Nutritional Diseases

Several conditions described in classical Korean medical texts suggest long familiarity with beriberi, especially in association with times of famine. However, beriberi was rare in Korea as compared to other areas in Asia. In the early modern period the disease almost never appeared in rural Korea, but it was observed among Japanese students in Korean cities. In the 1940s the disease was still more prevalent among the Japanese than Koreans, because the Japanese were more likely to consume polished rice. During World War II, however, eating white rice became more common, and beriberi was sometimes observed even in villages.

Osteomalacia, or adult rickets, a gradual deformation of improperly calcified bones caused by lack of vitamin D, was fairly common in older women. Scurvy and pellagra were very rare, but nutritional anemia and anemia secondary to hookworm infestation were not uncommon.

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