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Soc Sci Med. 1985;21(2):173-85.

Pibloktoq (hysteria) and Inuit nutrition: possible implication of hypervitaminosis A.


The hysterical reaction among Eskimo peoples known as pibloktoq, one of a group of aberrant behaviors occurring 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. This 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 hypervitamonosis 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.

[Indexed for MEDLINE]

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