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Beriberi is a disease whose symptoms include weight loss, body weakness

and pain, brain damage, irregular heart rate, heart failure, and death if left
untreated. It was endemic in Asia for a long time. Strangely, Beriberi occurred
almost exclusively amongst the richer members of society, and was unknown
in the poor. Although recognized to be a nutritional deficiency, doctors were
baffled as to why wealthy people with plentiful and clean food would fall victim
to beriberi whereas the poor with limited food did not. As it turned out, beriberi
is a deficiency of vitamin B1 (thiamine) which is found in cereal grain husks.
The rich had been washing their rice so well that they removed the husk with
its vitamin B1, whereas the poor did not wash their food as well and
consumed enough vitamin B1. White bread can also potentially cause
beriberi, so today developed countries add extra vitamin B1 to it. Beriberi is
now found mostly in alcoholics whose bodies become poor at absorbing
vitamin B1.

After the discovery and exploration of the Americas, corn was grown by
settlers and all around the world. The natives who had originally grown it
would treat it with lime, but the taste was unpleasant to the Europeans and
they omitted this part of the preparation. As corn was increasingly farmed, the
disease pellagra began to spread. Symptoms included diarrhea, dermatitis,
dementia, and finally death. Many people believed that corn was in some way
toxic, but could not explain the lack of pellagra among native New Worlders.
After thousands of deaths, it was discovered that corn, although high in
carbohydrates, lacked vitamin B3 (niacin). Farmers would sometimes eat little
other than corn and succumb to the deficiency. The Native Americans had
actually been using lime as a way of adding vitamin B3. Today it is well known
that by eating a variety of foods vitamin B3 is freely obtained and pellagra is
easily treated.
Biotin Deficiency

Biotin deficiency is caused by a lack of vitamin B7 (biotin). It causes rashes,
hair loss, anaemia, and mental conditions including hallucinations,
drowsiness, and depression. Vitamin B7 itself is found in meat, liver, milk,
peanuts, and some vegetables. Its deficiency is quite rare; however, there
was a brief spike in the number of cases when it became popular for
bodybuilders to consume raw eggs. One of the proteins found in raw egg
white binds vitamin B7 and makes it difficult for the body to use, leading to a
deficiency. Cooking egg whites makes this protein inactive. Mild biotin
deficiency is also found is about half of all pregnant women due to a higher
use of vitamin B7 in their bodies, and supplements are recommended for such
women by the World Health Organisation.

Scurvy was first noted among people who spent a long time at sea. Boats
would only carry non-perishable foods such as salted meats and dried grain,
so sailors ate few if any fruits or vegetables. Scurvy causes lethargy, skin
spots, bleeding gums, loss of teeth, fever, and death. Ancient sea-faring
civilizations would cure it with various herbs. In more recent times, these
ancient cures were not used consistently and their value was not realized. In
the 18th century horse meat and citrus fruits were found to cure scurvy, and
British sailors consumed limes to the extent that they were nicknamed
limeys. It is now known that these foods contain vitamin C, and in modern
times scurvy is rarely fatal as it once consistently was. Today, there are
groups who advocate vitamin C megadoses of hundreds of times the
recommended daily requirement; although any positive effects have not been
firmly demonstrated and harmful overdoses can occur.

Rickets causes muscles and bones to become soft, which can cause
permanent deformities in children. It is most common in children and infants
who have a poor diet or who are housebound, but is nowadays relatively rare
in developed countries. Breast-fed babies are at higher risk if they or their
mothers do not take in enough sunlight, and baby formula is now designed to
prevent this. Rickets is caused by a lack of vitamin D or of calcium. Vitamin D
is required for calcium to be properly absorbed into bones to strengthen them.
Adults rarely develop rickets because their bones are not growing and do not
need much calcium. Vitamin D itself is obtained from many foods but the body
can only use it if it has been converted into its active form via sunlight. In
recent years there has been a slight increase in children with rickets possibly
due to too many of them staying indoors.

