Pellagra And Prisoners
On this date in 1916, physicians Joseph Goldberger and G.A. Wheeler produced pellagra, a nutritional disorder characterized by skin lesions, gastrointestinal and neurological disturbances, in prisoners at a prison farm in rural Mississippi. At the time, pellagra was such a health concern in the South that the surgeon general appointed Goldberger to investigate the illness. In exchange for a pardon, volunteers were fed what Goldberger and Wheeler knew to be a typical low-income Southern diet at the time, consisting largely of pork fat, molasses and cornbread. Within months, prisoners who consumed the diet fell ill with pellagra. Goldberger and Wheeler exposed themselves to the infected inmates to prove the disease is nutritionally based and not contagious. Later, researchers discovered that pellagra occurs when there is not enough niacin in the diet.
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