A retrospective investigation of thiamin and energy intakes following an outbreak of beriberi in The Gambia

D. I. Thurnham, A.E. Cathcart, Barbara Livingstone

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    In the early part of the rainy season in 1988, an outbreak of beriberi occurred infree-living adults in a relatively small area in the North Bank region of The Gambia.In 1995 we selected two compounds in a village called Chilla situated within the affecteddistrict to retrospectively examine dietary factors potentially contributing to the outbreak.There had previously been cases of beriberi in one compound (BBC) but not in theother (NBC). We measured energy and thiamin intakes for four days on six occasionsduring the year. We calculated energy and thiamin intakes of people living in thetwo compounds and foods were collected for thiamin analysis through the year.Thiamin:Energy ratios only met international recommendations in the immediatepost-harvest season when energy and thiamin intakes were highest and then fell throughthe year. In the rainy season when food was short and labour was heaviest, energy intakeswere lower in the NBC but thiamin:energy ratios were lower in BBC. Records of rainfall in1988 collected near the village indicated that the amount in August was twice the average.We suggest the heavy rainfall may have increased farm workload and reduced incomefrom outside-village work activity. The lower energy intakes in the NBC may have forcedadults to rest thus sparing thiamin demands and delaying onset of beriberi. In contrast, thehigher energy intake of adults in the BBC may have enabled them to continue working,thus increasing demands for thiamin and inducing the earlier onset of beriberi.
    Original languageEnglish
    Pages (from-to)135-151
    Issue number1
    Publication statusPublished (in print/issue) - 2011

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    • thiamin intake
    • energy intake
    • seasonality
    • beriberi


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