Pellagra is a health condition that rarely occurs in the U.S. But it still can be a problem in countries with limited variety of food, particularly when corn is the primary staple.
Pellagra is caused by a niacin deficiency. Niacin is a B vitamin found richly in dairy products, poultry, fish, lean meats, legumes, peanuts and eggs. Because your body can convert tryptophan, an amino acid, to niacin when needed, it’s deficiency in your diet is considered a cause of pellagra as well.
Pellagra can also develop despite an adequate consumption of niacin in your diet. In this case, some other health condition is affecting niacin’s absorption or availability. Couple causes of interference are digestive disorder, alcoholism, chronic diarrhea, cirrhosis of the liver, malignant carcinoid tumor and Hartnup disease.
Pellagra symptoms mostly arise from issues with your skin, mucous membranes, central nervous system and digestive system. The variety of symptoms caused by a long standing niacin deficiency are:
- memory loss
- mouth ulcers
- abdominal pain
- bloody diarrhea
- chronic diarrhea
- nausea, vomiting
- rash of scaly skin sores
Untreated pellagra can ultimately cause death.
Pellagra treatment usually requires countering your niacin deficiency with niacinamide. Treating with niacin itself is not used because it can cause itching, burning and flushing sensations. Once pellagra symptoms subside, changes in your diet may be all that’s needed to prevent future niacin deficiency. However, if another health condition caused your pellagra, then ongoing low dose treatment of niacin may be required.