James Lind (1716–1794) was an Edinburgh Scot, apprenticed to a surgeon at the age of fifteen, who entered the Royal Navy as a ship's surgeon at age twenty-three, serving for nine years. After leaving the navy, he returned to Edinburgh, where he gained a medical degree and went into practice. In 1758 he became consultant physician at a naval hospital and held this position for the next twenty-five years. His experiences at sea had aroused his interest in naval hygiene, and he is recognized as a pioneer in this field.
Lind is remembered mainly for his work on scurvy, the vitamin C deficiency disease. Having observed sailors with scurvy, which was then a prevalent disease among sailors on long sea voyages, he speculated about its likely cause, suspecting that the shortage of fresh food such as fruits and vegetables might be responsible. On his own long voyages he experimented with diets, and he is renowned now among exponents of clinical trials because he reported the first such clinical trial that was systematically designed and conducted. It was a modest trial in which twelve sailors were allocated in groups of two each to receive cider, elixir of vitriol, vinegar, sea water, purgatives, and citrus fruits (oranges, lemons). Those who received the citrus fruits recovered rapidly from their scurvy, while the others did not. Although the sample sizes were grossly inadequate and other aspects of clinical trials were not adopted, this successful demonstration of an effective way to treat and to prevent scurvy immensely enhanced the health prospects of seafarers on long voyages, such as those of the explorer James Cook in the Pacific Ocean a few years later. Cook's sailors had a daily regimen of sucking the juice of a lime, and none of these sailors got scurvy. The slang word "limey" applied to British sailors originated from this practice. Lind wrote several works on naval hygiene, including an Essay on the Most Effectual Means of Preserving the Health of Seamen in the Royal Navy (1757); his best known work is A Treatise of the Scurvy (1753).
JOHN M. LAST
Lind, J. (1953). A Treatise of the Scurvy. Edinburgh: University Press. (Reprint)