Beriberi

BERIBERI spots

Last Updated August 23rd, 2019

Thiamine or vitamin B1 deficiency is a global health concern. This essential nutrient plays a critical role in initiating metabolic processes and energy supply to the body. Did you know that every major organ system of your body – cardiovascular, digestive, and endocrine, etc will come to a standstill if you lacked this vitamin? Since the human body needs this crucial vitamin (but is unable to synthesize it naturally), one must pay special heed to vitamin B1 intake. Beriberi is nothing but thiamine deficiency.
Vitamin B1 is a water-soluble vitamin. This means it is easily soluble in water and gets flushed out of the body via sweat and urine. As per WHO, low and middle-income countries show a higher tendency of thiamine deficiency owing a staple diet of white polished rice. Thiamine is required at the cellular level to ensure that every muscle and tissue of your body is getting the required energy to function properly. The heart, one of the vital organs of the human body, is a muscular organ and it needs proper supply of energy and oxygen to remain healthy and pumping.
People with thiamine deficiency, aka, beriberi often suffer from a weak heart owing to this very reason. Additionally, the nerves of the body are also poorly supplied with oxygen which leads to peripheral neuropathy. As the muscles of the body gradually begin to crumble, even basic functions such as breathing become difficult. In the absence of proper oxygen supply, the heart may stop functioning and this results in cardiac failure.
Beriberi or thiamine deficiency cannot be treated just by adding healthy foods in diet. Dietary supplements of vitamin B1 are required here. But these need to be supplemented with foods rich in vitamin B1 such as - whole grains (avoid eating refined flour and white rice), meat/fish/poultry/eggs, milk and cheese, green leafy vegetables, beets, potatoes, legumes (soy, nuts, seeds), and orange juice.
In rare cases, the inability to absorb thiamine from foods can be passed on from parents to the off-spring. This is known as genetic beriberi. Since the body is unable to absorb vitamin B1 from the foods, patients of genetic beriberi are treated with the help of thiamine supplements - given in the form of pills or injections.
The best (and the only way) to prevent beriberi is by having adequate vitamin B1 intake. Since it is a water soluble vitamin and can get easily flushed out of the body (urine and sweat), it is important to eat vitamin B1-rich foods on a regular basis. The best natural sources of thiamine are - meats, nuts and seeds, seafood, whole grains, and dairy products. These days a majority of bread and breakfast cereals sold commercially are fortified with thiamine.

Overview

Vitamins are essential nutrients that our bodies need in order to remain healthy and function normally. Vitamins are necessary for metabolism, growth, and maintenance of tissues. We obtain these essential nutrients through naturally occurring sources by way of our diet but sometimes we may need supplements to make up for any deficiencies in the diet. Either way, it is important to ensure that your body receives the vitamins it needs because when it does not, it can suffer and develop the disease. Beriberi is an example of a disease caused by nutritional deficiency, and this article will explain how exactly it arises, how it affects the body and how it can be prevented or treated.

What Is Beriberi?

BERIBERI spotsBeriberi is a disease that is caused by the deficiency of vitamin B1 in the body. This vitamin is also known as thiamine. The biologically active form of thiamine is a substance known as thiamine pyrophosphate.

Along with other B-complex vitamins, thiamine helps your body conduct metabolism of carbohydrates, fats, and protein. This metabolism enables the cells to obtain the energy that they need for their survival and essential functions. A critical shortage of vitamin B1 in the diet can affect the cardiovascular and nervous systems. This can be fatal. However, it is possible to successfully treat the condition. Beriberi can also arise as a consequence of chronic alcoholism.

Who Is At Risk Of Developing Beriberi?

Thiamine can be obtained from naturally occurring sources including both animal and plant sources. For example, foods such as pork, beef, fish, eggs, dairy, potatoes, nuts and legumes contain thiamine. Brown rice contains thiamine but when it is polished, it loses most of its natural vitamin content. Hence, beriberi tends to occur more often among populations where white rice constitutes a dietary staple. However, this is not the only possible cause for the disease.

Since thiamine is a water-soluble vitamin, it is absorbed in the small intestine during the process of digestion. Any condition that interferes with this processor generally impairs the process of absorption, can potentially give rise to beriberi.

