James Lind (1716-1794)

James Lind.

James Lind.

Credits:Wellcome Library, London.

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.