Favism is an enzyme deficiency syndrome. The sufferer undergoes acute anemia. Interestingly, this medical condition provides immunity against malaria. From ancient times, people especially those living in the Mediterranean region, were aware of favism and its association with fava beans. It was significantly noted that whenever the fava plants blossomed in spring, many young people reported fatigue and lethargy. The condition has been referenced in various historical documents. In one historical text, the great mathematician Pythagoras advised his disciples to abstain from eating broad or fava beans. During the late 19th and early 20th centuries, favism was termed as "Baghdad Fever". Favism is also known as Glucose-6-Phosphate Dehydrogenase Deficiency. Sufferers lack the enzyme Glucose-6-Phosphate Dehydrongenase or G6PD. Surprisingly, most carriers are females, whereas, men are more likely to suffer from this deficiency. This condition is more prevalent in people living in North Africa, the Mediterranean region, the Middle East and South Asian regions. It is estimated that 400 million people worldwide are affected by favism.
Favism was identified during the 1950s. It was found that 15% of the servicemen (American and African soldiers) going abroad during the Korean War reported acute anemia. Besides, many healthy soldiers died due to favism. These soldiers were already given primaquine, an anti malarial drug. Blood tests conducted on the Stateville Penitentiary prisoners revealed genetic enzyme deficiency following fava bean ingestion.
Sufferers develop acute hemolytic anemia on exposure to fava beans. Red blood cells break down rapidly and the bone marrow fails to replace them at a matching pace. This leads to low oxygen supply throughout the body. Common symptoms include headache, fever, fatigue, nausea, vomiting and abdominal You do not have access to view this node. If not recognized and treated promptly, this condition may progress, often resulting in clinical deterioration of the patient. Other preliminary symptoms are dark orange urine owing to the presence of blood, and yellow colored skin representing symptoms of jaundice.
G6PD deficiency can be easily detected through a simple blood test. Once detected, the sufferer should avoid certain medicines and foods that trigger the condition. Vaccination is a must in order to check other infections. Often, a favism patient can slip into coma and need blood transfusions. In severe case, splenectomy has to be performed to prevent red blood cell destruction in the spleen.
Favism is known to prevent malaria, a dreaded disease spread by mosquitoes. Patients become naturally immune to malaria. Plasmodium causes malaria by infecting red blood cells. Favism leads to the breakdown of red blood cells along with plasmodium. The geographical overlapping of favism and malaria has led many scientists to believe that this special genetic mutation is a great illustration of convergent evolution.