Research

Ancient teeth reveal vitamin D deficiency

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Recent advancements in archeology have uncovered many lesser known facts and hidden truths about the world. Researchers have made groundbreaking discoveries in the field of dentistry. After careful analysis of layers of dentine in teeth found at historical sites, archeologists and researchers have found occurrences of malnutrition throughout history. Scientists have revealed the malnutrition pattern found in medieval Middle Eastern farming communities that exhibit mainly a vitamin D deficiency with nutrient levels approximately four times lower than those found in present day Greeks.060614_teeth_hsmall_830a.grid-6x2Dentine is the main component in teeth that is heavily dependent on vitamin D. A reduced vitamin D level directly interrupts dentine production. Over the course of time, each tooth starts to present a perpetual record of the vitamin D levels. When cross-sectioned, the presence or absence of the nutrient can be inferred by examining the layers of mineralization.

Teeth fall second after bone in terms of strength. Teeth can repel biodegradation and thus are the reason why they are often discovered in archeological sites ages after all other body parts rot into the soil. Teeth are chemically stable which means that each tooth harbors a “dentine diary” that can be studied after even a thousand years or more.

Megan Brickley of McMaster University, Canada, led the team that first stumbled upon this discovery in 2016. Using the “dentine diary” marker and combining the results of four previous researches carried out on dentine concentrations in human teeth, her team covered eras from 20,000 years ago to present day.

The earliest study on this topic was carried out in 1956 which involved tissue sampling of 233 teeth from prehistoric sites as well as present day sources. All four previous studies were re-evaluated to figure out a correlation between age and dentine mineralization.

The initially collected data was rectified for multiple factors such as alterations in atmospheric ozone concentration and the intensity of ultraviolet rays, depending upon the distance between the Sun and the Earth. Ultraviolet light intensity directly affects vitamin D production. Another aspect taken into consideration was that of clothing style and choice of fabric, both of which can alter the number of rays reaching the skin and thus instigate vitamin D production.

The team discovered that the earliest evidence of vitamin D deficiency was found in the late Pleistocene era. Four out of the five teeth recovered from a site in Israel, upon examination revealed this pattern. Two of the affected teeth are presumed to be possibly of Neanderthal origin. Previous studies claimed that Neanderthals suffered from vitamin D deficiency; however, putting forth a definitive statement is impractical, considering the currently utilized methods.

The team’s paper was published in the journal Current Anthropology and made it evident that vitamin D deficiency has been here amongst us probably since farming first began.

Recent studies and gathered evidence suggests that the condition has taken a toll for the worse and is now more severe as we have evolved from small-scale agriculture and pastoralism to large-scale complex urban societies.

Teeth recovered from Greece in 1948 revealed four times the level of deficiency than those primitive farmers from the Middle East. Such levels are enough to cause rickets.

The role of vitamin D in regards to general health, skin pigmentation, and calcium storage is still relatively unknown to this day. Hopefully, through further research, a more definitive conclusion can be made.

May 20, 2017

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