Beriberi

D I Thurnham, University of Ulster, Coleraine, UK

© 2005 Elsevier Ltd. All rights reserved.

Beriberi is caused by a deficiency of thiamin (also called thiamine, aneurin(e), and vitamin B1). Classic overt thiamin deficiency causes cardiovascular, cerebral, and peripheral neurological impairment and lactic acidosis. The disease emerged in epidemic proportions at the end of the nineteenth century in Asian and Southeast Asian countries. Its appearance coincided with the introduction of the roller mills that enabled white rice to be produced at a price that poor people could afford. Unfortunately, milled rice is particularly poor in thiamin; thus, for people for whom food was almost entirely rice, there was a high risk of deficiency and mortality from beriberi. Outbreaks of acute cardiac beriberi still occur, but usually among people who live under restricted conditions. The major concern today is subclinical deficiencies in patients with trauma or among the elderly. There is also a particular form of clinical beriberi that occurs in patients who abuse alcohol, known as the Wernicke-Korsakoff syndrome. Sub-clinical deficiency may be revealed by reduced blood and urinary thiamin levels, elevated blood pyruvate/ lactate concentrations and a-ketoglutarate activity, and decreased erythrocyte transketolase (ETKL) activity. Currently, the in vitro stimulation of ETKL activity by thiamin diphosphate (TDP) is the most useful functional test of thiamin status where an acute deficiency state may have occurred. The stimulation is measured as the TDP effect.

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