HealthThe Stethoscope

Paralysis of Unknown Origin

In a space of a few weeks, she lost her legs, her bladder and her bowel. It started like a joke but at the end it was not funny. A young 40 year old married woman with a young child could not walk anymore and had to be turned in bed by her husband. She could not control her urine and was passing stool without realising it.

She first noticed incoordination in one leg which seemed to stop obeying commands. She tripped a few times falling flat on her face once or twice. The problem started in the other leg too as she slowly became paralyzed. She was dragging one leg when the second one failed to move. Initially, her husband got a walking stick for her but this was quickly upgraded to a wheel chair.

This history is becoming particularly worrisome and of concern to doctors. We are seeing an increasing number of patients with this picture and need to sound a warning to all Nigerians. A season of paralysis is upon us and care is required.
Various investigations including MRI scan and a look at the brain fluid (lumbar puncture) did not reveal any abnormalities. So, what is the cause of the paralysis, doctor?

Paralysis of unknown origin
The nerves are failing but not because of pressure from arthritis or a stroke or indeed a tumour. The nerves are failing on a chemical level. They are or have been exposed to a neurotoxin: a chemical that damages nerves.

Neurotoxins are toxins that are destructive to nerve tissue (causing neurotoxicity). Neurotoxins are a class of chemicals causing neurological insults that can adversely affect function in both developing and mature nervous tissue. The term can also be used to classify other compounds, which, when abnormally contacted, can prove neurologically toxic. Though neurotoxins are often neurologically destructive, their ability to specifically target neural components is important.

Common examples of neurotoxins include lead, ethanol (drinking alcohol), glutamate, nitric oxide, botulinum toxin (e.g. Botox), tetanus toxin, and tetrodotoxin. Some substances such as nitric oxide and glutamate are in fact essential for proper function of the body and only exert neurotoxic effects at excessive concentrations.

Drugs, food additives and herbal medications are sources of neurotoxins that can cause these types of paralysis. Poorly processed food such as Garri, Cassava, yam and potatoes are also possible areas where food can become contaminated in the farms. Many substances used in killing weeds on farms can also seep into our food products leading to damage of the nerves.

The neurotoxic behavior of aluminium is known to occur upon entry into the blood, from where it can migrate to the brain and cause trouble. Despite its known toxicity, aluminium is still extensively utilized in the packaging and preparing of food, while other toxic metals such as lead have been almost entirely phased-out of use in these industries.

It may be time to reassess your relationship with Aluminium in food wrappers. It is possible to avoid using Aluminium when heating up or wrapping hot food.

For our client
We suspected that a drug or food or some exposure to a chemical was the problem causing the paralysis. This is however difficult to prove or detect without sophisticated laboratory investigation of the highest order.

We treated her with steroids and slowly, bit by bit, some recovery returned to her tired, weak muscles but not completely. The nerves have been damaged and were finding it difficult to repair themselves.

The point of this article
Be careful out there. A young man was seen spraying sniper on food stuff to keep out insects. Another was seen dousing tiger nuts with detergent. These are the ones caught on video and shown on social media platforms. Many more are perpetuated in the dark and beyond prying eyes. So many atrocities are being committed on food these days that we all need extra vigilance.

Be careful out there. Watch what you buy, where you buy it from and trust no one. Wash your food, fruits and vegetables thoroughly in fresh salt water. Look after yourself and look after each other!

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