Dr. Eijkman's chicken and vitamin deficiency


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Beriberi, the most widespread of vitamin deficiency diseases

One of the major diseases that vitamin deficiencies were causing in the U.S. was once pellagra. Characterized by ugly red blotches on the skin, digestive disorders and delirium, pellagra killed 10,000 persons a year in

Probably the most widespread of all vitamin deficiency diseases is beriberi. This disease, which once took several million lives each year in the Far East existed in areas where people subsisted largely on polished rice. Beriberi and vitamin deficiency caused a painful degeneration of the nerves and, in extreme cases, led to paralysis or congestive heart failure. Its victims were seen in Oriental countries crawling about on their hands, dragging their paralyzed legs behind them.

In those years vitamins and vitamin deficiency were unknown and experts argued for a long time whether beriberi was a contagious disease, or whether certain kinds of rice contained a toxic substance causing the ailment.

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I often felt better as soon as I swallowed my
vitamin, long before it had time to take effect.
Medical researchers call it 'placebo effect'; I
prefer to call it magic, for it occurs when
something - a pill or a word - is imbued with
power and meaning, and so it becomes effective.
That is alchemy. (Kat Duff)

Dr. Eijkman's chicken

Vitamin deficiency causes is said to have been first discovered in 1896 by Dr. Christian Eijkman, a Dutch physician in Java. One day, he looked through the window of his hospital and noticed that some of the chicken in the yard were acting strangely. They limped, reeled along, and generally imitated the unsteady walk of the vitamin deficiency victims who filled the hospital.

To confirm his suspicion that diet was responsible for their condition, Dr. Eijkman started a series of experiments - the first experiments to use animals to help in solving problems of nutrition and vitamin deficiency. He kept one group of limping chicken on the same diet of polished rice that they had been getting as left-overs from patients' meals. Then he fed another group unpolished rice and found that their symptoms disappeared.

Some 30 years later, in 1926, the key nutritive element in rice hulls was identified as vitamin B1, or thiamine, which is found in high concentrations in cereals, nuts and yeast.

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