Chapter Two: Ascorbic Acid

Ascorbic acid is crucial to the development of human history. It is more commonly known as vitamin C, and without it organisms are unable to survive. Most organisms make acsorbic acid within their own bodies, but primates and a few other animals have lost the ability to do this. Because of this, the needed ascorbic acid must be obtained from one’s diet.
During the Age of Exploration ascorbic acid was argueably the most crucial molecule of the time. As, sailors went on increasingly long sea voyages, their ships were unable to carry the needed amount of fruits and vegetables, which are high in vitamin C, much less keep the food fresh. As the sailors’ levels of ascorbic acid decreased their symptoms of scurvy increased. Scurvy is a terrible disease with equally horrific symptoms including exhaustion, swollen arms and legs, excessive bruising, hemorrhaging from the nose and mouth, etc. Eventually, the victim’s death is caused be a severe infection like pneumonia. Because ships were so porely stocked with vitamin C, crew casualties were very high. Often entire crews were desimated by scurvy.
However, scurvy is easily curable simply by taking a daily dose of ascorbic acid. If exporation crews had begun to use this method regularly much earlier than the 1800s, imagine what great discoveries would have happened so much earlier and what territories might have been claimed by completely different countries and exploreres. For example, Megellan’s great voyage around the world was almost a failure due largely in part to the massive amounts of deaths from scurvy aboard his three ships. On the other hand, a great explorer who kept his entire crew free of any signs of scurvy was James Cook. He kept his crew on strict diet high in vitamin C rich foods and forced them to maintain good hygiene throughout the voyage.
Although this miraculous cure was known and proven throughout the Age of Exploration, it was not widely accepted or believed until the late 1700s when the British navy began issuing lemon juice to sailors. Today, the benefits of ascorbic acid are vast, and the molecule is still yet to be fully understood. Many major studies such as oncology and neurology are still finding links to ascorbic acid. Ascorbic acid has wonderfully impoved the immune systems of humans across the world and is widely used to help cure common colds. It is even supposed to help prevent and/or cure some forms of cancer.
I agree with the author on the importance which they lay on ascorbic acid in this pivotal time in history. The possiblities of what could have happened if ascorbic acid comsumption had become widespread sooner are fascinating to me. And I believe that many of our modern countries would not have been established by the same major exploration powers of the time. If ascorbic acid had been used differently, America could have ended up Spanish ruled.

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One thought on “Chapter Two: Ascorbic Acid

  1. I love the summary, how Ascorbic Acids from our strawberries, oranges, and even guavas really played a role in history! The only thing I wonder about is how the molecular structure played a role in history too.

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