The high rates of gout reported among Mâori and Pacific Island males could be an ailment inherited over thousands of years to the time when Polynesia and Melanesia were being colonized from South East Asia.
According to Dr. Hallie Buckley, a biological anthropologist working for the University of Otago, and colleagues from the Australian National University and CNRS in Paris, Pacific Island males suffered from possible gouty arthritis.
Dr. Buckley and her other colleagues based their findings on analysis of skeletons raised from a 3,000-year-old cemetery in Vanuatu.
Her paper focussed on the health status of the Lapita people — so-called because of their distinctive decorated pottery known as the Lapita style.
"We examined the bones of 20 skeletons from the first two field seasons using radiography and other techniques and found erosive lesions or damage to the joints of seven of them. The pattern of these lesions suggests they were most likely the result of gouty arthritis," said Buckley.
Gout is caused by a build-up in the affected joints of urate crystals, the result of hyperuricaemia or high levels of urate acid in the blood.
"This surprising finding suggests a very early antiquity of gout in the Pacific Islands and may help to explain the unusually high incidence of hyperuricaemia and gout in many modern Pacific Island populations, including New Zealand Mâori," she said.
Other researchers have already suggested that the higher prevalence of gout in Polynesian populations may be due to a genetic predisposition.
Buckley also said the Lapita people's diet tended to consist of local plants and seafood. That purine rich seafood can set off attacks of gout in people who are already susceptible to the condition.
The study has been published in the October edition of Current Anthropology.