Pharmacology in a Cup of Coffee The Virtue of Coffee and Vitamins Learned from the History of Scurvy and Dropsy

Yakushigaku Zasshi. 2016;51(1):5-10.
[Article in English, Japanese]


Scurvy, a vitamin C deficiency, was rampant during the age of discovery in Europe. In the mid-17th century, “Pasqua Rosée,” the first coffee house in London, put an ad in the newspaper “Publick Adviser” clearly stating, “It (coffee) is excellent to prevent and cure dropsy, gout, and scurvy.” A Netherlands trade merchant carried the information to Nagasaki, Japan, along with coffee beans harvested in the Netherlands’ new territory, Java Island. A Japanese physician in Nagasaki, Dr. Kai Hirokawa, translated the information into Japanese in his new book, “Dutch Medicines,” published in 1803. According to the ancient documents stored in Wakkanai City, Japan, the coffee beans were distributed to Tsugaru Clan soldiers who were guarding the northern coastline from 1855 to 1856. The purpose of the distribution was the prevention of scurvy and dropsy. As the result, none of the soldiers died from scurvy during the winter of 1855-1856. This paper discusses the pharmacological relationship between coffee micronutrients and vitamin deficiency syndrome.

Publication types

  • Historical Article

MeSH terms

  • Coffee*
  • Edema / drug therapy
  • Edema / history*
  • Europe
  • History, 17th Century
  • History, 18th Century
  • History, 19th Century
  • Humans
  • Japan
  • London
  • Netherlands
  • Scurvy / drug therapy
  • Scurvy / history*
  • Vitamins / therapeutic use*


  • Coffee
  • Vitamins