N UNL Research Report 2012-2013
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Research Highlights

Fossilized Feces Lend Clues about Diabetes in Native People

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Native Americans’ increased susceptibility to diabetes has long been thought to stem from fat-hoarding “thrifty genes” acquired during ancient cycles of feast and famine. But an analysis of fossilized feces found in a Southwestern cave suggests the type of diet, not its frequency, may have led to the fat-hoarding genes. UNL forensic scientist Karl Reinhard and archaeologist Keith Johnson of California State University, Chico analyzed fossilized feces for insight into what people in prehistoric hunter-gatherer civilizations ate. They found clues to a food regimen dominated by maize and high-fiber seed from sunflowers, wild grasses, pigweed and amaranth. Very high in fiber, low in fat and dominated by foods with limited effect on blood sugar levels, the diet could have given rise to fat-storing genes that today convey greater susceptibility to diabetes in people on a modern low-fiber, high-fat diet, Reinhard said. The study was published in Current Anthropology.

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