June 1, 2010

Pellagra (Vitamin B3 or Niacin Deficiency) Treatment

Posted in Category : Common Ailments

Pellagra is one of the ancient diseases in human existence which is mostly eliminated from the world after the cause was identified. Pellagra’s origins lie mostly in Europe where a condition was noticed in which skin lesions would occur all across the body of the person. Pellagra is actually deeply associated with maize and corns because of the lack of niacin and typtophan in the food crop. Therefore, pellagra was a major problem in nearly all areas in which corn-based foods were used. In the early years of the last century, it was believed that the problem was because of a toxin that might exist in maize. The truth was not discovered until half a century later with the discovery of niacin.

Niacin and tryptophan are essential nutrients in the body and even if niacin is absent in the body, the presence of tryptophan will cause the body to synthesize niacin. Tryptophan is one of those essential amino acids that can only be acquired from the ingestion of meat, eggs, or dairy. For vegetarians, this can only come from spirulina. During the history of the disease, there were some anomalies that were noticed that did weaken the corn toxin theory. In South America, it was noticed that a corn-based diet was the staple used all over but pellagra was not a problem. It took many years before it was discovered that a preparatory method that was used by the indigenous tribes of the New World that made corn suitable for consumption. This is a process called nixtamalization. This is the process of adding lime or an alkali in solution to corn flour. The lime usually comes from calcium hydroxide and potassium hydroxide, which allows niacin to become available in corn.

The symptoms that follow pellagra are skin lesions, diarrhea, psychological disturbances, and, eventually, death. This disease is almost non-existent now though it sometimes still affects people that have not been used to corn cultivation and consumption for a long time. There is a disease that could also cause pellagra but the mechanisms of the disease are not related to dietary insufficiency. The disease is called carcinoid syndrome and is caused by tumors that cause excessive creation of serotonin. When serotonin is secreted, it depletes the stores of tryptphan in the body and this will make less of the essential amino acid available for the biosynthesis of niacin. Treating this condition requires standard cancer treatments.