Thursday, June 7, 2012

ICMR to study health impacts of Grass pea

Fifty years after khesari dal (Lathyrus sativus) was banned for sale, the Central government will conduct an epidemiological study of the high-protein legume that can be grown in extreme weather conditions. Khesari dal, also known as Grass pea, was banned for consumption in 1961 as it was believed that Beta-N-Oxalyl-aminoalanine, a neurotoxic amino-acid in the legume, caused neurolathyrim or a paralysis of the lower limbs. It is cultivated extensively in central and western India for cattle fodder. Chhattisgarh, Maharashtra and West Bengal are the only States where the sale for human consumption was not banned. Khesari dal is also cheaper than other pulses, whose prices have gone up manifold in the past few years. The withdrawal of the ban will help to solve the shortage of pulses, as it is believed that the harmful effects of khesari dal depends on the amount consumed, its toxin content, the method of cooking and the nutritional status of individuals. Furthermore, the amount of neurotoxin varies from variety to variety and is inversely proportional to the moisture content in the soil, with the toxin content increasing in drought conditions. The Planning Commission has asked the Indian Council of Medical Research (ICMR) to conduct an epidemiological study in Chhattisgarh, where the cultivation of khesari dal is the highest. The study will be co-ordinated by the Centre for Promotion of Nutrition Research and Training with Special Focus on North East, Tribal and Inaccessible Population of the ICMR, along with the India Gandhi Krishi Vishwavidyalaya, Raipur; Pt. Jawaharlal Nehru Memorial Medical College, Raipur; the All-India Institute of Medical Sciences, New Delhi; and the National Institute of Nutrition, Hyderabad. The study, to be completed in four months, will assess the dietary pattern of the population, focussing on the consumption in Chhattisgarh's Raipur, Bilaspur and Durg districts, where the cultivation is the highest. Based on the cross-section of the community, the study will look into the varietal profile of khesari dal to assess its toxin content. The study will cover 1,500 households, comprising 30 households of 50 identified villages in rural areas and 20 households a ward in urban areas (mainly slums). In addition, samples will be lifted at random from six fields per village and those from retailers. A dietary survey of the families of farmers cultivating khesari dal will form part of the survey. Information on all reported cases of lathyrism will be collected through the local health authorities, and interviews with families of those suspected of suffering from the disease. Elaborate questionnaires on dietary habits will be sent out to people.

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