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 Experts Warn World Losing Ebola Fight

Doctors Without Borders says world is losing battle against Ebola, unless wealthy nations dispatch specialized biological disaster response teams More

Video Experts: Rise of Islamic State Significant Development in Jihadism

Many analysts contend the group - which grew out of al-Qaida in Iraq - has been rebuilding for years More

US-Based Hong Kongers Pledge Support for Pro-Democracy Activists

Democracy advocates call on Chinese living abroad to join them in opposing new election rules for their home territory 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.
Larger Than Life Chinese Lanterns Make Southern California Appearancei
X
Elizabeth Lee
September 02, 2014 8:57 PM
Chinese lanterns with a long history are lighting up in 21st century style at the Los Angeles County Fair in southern California. Visitors can see traditional lanterns that hang, but also lanterns in the shape of animals, iconic landmarks and many other objects, all created by artisans from a place in China known for its lanterns. Elizabeth Lee has the details from the fair in the city of Pomona.
Video

Video Larger Than Life Chinese Lanterns Make Southern California Appearance

Chinese lanterns with a long history are lighting up in 21st century style at the Los Angeles County Fair in southern California. Visitors can see traditional lanterns that hang, but also lanterns in the shape of animals, iconic landmarks and many other objects, all created by artisans from a place in China known for its lanterns. Elizabeth Lee has the details from the fair in the city of Pomona.
Video

Video Experts See Rise of ISIS as Significant Development

The Islamic State’s rise seems sudden. It caught the U.S. by surprise this summer when it captured large portions of northern Iraq and spread its wings in neighboring Syria. But many analysts contend that the group - which grew out of al-Qaida in Iraq - has been rebuilding for years. VOA's Jela de Franceschi takes a closer look at the rise of ISIS and its implications for the Middle East and beyond.
Video

Video Israel Concerned Over Syrian Rebels in Golan

Israeli officials are following with concern the recent fighting between Syrian rebels and government forces near the contested Golan Heights. Forty-four U.N. peacekeepers from Fiji have been seized by Syrian Islamist rebels and the clashes occasionally have spilled into Israel. VOA’s Scott Bobb reports from Jerusalem.
Video

Video Ukraine Schools Resume Classes, Donate to Government Forces

A new school year has started in Ukraine but thousands of children in the war-torn east are unable to attend because of ongoing clashes with pro-Russia rebels. In Ukraine's capital, patriotic education has become the norm along with donations to support injured security forces fighting to take back rebel-held areas. VOA's Daniel Schearf reports from Kyiv.
Video

Video US Detainees Want Negotiators for Freedom in North Korea

The three U.S. detainees held in North Korea were permitted to speak with foreign media Monday. The government of Kim Jong Un restricted the topics of the questions, and the interviews in Pyongyang were limited to five minutes. Each of the men asked Washington to send a representative to Pyongyang to secure his release. VOA’s Carolyn Presutti has our story.
Video

Video Turkmen From Amerli Describe Survival of IS Siege

Over the past few weeks, hundreds of Shi'ite Turkmen have fled the town of Amerli seeking refuge in the northern city of Kirkuk. Despite recent military gains after U.S. airstrikes that were coordinated with Iraqi and Kurdish forces, the situation remains dire for Amerli’s residents. Sebastian Meyer went to Kirkuk for VOA to speak to those who managed to escape.
Video

Video West Africa Ebola Vaccine Trials Possible by Early 2015

A U.S. health agency is speeding up clinical trials of a possible vaccine against the deadly Ebola virus that so far has killed more than 1,500 people in West Africa. If successful, the next step would be a larger trial in countries where the outbreak is occurring. VOA's Carol Pearson has more.
Video

Video Survivors Commemorate 70th Anniversary of Nazi Liquidation of Jewish Ghetto

When the German Nazi army occupied the Polish city of Lodz in 1939, it marked the beginning of a long nightmare for the Jewish community that once made up one third of the population. Roughly 200,000 people were forced into the Lodz Ghetto. Less than 7,000 survived. As VOA’s Kane Farabaugh reports, some survivors gathered at the Union League Club in Chicago on the 70th anniversary of the liquidation of the Lodz Ghetto to remember those who suffered at the hands of the Nazi regime.

AppleAndroid