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Background: Thiamin deficiency in infancy is the underlying cause of beriberi, which can be fatal without rapid treatment. Reports of thiamin deficiency are common in Cambodia; however, population representative data are unavailable. Because B-complex vitamin deficiencies commonly occur in combination, riboflavin was also investigated.
Objective: We determined the biomarker status of thiamin and riboflavin in women of childbearing age in rural and urban Cambodia.
Conclusions: Suboptimal status of both thiamin and riboflavin were common in Cambodian women, with substantially higher rates among women living in rural Prey Veng than in urban Phnom Penh. Strategies may be needed to improve the thiamin and riboflavin status of women in Cambodia. The unexpected finding of high riboflavin inadequacy status in Vancouver women warrants further investigation. Beriberi, a disease caused by severe thiamin deficiency, is rare in economically developed regions but is thought to be more common in countries where dietary sources of thiamin are low, particularly those in Southeast Asia 1 — 4.
In infants beriberi is characterized by a persistent hoarse cry, vomiting, anorexia, generalized edema, oliguria 5 , convulsions, and heart failure 1 , and it is often fatal without rapid thiamin administration 3 , 6. Beriberi is most serious and life threatening in infants because of the rapid growth and development that occurs during the first months of life 7. Beriberi typically presents in exclusively breastfed infants whose mothers have suboptimal thiamin status and consequently have low breast milk thiamin concentrations 8.
Interestingly, it is not uncommon for infants to present with beriberi while their mothers remain asymptomatic 1 , 6 , 7. Maternal thiamin deficiency in Cambodia is likely a result of multiple factors: the high consumption of white, polished rice, which has the vitamin B-containing husk removed 9 ; a lack of parboiling rice 10 ; and low dietary diversity In a recent study, Coats et al.