Among the things to be grateful for this holiday season, you’re most likely not dying from any of these conditions…
I’ll be elaborating on all of these conditions soon, but here’s the 30,000 ft overview of some significant nutritional disorders (aside from allergies and deliberate poisoning/ordeal poisons - the latter I may cover in the future, as culturally they’re fascinating) that have plagued mankind since we took our first bite of food.
While many nutritional disorders are due to a lack of food, some are due to an excess of a toxin from some food that the body can’t process. The staple foods that end up harming people when over-consumed or not properly processed often are eaten or poorly prepared as a result of famine, and just like nutritional deficiencies, many still plague the world today.
Nutritional Disorders - Deficiencies:
- Beriberi: Thiamine (Vitamin B1) - Extreme fatigue, difficulty walking, and confusion/difficulty speaking are the primary symptoms. Also can cause heart failure, vasodilation, peripheral edema, nystagmus (involuntary eye twitching), and tingling sensation in limbs.
- Goiter: Iodine - Swelling of thyroid gland. Rarely fatal, but can cause severe deformity and hypothyroidism.
- Rickets: Vitamin D, magnesium, phosphorus - Dental problems, skeletal deformity and stunting, muscle weakness, swollen wrists, bone pain, soft skull.
- Marasmus: All nutrients, especially protein - Tissue and muscle wasting, dry folds of skin hanging from buttocks and armpits, extreme adipose loss, voracious appetite
- Pellagra:Niacin (Vitamin B3) or tryptophan - “The four D’s”: Diarrhea, dermatitis, dementia, and death. Causes extreme sunlight sensitivity, pale skin that breaks out in blisters/keratinitis upon sun exposure, insomnia, aggression, as weakness. (Basically, they’re crazy pissed-off vampires.)
- Tetany: Calcium deficiency or phosphate excess - Involuntary contraction of muscles due to increased action potential of neuronal membranes, due to low plasma calcium, which increases membrane permeability to sodium, causing progressive depolarization. It’s complicated. It’s basically involuntary and painful stiffened muscles.
- Kwashiorkor: Protein calories - Pedal edema, distended abdomen, lack of adipose tissue, anorexia (as opposed to marasmus, where the child wants to eat everything), loss of hair and teeth. More common in wetter climates, marasmus more common in dry climates.
- Scurvy: Vitamin C - Lethargy, spots on skin, paleness, spongy gums, fever, bleeding of mucous membranes. Eventually causes open and pus-oozing wounds, tooth loss, jaundice, neuropathy, and death.
- Keshan Disease: Selenium - Fosters a mutated strain of coxsackie B virus which causes pulmonary edema and heart failure, mostly in women of child-bearing age and in children. Can be cured with selenium supplementation
Nutritional Disorders - Toxicity:
- Lathyrism: Untreated grass pea - Causes an inability to move the lower limbs. Not usually fatal on its own, but when it occurs in concert with famine (as in the Spanish War of Independence), death from starvation sometimes occurs.
- Ackee Poisoning/Jamaican Vomiting Sickness: Unripe ackee fruit - Intense thirst, nausea and vomiting, tachycardia, headache, general weakness, and confusion/stupor. Death can follow in just 12 hours. Caused by hypoglycin A and B in unripe fruit and mantle of fruit (even when ripe). General symptoms of hypoglycemia, similar to diabetes.
- Konzo: Cyanide intoxication from poorly treated cassava (manioc) - “Bound legs” - extreme hypertonia in leg muscles. Causes pain and very disturbed gait, but is not progressive, so does not cause death. Does generally disable the afflicted persons, and this can be debilitating (socio-economically and physiologically) to patients.
- Lytico-Bodig: Cycad nuts and seeds - Unique to Guam, far western Papua New Guinea, and Honshu, Japan. Parkinson-dementia complex, difficulty speaking, tremor, stiffness, loss of sense of smell, lethargy, memory loss. Caused by accumulation of BMAA from cyanobacteria that grows on cycads. Incurable. Has not been seen in those born past 1961, due to elimination of both cycad products and fruit bats (which feed on cycad flowers and accumulate BMAA in their own bodies).
Afrikaans is a language derived from Cape Dutch, originally spoken by the Dutch farmers (Boers) living in South Africa. As the farmers established themselves in the Transvaal and Orange Free State, they encountered wildlife not known in the British-controlled Cape Colony, and gave several species common names that are still used today.
While scientific nomenclature for these species is still derived from Greek and Latin, the names that most of us know them by are derived from (or directly pulled from) Afrikaans.
Commonly referenced Boer-named species:
Through standardization of scientific names to almost exclusively Greek and Latin roots, science has a common language, known across country and cultural borders. However, in the English language (and many others), the common names for many species are directly pulled from their land of origin.
Knowing the etymology of the common names can sometimes tell you just as much as the etymology of the scientific names - what an animal was known for, where it was from, who encountered it the most, and what it signified to them often are implied in the names we sometimes dismiss because they’re “unscientific”. Knowing the cultures that knew the species well, and understanding the history of the species in relation to humans, can be the difference between extinction and preservation at times, and can be quite interesting, aside from that.
Not included above: Blesbok (“blaze antelope”), bontebok (“mottled antelope”), dassie (“badger”), grysbok (“grey antelope”), korhaan (“black grouse”), leguaan (“iguana”), padloper (“pathwalker”), platanna (“flat-handed”), skaapsteker (“sheep pricker”).