Fungus or Malnutrition?

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In the Drew household, there are a lot of books on mushrooms and such. Somehow, my son has become fascinated by all of this stuff, and sometimes peruses the books to look at the pictures. Once in a while, I’ll hear him react to a weird-looking mushroom and say, “Whoa, fungus! This is what Doug knows a lot about, isn’t it?”

This afternoon, he brought me a book called Molds, Mushrooms, and Mycotoxins by Clyde Christensen. As he was showing me a picture, my eyes caught a couple of words further down the page: “Pellagra” and “beriberi”. This fascinated me because these, along with scurvy, are considered to be the most notorious malnutrition conditions known.


Just as a refresher, pellagra used to be considered an incurable disease that caused skin rashes, deformities, and even cancer. In the early 1900’s, they realized that pellagra was a deficiency in vitamin B3 (niacin).

Beriberi was the same kind of thing, causing wasting symptoms, shortness of breath, racing heartbeats, swelling of the feet, etc. It was later found to be a deficiency in vitamin B1 (thiamine).

When some doctors say that vitamins are unnecessary “except to prevent things like scurvy, pellagra, and beriberi” they’re basing it on the early discoveries linking those conditions with vitamin deficiency.

BUT – this book says the following:
“Before 1900, workers in Italy postulated a cause-and-effect relationship between consumption of moldy corn, especially in children, and the development of illness, including pellagra. Some of them even isolated the strains of these suspect fungi from corn, grew them in a pure culture, and from this culture obtained compounds exceedingly toxic to animals. Japanese investigators shortly before and after 1900 established an association between consumption of moldy rice and the development of various diseases, including acute cardiac beriberi. The probability of the cause-and-effect relationship was claimed to be reasonably high by researcher Uraguchi.” 

You put all of these facts together, along with Kaufmann’s observations, and here’s what you get: Those diseases that have always been associated with nutrient deficiency ARE cured with nutrients; BUT, the reason they work probably has to do with their ability to constrain fungus and mycotoxins!

This isn’t new or unexpected for the Kaufmann Camp, but it gives us another little angle in the debate. Fungus can actually be associated with conditions that, heretofore, have been considered diseases of malnutrition.

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