There are 3 broad scenarios in which thiamine deficiency may arise:

  • A lack of thiamine in the diet.
  • Alternatively, the person may be consuming foods that deplete or are detrimental to thiamine. Undergoing procedures such as dialysis can also deplete thiamine content in the body.
  • The body may be unable to absorb the thiamine it needs, although the diet may provide the right quantities of the vitamin.
  • Yet another possibility is that under certain conditions, such as pregnancy or during lactation, the body needs higher quantities of thiamine. When the diet is not adjusted to cater to this need, the person may develop a deficiency.

BERIBERI vitamin foodsA fuller list of specific causes appears in the list below:

  • Dietary insufficiency.
  • Excessive intake of foods, like tea and coffee, that contain anti-thiamine factor.
  • Intake of foods containing sulfite.
  • The condition can also be caused by genetic factors.
  • Excessive consumption of alcohol.
  • Those suffering from Crohn’s disease, an inflammatory bowel disorder, are at risk of developing beriberi.
  • Patients undergoing dialysis are also at risk.
  • Patients who have undergone a gastric bypass surgery.
  • Those receiving intravenous fluids that contain high quantities of glucose.
  • Those suffering from hyperthyroidism.
  • Having eating disorders such as anorexia can lead to severe nutritional deficiencies such as beriberi.
  • Starvation.
  • Refeeding syndrome.
  • Celiac disease.
  • Folate deficiency.
  • Severe liver disease.
  • Patients with chronic diarrhoea.
  • Pregnant and lactating women.
  • Infants who are fed with a formula that does not provide adequate amounts of thiamine. Similarly, an infant that feeds on breast milk can also develop a deficiency of thiamine if the mother herself is deficient.

Symptoms

Initially, lack of vitamin B1 in the body gives rise to symptoms resembling anorexia. As the condition worsens, thiamine deficiency eventually gives rise to beriberi. Often, the onset of the disease is insidious. In other words, it proceeds gradually although this masks the fact that it can have very grave consequences for the health. Alternatively, in some cases, onset can be sudden and life-threatening.

Some typical symptoms are:

  • A headache.
  • Fatigue.
  • Nausea.
  • Shortness of breath.
  • Increase in heart rate.
  • Difficulty in breathing.
  • Irritability.
  • Abdominal discomfort.
  • Peripheral neuropathy. The patient may experience tingling or abnormal sensations in the limbs.
  • Peripheral edema or swelling, usually in the lower legs.
  • Vomiting.
  • Inability to control the movement of the eyes.
  • Double vision.
  • Poor reflexes.
  • Mental confusion.
  • Paralysis.

What Are The Different Forms Of Beriberi?

There are two main modes of disease progression, namely, the dry and wet forms of beriberi. These are discussed below in brief.

  • Wet Beriberi: This has an adverse impact on cardiovascular function. The blood vessels dilate, causing swelling and forcing the heart to beat faster. Eventually, this can lead to heart failure.
  • Dry Beriberi: In such instances, the neurological function becomes impaired. As a result, the patient experiences pain and abnormal sensations such as tingling, often in the peripheral regions. He or she may start to experience difficulties in speaking and the reflexes tend to weaken. Damage to the nerves could be permanent and irreversible if not attended to in time.

Some patients also show a mixed form of the disease, exhibiting signs of both types.

  • Yet another form of beriberi is known as the Infantile type. As we have seen above, if the nursing mother herself is deficient in thiamine, this will deprive the infant of the essential compound. As a result, the baby may develop symptoms such as difficulty in breathing, diarrhea, vomiting, swelling and bluish discoloration of the skin. Eventually, the infant may die of heart failure.

What Are The Possible Complications?

BERIBERI nailsThiamine deficiency can cause the patient to develop critical conditions known as Korsakoff syndrome and Wernicke encephalopathy. Doctors believe that once the patient has progressed to this stage, it is difficult to make a full recovery even with sound treatment. Wernicke encephalopathy and Korsakoff syndrome both involve severe damage to certain sections of the brain. The former results in damage to the thymus and hypothalamus, both of which are critical in regulating essential faculties such as muscle coordination and homeostasis. Patients with Korsakoff syndrome may suffer hallucinations and lose the ability to form new memories and access existing ones as a result of damage to the area of the brain concerned with memory.

