Pellagra is a deficiency in vitamin B3 or niacin. Though not a problem in the U.S., instances exist throughout the world. First identified as a nutritional disease in Spain in 1735 by Don Gaspar Casal, Pellagra was originally known as mal de la rosa due to its characteristic symptom: red, rough skin. In 1914, Joseph Goldberger began studying the root of the problem.


1. Pellagra Flourished in the Old World

As exploration of the New World flourished, maize or corn became a staple in diets throughout Europe. While corn itself does not cause pellagra, its preparation created problems. Native Americans used lye when cooking corn, similar to how hominy is made. This process, nixtamalization, helps release niacin and tryptophan from the corn, rendering it bioavailable. Thus treated, corn can be made into grits, flour, and masa, which the Native Americans used to make corn tortillas. Europeans were not aware of this process, and as their corn consumption increased, niacin deficiency became more commonplace.

masa, corn tortilla, hominy, maize photooiasson / Getty Images

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