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Pibloktoq (hysteria) and inuit nutrition: Possible implication of hypervitaminosis A

David Landy

Social Science & Medicine, 1985, vol. 21, issue 2, 173-185

Abstract: The hysterical reaction among Eskimo peoples known as pibloktoq, one of a group of aberrant behaviors occuring among Arctic and Circumarctic societies termed 'arctic hysterias', has been explained by a variety of theories: ecological, nutritional, biological-physiological, psychological-psychoanalytic, social structural and cultural. The study hypothesizes the possible implication of vitamin intoxication, namely, hypervitaminosis A, in the etiology of some cases of pibloktoq. Its biocultural approach implicates elements of several explanatory classes, which are not mutually exclusive. Experimental and clinical studies of nonhumans and humans reveal somatic and behavioral effects of hypervitaminosis A which closely parallel many of the symptoms reported for Western patients diagnosed as hysterical and Inuit sufferers of pibloktoq. Eskimo nutrition provides abundant sources of vitamin A and lays the probable basis in some individuals for hypervitaminosis A through ingestion of livers, kidneys, and fat of arctic fish and mammals, where the vitamin often is stored in poisonous quantities. Possible connections between pibloktoq and hypervitaminosis A are explored. A multifactorial framework may yield a more compelling model of some cases of pibloktoq than those that are mainly unicausal, since, among other things, the disturbance has been reported for males and females, adults and children, and dogs.

Date: 1985
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Handle: RePEc:eee:socmed:v:21:y:1985:i:2:p:173-185