Wednesday, 1 July 2015

James Lind

I have just got rid of some out of date medicines from our travels including 3 bottles of multi-vitamin tablets. We had taken them with us ‘just in case’ but had hoped that they would not be needed. They spent their time living in our grab bags in case we ever had to take to the life raft. As it happened we always had lots of fresh fruit which sailors know is essential to good health.

Although fruit has been used in this way for many years, it was James Lind who actually proved the link between vitamins and health. By dividing sailors into groups and giving different substances – some far more unpleasant than others – to each, he proved that vitamin deficiency was the root cause of the disease. This was the first ever clinical trial. As the man who proved fresh fruit could prevent scurvy and that ventilation below decks would improve the health of sailors, James Lind is rightly credited as being a huge influence on the health of all sea-goers.


Returning to shore after many years in His Majesties service he was asked to be the leading physician at the (then under-construction) Haslar Naval Hospital. In addition to his Treatise for scurvy he also experimented and reported to the admiralty on distillation of sea water to provide fresh drinking water. He is recognised as the pioneer of both tropical disease medicine and occupational health. His name was commemorated in later years in the eponymous library at the hospital. His experiments and their discoveries were discussed in the recent BBC programme Haslar - secrets of a war hospital.

He is also, very appropriately, honoured in name at the clinical research facilities in Derriford hospital, Plymouth. I wonder how many people passing through this building realise how important his legacy is. He is credited with saving thousands of lives and relieving the suffering of thousands more.

Image from public domain images with thanks

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