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

HRW: Egypt's Trial of Morsi ‘Badly Flawed’

Human Rights Watch says former Egypt leader's detention without charge for more than three weeks after his removal from office violated Egyptian law; government rejects criticism More

Lancet Report Calls for Major Investment in Surgery

In its report published by The Lancet, panel of experts says people are dying from conditions easily treated in the operating room such as hernia, appendicitis, obstructed labor, and serious fractures More

Music Industry Under Sway of Digital Revolution

Millions of people in every corner of the Earth now can enjoy a vast variety and quantity of music in a way that has never before been possible More

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.
Study: Insecticide Damaging Wild Bee Populationsi
X
April 24, 2015 10:13 PM
A popular but controversial type of insecticide is damaging important wild bee populations, according to a new study. VOA’s Steve Baragona has more.
Video

Video Study: Insecticide Damaging Wild Bee Populations

A popular but controversial type of insecticide is damaging important wild bee populations, according to a new study. VOA’s Steve Baragona has more.
Video

Video Data Servers Could Heat Private Homes

As every computer owner knows, when their machines run a complex program they get pretty hot. In fact, cooling the processors can be expensive, especially when you're dealing with huge banks of computer servers. But what if that energy could heat private homes? VOA’s George Putic reports that a Dutch energy firm aims to do just that.
Video

Video Cinema That Crosses Borders Showcased at Tribeca Film Festival

Among the nearly 100 feature length films being shown at this year’s Tribeca Film Festival in New York City are more than 20 documentaries and features with international appeal, from a film about a Congolese businessman in China, to documentaries shot in Pakistan and diaspora communities in the U.S., to a poetic look at disaffected South African youth. VOA’s Carolyn Weaver has more.
Video

Video UN Confronts Threat of Young Radicals

The radicalization and recruitment of young people into Islamist extremist groups has become a growing challenge for governments worldwide. On Thursday, the U.N. Security Council heard from experts on the issue, which has become a potent threat to international peace and security. VOA’s Margaret Besheer reports.
Video

Video Growing Numbers of Turks Discover Armenian Ancestry

In a climate of improved tolerance, growing numbers of people in Turkey are discovering their grandmothers were Armenian. Hundreds of thousands of Armenians escaped the mass deportations and slaughter of the early 1900's by forced conversion to Islam. Or, Armenian children were taken in by Turkish families and assimilated. Now their stories are increasingly being heard. Dorian Jones reports from Istanbul that the revelations are viewed as an important step.
Video

Video Migrants Trek Through Western Balkans to Reach EU

Migrants from Africa and other places are finding different routes into the European Union in search of a better life. The Associated Press followed one clandestine group to document their trek through the western Balkans to Hungary. Zlatica Hoke reports that the migrants started using that route about four years ago. Since then, it has become the second-most popular path into Western Europe, after the option of sailing from North Africa to Italy.
Video

Video TIME Magazine Honors Activists, Pioneers Seen as Influential

TIME Magazine has released its list of celebrities, leaders and activists, whom it deems the world’s “most influential” in 2015. VOA's Ramon Taylor reports from New York.
Video

Video US Businesses See Cuba as New Frontier

The Obama administration's opening toward Cuba is giving U.S. companies hope they'll be able to do business in Cuba despite the continuation of the U.S. economic embargo against the communist nation. Some American companies have been able to export some products to Cuba, but the recent lifting of Cuba's terrorism designation could relax other restrictions. As VOA's Daniela Schrier reports, corporate heavy hitters are lining up to head across the Florida Straits - though experts urge caution.
Video

Video Kenya Launches Police Recruitment Drive After Terror Attacks

Kenya launched a major police recruitment drive this week as part of a large-scale effort to boost security following a recent spate of terror attacks. VOA’s Gabe Joselow reports that allegations of corruption in the process are raising old concerns about the integrity of Kenya’s security forces.
Video

Video Japan, China in Race for Asia High-Speed Rail Projects

A lucrative competition is underway in Asia for billions of dollars in high-speed rail projects. Cambodia, India, Indonesia, Malaysia Thailand and Vietnam are among the countries planning to move onto the fast track. They are negotiating with Japan and the upstart Chinese who are locked in a duel to revolutionize transportation across Asia. VOA Correspondent Steve Herman in Bangkok has details.
Video

Video Scientists: Mosquitoes Attracted By Our Genes

Some people always seem to get bitten by mosquitoes more than others. Now, scientists have proved that is really the case - and they say it’s all because of genes. It’s hoped the research might lead to new preventative treatments for diseases like malaria, as Henry Ridgwell reports from London.
Video

Video Bible Museum Coming to Washington DC

Washington is the center of American political power and also home to some of the nation’s most visited museums. A new one that will showcase the Bible has skeptics questioning the motives of its conservative Christian funders. VOA religion correspondent Jerome Socolovsky reports.
Video

Video Armenia and Politics of Word 'Genocide'

A century ago this April, hundreds of thousands of Armenians of the Turkish Ottoman empire were deported and massacred, and their culture erased from their traditional lands. While broadly accepted by the U.N. and at least 20 countries as “genocide”, the United States and Turkey have resisted using that word to describe the atrocities that stretched from 1915 to 1923. But Armenians have never forgotten.
Video

Video Afghan First Lady Pledges No Roll Back on Women's Rights

Afghan First Lady Rula Ghani, named one of Time's 100 Most Influential, says women should take part in talks with Taliban. VOA's Rokhsar Azamee has more from Kabul.
Video

Video New Brain Mapping Techniques Could Ease Chronic Pain

From Boulder, Colorado, Shelley Schlender reports that new methods for mapping pain in the brain are providing validation for chronic pain and might someday guide better treatment.

VOA Blogs