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beriberi (bĕrˈēbĕrˈē), deficiency disease occurring when the human body has insufficient amounts of thiamine (vitamin B1). The deficiency may result from improper diet (e.g., ingestion of highly refined grains instead of the whole kernels), from poor absorption of thiamine (as in chronic diarrhea), from conditions which increase the vitamin requirements of the body (e.g., hyperthyroidism, pregnancy, fever), or from poor utilization (as in liver disease). In some instances (e.g., alcoholism) the deficiency arises from a combination of several or of all of these factors. Since thiamine is essential for the proper metabolism of carbohydrate and fat and for the normal functioning of enzymes and nervous tissue, the symptoms of the disorder are primarily those of neurological and gastrointestinal disturbances. In severe cases the heart becomes affected, and the nervous disorder may lead to paralysis and death. The disorder is rarely found in the West, occurring only among alcoholics and other groups who exist on grossly inadequate diets. It is a common malady in parts of Asia where the diet consists mainly of polished white rice. The usual treatment is administering dosages of thiamine.
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The following article is from The Great Soviet Encyclopedia (1979). It might be outdated or ideologically biased.



(B1 avitaminosis, alimentary polyneuritis), an illness occurring as a result of a Vitamin B1 (thiamine) deficiency in the diet. Characterized by polyneuritis of the extremities, disturbances of the cardiovascular system, and edema resulting from the accumulation of lactic and pyruvic acids in the body. Beriberi is found mostly in the countries of East, Southeast, and South Asia, where the population eats mainly rice which is hulled (that is, stripped of its outer coating). The cause of beriberi was established in 1897 by the Dutch physician C. Eijkman, working on the island of Java. Eijkman caused beriberi in hens by feeding them cooked, hulled rice and then cured them with rice siftings. The substance in rice siftings which protects against beriberi was found to be Vitamin B1. The daily requirement of Vitamin B1 is 1.6–2.5 mg for adult males, 1.3–2.2 mg for women, and 0.5–1.7 mg for children.

When Vitamin is absent from the diet, the carbohydrate metabolism of the body is disrupted, and lactic and pyruvic acids accumulate. Nervous disturbances (polyneuritis) in cases of beriberi may end in paralysis. The gait of a person afflicted by beriberi is characteristic; at the onset of the illness, he walks on his toes and the outer edge of the foot, sparing his soles. Then, as a result of weakness in the extremities, he transfers to crutches. The heart becomes enlarged and the pulse accelerates. The appetite decreases and constipation occurs. Severe general emaciation and generalized or localized edema are observed. Treatment consists in administering Vitamin B1preparations internally and as injections. Prophylaxis consists in the introduction into the diet of foods containing a sufficient quantity of Vitamin B1. Foods that do not contain Vitamin B1 (bread and products of white flour of the highest and first grades; and sugar) should not, because of their high caloric value, constitute more than one-third of the caloric value of the diet. Massive prophylaxis consists in the inclusion in the diet of rye and wheat bread made of second-grade flour and of unhulled flour of several grains (buckwheat, oats, and barley) and the addition of Vitamin B1 to wheat flour.


Efremov, V. V. Vazhneishie avitaminozy cheloveka. Moscow-Leningrad, 1939.
“Avitaminozy.” In Rukovodstvo po vnutrennim bolezniam, vol. 8. Moscow, 1965. Pages 521–42.
Shimazono, N., and E. Katsura, eds. Review of Japanese Literature on Beriberi and Thiamine. Tokyo, 1965.


The Great Soviet Encyclopedia, 3rd Edition (1970-1979). © 2010 The Gale Group, Inc. All rights reserved.


A disorder resulting from the deficiency of vitamin B1 and characterized by neurologic symptoms, cardiovascular abnormalities, edema, and cerebral manifestations.
McGraw-Hill Dictionary of Scientific & Technical Terms, 6E, Copyright © 2003 by The McGraw-Hill Companies, Inc.
References in periodicals archive ?
Eijkman had been fortunate: The chickens had contracted beriberi, the same disease he was studying.
In 1897, he discovered that the disease known as polyneuritis in animals and beriberi in humans could be induced in chickens and pigeons by a diet restricted to polished rice.
Word salads add to the schizoid atmosphere: "`Who is Spain?' `Why is Hitler?' `...How was trump at Munich?' `Ho-ho beriberi"' (p.35).
RDAs will help you avoid beriberi (a disease of the peripheral nerves caused by a vitamin B deficiency) but may not enable you to reach your maximum potential.
contracted beriberi in the jungle and during his convalescence wrote La voragine, which succeeds as a novel of both adventure and social protest.
Ischemic heart disease (coronary artery disease) has been medically associated with beriberi, which is caused by vitamin deficiency and malnutrition.
We've known for a long time that diseases like rickets, pellagra, scurvy, beriberi and goiter are caused by dietary deficiencies.
Isolated cases of B-vitamin-deficiency syndromes (e.g., beriberi and pellagra) were reported in these settings.
In the past, vitamins were discussed in terms of preventing deficiency diseases (beriberi, caused by a lack of thiamin, for instance, or scurvy, by a lack of vitamin C).
Vitamin C, the antiscurvy factor, was also water-soluble but had no effect on beriberi and was therefore a substance different from vitamin B.