The term refers to a chronic disease, endemic in some parts of the world, caused by a deficiency of Vitamin B3 (niacin). Symptoms include gastrointestinal disturbances (diarrhoea), skin eruptions and nervous disorders.
Your organism can synthesize Vitamin B3 from an essential amino acid called tryptophane. However, you can develop a deficiency if you eat a lot more meat than fish.
Generally speaking, Vitamin B3 is not hard to find in food. Large amounts are contained in:
– liver (beef, pork, veal)
– white meat
– dates, figs
Although the vitamin is found in many foods, pellagra still occurs frequently in countries where the diet is based on corn. Niacin plays an essential role in the absorption of carbohydrates and metabolism in tissues. It also has a beneficial effect on the skin and nervous system.
A serious niacin deficiency causes pellagra, characterized by digestive and neurological problems, and skin eruptions.
Initial symptoms are general weakness, lack of appetite and weight loss. These are followed by headaches, digestive problems and skin eruptions, which appear as symmetrical red spots. Surrounding skin becomes brown, then starts to peel.
Diarrhoea is another early symptom, often accompanied by stool containing blood. Nervous problems range from insomnia and headaches to memory loss, irritability, depression, agitation and irrational behaviour. If the disease is not treated, dementia can ensue.
Average daily requirements for niacin:
– women: 13 milligrams
– men: 15 to 20 milligrams
– infants and children: 8 to 15 milligrams.
An effective treatment for pellagra consists of oral supplements of niacin, accompanied by a balanced diet. In case of diarrhoea, niacin can be administered intravenously.