In severe cases or where prompt treatment is not available, the patient could die within a few days of onset of symptoms.

How Is Beriberi Diagnosed And Treated?

In order to address the disease and treat it, it is first necessary to make a diagnosis of the underlying cause or causes. If these can be resolved, then the beriberi can also be addressed. As initial symptoms might be non-specific, the condition may not be easy to identify. The process of diagnosis may involve the following steps:

  • Physical examination.
  • Medical history, paying particular attention to diet, lifestyle, and habits such as alcoholism.
  • Blood tests.
  • Neurological tests to assess nervous function.

If you have been diagnosed with beriberi and the cause is a lack of vitamin B1 in your diet, you will mostly like be prescribed dietary supplements. Your doctor will advise you as to the dose most appropriate for you. If, however, the underlying cause is a condition other than dietary insufficiency, treatment will aim to address that first in order to also resolve beriberi.

The main aim of treating beriberi is to increase the thiamine levels in the patient’s body. This includes thiamine medicines either taken as oral supplements or injected into the patient’s body. The patient’s blood and urine are monitored regularly in order to access whether or not the treatment method is effective or not.  While the treatment of beriberi is relatively simple, if left untreated, beriberi could be fatal.  Death usually occurs due to cardiac failure or neurological malfunction. The most effective method of preventing beriberi is consuming a diet rich in vitamin B1 and refraining from substance abuse of alcohol. Breastfeeding mothers should take special care in maintaining proper levels of thiamine in their systems.

Facts

  • The word beriberi has been derived from Sinhalese language meaning “ I can’t, I can’t” – which reflects the gradual crippling of the patient due to the disease.
  • The prevalence of beriberi is high in the south-east Asian countries and could be linked to high consumption of white rice.

Facts

  • There are two types of beriberi – dry and wet. Dry beriberi affected the central nervous system whereas wet affects the cardiovascular system.
  • Cerebral beriberi, which is mainly caused by chronic alcoholism, is also known as Wernicke-Korsakoff syndrome.

Facts

  • Vitamin B encompasses Vitamin B1 (thiamine), B2 (riboflavin), B3 (niacin), B5 (pantothenic acid), B9 (folic acid), and B12 (cobalamin).

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Test Your Knowledge

Welcome to your Nutrient Deficiency Quiz

What type of sun rays help synthesize vitamin D?
Which disorder is characterized by inability to speak in certain social situations?
Beriberi is caused by the lack of this micronutrient-
Can stuttering be genetic?
Which of these vitamins are needed for calcium absorption by the body?
What is scoliosis?
People with darker skin are more prone to vitamin D deficiency.
If you have thiamine deficiency, which of these should you avoid consuming with your thiamine rich diet?
Which of the following is a speech disorder that affects the pronunciation of letters like s, z, r?
Consumption of mushrooms exposed to UVB rays help with low vitamin D levels.

Take the full quiz
Thiamine or vitamin B1 deficiency is a global health concern. This essential nutrient plays a critical role in initiating metabolic processes and energy supply to the body. Did you know that every major organ system of your body – cardiovascular, digestive, and endocrine, etc will come to a standstill if you lacked this vitamin? Since the human body needs this crucial vitamin (but is unable to synthesize it naturally), one must pay special heed to vitamin B1 intake. Beriberi is nothing but thiamine deficiency.
Vitamin B1 is a water-soluble vitamin. This means it is easily soluble in water and gets flushed out of the body via sweat and urine. As per WHO, low and middle-income countries show a higher tendency of thiamine deficiency owing a staple diet of white polished rice. Thiamine is required at the cellular level to ensure that every muscle and tissue of your body is getting the required energy to function properly. The heart, one of the vital organs of the human body, is a muscular organ and it needs proper supply of energy and oxygen to remain healthy and pumping.
People with thiamine deficiency, aka, beriberi often suffer from a weak heart owing to this very reason. Additionally, the nerves of the body are also poorly supplied with oxygen which leads to peripheral neuropathy. As the muscles of the body gradually begin to crumble, even basic functions such as breathing become difficult. In the absence of proper oxygen supply, the heart may stop functioning and this results in cardiac failure.
Beriberi or thiamine deficiency cannot be treated just by adding healthy foods in diet. Dietary supplements of vitamin B1 are required here. But these need to be supplemented with foods rich in vitamin B1 such as - whole grains (avoid eating refined flour and white rice), meat/fish/poultry/eggs, milk and cheese, green leafy vegetables, beets, potatoes, legumes (soy, nuts, seeds), and orange juice.
In rare cases, the inability to absorb thiamine from foods can be passed on from parents to the off-spring. This is known as genetic beriberi. Since the body is unable to absorb vitamin B1 from the foods, patients of genetic beriberi are treated with the help of thiamine supplements - given in the form of pills or injections.
The best (and the only way) to prevent beriberi is by having adequate vitamin B1 intake. Since it is a water soluble vitamin and can get easily flushed out of the body (urine and sweat), it is important to eat vitamin B1-rich foods on a regular basis. The best natural sources of thiamine are - meats, nuts and seeds, seafood, whole grains, and dairy products. These days a majority of bread and breakfast cereals sold commercially are fortified with thiamine.

