Much of the popular mythos of vampirism draws from Bram Stoker’s “Dracula,” a work written after he had done a deep dive on the European folklore of the time on the subject of vampires. Though medical conditions such as rabies, porphyria, and tuberculosis have been suggested as culprits in originating the myth of the vampire, a nutritional deficiency may have been to blame: pellagra.
Pellagra occurs when people don’t get enough vitamin B3 (aka niacin). This vitamin is used for many cellular functions. We don’t absorb it well from corn, which became the main food staple for the peasant’s diet in much of Europe in the 18th century as it was imported from America. Pellagra was first recognized as a disease in 1735 and suspected then to be due to nutritional cause.
Pellagra is described by the “four D’s”: dermatitis, diarrhea, dementia, and death. Dermatitis refers to skin inflammation and rash that can occur with exposure to sunlight with pellagra–easy to make that connection to vampires. Without niacin, neurons can degenerate leading to dementia and, curiously, a behavior called “pica”. Pica is the strong craving for non-food substances including dirt and ice and other unusual things. It’s been suggested that this may result in the apparent unusual cravings of the vampire. Severe pellagra can result in death.
Notably, the vampire cannon seems to leave out the diarrhea aspect of this disorder. That’s probably a good thing.
Journal Article: https://journals.sagepub.com/doi/pdf/10.1177/014107689709001114
Doctor with a mustache.
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