News / Health

    Researchers: Konzo Impacts Brain Function

    A boy sells Cassava leaves at a market in Bunagana, eastern Democratic Republic of Congo, Oct. 19, 2012.
    A boy sells Cassava leaves at a market in Bunagana, eastern Democratic Republic of Congo, Oct. 19, 2012.
    Art Chimes
    Konzo is a crippling disease found mostly in Central and East Africa, and affecting mainly children. Now, an international team of researchers has found that it can affect the brains as well as the bodies of its young victims.
     
    Konzo is essentially a result of cyanide poisoning. The cyanide comes from a staple food, a starchy tuber called bitter cassava, when it is not properly prepared. The name konzo comes from the Yaka language and means “tied legs.” And there is no cure.

    “It’s irreversible neuromotor damage,” explains Michael J. Boivin, PhD, MPH, of Michigan State University. “It describes some of the abnormalities in walking and movement of the lower limbs, with the toes pointing in, distention of the heels and of the knees that tends to describe the initial onset of the disease.”

    Since konzo is a neurological disease, Boivin wanted to see whether it was affecting brain function as well as control of the victim’s lower limbs. So he and his colleagues gave standardized tests to konzo-afflicted children in the Democratic Republic of Congo, as well as to children in the same communities who had no outward signs of the disease.
     
    The scientists found that children with konzo scored lower on tests of memory and problem-solving than children without konzo.

    “But even the non-konzo children were very at-risk in terms of certain aspects of memory and visual-spatial processing, when compared to children in similar living situations but from non-konzo affected communities,” Boivin said in a telephone interview.

    So even children with no physical symptoms had measurable cognitive impairment.

    There’s no cure for konzo, so the focus has to be on prevention. Traditional preparation of bitter cassava includes soaking the tuber in water for several days, followed by drying in the sun.  “Those two processing practices," Boivin notes, "will usually break down enough of the cyanide derivatives to make it safe for consumption.”
     
    But when communities face drought and other hardships, people take shortcuts with cassava preparation. So Boivin says the way to fight konzo is to stress traditional ways of preparing bitter cassava as well as to promote substituting other foods for at least some of the potentially toxic cassava.

    The research by Michael Boivin, principal investigator Desire Tshala-Katumbay, and colleagues is published in the journal Pediatrics.

    You May Like

    Video Rubio Looks to Surge in New Hampshire

    Republican presidential candidate has moved into second place in several recent surveys and appears to be gaining ground on longtime frontrunner Donald Trump

    UN Calls for Global Ban on Female Genital Mutilation

    Recent UNICEF report finds at least 200 million girls and women alive today have undergone female genital mutilation in 30 countries

    UN Pilots New Peace Approach in CAR

    Approach launched in northern town of Kaga Bandoro, where former combatants of mainly Muslim Seleka armed group and Christian and animist anti-Balaka movement are being paid to do community work

    This forum has been closed.
    Comment Sorting
    Comments
         
    by: Dr J Howard Bradbury from: Aust Nat University
    April 04, 2013 7:54 PM
    In collaboration with Drs Banea & Mandombi of PRONANUT & Caritas we have taught village women to use a simple wetting method to remove cyanogens from their cassava flour and have controlled konzo in 4 villages in DRC and 3 more are in progress, Banea et al., Food Chem. Toxicol. 50,(2012), 1517-1523.

    Featured Videos

    Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
    German Artists to Memorialize Refugees With Life Jacket Exhibiti
    X
    Hamada Elsaram
    February 05, 2016 4:30 PM
    Sold in every kind of shop in some Turkish port towns, life jackets have become a symbol of the refugee crisis that brought a million people to Europe in 2015.  On the shores of Lesbos, Greece, German artists collect discarded life jackets as they prepare an art installation they plan to display in Germany.  For VOA, Hamada Elrasam has this report from Lesbos, Greece.
    Video

    Video German Artists to Memorialize Refugees With Life Jacket Exhibit

    Sold in every kind of shop in some Turkish port towns, life jackets have become a symbol of the refugee crisis that brought a million people to Europe in 2015.  On the shores of Lesbos, Greece, German artists collect discarded life jackets as they prepare an art installation they plan to display in Germany.  For VOA, Hamada Elrasam has this report from Lesbos, Greece.
    Video