 

Dos and Don'ts

Dos
  • Have adequate amount of vitamin B1 in your diet. It is most commonly found in beef, liver, oats, oranges, and pork.
  • Get your thiamine levels checked in you suffer from thyroid disorders.
  • Consult your doctor regarding your thiamine consumption if you are undergoing dialysis.
Don'ts
  • Indulge in alcohol abuse. Too much alcohol consumption decreases your body’s ability to absorb thiamine.
  • Eat refined/polished grains. The bran part of the grains is a rich source of vitamin B1.
  • Consume vitamin B1 containing foods in highly processed forms.

 

 

 

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Common diseases that could cripple your vital organs Brain, heart, kidney, lungs, and liver - these vital organs are indeed vital for your survival. However, these…
xylitol gum
Xylitol : Is this the right sugar substitute for you? Discovered during World War 2 owing to sugar shortage, xylitol has become a common name in pharamaceutical industry.…
What to eat, what not to eat in the South Beach Diet? The South Beach Diet is one among the most popular weight loss programs that have been the talk…
Carb Cycling: Weighing the pros vs the cons of this diet routine Completely discarding carbs from your life will do you more harm than good. Read more about carb cycling,…
Is bronchitis contagious? And how to prevent this infection? It is acute bronchitis that is contagious which means you can contract it from another person or you…
EMA antibodies
Endomysial Antibodies (EMA) Test EMA test is an investigative blood examination to locate the presence of certain antibodies, called Endomysial antibodies or…
lipase test
Lipase Test A lipase test is a blood test performed to quantitatively measure the level of the enzyme lipase in…
Jicama: A fiber-rich tuber for your weight loss goals Pronouced as HEE-kah-ma, Jicama is the "new kid on the block" that has taken the world by the…
oral hygiene tips
6 shocking consequences of bad oral hygiene (and how to avoid them) Did you know bad breath is not just turning off, but also harms your body in ways you…
Pumpkin Seeds: Why pumpkins are more than just for pies! Pumpkins have been long associated with Halloween carvings and delicious pies. But did you know that pumpkin seeds…
GM Diet: The fastest way to lose weight or yet another hoax diet? General Motors started this trend of extreme dieting for 7 straight days to ensure its employees were able…
Astaxanthin: Why experts believe it could be 550x more potent than vitamin E! What is astaxanthin and why is this new supplement on the block touted as the most powerful antioxidant…
ketoacidosis diabetes
HB1Ac Test HB1Ac test is an important blood test that is used to measure the levels of glycated hemoglobin in…
beta hcg test
Beta hCG Test A Beta hCG test measures the level of human gonadotropin hormones present in the blood that is primarliy…
hepatitis B envelope antigen
Hepatitis B Envelope Antigen (HBeAg) The HBeAg or hepatitis B envelope antigen test is a screening test used to diagnose the onset of…
beta 2 glycoprotein 1 IgG
Beta 2 Glycoprotein 1 IgG Beta 2 glycoprotein 1 antibody test involves detecting and measuring the presence of the IgG class of beta…
cystatin C
Cystatin C Test Cystatin C is a specific single-chain protein that is found in body fluids and is a biomarker for…
blood ketone test
Blood Ketone (D3HB) Test The Blood Ketone Test measures and monitors the levels of ketone in the blood which is usually performed…
Squid-ink-spaghetti
Squid Ink: A unique food coloring and flavoring agent Want to add a unique black color to your pasta, noodles and ice-creams? How can you use squid…
Squid-ink-spaghetti
Squid Ink: A unique food coloring and flavoring agent Want to add a unique black color to your pasta, noodles and ice-creams? How can you use squid…
Squid-ink-spaghetti
Squid Ink: A unique food coloring and flavoring agent Want to add a unique black color to your pasta, noodles and ice-creams? How can you use squid…
about mediterranean diet
Why you should be adopting a Mediterranean style of diet today Ever wondered why the Mediterranean diet is so healthy? One simple solution to lowering risk of several deadliest…
