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Red Madness: How a Medical Mystery Changed What We Eat

by Gail Jarrow

Published by Calkins Creek / Highlights, 2014
192 pages
ISBN: 978𢴓90787328

Ages 12 and Older

A compelling account of a real-world medical mystery in the early twentieth century chronicles efforts to determine the cause of pellagra, a debilitating and often deadly disease marked by a red, scaly rash, digestive problems, and mental deterioration, as well as eventual death. Most prevalent in the United States among the poor in the South, it went from relative obscurity to a major public health crisis. Moldy corn and germs were two commonly blamed culprits when Joseph Goldberger was assigned to investigate the cause. Goldberger, a meticulous observer and researcher, eventually theorized pellagra was the result of a dietary deficiency. Again and again he conducted experiments and found evidence supporting his theory and refuting others but there was incredible resistance among politicians, doctors, and others in the south, because Goldberger抯 theory projected an aura of poverty. Goldberger turned to self-experimentation as he and other researchers set out to prove once and for all that pellagra could not be transmitted from person to person. A fascinating and at times queasy read about a disease that has changed the way we eat: The deficiency (nicotinic acid) is why so many packaged foods today are enriched with niacin and B vitamins. A few unfortunate design decisions aside (occasional pages of white on red are difficult to read), this is an intriguing look at the intersection of science and social science. Black-and-white photographs illustrate the volume.  © Cooperative Children's Book Center

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