James Lind Biography (1716-1794)


James Lind, an English physician, proved through his experimentation that citrus fruits like oranges and limes could prevent scurvy, a deadly disease caused by a vitamin C deficiency.

Lind was born on October 4, 1716, in Edinburgh, Scotland, to Margaret (Smelum) and James Lind, a prosperous merchant. He attended grammar school in his youth, and then was apprenticed to the Edinburgh physician George Langlands in1731. He became a surgeon's mate in the British navy in 1739, and in 1747, was promoted to surgeon.

Lind performed one of his most important experiments on curing scurvy in 1747. Many people knew that far more sailors on British warships died from scurvythan from battle. In retrospect, if sailors did not get vitamin C in their food, especially from fruits like oranges, lemons, or limes, then they developed the symptoms of scurvy: bleeding gums, loosened teeth, stiff or swollen joints, and bleeding under the skin. Infections often resulted, and if infections did not kill the sailors, then they soon died from convulsions or coma ifthey were left untreated. On long voyages, entire crews could be decimated byscurvy. Before Lind's work, others had noticed that citrus fruits were goodfor health. The Spanish physician, Michael Servetus, said in 1537 that citrusfruits were good for digestion. Admiral Sir Richard Hawkins of the British Navy noticed in 1593 that feeding his men citrus fruit each day seem to eliminate scurvy.

Lind set out in 1747 to prove experimentally that citrus fruits cured scurvy.While he was aboard the H.M.S. Salisbury from August to October 1747,Lind created an experiment in which he tested the effectiveness of dietary supplements on scurvy patients. He administered cider, vinegar, seawater, garlic, oranges and lemons, and other foods to patients with scurvy. He noticed that the most rapid and visible improvements came to his patients who receivedthe citrus fruits.

In 1748, Lind left the navy and returned to Scotland, where he enrolled at the University of Edinburgh to obtain his M.D. degree. Because of his long training and experience in medicine, he received his M.D. that same year. He thenpracticed medicine in Edinburgh and married Isobel Dickie. In 1754, Lind published A Treatise of the Scurvy. In 1757, Lind published a second book, On the Most Effectual Means of Preserving the Health of Seamen, which also recommended giving sailors citrus fruits on long voyages. In 1758, Lind was appointed the chief physician of the Royal Naval Hospital at Gosport inthe south of England.

In 1768, Lind published An Essay on Diseases Incidental to Europeans in Hot Climates, which was a leading source of information about tropical medicine for 50 years. Lind retired as chief physician of the Royal Naval Hospital in 1783. His son, John, replaced him. Lind died in Gosport on July 13, 1794. In spite of Lind's works, his advice about giving sailors citrus fruits toprevent scurvy was not taken seriously by the British Navy until after his death. Some physicians of the time simply did not believe that scurvy was caused by dietary problems. Others refused to believe that any disease as bad as scurvy could be cured so easily with an orange a day. In the next year, 1795,the Royal Navy adopted the practice of giving seamen citrus fruits and juicesas part of their diets. Scurvy promptly vanished from the Royal Navy.

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