Agave nectar: The bitter truth about this sweetener revealed Agave nectar is considered to be sweeter than the normal table sugar and even contains higher amounts of…
Kava: Is it the healthy substitute for alcohol you have been waiting for? Native to the beautiful South Pacific islands, Kava is a famous beverage rooted in the local culture. It…
Experts reveal the safest ways to perform an enema at home The idea of pushing some up your rectal area might make you queasy but an enema could actually…
Sputum test Sputum test is a commonly used diagnostic tool that is used to examine the presence of pathogens in…
colposcopy
Colposcopy Colposcopy is a simple, quick and non- invasive diagnostic tool to look closely inside the vulva, vagina, and…
Hysteroscopy_procedure
Hysteroscopy Hysteroscopy is a minimally invasive tool to help specialists view the uterus to diagnose and even treat several…
anoscopy
Anoscopy Anoscopy is an invasive diagnostic procedure where a small device known as anoscope will be inserted in the…
Diabetes blood test
Diabetic Profile The diabetic profile is a set of tests used for testing and monitoring the various kinds of Diabetes…
macadamia nuts in food
Proven health benefits and nutrition of macadamia nuts Know all about scientific, amazing health benefits of macadamia nuts, its nutrition, recipes, how to consume, price and…
macadamia nuts in food
Proven health benefits and nutrition of macadamia nuts Know all about scientific, amazing health benefits of macadamia nuts, its nutrition, recipes, how to consume, price and…
sleep deprivation
Don’t let your sleep deficit grow into memory loss or heart attack Why is sleep important for us? How could sleep deprivation harm you? We bet you didn't know about…
kefir bottle
Kefir: Top reasons why this probiotic drink should be consumed by you Yet another remarkable fermented food, kefir is a much healthier version of yogurt. These chewy white grains can…
Did you know drinking alkaline water could be the healthier choice for you? Ever wondered how safe is your drinking water in terms of pH? Recent studies have revealed that Alkaline…
How to correctly perform nasal irrigation using a Neti Pot? Neti pot has been a part of Ayurveda since centuries. This ancient tool is extremely effective in treating…
Oxidative Stress: Understanding the most lethal phenomenon happening in your body right now Free radicals cause damage to the body, which is known as oxidation.  The amount of oxidation caused by…
Hydroquinone: Is it the best topical treatment for hyperpigmentation? Darkening of the skin due to high melanin levels is called hyperpigmentation.  Hydroquinone interferes with melanin production thus treating…
11 unbelievable health benefits of thyme you didn’t know! Thyme is a herb that has been used in alternative medicine.It is a well known seasoning in the…
reflexology massage
Top reasons why you should go for a reflexology massage today Reflexology involves the application of pressure to your feet and hands to encourage self-healing. Could this be beneficial…
Balneotherapy jacuzzi
5 things you didn’t know about balneotherapy and how you can do it at home Sauna baths have been popular since a long time. But how much more beneficial can balneotherapy be as…
Barium-enema
Barium Enema Barium enema is also known as colon x-ray. Here, the patient is asked to consume small amount of…
Tissue Transglutaminase Antibody (tTG) Test Transglutaminase is an enzyme present in our body and is involved in protein metabolism. A tTg test is…
immunoglobulin M
Immunoglobulin M Test Immunoglobulin M is the largest and the first produced antibody which helps in the prevention or fighting of…
ureteroscopy
Ureteroscopy Ureteroscopy is the diagnostic procedure which is used for the detection of the kidney stones in addition to…
hidden causes obesity
8 hidden causes of obesity you probably didn’t know! Did you know that around 2 billion people worldwide are either overweight or obese? Are you too a…
eating disorder anorexia
