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  • What human disease was caused by the rapid spread of corn throughout the world in 18th century?

    Posted on November 24th, 2010 admin No comments

    First correct answer was from @mlv: Pellagra is a niacin deficiency disease caused by rapid spread of corn-based diet.

    Pellagra, a niacin deficiency, was caused by the rapid spread of a corn-based diet and by improper preparation of the corn.  Traditional preparation of corn included soaking in alkali.  This released the niacin and prevented pellagra.  When Europeans spread corn from the Americas to other parts of the world, and it became a staple of many impoverished populations, they failed to spread the cultural traditions that made the corn a properly nutritious staple food.

    Note that pellagra is not caused by corn in the diet, but is not prevented by a nearly exclusive diet of corn.  It’s a matter of balance.  Anyone can certainly eat corn without fear of niacin deficiency, but if their diet includes no other significant source of niacin, they may be in trouble.

    Modern strains of corn have been selected to make niacin more accesible to digestion without alkali processing.

    Pellagra is still a problem in some refugee populations where corn is provided as an unfamiliar new staple food.

    More about pellagra:  http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pellagra

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