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Med Hypotheses. 2008;70(3):691-2. Epub 2007 Aug 8.

Hemochromatosis: a Neolithic adaptation to cereal grain diets.

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Department of Laboratory Medicine, Dalhousie University, 5788 University Avenue, Halifax, Nova Scotia, Canada B3H 2Y9.


The Neolithic period in Europe marked the transition from a hunter-gatherer diet rich in red meat to an iron-reduced cereal grain diet. This dietary shift likely resulted in an increased incidence of iron deficiency anemia, especially in women of reproductive age. I propose that hereditary hemochromatosis and in particular the common HFE C282Y mutation may represent an adaptation to decreased dietary iron in cereal grain-based Neolithic diets. Both homozygous and heterozygous carriers of the HFE C282Y mutation have increased iron stores and therefore possessed an adaptive advantage under Neolithic conditions. An allele age estimate places the origin of the HFE C282Y mutation in the early Neolithic period in Northern Europe and is thus consistent with this hypothesis. The lower incidence of this mutation in other agrarian regions (the Mediterranean and Near East) may be due to higher dietary intakes of the iron uptake cofactor vitamin C in those regions. The HFE C282Y mutation likely only became maladaptive in the past several centuries as dietary sources of iron and vitamin C improved in Northern Europe.

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