Beriberi or Inanition?

I. The Effect of Starvation, with and without Vitamin B1

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  • Department of Experimental Medicine, The George Washington University Medical School

Eijkman, who first discovered polyneuritis gallinarum, and most subsequent observers have considered the disease produced by rice feeding or other diets deficient in vitamin B1 to be analogous to beriberi in man. Certainly a large part of our knowledge concerning the etiology of beriberi has been obtained as the result of such experiments on birds and animals; and the most characteristic degeneration of the nervous system in such experimental animals is practically identical with the degenerative changes found in the nervous system in human beriberi.

But in recent years, there has been a strong tendency to ascribe this nerve degeneration in experimental animals to inanition, caused by the failure of the birds and animals to eat. It is well recognized that B1 deficient diets cause an early failure of appetite, and a continuous loss of weight prior to the onset of the symptoms of polyneuritis.

Author Notes

Read at the 33rd Annual Meeting of The American Society of Tropical Medicine, New Orleans, La., Nov. 30 to Dec. 4, 1937.