By Alwin M. Pappenheimer, MD
Summary: A fascinating snapshot of some of the early animal research testing vitamin E deficiency. In this 1940 lecture, Dr. Alwin Pappenheimer details the grave and varied muscular and neural dystrophies that result in different species fed a diet lacking vitamin E. The young are particularly susceptible, he notes, often showing no symptoms for months after birth before being suddenly struck with neural or muscular dysfunction—the latter a condition he terms “nutritional muscular dystrophy.” In perhaps the most disturbing finding, a partial vitamin E deficiency in the diet of pregnant rats was shown to affect only the offspring—not the mothers, suggesting that what we today attribute to genetic inheritance is actually a problem of inherited malnutrition. In the words of Dr. Pappenheimer: “The fact that a partial deficiency of vitamin E in the mother may manifest itself only in the offspring seems to me to be one of the most significant lessons that one can draw from this work. May not similar things happen in human diseases and help explain the supposed hereditary or familial character of certain nervous and muscular disorders?” From Journal of the Mount Sinai Hospital, 1941. Lee Foundation for Nutritional Research reprint 57.