Scientists say that Maya ancestry could be a reason for diabetes

Diabetes is a disease that afflicts 12% of the Mexican population, even a higher percentage than in the United States, a condition that has turned the government’s attention to take emergency actions, as adding an 8% tax on high-calorie foods and a 10% tax to sugar-sweetened beverages. But a study from geneticists at the National Autonomous University of Mexico (UNAM) suggests that Maya ancestry could be a reason for higher risk for developing diabetes.

The communities of Maya descent, just like other ethnic groups in Mexico, have been decreasing in population every year, this also means that their gene pool has grown smaller and become more homogenous, a common situation in isolated populations. This might be the main reason why rare genetic variations are common in this type of groups.

Original Image: “FAMILIA MAYA” by Jose Javier Martin Espartosa, used under CC BY-SA 2.0 license, via Flickr.

As it has been registered, diabetes is a growing problem in southeastern Mexico, so this red light became the interest of clinical biochemist Marta Menjívar from UNAM, which she questioned if those genetic variations might be increasing the risk of Maya people to develop diabetes.

To find answers, the team of geneticists studied through a sample of the genomes of 575 Maya individuals looking for genetic variants previously associated to diabetes risk. The task was rather simple as they were able to easily identify among relatively homogenous gene pool, two unusual genetic variants.

This is an important finding, because it could provide us clues about how to tackle the disease and plan public health strategies,” said María Guadalupe García, geneticist at the Autonomous University of Yucatán (UADY), quoted on an article from scientific publishing site, Science.




Although the study can be broaden, as most Mexicans have mixed race background, and an average mixed race person in Mexico has 55% indigenous ancestry. Studying specific indigenous groups could lead to understanding risk factors present in most of Mexican population.


The results of a study as such could help people get personalized treatment, targeting to specific needs according to the genetic profile and eliminating unnecessary treatments or medicines. Even though this is just the tip of the iceberg, as diabetes is complex and there is still unknown details on the disease, and knowing that genes are not the only risk factor to develop such ailment.