James Lind

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James Lind / Medical Pioneers

Before the end of the 18th century, the biggest killer of seamen was not shipwreck, nor enemy guns, but the gradual onset of the symptoms of scurvy, due to a dietary lack of ascorbic acid or vitamin C. This is easily obtained from fresh fruits and vegetables, particularly the juice of lemons and limes; items not easily obtained on long, slow sea voyages. Scurvy showed itself as bleeding gums, degenerated muscles, swollen joints, tender skin, loose teeth, and wounds failing to heal properly.

Born in Edinburgh in 1716, Lind served as a naval surgeon (1739-48) before taking a medical degree at Edinburgh University. Lind was of course very aware of scurvy, and also that two centuries earlier the Dutch had recommended the use of citrus fruits and juices on long voyages. Lind refreshed this knowledge, writing A Treatise on Scurvy in 1754. Later, working as a physician at the Haslar Hospital for Royal Navy personnel at Gosport (1758-94), Lind also published On the Most Effectual Means of Preserving the Health of Seamen (1757).

His recommendations were finally adopted by the Royal Navy in 1795, the year after his death. Scurvy virtually disappeared overnight. For many years, the practice of eating limes by seamen of the Royal Navy gave rise to their nickname of 'limeys', a small price to pay for good health on board ship. Lind also researched into delousing procedures, the use of hospital ships in ports, and, in 1761, arranged for the shipboard distillation of seawater for drinking purposes.

He died at Gosport, on 13 July 1794.

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