Never Do Unto Others What You Wouldn't Do to Yourself

Albert B. Lowenfels, MD


June 23, 2015

Consumed With Curiosity

Figure 3. Joseph Goldberger. Image from Wikipedia

Until the middle of the 20th century, pellagra was a common disease in many parts of the world, especially in the southern United States, where thousands of persons were afflicted.[3] Symptoms include the "three Ds": diarrhea, dementia, and dermatitis.

A common viewpoint at the beginning of the 20th century was that the disease was caused by an infectious agent. However, some physicians, including Joseph Goldberger, a young public health doctor, believed the cause to be a nutritional deficiency rather than an infection.

To prove his theory, on April 26, 1916, Goldberger exposed himself, his assistant, and his wife Mary to blood, secretions, and excrement from patients with pellagra. Nobody developed the disease. Further proof of the dietary origin of pellagra came from studies in which patients fed fresh meat, milk, and vegetables improved, whereas patients consuming a diet consisting mostly of corn did not. Pellagra is now known to be caused by a deficiency of niacin (vitamin B3) and does not occur in persons consuming a balanced diet.[4]


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