed in arctic exploration) also cured scurvy, undermining the theory that fresh vegetable matter was essential to preventing and curing scurvy;
  • increased marine speed via steam shipping, and improved nutrition on land, reduced the incidence of scurvy – and thus the ineffectiveness of copper-piped lime juice compared to fresh lemons was not immediately revealed.”

“Vilhjalmur Stefansson, an arctic explorer who had lived among the Inuit, proved that the all-meat diet they consumed did not lead to vitamin deficiencies. He participated in a study in New York’s Bellevue Hospital in February 1928, where he and a companion ate only meat for a year while under close medical observation, yet remained in good health.[64]”

(Emphases, by way of bolding, are mine)

Discovering then forgetting…

Various navies, explorers and generals (e.g. Napoleon) knew at various times that fresh meat was anti-scorbutic. Sometimes in later generations this was forgotten. (Those ignorant of history are doomed to repeat it?).

Do modern references mention the anti-scorbutic properties of fresh meat, including organ meats?   The Merck Medical Manual certainly doesn’t. For prevention and treatment it mentions a ‘nutritious diet’ ( a motherhood statement / not informative), supplementary vitamin C and recommended servings of fish, fruit and vegetables. No mention of fresh meat: forgotten again? ignorance? or an anti-meat bias with a dubious evidence base ?

A paper from 1941..

The American Journal of Digestive Diseases

, Volume 8, Issue 12, pp 454–463| Cite as

The value of meat as an antiscorbutic

More recently..

It has been suggested that the requirement for dietary vitamin C  in humans may be somewhat higher when consumption of refined carbohydrates figures prominently. The theory is that glucose and vitamin C (a molecule very much like glucose) compete for the same transporters. It has also been suggested that such diets increase the renal excretion of vitamin C. So much is unknown, and all that is currently ‘known’ is by no means certain. (This is the nature of science: we are dealing with probabilities, not absolute proof (except, perhaps, in mathematics).

(Animals that make their own Vitamin C manufacture it from monosaccharides, including glucose. Humans lack the enzyme (L-gulonolactone oxidase – GULO) required to make Vitamin C).

It has been reported that type 2 diabetics (T2D) have lower blood levels of Vitamin C. than non-diabetics with comparable dietary intakes of viamin C. T2Ds have hyperinsulinaemia and, if untreated, hyperglycaemia (elevated blood glucose).

[Aside: T2Ds have chronically elevated insulin levels (hyperinslulinaemia): this is regarded as a primary or root cause of their condition. It has been argued that treating T2Ds with insulin to control blood sugar is like throwing petrol on a fire. Significant carbohydrate restriction ( as in well formulated ‘low carb’ diets) have a good evidence base pointing to their efficacy in treating T2D.   See, for example, here and here). Some scientific evidence (incl published randomised controlled trials, not merely epidemiological/observational studies) for well formulated low carb including ‘ketogenic’ diets Also: ]

Back to vitamin C: See this paper for example..

Another on Vit C to consider:

2005 Sep-Oct;25(5):459-65. Epub 2005 Aug 24.

Hyperglycemia inhibits the uptake of dehydroascorbate in tubular epithelial cell. Chen L1, Jia RH, Qiu CJ, Ding G.

Also this? :

According to Dr Stock:   “Vitamin C’s role as a cofactor in hydroxylation reactions (transferring a hydroxl group to the amino acids lysine and proline), is what helps make the building blocks of collagen. But meat comes “pre-packaged” with hydroxylysine and hydroxyproline – further bypassing much of the requirement for vitamin C.”

Consider these also:

Dr Shawn Baker: Carnivore diet -where do I get my vitamin C?:

O’Hearn: Cites references re vitamin C levels in meat etc.

The Merck Manual states that protein deficiency, among many other factors, can increase the need for vitamin C.

Context is important. Disease – and health – are multifactorial.

But, as always in science….. Doveryai no proveryai (trust but verify)