Beriberi is a deficiency disorder that affects the nervous system. Though rare, cardiovascular and gastrointestinal irregularities are also likely to pop up. Beriberi is caused by the deficiency of Vitamin B1 (thiamine) in the body. Body requires thiamine for the conversion of carbohydrates into glucose. Lethargy and fatigue are the common symptoms of the disease.
Beriberi appears in three different forms. They are infantile beriberi, wet beriberi, and dry beriberi. Infantile beriberi is caused when a Vitamin B1 deficient mother breast-feeds her child. In its intense form, beriberi might even lead to the eventual death of the child after five months of birth.
The disorder shows preliminary symptoms only if the affected person has crossed his or her infancy stage. Fatigue, numb legs and general loss of appetite are the usual preliminary signs of beriberi. From this stage, it can aggravate and lead to wet or dry beriberi.
The characteristic symptom of wet beriberi is fluid accumulation through out the body and increased heartbeat. If proper treatment is not given, wet beriberi results in sudden death of the affected person. In case of dry beriberi, fluid swelling does not occur. Here, legs get weakened and the person does not register any sensation. The affected person can walk during the initial stages with the help of a walking stick and during the later stages, gets completely bedridden. However the end comes in a gradual manner, usually by becoming an easy victim to other infectious diseases.
A Dutch physician, Christian Eijkman, was the first to detect the root cause of Beriberi. He was a member of a government commission sent for the purpose to Southeast Asia where the main meal consisted of polished rice. Based on his experiments on fowls he derived the conclusion that by retaining the rice polishing, beriberi could be cured. Other sources of thiamine are meats, enriched bread, peanut butter and all other varieties of whole grains.