An evolutionary historian at the University of North Texas may have discovered an answer to a medical mystery.
The Health and Medicine Division of the National Academy of Sciences has long recommended that adults consume at least 1,000 milligrams of calcium daily, and women age 50 and older should consume even more.
It may not be great advice for Americans with West African ancestry, who have high susceptibility to certain cancers when exposed to America’s calcium-rich, dairy food culture, according to Constance Hilliard, University of North Texas researcher in evolutionary African history.
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Hilliard’s research supports the idea that the nation and region of origin of ancestors contributes to the risk of developing, or not developing, specific medical conditions.
Research shows that over-consumption of calcium is a trigger for metastatic prostate cancer, however, Hilliard says, African American males are four times more likely to die of this cancer than Caucasian males.
The reason may be found in their genetic makeup.
African Americans carrying the TRPV6a gene variant, which is correlated with unusually high calcium absorptive capacity.
800 milligrams is considered over-consumption of calcium for these men, whose ancestors in West Africa consumed no more than 200 milligrams a day, Hilliard says.
"The fact that Northern Europeans are just one population amongst many, just because they are a demographic majority in the U.S. does not make that population's biological needs, in terms of minerals, universal."
It's too soon to say whether her research will result in dietary guideline changes.
Hilliard is presenting her findings at American Association for Cancer Research annual conference this week.
The findings hit home for Ed and Pat Sanders, founders of 50 Hoops, a prostate cancer awareness charity focused on the African American community.
They believe education and screening can help reduce cancer rates in African American men, and the new information should encourage them to learn more about their history.
"It is very important to find out what kind of disease. Did Mom ever have breast cancer? Did Dad ever have prostate cancer? We need to ask those questions. This is the conversation that should be going on," said Pat Sanders.