A nasty Celtic liver disorder…

Researchers in a Dublin hospital have discovered a distinctive Celtic gene that has been something like 50 generations in the making. Apparently it has also left us prone to a nasty liver disorder called haemochromatosis (hat tip to James). It’s characteristic symptoms, include:

In the overwhelming majority of cases, it is treatable. The condition means having too much iron in the blood. It is estimated that one in five Irish people carry this gene and one in 86 will go on to develop haemochromatosis. It is associated with both men and women aged more than 40. Its symptoms include excessive tiredness, male impotence, liver enlargement, arthritis in the hand and tanning easily.

  • SlugFest

    Tanning easily??? I’m out.

    I think this disease may result in some interesting rethinking down the line: who’s Irish and who’s Celtic?

    Since the outbreak of the (most recent) troubles, many in the Unionist and Loyalist communities have forsaken all things Irish. It’s my understanding that that wasn’t always the case — Gusty Spence, in describing his childhood, said that his sisters (and perhaps he himself) took Irish stepdancing lessons and were involved in other ‘Irish’ cultural things. In other words, they considered themselves Irish AND British. From the late ’60s on, however, most people (again, this is my understanding — feel free to refute) from ‘that side’ claimed they were not irish at all.

    Conversely, I’ve listened to some Nationalists and Republicans claiming that they were a completely different race of people than their Unionist/Loyalist counterparts. (I choose to believe that those who claim such things are the minority, not majority, within their communities).

    But here’s the thing: if this disease breaks out in both communities, perhaps each community would have to reconsider who they truly are … and just how genetically close they are to their brethren across the great divide.

    [And on a lighter note … leave it to the irish to have mutated genes … always knew something was amiss at the family reunions, but couldn’t quite put my finger on it.]

  • Mick Fealty

    I wonder if a repetitive venting spleen is another manifestation of the same disorder?

  • SlugFest

    “I wonder if a repetitive venting spleen is another manifestation of the same disorder?”

    No, Mick, that’s a different mutation … though i hear ‘blood letting’ is used for that ailment as well. 🙂

  • aquifer

    I thought the Celtic thing was already blown. i.e. It may have been some sort of cultural fashion but had little to do with the gene pool. A lot of the interlaced decoration we take for celtic probably came over with the vikings. Pick and mix culture is fine, call it postmodern if you need elite permission to have fun.

  • james

    When talking genetically, it’s probably correct to refer to the scotch-irish as a group. With so much interaction between each other (and basically with no-one else) over the last 2000 years the scottish and irish are essentially the same (of course, genetically speaking, humans and monkey are essentially the same, but let’s not start that argument). So probably no big suprise to learn that the Irish diaspora show 1 in 5 have this gene.

    Still pretty funny though. I can definitely see the link from liver enlargement ->arthritis in the hand -> male impotence -> excessive tiredness. The ‘tanning easily’, however, is completely out of left field. And I like the solution of blood letting; wasn’t this the solution to all problems a century ago? (e.g., removal of pieces of brain to cure demons in the head, blood letting to cure haemophilia)

  • SlugFest

    well, whaddya know …

    actually my uncle died of this about 25 years ago. he was fairly young — late 40s or early 50s. at the time, we knew it as a blood cancer, but it was nicknamed ‘bronze diabetes’. just did a quick google search and it turns out it’s the same thing.

    before he got sick he was fairly pale, but in his last year his entire appearance changed, and he had a leather-like tanned face (think george hamilton on steroids). how sad to think that blood-letting may have helped him.

    we all had to get tested for it (i think we’re supposed to do it every year, but none of us do). ironically, my tests showed that i had severely LOW iron/white blood cells (lympho something or other) and my parents (per the doctor’s orders) made me eat liver 2-3 times a week.

    you can put all the onions and bacons on it in the world, i still hate liver.

  • Pete Baker

    A pedant notes, Mick… as usual *ahem*.. it looks, can’t actually confirm, that this is more of a seasonal story than a recent discovery –

    Researchers at the Mater Hospital’s liver unit in Dublin first identified the strong link between the Celtic gene and the inherited disorder.

  • mark

    I note this known condition currently causes symptoms that requires treatment for less than 1/250,000 Irish people (how many a year? after the first year how many new cases?) with a much less risky situation for those of Irish descent.

    A non-story retold from bullshit St Patrick’s Day spin.

    This is not science, new or realistically reported.

    It is tabloid journalism and shouldn’t be treated otherwise.

    The story is that up to a few hundred people of ‘Irish descent’ may have an easily treatable blood disorder. WOW

  • middle-class taig

    so does that mean I can put it about that my annoyingly handsome dubh-Irish mate may prove disappointing in the old boudoir Olympics department!?

  • “too much iron in the blood…….tanning easily”

    God, you guys gotta learn to stay on the ball, this is way, way too easy.

