Food-aid cereals to reduce neurolathyrism related to grass-pea preparations during famine

Lancet. 2003 Nov 29;362(9398):1808-10. doi: 10.1016/S0140-6736(03)14902-1.


Neurolathyrism is a spastic paraparesis that can be caused by excessive consumption of the drought-resistant grass pea (Lathyrus sativus). Devastating neurolathyrism epidemics have occurred during major famine crises in various parts of the world. We investigated in a case-control study the effects of food aid on risk of paralysis. Risk increased with consumption of boiled grass pea (adjusted odds ratio 2.78, 95% CI 1.09-7.13 with cereals; 5.22, 2.01-13.55 without cereal) and raw unripe green grass pea (1.96, 1.16-3.31; p=0.011), but not with the fermented pancake, unleavened bread, and gravy preparations. In a correlational study there was an inverse relation between the number of new cases and the amount of food-aid cereals distributed per person. During famine, cereals and nutritional information should reach people before they have grass pea as the only food.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Case-Control Studies
  • Cooking / methods
  • Diet*
  • Disease Outbreaks / statistics & numerical data
  • Edible Grain*
  • Ethiopia / epidemiology
  • Fabaceae / poisoning*
  • Female
  • Foodborne Diseases / epidemiology
  • Foodborne Diseases / prevention & control*
  • Humans
  • Incidence
  • Lathyrism / epidemiology
  • Lathyrism / prevention & control*
  • Male
  • Neurotoxins / poisoning
  • Retrospective Studies
  • Starvation / epidemiology


  • Neurotoxins