Vitamin C not only plays an important role in good health, it has been a significant factor in the historic exploration of our world.
One of the greatest challenges for historic seafaring explorers was maintaining the health of the sailors. Even if food stores were adequate, sailors frequently developed lethargy, joint pain, loosened teeth, and an inability to heal wounds; these are the symptoms of the eventually fatal disease scurvy, which is caused by a lack of vitamin C.
Vitamin C, or L-ascorbic acid, is a well-known oxidant, and also plays a role in at least eight different enzyme reactions. Because Vitamin C is water soluble, the body takes what it needs from the daily diet and excretes the remainder. In this way, the human body effectively avoids overdoses of Vitamin C, but can’t effectively store the Vitamin C either. For this reason, for sailors and others who might not be able to easily obtain vitamin C-rich fruits and vegetables, it is relatively easy for such people to quickly develop a dangerous deficiency of the key vitamin in their diet. Vitamin C is an essential component in collagen synthesis – collagen being the main component of connective tissues such as tendons, ligaments, skin, and cartilage – collagen made without Vitamin C is too unstable to function properly, which is how people develop scurvy.
The 1911-1912 expeditions to reach the geographic South Pole demonstrated the crucial importance of good nutrition. Roald Amundsen, whose team was the first to reach the Pole, not only exhibited outstanding planning to create more supply depots than might be needed in case of accident, injury or storm, but because he had learned about the importance of fresh meat and food during a previous Antarctic expedition, he included lime juice in the supplies. His team maintained relatively good health, and they reached the geographic South Pole on December 14, 1911. Tragically, the team of Robert Falcon Scott was not so well supplied, and having reached their goal five weeks after the Norwegian team, they succumbed to scurvy and malnutrition and died on their return.
As the importance of Vitamin C became common knowledge, British sailors were commonly provided with limes or lemons on voyages across the Atlantic Ocean to ensure their health, which is why the Brits were nicknamed “limeys.” On return trips from Boston, a city not known for its citrus fruit, sailors used cranberries obtained from the Massachusetts bogs to get their daily of Vitamin C.
More information about Vitamin C may be found at: http://www.nlm.nih.gov/medlineplus/ency/article/002404.htm, and the story of the race to the South Pole is found at: http://www.amnh.org/exhibitions/race/index.php