The History of Beriberi

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In 1886, after microbes were found to cause disease, the Dutch East India Company sent a team to Batavia to find the cause of a mysterious illness. The team tried everything; blood, saliva, and urine under the microscope, nothing was found. After nine months, they gave up and headed home; leaving their youngest member in charge of a tiny permanent station. The young mans name was Christian Eijkman , and for ten years he kept working on the problem. At one point, the chickens at the station came down with symptoms closely related to the symptoms suffered by the Batavian natives. The chickens were sick for several months, several even died, then the rest recovered. Eijkman shrugged this off at first, then something caught his eye. The chickens got sick when the cool began to provide them polished white rice, after a usual shipment of brown rice was not delivered.

When the superintendent of the camp found out the chickens were being fed white rice, he immediately put a stop to it, because of the cost. The chickens were switched back to brown rice, of gaba, rice still in the husk, and the chickens got well. Eijkman thought polished white rice held the secret of the disease, so he went to check menus of the local jails. Where they served white rice, the disease was a problem. Jails serving brown rice had no problem with the disease. Eijkman decided this disease was not caused by microbes after all. He concluded white rice must hold some kind of poison, and the brown rice carried the antidote. This solved the immediate problem of the disease, but his reasoning wwas not complete. (5. pp36-37) Years later, in 1936, after Eijkman had won a Nobel prize for finding a nonbacterial disease, a Pole named...