    Video E-readers Help Ease Africa's Book Shortage

    Millions of people in Africa can't read, and there's a chronic shortage of books. A non-profit organization called Worldreader is trying to help change all that one e-reader at a time. VOA’s Deborah Block tells us about a girls' school in Nairobi, Kenya where Worldreader is making a difference.
    Video

    Video Genius Lets World Share Its Knowledge

    Inspired by crowdsourcing companies like Wikipedia, Genius allows anyone to edit anything on the web, using its web annotation tool
    Video

    Video Former Drug CEO Martin Shkreli Angers US Lawmakers

    A former U.S. pharmaceutical business executive has angered lawmakers by refusing to explain why he raised the price of a life-saving pill by 5,000 percent. Martin Shkreli was removed from a congressional hearing on Thursday after citing his Fifth Amendment right to stay silent. Zlatica Hoke has more.
    Video

    Video Super Bowl TV Commercials are Super Business for Advertisers

    The Super Bowl, the championship clash between the two top teams in American Football, is the most-watched sporting event of the year, and advertisers are lining up and paying big bucks to get their commercials on the air. In fact, the TV commercials during the Super Bowl have become one of the most anticipated and popular features of the event. VOA's Brian Allen has a sneak peek of what you can expect to see when the big game goes to commercial break, and the real entertainment begins.
    Video

    Video In Philippines, Mixed Feelings About Greater US Military Presence

    In the Philippines, some who will be directly affected by a recent Supreme Court decision clearing the way for more United States troop visits are having mixed reactions.  The increased rotations come at a time when the Philippines is trying to build up its military in the face of growing maritime assertiveness from China.  From Bahile, Palawan on the coast of the South China Sea, Simone Orendain has this story.
    Video

    Video Microcephaly's Connection to Zika: Guilty Until Proven Innocent

    The Zika virus rarely causes problems for the people who get it, but it seems to be having a devastating impact on babies whose mothers are infected with Zika. VOA's Carol Pearson has more.
    Video

    Video Solar Innovation Provides Cheap, Clean Energy to Kenya Residents

    In Kenya, a company called M-Kopa Solar is providing clean energy to more than 300,000 homes across East Africa by allowing customers to "pay-as-you-go" via their cell phones. As Lenny Ruvaga reports from Kangemi, customers pay a small deposit for a solar unit and then pay less than a dollar a day to get clean energy to light up their homes or businesses.
    Video

    Video Stunning Artworks Attract Record Crowds, Thanks to Social Media

    A new exhibit at the oldest art museum in America is shattering attendance records. Thousands of visitors are lining up to see nine giant works of art that have gotten a much-deserved shot of viral marketing. The 150-year-old Smithsonian American Art Museum has never had a response quite like this. VOA's Julie Taboh reports.
    Video

    Video Apprenticeships Put Americans on Path Back to Work

    Trying to get more people into the U.S. workforce, the Obama administration last year announced $175 million in grants towards apprenticeship programs. VOA White House correspondent Aru Pande went inside one training center outside of Washington that has gained national recognition for helping put people on the path to employment.
    Video

    Video New Material May Reduce Concussion Effects

    As the 2016 National Football League season reaches its summit at the Super Bowl this coming Sunday (2/7), scientists are trying to learn how to more effectively protect football players from dangerous and damaging concussions. Researchers at Cardiff and Cambridge Universities say their origami-based material may solve the problem. VOA’s George Putic reports.
    Video

    Video Saudi Arabian Women's Sports Chip Away at Stereotypes

    Saudi Arabian female athletes say that sports are on the front line of busting traditions that quash women’s voices, both locally and internationally. In their hometown of Jeddah, a group of basketball players say that by connecting sports to health issues, they are encouraging women and girls to get out of their homes and participate in public life. VOA’s Heather Murdock reports.
    Video

    Video A Year Later, Fortunes Mixed for Syrians Forging New Lives in Berlin

    In April of last year, VOA followed the progress of six young Syrian refugees -- four brothers and their two friends -- as they made their way from Libya to Italy by boat, and eventually to Germany. Reporter Henry Ridgwell caught up with the refugees again in Berlin, as they struggle to forge new lives amid the turmoil of Europe's refugee crisis.
    Video

    Video Zika Virus May be Hard to Stop

    With the Zika virus spreading rapidly, the World Health Organization Monday declared Zika a global health emergency. As Alberto Pimienta reports, for many governments and experts, the worst is yet to come.