Posted: 29 November, 2016 by AAP

Scurvy Has Made A Comeback In Australia


(Image: Getty)

Scurvy, an 18th century disease caused by a lack of vitamin C, appears to have made a surprise comeback in Australia.

Historically associated with old-world sailors on long voyages, scurvy has been detected in a number of diabetic patients at Westmead Hospital in western Sydney.

But it's re-emergence shouldn't come as a surprise because of the "poor" modern-day diet, says one expert.

There is a direct link between not eating enough vegetables and fruit and lifestyle-related diseases, says University of Sydney PhD candidate Reetica Rekhy from the Department of Plant and Food Sciences.

"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," she said.

Most Australians don't meet World Health Organisation standards for vegetable consumption.

Research conducted by Ms Rekhy, and recently published in the journal Nutrition & Dietetics, found that while almost one in two Australians eat the recommended two serves of fruit daily, only seven per cent of adults consumed the recommended serves of vegetables.

Her research also found most of the 1000 respondents did not have a good understanding about specific nutritional benefits of most vegetables.

She says appropriate vegetable consumption is crucial to reducing the risk of diseases such as cancers.

Professor Jenny Gunton from Westmead Hospital's Centre for Diabetes, Obesity and Endocrinology says several of her patients with long-running unhealed wounds were cured by a simple course of vitamin C.

A lack of vitamin C in the body results in the defective formation of collagen and connective tissues, which can cause bruising, bleeding gums, blood spots in the skin, joint pain and impaired wound healing.

When the patients were asked about their diet, some were eating little or no fresh fruit and vegetables.

The rest ate fair amounts of vegetables but were over-cooking them, which destroys the vitamin C.

Prof Gunton fears the problem could be much more widespread

"Human bodies cannot synthesise vitamin C, so we must eat foods containing it," she said.

Common foods that are high in vitamin C include oranges, strawberries, red and green peppers including capsicums, broccoli, kiwi fruit and grapefruit.

Overcooking any food is likely to destroy the vitamin C.

The Australian Guide to Healthy Eating recommends people eat two to eight serves of vegetables and legumes each day, based on age, physical activity levels and body size.

One serve is described as about one cup of uncooked or half a cup of cooked or canned vegetables or beans.

Potatoes are not considered vegetables for the purposes of the requirements but tomatoes, although officially a fruit, are.

Ms Rekhy recommends visiting the education website, commissioned by Horticulture Innovation Australia, to learn all about the health benefits of eating vegetables.

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