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Endemic goiter and cretinism in Alps: evolution of science and treatments, transformation of the pathology and its representations

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Abstract

Why speak still today about endemic goiter and cretinism in the Alps? because thyroid pathology represents the discovery paradigm of endocrinology, the first explanatory and curative anatomo-clinic schema of endocrinology. Great figures, naturalists, physicians, biologists, surgeons, many of which issued from the French (Fodéré, 1792), Swiss (Kocher, Nobel prize in 1910), Austrian (Wagner-Jauregg, Nobel prize in 1927) and Italian Alps (Malacarne, 1780) contributed to these discoveries though the centuries and deserve for this reason to be honored.

The present work is a historical and iconographic review, which relates the evolution of this pathology and it's representations, from Antoquity to the present days. These representations have beeon described in several monographs, among which Merke's (1984) extraordinary “History and Iconography of Endemic Goiter and Cretinism”, but also in literary works with Balzac's “Le médecin de campagne”.

It's only in the beginning of the XX century that the inclusion of iodized salt in the diet has radically transformed the disease and its consequences. But this pathology has left painful traces in the collective imagination of Alpine people.

Finally the anxiety provoked by the crossing of Tchernobyl “radioactive cloud” over France's South-Est, in 1986, expresses today's concerns about thyroid problems, which are represented by the augmentation, real or imaginary, of the number of cases of thyroid cancer.

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Droin, G. Endemic goiter and cretinism in Alps: evolution of science and treatments, transformation of the pathology and its representations. Int. J. Anthropol. 20, 307–324 (2005). https://doi.org/10.1007/BF02443066

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Keywords

  • Endemic Goiter
  • Cretinism
  • Alpine population