Lytico-bodig in Guam: Historical links between diet and illness during and after Spanish colonization

Santiago Giménez-Roldán, John C. Steele, Valerie S. Palmer, Peter S. Spencer

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

3 Scopus citations


This paper analyses documents on health and disease among Chamorro people during and after 333 years (1565–1898) of the Spanish claim to and occupation of Guam. Here, a complex neurodegenerative disease—known locally as lytico-bodig and medically as amyotrophic lateral sclerosis and Parkinsonism-dementia complex (ALS/PDC)—reached hyperendemic proportions in the mid-twentieth century but then declined and is now disappearing. A tau-dominated polyproteinopathy, clinical phenotypes included amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS or lytico), atypical parkinsonism with dementia (P-D or bodig), and dementia alone. A plausible etiology for lytico-bodig is consumption of flour derived from the incompletely detoxified seed of Cycas micronesica (fadang in Chamorro; Federico in Spanish), a poisonous gymnosperm that survives climatic extremes that can affect the island. Traditional methods for safe consumption appear to have been lost over the course of time since governors Francisco de Villalobos (1796–1862) and Felipe de la Corte (1855–1866) proposed banning consumption in view of its acute toxic effects. A death certificate issued in 1823 might suggest ALS/PDC in people dying with disability or impedidos, and premature aging and a short life was linked to food use of fadang in the mid-1850s (Guam Vital Statistics Report, 1823). During the Japanese occupation of Guam (1941–1944), Chamorro people took refuge in the jungle for months, where they relied on insufficiently processed fadang as a staple food. After World War II, traditional foods and medicines were subsequently replaced as islanders rapidly acculturated to North American life.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)335-374
Number of pages40
JournalJournal of the History of the Neurosciences
Issue number4
StatePublished - 2021


  • Amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS)
  • Guam
  • Mariana Islands
  • Spanish colonization
  • Western Pacific ALS/PDC

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Neuroscience(all)
  • Clinical Neurology
  • History and Philosophy of Science


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