Monday, 26 March 2018

I Had No Idea,

rice was so dangerous to eat,

so dangerous in fact it nearly wiped out the Japanese Royal Family, in 1877,

 Japan's Meiji Emperor watched his aunt, the princess Kazu, die of a common malady, kakke, if her condition was typical, her legs would have swollen, and her speech slowed, numbness and paralysis might have come next, along with twitching and vomiting, death often resulted from heart failure, the emperor had suffered from this same ailment, on-and-off, his whole life, in response, he poured money into research on the illness, it was a matter of survival, for the emperor, his family, and Japan’s ruling class, and not only them, 

above a sufferer of the strange disease, in 1883, 120 Japanese sailors out of 1,000 had the disease, in late 1883, a training ship full of cadets returned from a journey to New Zealand, South America, and Hawaii, out of the 370 cadets and crewmen, 169 had this mysterious disease, and 25 had died, enter Takaki Kanehiro, almost immediately after joining the navy in 1872, he noticed the high numbers of sailors suffering from this malady, but it wasn’t until he returned from medical school in London and took up the role of director of the Tokyo Naval Hospital that he could do anything about it, after surveying suffering sailors, he found that “the rate [of disease] was lowest among prisoners, lower among sailors and petty officers, and highest among officers.”

 since they differed mainly by diet, Takaki, above, believed a lack of protein among upper-status sailors caused the disease, he noticed that Western navies didn’t suffer from beriberi, but instituting a Western-style diet was expensive, and sailors were resistant to eating bread, Takaki proposed an experiment, another training ship, the Tsukuba, would set out on the exact same route, Takaki leveraged every connection he had to arrange for the Tsukuba to carry bread and meat instead of just white rice, so while the Tsukuba made its way around the world, the doctor spent sleepless nights fretting about the result, if crew members died as, he would look like a fool, later, he told a student that he would have killed himself if his experiment failed,

but Takaki's theory was proved to be correct, the Tsukuba returned to Japan in triumph, only 14 crew members had contracted the disease, and those men had not eaten the ordered diet, in his book Beriberi in Modern Japan: The Making of a National Disease, Alexander R. Bay describes the efforts of Edo-era doctors to figure out the disease, and how Takaki figured out that it was not a disease, it was a Vitamin B1 and Thiamine deficiency and where do you find B1 and Thiamine? In the husks of rice, take away the husks and eat only fine, polished, white rice, as the upper classes and officers did and you get Beriberi, the cause of the mysterious disease had been solved, a truly fascinating read.

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