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New analysis of landmark scurvy study leads to update on vitamin C needs

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fairly difficult
It was wartime and food was scarce. Leaders of England's effort to wage war and help the public survive during World War II needed to know: Were the rations in lifeboats adequate for survival at sea? And, among several experiments important for public as well as military heath, how much vitamin C did a person need to avoid the deadly disease scurvy?
Analysis of a landmark vitamin C study confirms: You need at least 100 milligrams of vitamin C a day to stay healthy. Credit: pasja1000/Pixabay

In one experiment at the Sorby Research Institute in Sheffield, called the "shipwreck" experiment, volunteers were fed only what the navy carried in lifeboats. The grueling experiment resulted in more water and less food being carried in lifeboats.

One of the more robust experiments run on human subjects during this time in England, which has had long-lasting public health consequences, was a vitamin C depletion study started in 1944, also at Sorby. This medical experiment involved 20 subjects, most of whom were conscientious objectors living in the building where many experiments, including the shipwreck experiment, were conducted. They were overseen by a future Nobel Prize winner, and detailed data was kept on each participant in the study.

"The vitamin C experiment is a shocking study," said Philippe Hujoel, lead author of a new analysis of the Sorby vitamin C experiment, a practicing dentist and professor of oral health sciences in the UW School of Dentistry. "They depleted people's vitamin C levels long-term and created life-threatening emergencies. It would never fly now."

Even though two trial participants developed life-threatening heart problems because of the vitamin C depletion, Hujoel added, none of the subjects were permanently harmed, and in later interviews several participants said they would volunteer again given the importance of the research.

Because of the war and food shortages, there was not enough vitamin C available, and they wanted to be conservative with the supplies, explained Hujoel, who is also an adjunct professor of epidemiology.…
Jake Ellison
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