Magazine article Geographical

Iodine and an Age Old Mystery

Magazine article Geographical

Iodine and an Age Old Mystery

Article excerpt

A geographer in the US has concluded that iodine deficiency may have caused many of the distinctive features exhibited by Neanderthals, as well as helping to explain what became of these early hominids. According to Dr Jerome E Dobson, a member of the senior development staff at the Oak Ridge National Laboratory in Tennessee, a single genetic difference -- one that prevented Neanderthals from processing iodine -- may be all that stands between them and us.

Iodine is essential for modern humans and may have been essential for Neanderthals as well, claims Dobson. Iodine deficiency in modern humans causes goitre, a disfiguring enlargement of the thyroid gland, or cretinism, a worse condition of physical deformity and mental retardation caused also by malfunction or absence of the thyroid gland.

Despite the addition of iodine to table salt in most developed countries, the World Health Organisation estimates that 750 million people suffer from goitre and 5.7 million are afflicted by cretinism. About 30 per cent of the world's population is at risk of iodine deficiency disorders, especially those isolated from the principal sources of dietary iodine like saltwater fish, shellfish and seaweed.

It occurred to Dobson that Neanderthals lived mostly in inland Europe, which is notoriously iodine deficient today and probably was then inhabited by Neanderthal between 230,000 and 30,000 years ago. Writing in the latest issue of The Geographical Review (published by the American Geographical Society of New York), Dobson claims that the bones of Neanderthals are very similar to those of modern humans suffering from IDD. …

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