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article imageIs Diabetes in African Americans a Consequence of Slavery?

By Carol Forsloff     Dec 29, 2009 in Health
Medical folk have wondered for years why some racial groups have a greater tendency for diabetes than other groups. Recently a University of Carolina study found for African Americans diabetes is in the genes related to their history.
Scientists considered a number of factors for racial disparities, including cultural patterns. But researchers at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill School of Medicine observe that inherited genetic variations exist between whites and blacks in the United States. This leads African Americans to have a less effcient metabolism of glucose. It presents them with the predisposition to diabetes.
Researchers looked at blood samples taken from both black and white patients undergoing treatment in the cardiac catherization lab. Those with problems in glucose metabolism were found to be more frequently of African-American descent than white.
“We found gene expression profiles that suggest that carbohydrate metabolism should be different in the African-Americans in our population compared to Caucasians,” said Cam Patterson, M.D., chief of cardiology and director of the McAllister Heart Institute at UNC.
Why does this happen? Scientists hypothesize by looking at the history of certain populations observing the movement of African populations to environments outside of their countries of origin. Their observations suggest the problems arose from response to an environment where food was scarce and diet significantly different than that consumed by whites.
Cam Patterson, M.D., chief of cardiology and director of the McAllister Heart Institute at UNC. said with respect to this hypothesis “In essence, although African populations moved geographically as they came to the United States, their genes retained a pattern more suited to their ancestor’s home, becoming maladaptive as African populations adopted a Western diet,” Patterson explained.
This controversial finding isn't a first since years ago researchers also found genetic variations in the same population with respect to red blood cells. They found G6PD deficiency, most common in African American males, evolved in some groups to protect them against malaria.
Patterson went on to say about the current findings,
“This study raises the question, are there other examples of groups of gene changes that might be protective under some environments or nutritional scenarios, and maladaptive under others? The practical value of this is providing a tool for looking for these sorts of things. If we really are going to be serious about personalized medicine, we can’t ignore the value of this type of knowledge."
These findings, coming as they do from reflections on the history of the population of African Americans, looks at geographic dislocations. An examination of historical resources finds considerable literature on the subject of the consequences socially, culturally and politically on the African American people, especially during the period of slavery. Now scientific findings point the way to the inclusion of genetic variables as a consequence of the transplantation of large numbers of African Americans to environments uniquely different from where they originated.
But as the dislocation of blacks is seen as an underpinning of diabetic factors, that same dislocation brought new diseases to European populations for which Africans had inherited immunity. Malaria was one of those diseases, but there were others according to experts. In looking at the spread of malaria by mosquitoes these experts observe how genetic factors played a part in impacting the health and culture of vast numbers of people, resulting in the death of many more Europeans than many of the wars of the same period.
Genetic factors related to disease and the study of history and how it is interwoven with science continues to fascinate scientists, as researchers declare, and raises issues of how migrations from one's country of origin might impact how one's ancestors are able to deal with the new environment as this study has done. It represents how dislocations of an entire people can affect generations of their ancestors.
More about Slavery, Diabetes, Sickle cell anemia
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