Let’s Put Scurvy Where It Belongs - In the Past!


By Joy Stephenson-Laws, JD, Founder


App developer and Silicon Valley star Sam Altman worked himself so hard he gave himself scurvy.

According to one report, he“...began working nonstop. So nonstop, in fact, that Altman developed scurvy.”

Scurvy, which Hippocrates reportedly called “The Pirates’ Disease,” is a condition that is caused by a severe vitamin C deficiency. It was very common in the 18th century when sailors had to endure long voyages without access to foods rich in vitamin C, such as fresh fruits and vegetables. Their gums would swell and bleed, their teeth would fall out, their legs would swell and they were generally exhausted and in poor health. If left untreated, scurvy may lead to poor wound healing, excessive bleeding and even death.

As humans, we cannot synthesize vitamin C. So we need to get 90 percent of our vitamin C intake from fruits and vegetables, according to one source.

According to this report, Altman “...was so cost-conscious and focused on building his first company, Loopt, that for weeks he ate only ramen noodles and coffee ice cream, until he developed scurvy.”

(Foods such as ramen noodles and ice cream are processed and void of essential nutrients such as vitamin C).

Fortunately, Altman addressed his poor diet and was able to recover, however, scurvy, a condition that is considered by many to be a disease of the past, is apparently still an issue in Canada.

A recent study conducted by researchers at McMaster University analyzed data of patients from two hospital systems spanning a nine year period. They found that 52 of the patients had low vitamin C levels.

“This included 13 patients who could be diagnosed as having scurvy, and an additional 39 who tested positive for scurvy but did not have documented symptoms,” according to this report discussing the study.

There are particular situations, in addition to failing to follow a proper, vitamin C rich diet, that may put a person at risk for scurvy.

The researchers found that among the patients who had scurvy, some cases were connected to alcohol abuse or having had bariatric (weight loss) surgery. Drinking too much alcohol may deplete the body of essential vitamins and minerals. And many people who abuse alcohol often do not maintain a healthy, nutrient-rich diet. This can definitely give scurvy the opportunity to present itself. With weight loss surgery, it can change how the stomach and intestines process food and alter the natural absorption of nutrients.

However, according to the study report, “...the majority [of scurvy cases] were related to other causes of malnutrition such as persistent vomiting, purposeful dietary restrictions, mental illness, social isolation and dependence on others for food.”

The good news is that patients with scurvy who were given vitamin C “had a rapid recovery of their symptoms.”

This all just goes to show you how critical vitamin C is to our health. I am particularly interested in scurvy and vitamin C due to my inability to absorb enough of this important vitamin..

So we now know that scurvy is still an issue in Canada, but what about in the United States?

A recent documentary called Vitamania explores cases of scurvy in regions where many might think that having this condition would not be possible. According to this report discussing the documentary, a man named Sonny Lopez from Springfield, Massachusetts showed signs of scurvy.

"We diagnosed our first case about five to six years ago. The initial case came through the hospital and was quite dramatic, someone with a mental health issue who would only eat bread and cheese," said Lopez’s doctor.

"Between then and now we have diagnosed somewhere between 20 and 30 cases of scurvy."

A doctor in this report discusses his experience with diagnosing scurvy in America.

“While still far from common, my experience (I have been practicing just 5 years) indicates that if you are not diagnosing scurvy here and there, you are probably missing it,” he said.

I have diagnosed it in people who have been to places like The Mayo Clinic — and they missed it. American clinicians rarely bother to test for nutritional deficiencies. We have no idea the magnitude of the problem. I believe this is probably because there is little interest in nutrition compared to pharmaceutical research.”

Scurvy may be difficult to diagnose.

According to this scientific report, “Initially, nonspecific symptoms like exhaustion and depression may make this disease difficult to diagnose until classical dermatological manifestations appear. Diagnosis mainly relies on clinical presentation, dietary history to identify risk factors, and dramatic recession of symptoms and signs following vitamin C therapy.” 

Overall, scurvy may be rare in the U.S., but we have to recognize the populations that are more at risk for it:

  • Homeless
  • Elderly (particularly with nursing home neglect)
  • People who use drugs and abuse alcohol
  • Weight loss surgery patients
  • People with mental illness

You also have to be willing to speak up. If you are a patient in a hospital, ask that your vitamin C levels are tested. You can also test your nutrient levels regularly by taking pH Nutrition tests.

If the test reveals you have too much or too little vitamin C or any other essential vitamin or mineral, a competent healthcare professional can work with you on making the necessary dietary changes and recommend quality supplements if necessary.

Taking advantage of IV vitamin drips or injections is also a great way to boost your vitamin C levels. 

I take advantage of these drips at the pH Drip Lab on a monthly basis to boost my immune system and address my inevitable nutrient absorption issues with vitamin C. At the pH Drip Lab, we offer all sorts of vitamin “cocktails.” My go-to is the “Pick Me Up Buttercup,” which is an injection of 1,000 mg of vitamin C. I believe this has successfully boosted my immunity, energy and good health. 

Let’s keep scurvy where it belongs. In the past!


Enjoy your healthy life!


The pH professional health care team includes recognized experts from a variety of health care and related disciplines, including physicians, attorneys, nutritionists, nurses and certified fitness instructors. This team also includes the members of the pH Medical Advisory Board, which constantly monitors all pH programs, products and services. To learn more about the pH Medical Advisory Board, click here.


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