Maternal diets, nutritional status, and zinc in contemporary Mexican infants' teeth: Implications for reconstructing paleodiets



Despite attempts to use zinc (Zn) concentrations in hard tissues to comment upon the degree of carnivory in past populations, zinc has yielded inconsistent trophic level effects. The question of what, if anything, zinc in human enamel reveals regarding past diets is the focus of this research. We test whether the zinc content of deciduous tooth enamel from contemporary Mexican infants varies by maternal dietary variables such as zinc intake, proportion of animal products consumed, and dietary components that are known to impact zinc absorption. Deciduous teeth were collected from former participants in a longitudinal study of maternal and infant diet and function in highland Mexico. The Zn/Ca ratios of both prenatal and postnatal regions of 37 anterior teeth representing 26 individuals were assessed via laser ablation–inductively coupled plasma–mass spectrometry. Maternal dietary data collected during lactation were not correlated with zinc levels in the early postnatal enamel of infants' teeth, which were forming at the same time. In the case of prenatal enamel, zinc values were correlated with the consumption of foods known to influence Zn bioavailability, most notably tortillas (P = 0.008; r = 0.510), but not with meat consumption. Unexpectedly, women who consumed diets with poor zinc bioavailability during pregnancy gave birth to infants whose prenatal enamel demonstrated the highest Zn/Ca ratios, possibly due to enhanced zinc absorption during pregnancy for those mothers suffering most from long-term micronutrient deficiency. These results would suggest that zinc is not a reliable trophic level indicator. Am J Phys Anthropol, 2009. © 2009 Wiley-Liss, Inc.