This section is from the "Health and Survival in the 21st Century" book, by Ross Horne.
Beriberi is a disease characterized by weakness, nervous disorders, a swollen liver, weight loss, paralysis and impaired heart action. Until well into the 20th Century beriberi caused untold loss of life mainly in Asia and the East Indies, where rice forms the basis of the traditional diet. In 1878 Pasteur had announced his germ theory of disease, and so convincingly did he present it that it quickly found acceptance in the French Academy of Science and in a short time became part of established medical dogma around the world. From this time on, medical research became almost entirely directed into identifying which germ caused which disease so that a vaccine could be manufactured to defeat the germ and cure the disease. It was at this very time the Dutch government was concerned about the enormous death toll from beriberi in their colonies, and the Japanese navy was likewise concerned about the heavy losses of seamen from the same cause, and great efforts were being made to identify the germ responsible. However, in Java in 1887 it was discovered by a young physician, Christiaan Eijkman, that beriberi was not caused by a germ at all but by a diet deficiency correctable by eating unpolished rice instead of polished rice, and in Japan at the same time a naval physician, Kanehiro Takaki, made the same discovery. The problem of beriberi was solved, except for one thing--nobody took any notice because the medical establishment decreed a germ was responsible and a germ must be found.
Unfortunately for Eijkman (and a lot of other people), his superior, Professor Pekalharing, had already in 1887 discovered a germ he claimed caused beriberi, which he called the "bacillus beriberi"; there were other similar claims as well. To quote researcher James Le Fanu: "Glockner identified an amoeba, Thaardo a haematozoan, Pereira a spherical micro-organism, Durham a looped streptococcus, Taylor a spirillum, Winkler a staphylococcus, and Dangerfield an aerobic micrococcus." In addition, in 1901 Van de Scheer reported a virus, and in 1903 Maurex discovered a "fungus". Each of these researchers was convinced the germ they had found was the cause of beriberi, and every one of them was mistaken.
It was Casimer Funk in 1911 who extracted the mysterious factor from rice bran that prevented beriberi, but for many more years the death toll continued in Asia and the Philippines and as late as 1925, thirty-eight years after Kanehiro Takaki's discovery, beriberi was still causing 15,000 deaths per year in Japan. The concept of deficiency diseases was eventually accepted in medical circles in about 1929, and it was in 1934 that chemist R.R. Williams of the USA isolated Funk's X factor from rice bran and called it thiamine, or vitamin B<FONTSIZE=21.
The same story can be told about scurvy, the disease that destroyed thousands of seafarers until authorities realized that Captain Cook was right in feeding his men lime juice and green vegetables. And the same story is that of the disease rickets, shown by French physician Armand Trousseau to be preventable by taking fish liver oil. For many years after these discoveries it was still thought in medical circles that the diseases were attributable to germs.
Some diseases of dietary origin are caused by an effect similar to outright poisoning. Gluten in wheat severely affects some people and no doubt in some degree is harmful to everybody, but the chemical make up of corn is worse. Pellagra is a disease common among people whose diet is based heavily on corn and corn products, and is characterized by soreness of the mouth and tongue, inflammation of the digestive tract, diarrhea, mental disturbances and discoloration of the skin. As far back as 1735 it was known in Europe that pellagra resulted from a diet mainly of corn, and yet in 1914 the death rate from pellagra among the poverty-stricken sharecroppers in south-eastern USA, who were dependent on corn for food, reached 1000 per month with the medical profession continuing to insist the disease was caused by germs. It was only in 1916 when Dr Joseph Goldberger of the US Public Health Service injected himself with a solution made from the scabs of pellagra patients, with no subsequent ill effects, that the germ theory was finally ruled out--that is, for pellagra. It has been shown since then that corn is not only deficient in many nutritional aspects, but at the same time contains an unidentified substance toxic in the body.