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Weaker bones and white skin as adaptions to improve anthropological «fitness» for northern environments

Vieth R1.

Osteoporos Int. 2019 Nov 6. doi: 10.1007/s00198-019-05167-4. [Epub ahead of print]




The vitamin D paradox relates to the lower risk of osteoporosis in people of sub-Saharan African ancestry (Blacks) compared with people of European ancestry (Whites). The paradox implies that for bone health, Blacks require less vitamin D and calcium than Whites do. Why should populations that migrated northward out of Africa have ended up needing more vitamin D than tropical Blacks? Human skin color became lighter away from the tropics to permit greater skin penetration of the UVB light that generates vitamin D. Lack of vitamin D impairs intestinal calcium absorption and limits the amount of calcium that can deposit into the protein matrix of bone, causing rickets or osteomalacia. These can cause cephalopelvic disproportion and death in childbirth. Whiter skin was more fit for reproduction in UV-light restricted environments, but natural selection was also driven by the phenotype of bone per se. Bone formation starts with the deposition of bone-matrix proteins. Mineralization of the matrix happens more slowly, and it stiffens bone. If vitamin D and/or calcium supplies are marginal, larger bones will not be as fully mineralized as smaller bones. For the same amount of mineral, unmineralized or partially mineralized bone is more easily deformed than fully mineralized bone. The evidence leads to the hypothesis that to minimize the soft bone that causes pelvic deformation, a decrease in amount of bone, along with more rapid mineralization of osteoid improved reproductive fitness in Whites. Adaptation of bone biology for reproductive fitness in response to the environmental stress of limited availability of vitamin D and calcium came at the cost of greater risk of osteoporosis later in life.