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James Lind (1716-94)

The Scottish surgeon James Lind was born in Edinburgh and served an apprenticeship at the Edinburgh College of Surgeons. He then worked as a ship's surgeon until he opened his own practice in Edinburgh in 1748. Lind discovered the use of citrus fruit as a cure for scurvy when he conducted an early clinical trial.

While working as a naval surgeon, Lind encountered cases of scurvy, a disease which often struck sailors on long voyages. The cause, a lack of essential vitamins, was unknown at the time. Earlier doctors had suggested that fresh fruit could be used to treat scurvy, but Lind was the first to test the effects of different diets systematically on a group of patients in a clinical trial. In 1754 he began to feed 12 scurvy patients different foods and found that patients eating citrus fruits such as lemons and oranges recovered much faster than those who were given other kinds of food.

However, Lind's observation was not properly acted on until 1795, when the Royal Navy began to distribute lemon juice to its sailors. Lind also developed other recommendations for improving the health of seamen. Trials following Lind's example led to the development of vaccination as a way of preventing specific diseases, starting with smallpox in the late 1700s.

 

Related links

External links:

Bibliography

K J Carpenter, The History of Scurvy and Vitamin C (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1986)

J Lind, As Essay on the Most Effectual Means of Preserving the Health of Seamen in the Royal Navy (London: D Wilson at Plato’s Head, The Strand, 1757)

W M McBride, ‘’Normal' medical science and British treatment of the sea scurvy, 1753-75’, Journal of the History of Medicine and Allied Sciences, 46 (1991), pp 158-177

Glossary:

Apprenticeship

An agreement where a person learns a trade from a skilled worker over a fixed period of time.

Scurvy

Disease caused by a lack of vitamin C (ascorbic acid), which is contained in fresh fruit and vegetables. Symptoms include weakness, painful joints, and bleeding gums.