If you really want to commit to International Talk Like a Pirate Day, you’ll begin holiday preparations four weeks before Sept. 19. Right around mid- to late-August, you’ll cut out all sources of vitamin C from your diet, throw away your tomatoes and green peppers, and hopefully induce a robust case of ascorbic acid deficiency — or, what it was called in more honest, adventurous days: scurvy.
None of this Arrrrr! Ahoy, matey! nonsense. Scurvy means business. While its presence in the industrialized world has been minimized thanks to globalized food sourcing, which ensures a regular supply of vitamin C-rich fruits and vegetables, poorer pockets of the world still face life-threatening risks when it comes to the disease.
Scurvy begins with feelings of malaise or lethargy. Because vitamin C regulates the body’s production of collagen, scurvy sufferers will see their gums turn spongy and bloody, their skin spotted, and, if left unabated, sufferers will develop suppurating wounds, tooth loss, jaundice, and eventual death. The disease has deep marine roots, as sailors and pirates as early as the 15th century and as late at the 20th century subsisted mainly on salted meats and grains during their travels, keeping fruits and vegetables only until — like scurvy’s victims — they perished.
A number of foods stave off a person’s risk of scurvy. Popular citrus fruits naturally contain rich sources of vitamin C, such as oranges, lemons, limes, and grapefruits. Other, less well-known sources include tomatoes, potatoes, green peppers, cabbage, spinach, and broccoli.
In addition to collagen formation, which keeps a person’s skin, bones, and blood vessels strong, vitamin C underscores a raft of metabolic processes. Iron absorption and infection-fighting improve dramatically upon vitamin C’s presence in the body. As an antioxidant, vitamin C destroys free radicals — molecular compounds that damage cell membranes.
Indeed, pirates may have glorified the disease when they were looting ships and slaughtering the innocent back in the 1400s, but today scurvy is relatively easy to treat. Doctors often recommend a short-term course of vitamin C supplements (roughly 250 mg a day) to aid in symptom relief, according to a State Government of Victoria fact sheet. Bleeding in the skin and gums should subside within 24 hours, with joint and muscle pain generally requiring a few weeks. One 2006 study found a 14-year-old girl’s scurvy rash on her torso and legs “resolved dramatically” with vitamin C therapy.
According to the website Limestrong, May 2 is International Scurvy Awareness Day, which aims to “make sure that every single person in the world (at least savvy ones with internet access) are aware that the only thing they need to eradicate scurvy from their lives is to simply eat at least a couple of fruits or vegetables a week."
If you missed the boat this International Talk Like a Pirate Day and already got your fill of vitamin C in the last month, there’s always next year. But be careful: don’t plan ahead too early and spend Talk Like A Pirate Day 2014 hospitalized with open sores and missing teeth; that is, not unless you want — wait for it — “get well” c-Arrrrr!-ds.