Eating Disorders: Lifestyle choice or a psychological condition? Is eating disorder just a harmless bad habit? Or does it represent grim psychological disorders? Do you want…
Beware of these common foods that cause high bodily inflammation! Maybe its the long list of inflammatory foods in your diet that is making you frequently sick. Find…
Find all the instant ways to get rid of blackheads Blackheads - Not only are they aesthetically unappealing but if left untreated these can cause bacterial overgrowth on…
Oxalates: How healthy greens can sometimes be bad news for your kidneys Oxalates are compounds present in a majority of healthy foods. However, at times an overconsumption of these could…
SIBO Diet: The important dos and don’ts of this gut-healing diet A SIBO diet is a diet that works by eliminating certain sugars from your diet and adding fibers…
Coffee Enema: Turn your favorite morning beverage into a powerful colon cleanser The wonders of coffee are not just limited to waking you up every morning. You can now use…
GGt test
GGT – Gamma-Glutamyl Transferase Test GGT or gammaglutamyl transferase test is a liver function test that is used to detect the extent of…
quinoa salad
Quinoa : A prodigious superfood you need to include in your diet today! Quinoa - what is so special about this native South American grain that has taken the world by…
L-theanine attention
L-Theanine: Better sleep, higher focus, and many other benefits Did you know that L-theanine found in green tea can make you sleep better and be focused at…
improve digestion weight loss
Power up your gut: 8 proven steps on how to improve your digestion Did you know you have a colony of bacteria in your gut that help you in digesting food?…
avocado benefits
Avocado: 15 reasons why this fruit should be a staple in your diet Did you know that the word avocado literally means "testicles". Don't get grossed out as this power-packed fruit…
bananas exercise
10 health reasons why you should go “bananas” over bananas! Bananas:The world's most popular fruit comes with a host of unbelievable health benefits. Find out how you can…
ashwagandha brain
Ashwagandha: The best-kept secret of Ayurveda now revealed! Ashwagandha literally means "smell of horse". Don't get bogged down by that one tiny detail because this ayurveduic…
Salt dangers
Sodium chloride: The wonders and dangers of the simple table salt Sodium chloride is a salt containing sodium and chlorine ions at a 1:1 ratio. It is edible and…
Coconut sugar: What is it and is it healthier than table sugar? In the long list of things that the wonderful coconut gives us, coconut sugar is another remarkable addition.…
The right way to prepare Alfalfa sprouts at home Alfalfa or lusan ghas is not just a nutritious animal fodder. This flavonoid-rich herb has some amazing health…
Pescatarian Diet 101: What are the inherent health advantages of this diet? People opt to become a pescatarian in order to enrich their bodies with the essential health benefits that…
How to scrub away stress and fatigue with an Epsom salt bath? Epsom salt is a popular home remedy for many skin ailments. Though there is a lack of scientific…
Bubble Tea: Bubbling with nutrition or a hidden sugar mine? The tapioca pearls present in the tea looks like bubbles and hence the name bubble tea became popular.…
thyroid_scan
Thyroid Scan Thyroid scan is a diagnostic procedure that aims to view the thyroid gland and detect any growths or…
vdrl test syphilis
VDRL Test The VDRL test is a blood test that is used to diagnose sexually transmitted or venereal diseases, primarily…
lp-pla2
LP-PLA2 Test The LP-PLA2 test is a test which is carried out to assess the levels of Lipoprotein-Associated Phospholipase A2…
complement c4 test
Anemia Profile Anemia Profile test (Basic) is a blood screening test that measures the levels of important components of the…
shoudler exercises
Keep your shoulders pain-free with these shoulder exercises Shoulder exercises are important in order to prevent chronic back and neck pain. Learn more about how you…
sugar toxic health
Sugar: 7 new shocking truths revealed about the sweet poison Can drinking soda bring you closer to death? Is sugar slowly poisoning you and your family? You would…