Lathyrism

What is Lathurism?

Lathyrism is a paralysing disease of humans-Neurolathyrism because it affects the nervous system. It is a crippling disease characterised by gradually developing stiff paralysis of the lower limbs occurring mostly in adults who consume the pulse called Lathyrus sativus in large quantities.

It is prevalent in India, in parts of Madhya Pradesh, Uttar Pradesh, Bihar and Orissa. It has also been reported from Maharashtra, West Bengal, Rajasthan, Assam, and Gujarat where the pulses are grown.

Lathyrus sativus is commonly known in India as “Kesari Dal”. The seed looks like Bengal gram. Like other pulses, Lathyrus is a good source of protein but for its toxin which affects the nerves. The poor agricultural laborers mostly eat it because it is cheap. Diets, which contain over 30% of this dal over a period of 2-6 months, will result in neurolathyrism.

The toxin in lathyrus seed has been identified. It penetrates the blood-brain barrier. It can easily be removed from the dal by simply soaking the seeds in hot water and rejecting the water in which it is soaked.

Clinical Features

1. Young men: 15-45 years of age.
2. Latent stage: Individual is apparently healthy, but when subjected to physical stress exhibits an ungainly gait. If the pulses are withdrawn from the diet at this stage complete remission occurs.
3. No stick stage: The patient walks with short jerky steps without the aid of a stick to maintain balance.
4. One stick stage: The patient walks with a crossed gait with a tendency to walk on the toes. Muscle stiffness is present and it is necessary to use a stick to maintain balance.
5. Two-stick stage: The symptoms are more severe. Due to excessive bending of the knees and crossed legs, the patient needs two crutches for support. The gait is slow and clumsy and the patient tires easily after walking a short distance only.
6. Crawling stage: Finally the erect posture becomes impossible as the knee joint cannot support the weight of the body. There is wasting of the thigh and leg muscles. The patient is reduced to crawling by throwing his weight on his hand.

Prevention

1. High dose of vitamin C 500-1000 mgm per day could help repair the damage and prevent the disease.
2. Banning of the crop: In India, the crop is banned in all forms, whole, split, or even in flour form. However, villagers still grow and consume it.
3. Education of the villagers in endemic areas of India.