Classic Nutrition Deficiency Diseases

Do you know anyone with scurvy?

How about rickets?


Chances are, no.

These are nutritional diseases of which we don’t see too much nowadays, at least in the more developed parts of the world.

I want to quickly skim through five ‘classic’ nutritional diseases if for no other reason than to emphasize the point that the presence and absence of essential nutrients in our bodies have a huge impact on our health and well-being.


lemon juice in mason jarScurvy is a disease caused by a deficiency in Vitamin C.

Some of the symptoms include weakness, fatigue, sore limbs, bleeding gums, bleeding skin, personality changes, poor wound healing, heart disease, and death.

In 1753, James Lind, a Scottish surgeon with the Royal Navy, wrote A Treatise on Scurvy after many sailors were suffering from some of the symptoms listed above. Lind realized a lack of vitamin C was the cause of their poor health and started them on a regime of lemon juice to supplement their diets. The health of the sailors vastly improved.

Those who suffer from scurvy today tend to also suffer from mental disorders or alcoholism, have unusual dietary habits, or live alone.


Pellagra is caused by a deficiency of niacin, otherwise known as vitamin B3. This disease affected mostly people who lived in rural areas and heavily relied on corn as a dietary staple.

hanging Indian cornIn the early 20th Century, pellagra became an epidemic in the United States with most of its victims residing in the South. More than 3 million Americans suffered from it and over 100,000 died from it.

In 1938, TIME magazine named Dr. Tom Spies, Marion Blankenhorn, and Clark Cooper Men of the Year for their work pinpointing niacin as a cure for pellagra. A University of Wisconsin-Madison biochemistry professor, Conrad Elvehjem, had made the same discovery.

Symptoms of pellagra include sensitivity to light, aggression, alopecia (hair loss), edema (swelling), dermatitis (skin inflammation), red skin lesions, insomnia, weakness, mental confusion, ataxia, diarrhea, enlarged heart, and dementia as well as emotional, psychosensory, and psychomotor disturbances.


a farmer harvests riceA deficiency in thiamine (vitamin B1) is called beriberi.

In the past, long-term storage of grains caused the germ of the grain to become rancid. To prevent such rot, farmers began removing the germ from the rest of the grain. Unfortunately, that’s where the thiamine was contained.

Beriberi is more common in populations with a diet heavy in polished rice.

Thiamine deficiency causes symptoms including weight loss, emotional disturbances, irregular heart rate, edema (swelling), and impaired sensory perception.


woman standing in sunlit fieldRickets is a vitamin D deficiency often accompanied by deficiencies in calcium and/or phosphorus.

Softened bones, muscle weakness, listlessness, impaired metabolism, and aching bones are symptoms of rickets.

Common ways to increase vitamin D levels is through supplementation, exposure to sunlight, or increased consumption of fortified milk.


Goiter is an abnormally large thyroid gland most commonly caused by a deficiency in iodine.

The primary role of the thyroid is to concentrate iodine from the blood to make a thyroid hormone, thyroxin or triiodothryonine. If there isn’t enough iodine in the blood, the brain senses the lack of thyroid hormone, called hypothyroidism, and triggers the release of thyroid stimulating hormone, referred to as TSH.

Hashimoto’s Thyroiditis is an auto-immune disease in which the immune system destroys the thyroid.

salt and pepper shakers on tableIn Grave’s disease, the immune system produces immunoglobulin which leads to goiter and hyperthyroidism which is the production of too much thyroid hormone.

Some commercial brands of table salt lack the iodine naturally found in salt.

While scurvy, rickets, goiter, pellagra, and beriberi may no longer be epidemics, at least in developed nations, the causes of most American deaths in the past century – heart disease, cancer, diabetes, Alzheimer’s disease, auto-immune diseases, and many others – have been called modern nutritional diseases.

By the way, are you or anyone you know experiencing any of the symptoms listed in this post?


Feel free to leave a comment below……….. And, as always, be well.