Human Evolution

, Volume 11, Issue 1, pp 67–77 | Cite as

Maize based diets and possible neurobehavioural after-effects among some populations in the world

Symposium on Diet and health in ancient and living populations chaired by prof. Laura Newell-Morris, Florence, April 20–21 international union of anthropological and ethnological sciences (IUAES) inter-congress on biodeography and human evolution Florence, April 19–27, 1995
  • M. Ernandes
  • M. La Guardia
  • S. Giammanco


Maize is a cereal particularly lacking in tryptophan, which is the precursor of serotonin, an important neurotransmitter. Altough complementary foods may eliminate tryptophan deficiency, serotonin deficiency may often continue to exist because of competition made by other Large Neutral Amino Acids (LNAA) against tryptophan for neuron access, since they use the same carrier to cross the blood-brain barrier. Thus serotonin synthesis depends on two variables: the amount of tryptophan and the trp/LNAA ratio (R). “R” is lowest for common maize, low for beans and, as a rule, for most vegetable foods, higher for meat. So, when maize is the preponderant food in the meal, the “R” value lowers and so in parallel serotonin synthesis does. Serotonin deficiency involves several behavioural consequences, such as the tendency towards aggressive behaviour or the religious fanaticism. Among native american populations, these consequences appear, as a rule, positively correlated with maize alimentary dependence (Aztecs appear as those who greatly suffered from serotonin deficiency). In the world these are thinkable for some african populations (i.e. Zulu) or european (i.e. Balkan peoples).

Key Words

Maize Serotonin Aggressive behaviour Cannibalism Fanaticism 


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Copyright information

© International Institute for the Study of Man 1996

Authors and Affiliations

  • M. Ernandes
    • 1
  • M. La Guardia
    • 1
  • S. Giammanco
    • 1
  1. 1.Istituto di Fisiologia e Nutrizione Umana, Facoltà di FarmaciaUniversità di PalermoPalermoItaly

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