Celtic or Viking, a Curse is a Curse: Hereditary hemochromatosis, firewalls, and genetic killers

by Stephen Cobb on August 15, 2010


I just found an interesting academic paper from 2006 that discusses the genetic origins and spread of hereditary hemochromatosis (HHC). Was it the Celts or the Vikings, or the Irish Gaels?

Of course, depending on your view of life this question might be exciting or boring; and I would be the first to understand if people suffering from “Celtic Curse” found a discussion of the exact origin of this potentially deadly genetic defect to be, how shall I put this? Academic. However, there are some implications in this article for the mission of CelticCurse.org: Saving lives by raising awareness of this condition.

In my opinion, one of the main reasons that treatment and diagnosis of hereditary hemochromatosis is inadequate in some countries is  a general failure to grasp just how widespread the condition is. We are talking about a genetic defect carried by 10% of the American population and afflicting more people than Down syndrome, cystic fibrosis, or sickle-cell disease. Please note that I am not suggesting one disease is more deserving of attention, treatment, or research than another. I’m just saying that it is worrying–and puzzling–that the public knows less about HHC than it does about some conditions which are less prevalent.

I’ve thought about this a lot in the 20 months that have passed since my wife was diagnosed with HHC. One factor in the lack of HHC awareness struck me recently when I was talking about firewalls–yes firewalls–those things you use to protect computers from each other. What do firewalls have to do with hemochromatosis? Simply put, they prove that a well-chosen word or phrase can effectively communicate a complex concept, facilitating widespread understanding of that concept. (I don’t think “hereditary hemochromatosis” conveys a whole lot about the condition it names, nor does it roll off the tongue or lend itself to instant recall.)

As it happens, my wife and I were heavily involved in computer security during the time that firewalls first appeared on the market. We had the pleasure of getting to know–and learn from–some of the founders of the firewall industry. We also had a front row seat at the phenomenal launch phase of this security technology.

I helped to organize the first commercial firewall conference and trade show in January of 1996, and I was one of the speakers. I can tell you there were people at that show buying firewalls before they even knew where to put them, so powerful was the idea that this technology could keep the bad guys out of your network while still allowing you to connect that network to the Internet (which just about every organization was doing for the first time back then, from companies to government agencies, universities, charities, and so on). I think Celtic Curse has similar power to popularize a complex concept. To me, Celtic Curse conveys the following things:

  • it is something bad,
  • it has a genetic component, and
  • it can be defeated (lifted, alleviated).

However, there is a potential drawback to using Celtic Curse as a term for HHC, namely a narrow identification with a particular group of people, i.e. the Celts. Although findings in the emerging science of genetic archeology suggest “Celtic” could apply to a very large group of people, there is a popular perception of Celtic as a fairly narrow ethnic group (namely Irish, Scots, Welsh, and Breton). In fact, the C282Y mutation at the heart of HHC is present–in varying degrees–across Europe and prevalent in parts of Scandinavia. Yet Vikings are not commonly considered to be Celts.

Nevertheless, we decided to name this website CelticCurse.org. Our cause is Fighting Celtic Curse and our call to action is Fight Celtic Curse! We think that Celtic Curse is a term that people can remember. It evokes key aspects of the phenomenon that it names and it will help spread awareness of the condition. Sure, you can become a victim of HHC even if you have no known connection to Celtic lineage, Celtic language, or Celtic anything else. Then again, a computer firewall doesn’t stop fires, it controls the flow of network traffic, and was a big help in popularizing the idea of doing just that.

To me, the possibility that Vikings spread the C282Y mutation is inherently interesting. Discussion of this possibility helps spread awareness of what the C282Y mutation does. So, I am happy to highlight this article, which is worth reading if you want to dig a little deeper in to the question of how Celtic HHC really is. The title asks a question: “Was the C282Y mutation an Irish Gaelic mutation that the Vikings help [sic] disseminate?” The author is C.A. Whittington of the University of British Columbia, Canada, and it was published in Medical Hypotheses (2006) 67, 1270–1273. You can read an Adobe .pdf file of the article here.

{ 7 comments… read them below or add one }

Awaz H August 15, 2010 at 6:14 pm

Dear, Stephen Cobb

I want to thank you for this great article for uploading the Adobe.pdf file of the articles “Was the C282Y mutation an Irish Gaelic mutation that the Vikings help [sic] disseminate, this is a great help for those that don’t know much about and might have question which might be in someways; this has been a great help to me. Thank You for keeping the Awareness going.


Stephen Cobb September 3, 2010 at 2:59 pm

Your comment is much appreciated, although the real credit goes to Dr. Chris Whittington in Canada who wrote the article and has a very informative website called http://ironic-health.com/


Pat November 6, 2010 at 4:14 pm

Didn’t know such a disease existed
Well it’s entirely possible since the Vikings invaded and were finally defeated in dublin Ireland by king obrien(conans desecendant). In 1066
So I would say it’s proabably correct
But what are the characeristics of the disease?


Susan Kathleen Davis Zimbro April 29, 2013 at 7:49 pm

I was diagnosed with Hemocromatosis in June 2011. Before that, I endured 6 hours of back surgery, left hip replaced in July 2009, right hip replaced Januaropay 2010. It was not evident that I was an afflicted person until I went for a Dr.’s visit in May 2011, when the attending physician noticed that my liver enzymes were elevated before every surgical procedure. Bottom line…They tested me and gave me the diagnosis of IOD. Interesting about this disease, that it only starts to do damage after menopause. During my ‘reproductive years’ I had heavy periods, which obviously protecting me from iron overload. Even more interesting, after my periods ceased (January 06) my back started bothering me…Oh I might add I was a fitness instructor from 1985-2001. In excellant shape and relatively young. I have 3 sons~ My oldest 33 is affected and undergoes phlebotomy every 1-2 weeks. My second born son has not been tested. My third born son has been tested and is thankfully not affected, but a carrier. I really do not think that there is enough information out there about this potentially deadly heriditary condition. I would love to educate all, especially those of Northern European/Celtic/Scandinavian Descent. Any information on how I can do that, so that I can possibly help others and bring awareness to this condition would be greatly appreciated Thank You, Susan Kathleen Zimbro


Pansy October 23, 2013 at 4:46 pm

Oddly enough I have always had iron levels above high end of normal (normal high end here is 12.5)For 31/2 yrs extremely heavy periods(20 us days out of 30)coffee drinker 3-4 pots a days , take extra calcium. Arthritis, hair loss, chronic fatigue ,joint pain eat as if never full but struggle to gain weight, always cold,abdominal pain, heart flutters , head aches. My level this time 21.5. Going for procedure to stop heavy periods soon. Doc worries iron could climb high high. He says I should be severely anemic. But way opposite.


Lynne Gould February 13, 2014 at 12:34 am

I recently found I have Dupuytrens Disease and in checking on line I ran into Vikings Disease and found Hemocromotosis. My aunt just died from this. So far no one else in the family have either one, but I’m going to do some checking. Those darn Vikings! Thank you for all your information. I am Irish descent, born with blond hair and blue eyes.


Lynne Gould February 13, 2014 at 12:43 am

This is a PS. I also have Primary Biliary Chirois, diabetes, and Sjogrens Syndrome ,could all of these be from the same Viking gene?


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