Pellagra and Paleonutrition: Assessing the Diet and Health of Maize Horticulturists Through Skeletal Biology



This article outlines research avenues that can aid us in reinterpreting and expanding our understanding of the paleonutrition and skeletal biology of maize intensive horticulturists. We suggest that new and innovative perspectives about their diet and health can emerge from hypotheses concerning skeletal manifestations of pellagra. Pellagra, a niacin/tryptophan deficiency disease, is prevalent in populations that have high-maize and low-protein diets. Historically it has been essentially a disease of undernutrition and social inequality. As an introduction to the issue, we provide an overview of pellagra as a nutritional deficiency disease, the impact of pellagra on skeletal tissue, and avenues for future research on the paleopathology of pellagra. We propose that a focus on micronutrient deficiencies in studies of paleonutrition adds an important dimension to our understanding and assessment of the diet and health of peoples both past and present