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Pellagra: Get to Know Its Causes, Symptoms and Treatment

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There is a condition that stems from insufficient vitamin B3 or niacin in the body, and it’s called pellagra. In this article, you will learn more about this very serious problem, including its causes, symptoms and treatment.

Pellagra happens when the body is deprived of vitamin B3 which is important for the cells to be able to absorb nutrients and oxygen present in the bloodstream. When that happens, wasting of tissue strikes and this can cause the various signs and symptoms associated with pellagra.

It’s also possible for pellagra to come into being when there is insufficient amounts of tryptophan in the body. A type of amino acid, tryptophan is important for the synthesis or absorption of vitamin B3.

According to doctors, pellagra is more common in poor or developing counties, in particular where the staple diet is corn. It’s for the fact that corn does not contain enough niacin as well as tryptophan. Pellagra is also common in parts of the planet where people consume a lot of millet or sorghum. That’s because such type of grain is lacking in leucine, which is an amino acid that prevents that metabolism of tryptophan, thus resulting in vitamin B3 not being absorbed.

To keep pellagra at bay, the diet of a person should be rich in both vitamin B3 and tryptophan.

Some of the best food sources of vitamin B3 include: liver, meat, fish, yeast, beans, peas, and whole grains. On the other hand, tryptophan can be obtained from: milk, other dairy products, eggs, meat, poultry and fish. So basically, having a well-balanced meal allows the body to get the vitamin B3 and tryptophan it needs by means of the diet.

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However, it is very much possible for pellagra to strike even if the person is regularly consuming foods that contain good amounts of vitamin B3 and tryptophan. This can happen when the person is suffering from a medical condition whose various symptoms include diarrhea. Problems with absorption of nutrients can also bring about pellagra. Doctors say that alcoholism, cirrhosis of the liver and long-term intake of certain antibiotics may cause pellagra, too.

The primary signs and symptoms of pellagra all starts with the letter “D” and they are: dermatitis, diarrhea, dementia and death, which can happen if pellagra is not diagnosed and treated promptly.

Some other signs and symptoms of pellagra include: nausea, vomiting, mouth ulcers, tongue inflammation or glossitis, loss of appetite, weakness, anxiety, depression, insomnia, headaches, tremors and balance problems. According to doctors, severe pellagra cases can cause altered states of consciousness and inability to move the arms and/or legs due to their stiffness. By the way, pellagra signs and symptoms are more pronounced in adults than in children.

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Treating pellagra involves supplementing with niacinamide which is a form of vitamin B3, and it can be administered by mouth or via injection. Once pellagra has improved, continued supplementation with vitamin B3 has to be done to keep it from coming back. A diet that’s rich in vitamin B3 and tryptophan is also encouraged.

For pellagra cases resulting from the inability of the body to properly absorb vitamin B3, the underlying cause will have to be treated so that pellagra can be put under control.

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