Tuesday, March 12, 2019

Christiaan Eijkman and beriberi

During the time period of the Dutch beriberi problem in Indonesia, physicians were preoccupied with the concept that diseases were cause by pathological problem.

In 1886 Christiaan Eijkman and other physicians began the quest for identifying the beriberi microbe and developing procedures for eliminating the disease. As a former student of Robert Koch, he had been trying to isolate and infect chickens with ‘beriberi bacteria’.

Early discovery, which demonstrated the specificity of the dietary essentials, was Eijkman’s production of beriberi on chickens in 1897 by feeding them polished rice.


The polished cooked rice had resulted in beriberi symptoms of peripheral neuritis. This disease was prevented or cured by feeding either a diet of unpolished rice or a diet to which alcoholic extract of rice bran was added. Eijkman thought that a toxin in rice was being unmasked in the conversion of brown to white rice.

In 1901, Gerrit Grijns, Eijkman’s successor, observed that chicken fed on raw meat did not develop polyneuritis whereas those exclusively fed on meat that has been heated long enough at 120° C developed the disease.

After further work, his statement in 19o1 was perhaps the progenitor of the “vitamin era” in nutritional research: “There occur in various natural foods substances which cannot be absent without serious injury… they are easily disintegrated … and cannot be replaced by simple chemical compounds.”
Christiaan Eijkman and beriberi

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