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Vol. 17 No. 4 - October 2011

Lathyrism: The Ultimate Crippling Disease

By: Avik Basu1 and Saikat Kumar Basu2

In a big country like India, housing people of diverse castes, customs and habits, the staple food items of daily diet vary a great deal. From boiled rice to biryanis and from idli to tandooris almost every single edible goody has found its place in the ever-extending list of daily Indian cuisine according to the choice of people and the conditions favoring the growth of the principal food grains in the particular areas of the country. But this daily consumption of some specific food-crops in some specific districts of India has given rise to development of some complicating diseases that may lead to disabilities and deformities in the human body and also, fatality of which Lathyrism stands out as a prominent member. Lathyrism is a crippling disease that may occur in human beings as well as in other animals, the former being known as neurolathyrism and the latter osteolathyrism according to the part of the body involved (Park, 2009). The main causative agent behind this disease is ‘Khesari dal’ (Lathyrus sativus L.) containing a potentially lethal neurotoxin BOAA (Karmakar, 2007). This food grain is consumed mainly by the field workers of Madhya Pradesh, Uttar Pradesh, Bihar and Orissa due to their cheap prices (Park, 2009). Consumption of ‘Khesari dal’ for a continuous period of 2-6 months, with this food grain accounting for about 30% of daily diet will lead to Lathyrism (Park, 2009). Cases of Lathyrism outside India have been reported from Spain and Algeria (Park, 2009).

The disease mainly manifests in the age group of 15-45 years in four successive stages in untreated cases (Park, 2009). In the initial or latent stage, the individual displays only unsteadiness of gait and is otherwise normal (Park, 2009). Then comes the no-stick stage when the person walks, without the help of a stick, with short jerky paces (Park, 2009). This is followed by one-stick, two-stick and the crawler stages (Park, 2009) when the unsteadiness of gait progresses to muscular spasticity and paraplegia of lower extremities (Karmakar, 2007) accompanied by muscular atrophy (Park, 2009), making it one of the most dreadful toxic spastic myelopathies (Hauser and Ropper, 2008).

No specific treatment regimen has yet been formulated. Prevention is thus the only management procedure. This includes removal of the toxin by parboiling of rice (Park, 2009), restricting consumption of the food grain to less than 25% of daily diet (Karmakar, 2007) and also Vitamin C prophylaxis (Park, 2009).


1Medical College Kolkata, WB India; 2University of Lethbridge, AB Canada E-mail: [email protected]

This article has been reproduced from the archives of EnviroNews - Newsletter of ISEB India.

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