Pellagra: The Corn Disease

Poor Guy!

Poor Guy!

Pellagra can be common in people who obtain most of their food energy from maize, notably rural South America, where maize is a staple food. If maize is not nixtamalized, it is a poor source of tryptophan, as well as niacin. Nixtamalization corrects the niacin deficiency, and is a common practice in Native American cultures that grow corn.

Following the corn cycle, the symptoms usually appear during spring, increase in the summer due to greater sun exposure, and return the following spring. Indeed, pellagra was once endemic in the poorer states of the U.S. South, such as Mississippi and Alabama, where its cyclical appearance in the spring after meat-heavy winter diets led to it being known as “spring sickness” (particularly when it appeared among more vulnerable children), as well as among the residents of jails and orphanages as studied by Dr. Joseph Goldberger

“In the early 1900s, pellagra reached epidemic proportions in the American South. Between 1906 and 1940 more than 3 million Americans were affected by pellagra with more than 100,000 deaths, yet the epidemic resolved itself right after dietary niacin fortification.[29] Pellagra deaths in South Carolina numbered 1,306 during the first ten months of 1915; 100,000 Southerners were affected in 1916.  Wikipedia