This condition is present mostly in people who suffer from malnutrition and in
alcoholics. It causes distinctive bright pink tongues, although other symptoms
are cracked lips, throat swelling, bloodshot eyes, and low red blood cell count.
Ultimately it can cause comas and death. It is caused by a lack of vitamin B2
(riboflavin), but easily treated by eating foods rich in vitamin B2, including
meat, eggs, milk, mushrooms, and leafy green vegetables. Vitamin B2 is also
used as artificial orange color in foods. It is absorbed through the liver, so
alcoholics might eat enough of it but be unable to use it. True deficiencies are
rare, but about 10% of people in developed countries live in a state of slight
deficiency, thought to be from a diet of highly processed foods. Constant slight
deficiencies can increase the risk of mild health problems.
Vitamin K deficiency

This deficiency affects nearly half of all newborn infants worldwide. In severe
cases it causes uncontrolled bleeding and underdeveloped faces and bones.
Many hospitals give newborns vitamin K injections to avoid the more severe
symptoms. Unfortunately babies born outside hospitals are statistically at a
much higher risk of serious deficiencies. Vitamin K is found chiefly in leafy
green vegetables, although human gut bacteria help produce it in humans.
Newborns have not yet developed gut bacteria which is why they are so prone
to deficiencies. Other than newborns, vitamin K deficiency is found in
alcoholics, bulimics, strict dieters, and people with various severe diseases
such as cystic fibrosis. Adults who bruise or bleed easily sometimes have
vitamin K deficiency which itself may be indicative of one of these more
serious disorders.

This mouthful of a disease was first noticed as a symptom of an autoimmune
disease. It causes gradual deterioration of the spinal cord and very gradual
brain deterioration, resulting in sensory or motor deficiencies. Mental
disorders from the gradual brain damage begin as fatigue, irritability,
depression, or bad memory. As the disease progresses over several years,
psychosis and mania can appear. This damage is irreversible and is caused
by a deficiency in vitamin B12. Fortunately, this vitamin is easily found in
meat, dairy, and eggs. Vitamin B12 is stored in the liver and can last for years
before deficiency sets in. Hypocobalaminemia is most common in developing
countries amongst people who eat few animal products. The most at-risk
groups in developed countries are vegans, as no plant produces enough B12
for a human diet. Children need much more B12 than adults because they are
growing, so infants who are only breast-fed can become deficient and suffer
permanent brain damage if their mother is only slightly deficient. Supplements
are recommended for people of all diet types as an easy way to avoid the
devastation of this disease.

Vitamin B5 is found in nearly every food, and deficiencies are found in people
who have been starving, volunteers of particular medical studies, and people
on diets restricted to a very small number of foods. A deficiency in vitamin B5
causes chronic paraesthesia. Paraesthesia is most familiar to us as the
numbing sensation we feel as pins and needles or a limb falling asleep. This
kind of paraesthesia is perfectly normal; however, in vitamin B5 deficiencies it
occurs constantly. Malnourished prisoners of war sometimes reported
prickling and burning sensations in their hands and feet which is now thought
to have been paraesthesia. As this is nearly unseen today, most vitamin
supplements do not include B5.
Night Blindness

The Ancient Egyptians and Greeks wrote about night blindness, or
nyctalopia. This affliction makes it impossible to see in dim light, and
sufferers become completely blind when night falls. The Egyptians found that
they could cure sufferers by feeding them liver, which contains high levels of
vitamin A, the deficiency of which causes night blindness. Vitamin A
deficiency still affects one third of all children on Earth under the age of five,
resulting in over half a million deaths each year. Most high dose vitamins
obtain their vitamin A from liver, which is dangerous at high levels and can
cause various health complications. In the past, starving Antarctic explorers
would eat their dogs for food but became sick when they ate too much liver.
Vitamin A found in carrots is a slightly different molecule to that found in liver
and is not toxic in high doses, although it can cause skin to turn yellow. During
the Second World War, the Allies announced that they ate carrots to see well,
although carrots only help maintain normal vision and do not improve it
beyond this. Actually they were lying to hide their development of radar.