Dr Suzie Edge on 21st century nutrition and health

Carnivores don’t do sprouts (or scurvy).

Carnivores don’t do sprouts (or scurvy).

It may come as a surprise but the medical wards at our local hospital are not bursting at the seams with rows and rows of scurvy sufferers, despite the rising numbers of people turning to zero-carb all meat diets. Carnivores don’t get scurvy the way you might think they should and we have known this for a while.

British Army doctor Andrew Halliday, the nineteenth century Deputy Inspector-General of Hospitals in the West Indies knew it. He faced a court martial in 1834 for falsifying records, stating that there were multiple cases of scurvy amongst his soldiers. He did it so that he could justify an order for more supplies of fresh meat. Fresh meat, not fresh lemons.

I came across Sir Andrew Halliday whilst researching for my Masters in Modern History studying medical hierarchies, organisation and decision making in the nineteenth century Army Medical Department. Halliday was also accused of getting away with it, because he had friends in high places, but that’s a story for another day.

When it comes to the story of scurvy, it is James Lind that you have more likely come across. This eighteenth century naval surgeon carried out what is thought of as the first controlled trial where he provided different foods to sailors on a long voyage and noted who contracted scurvy and who didn’t. His conclusion was that fruits helped in curing sailors who had fallen ill with the dreaded disease. It was not necessarily that lack of fruits had made them sick though. It would have been a combination of a grain based diet with meat that was preserved for travel that had therefore lost it’s micro-nutrient content. That’s not terribly practical knowledge though for sailors. Instead they became known for carrying citrus fruits on their journeys, and hence why you hear of the British being referred to as Limeys. You can read about James Lind and see his MD thesis here.

One suggested reason for carnivores not falling apart in front of us, is that Vitamin C and glucose compete for space getting into cells. With a similar structure they can both bind the GLUT1 cell receptor and fight it out. This would mean the more carbohydrates you eat (including the beloved whole grains that break down to glucose, sorry) then the more vitamin C you would need for it to compete. Hence adding citrus fruits into the diet would be useful in preventing scurvy. So would removing the carbohydrates though. It’s handy that bottles of orange juice have so much Vitamin C seeing as how they are so packed with sugar. It’s a little more complicated than that though and Amber O’Hearn at Breaknutrition.com has written more about this here, with links and references.

When I was at University a fellow student, a fit rugby playing lad, became unwell and was later diagnosed with scurvy. It turned out that he would make a big batch of porridge at the beginning of the week and eat only that for the rest of it. Students can have odd behaviour can’t they? Would we have called his behaviour odd twenty years ago if he only ate meat? Maybe, but we wouldn’t have had to call him an ambulance.

The last time I checked, well known carnivores Shawn Baker and Mikhaila Peterson are still alive and both in better shape than ever.  We live in a strange old world where people would rather see them fail and get scurvy (based on stuff they learned age 9 and orange juice advertising) than acknowledge the changes they have made to their health. They have both made remarkable changes on their carnivore diets and they aren’t the only ones.

So next time you see someone tucking in to a steak whilst you’re eating your low fat cereals, don’t bother reminding them they might get scurvy, it’s more likely that that’s your fate rather than theirs.


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