Health Off the Beaten Track

Sailors Health

Even in these days of vitamin pills, people living remotely can also suffer from vitamin C deficiency due to lack of fresh produce. I'd like to discuss some solutions for when we have limited access to fresh food.

The Original Vitamin Deficiency

Vitamin C deficiency contributed to the most well-known sailors ailment, scurvy. Scurvy results from a deficiency of vitamin C, which is required for collagen synthesis and connective tissue strength. Scurvy was at one time common among sailors, pirates and others aboard ships at sea for long periods. Scurvy leads to spots on the skin, spongy gums and bleeding from the mucous membranes. Old wounds, long since scarred over, break open and bleed. Breathing becomes difficult as the lungs weaken. The teeth loosen and fall out, gums bleed and develop foul-smelling, putrid growths, which causes the most abominable breath imaginable. It becomes difficult to eat and if not treated, death is a certainty. Victims also show signs of extreme sensitivity to the point of madness, with the victim being stricken with an intense desire for home and suffering from a deep melancholy known as The Black Dog,

Modern day scurvy
Whilst scurvy is not so common nowadays, vitamin C deficiency on the other hand is. The two most common symptoms are bleeding gums and poor wound healing. Weak immune function, including susceptibility to colds and other infections is also a telltale sign of vitamin C deficiency.

The sailing solution
In 1536, the French explorer Jacques Cartier, used the local natives' knowledge to save his men who were dying of scurvy. He boiled the needles of the arbor vitae tree (Thuja/Eastern White Cedar) to make a tea that was later shown to contain 50 mg of vitamin C per 100 grams. Limes are another traditional remedy to prevent scurvy. Limey is an old American and Canadian slang nickname for the British, originally referring to British sailors. The term is derived from lime juice, referring to the Royal Navy and Merchant Navy practice of supplying lime juice to British sailors to prevent scurvy.

Solutions for lack of fresh food
Sauerkraut is finely shredded cabbage that has been fermented by lactic acid bacteria.
Not only can it prevent vitamin C deficiency but it also reinoculates the
bowl flora, prevents gastrointestinal disease such as travellers diarrhoea and
constipation. It is now known that the preservation of sauerkraut in an anaerobic
environment (in the brine) keeps the vitamin C in it from being oxidised.
Captain James Cook always took a store of sauerkraut on his sea voyages!

Raw sauerkraut is an extremely rich in vitamin C, lactobacilli and other nutrients. Studies suggest that fermented cabbage is even healthier than the raw vegetable, with increased levels of anti-cancer agents isothiocyanates.

Lemon and lime
Lemons and limes contain antioxidant and anti-cancer flavonoid compounds, including kaempferol which is known as an RTK inhibitor with the ability to stop the formation of new blood vessels to tumours. These flavonoids are also antibiotic. In several villages in West Africa where cholera epidemics occur, the inclusion of lime juice during the main meal has been determined to be protective against the contraction of cholera. Lemons and limes are an excellent source of vitamin C.

Dried blueberries
Blueberries are high in antioxidant capability and are rated highest in their capacity to destroy free radicals. Packed with antioxidant phytonutrients called anthocyanidins, the blue-red pigments found in blueberries, neutralise free radical damage to the collagen matrix of cells and tissues that can lead to cataracts, glaucoma, varicose veins, haemorrhoids, peptic ulcers, heart disease and cancer. Anthocyanins enhance the effects of vitamin C, improve capillary integrity and stabilise the collagen matrix.

Dried goji berries
In Chinese medicine they are called Wolfberry Fruit or Gou Qi Zi, and are prescribed for erectile dysfunction, dizziness, tinnitus, night sweats, hand sweats, as an eye tonic and to strengthen muscles and bone. Wolfberries contain many nutrients and phytochemicals, including the carentenoids, xeaxanthin, lutein, lycopene and cryptoxanthin, xanthophyll and calcium, potassium, iron, zinc, selenium, riboflavin and vitamin C. 100g of the berries provide 100% of RDA of the last 4 nutrients!

Sprouts can be sprouted easily in a jar with a "chux cloth" used as a lid secured by an elastic band. Mung bean and alfalfa seeds are two of the most common sprouts. Sprouts are rich in vitamins particularly vitamin C, minerals, amino acids proteins, beneficial enzymes and phytochemicals. Sprouting grains causes increased activities of enzymes, increases in proteins, good fats, certain essential amino acids and B-group vitamins. The increase in protein, B-group vitamins, sugars and decrease in phytates and protease inhibitors, are directly due to the sprouting process.

Nori Sheets
Seaweed is good for Seafarers. Nori is one of the plant world's richest sources of protein and is high in iron but, unlike many grains, doesn't contain phytates, which lower absorption of iron. Nori is incredibly rich in calcium and iodine, with one sushi roll supplying the RDA of calcium and iodine. Nori is also rich in omega-3 fatty acids, which lower cholesterol and reduce LDL. 100 grams of nori also provide us with impressive levels of vitamin A , thiamine, riboflavin, niacin, folate, phosphorous, potassium, zinc and vitamins C, E, and K.

For further details on this topic, to lecture for your group or institution on this subject. or to arrange an online appointment contact Carina This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

Carina Harkin BHSc.Nat.BHSc.Hom.BHSc.Acu.Cert IV TAE. 

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