More on iron

As coincidence would have it, just a few days after Jeremy blogged about iron deficiency and what could be done about it, Dienekes’ Anthropology Blog flagged a paper on the diversity that exists among human populations in their predisposition to this problem. More specifically, the paper is about hemochromatosis ((Christopher Naugler. Hemochromatosis: A Neolithic adaptation to cereal grain diets. Medical hypotheses. 2007/08/10.)), an hereditary disorder that causes body tissues like the liver to absorb and store more iron than “normal.”

The hypothesis advanced by the author is that the condition arose in Neolithic farming communities as an adaptation to the lower levels of iron in a cereals-based diet as the shift from more iron-rich hunter-gatherer diets accelerated. Highlighting the complexity of nutritional issues, however, is the fact that prevalence of the guilty allele is lower in the Mediterranean and Near Eastern than in northern European agrarian regions, possibly because of the higher dietary intake of vitamin C down south — vitamin C assists in iron uptake. Such interactions are one reason why nutritional silver bullets are unlikely to exist.

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