Henna and the Evil Eye, Salt and Lilith,
and the Geography of G6PD Deficiency

This paper demonstrates that traditions of using henna versus salt as to attract benevolent spirits and avert demons may have changed the genetic prevalence of G6PD over generations.

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Traditions of averting malevolent spirits with henna and salt to may have altered the incidence of Glucose-6-phosphate dehydrogenase deficiency in populations across the North Africa, the Levant, and the Arabian Peninsula. The geographic distribution of G6PD deficiency, an x-linked hereditary enzymopathy, has been correlated to populations’ adaptation to malarial environments, but this has not fully explained the variations in the gene’s distribution.  For instance, Jewish Sephardim and Mizrahim have 30% to 60% of G6PD deficiency while Muslims from the same countries have rates of 1.8% to 8.5%.  Recently, physicians have found that G6PD deficient neonates and young children, particularly males, who have been hennaed according to local blessing and curing traditions in Turkish and Bedouin Muslim cultures, suffer hyperbilirubinemia and acute hemolytic crisis. In Jewish traditions in the same regions, children were traditionally rubbed with salt rather than henna. 

“Henna and the Evil Eye, Salt and Lilith, and the Geography of G6PD Deficiency” was prepared by Catherine Cartwright-Jones for GEOG-80998-002-200880, in partial fulfillment of requirements for PhD studies, under advisor Dr. J Tyner PhD, Geography Department, Kent State University, 2008