    The Irish Don’t Tan, They Rust.

  • I think the iron-rich blood thing can be traced to the famine. Those of our antecedents with lower blood iron levels either died of starvation or made it to the states.

    The Irish population does have an unusually high iron level – despite the odd anaemic still hanging around.

    I’m reminded of those periodic scare stories about the second coming of the Black Death; one cannot but reflect that we are the descendants of people who obviously had an immunity to bubonic plague – anyone who didn’t didn’t get to reproduce.

  • aquifer

    Athletes can get banned for blood packing, but around here it may have just boosted the fight or flight response, enabling farmers to keep farming while subject to occassional attack. Iron age farmers that is.

  • PHIL

    Tanning easily? Has Peter Hain been tested yet?

  • tommy tookamota

    johnny sandhu is one of us

  • It’s a pretty old story actually.

    It doesn’t help tanning – the iron deposition in your skin turns it brown/bronze.

    Haemochromatosis is picked up on simple blood test and despite “The story is that up to a few hundred people of ‘Irish descent’ may have an easily treatable blood disorder. WOW” it is actually is a very serious condidtion if it advances and little can be done for it while early stages are very easily treated.

    “I think the iron-rich blood thing can be traced to the famine. Those of our antecedents with lower blood iron levels either died of starvation or made it to the states. ”
    It dates back even further – I think 70 generations at least is the number touted.
    It’s not iron rich blood, it’s a problem with the iron binding capacity so they have the same iron available for the normal use as the rest of us only that their cells think there is a shortage of iron all the time and keeps storing more and more. Which is then abnormally stored in the body tissues, leading to problems like liver cirrhosis, diabetes, heart problems, arthitis etc.

  • Brian Boru

    Maybe “Mesolithic gene” would be better. Gaelic Ireland had a language and a Celtic culture e.g. Druids like in Celtic Gaul etc. and worshipped Celtic gods like Lug (Lunasa, the Irish word for July is named after him as in Lyon (formerly Lugdunum in Roman times). However, DNA evidence from Trinity College concludes (I think the sample is Southern) that 78% of men born down here are descended from the first inhabitants of the island. http://www.unison.ie/irish_independent/stories.php3?ti=41&ca=9&si=175861&issue_id=1882

    Interestingly it includes 62% of those with “English-sounding surnames”, 52.9% with Scottish-sounding surnames, 83.3% of those with Norman/Norse sounding surnames, and regarding the Gaelic names, it divides into 73.3% in Leinster, 98.8% in Connaught, 80% in our 3 Ulster counties and 94% in Munster. So there probably is an “Irish gene”, though maybe “Celtic” is inappropriate.

  • Busty Brenda

    iron in the blood. I’m out. Whiter than white and anaemic!!!

  • Mick,

    Was a comment I made on this thread in humorous vein excised?

  • “in humorous vein excised?”

    Mick the mohel?

    And I wasn’t invited to the Vance Bris?

    Was it something I said?

  • Warm Storage

    “The story is that up to a few hundred people of ‘Irish descent’ may have an easily treatable blood disorder. WOW”

    It’s only easily treatable if the doctors can make the link between the symptoms and haemochromatosis. And as recently as 1990, my father’s doctors in first Altnagelvin, then the City, Altnagelvin again and finally the Royal didn’t have a clue what it was that he had.

    By way of a caveat, sure, a simple blood test may be able to let people who have it know, but the symptoms can manifest themselves very quickly, so by the time someone vists the doctor for said test, the condition could’ve moved beyond the treatable stage. My father was visibly fit and healthy one Hallowe’en break, when he suddenly took to his bed. He was dead 10 days into the new year, aged 45.

  • scotdna

    “The Celtic curse refers to the disease of hereditary hemochromatosis, or HH. It is so-called because it is common in people of Celtic background: Irish, Scots, Welsh and British. Additionally, HH is one of the most common genetic diseases in the United States, occurring in one in 200 Caucasians with one in 10 being a carrier — most, but not all of these having Celtic ancestry. By contrast, sickle cell anemia occurs in one in 500 African-Americans with one in 12 being carriers. Despite its prevalence, it remains relatively unknown, even among physicians.”

    For more… http://live.psu.edu/index.php?sec=vs&s…=10913&pf=1

  • POL

    Which hand gets the arthritis. PLEASE Please please not the right.LOL

  • Hemochromatosis and Phlebotomy – Updated Blog

    Hi

    Just to let you know that our blog is still open for a few days. The discussion has changed in the last few days so we would like to take this opportunity to invite you again to a research blog (again) on Hemochromatosis.

    To take part please click this link

    http://www.thepatientconnections.com/blog.asp?uid=44

    The blog is anonymous and easy to use. Instructions are given on the blog so thanks in advance for your help it is much appreciated.

    Best wishes

    Belinda
    The Patient Connection
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