16 Places Common Diseases Do Not Occur, and The Reasons Why

by Ryan Winter on September 2, 2009

low_disease_rates_soliantYou’ve probably heard of a few such places: Areas of the world that – for reasons rare, bizarre, and so-simple-its-crazy – seem to be impervious to certain ailments.

Below is a sampling from across the globe of such oasis and a look at what may account for their ultra health benefits:


Place: Mexico’s Copper Canyon
Disease/ailment that is non-existent or rare: High-cholesterol
Reason[s] why: The Tarahumara Indians of this region have impressively low cholesterol due to a diet that emphasizes slow-release foods, sending sugar into the bloodstream at a much slower rate than other foods. Their diet – which includes slow-release carbohydrates from whole corn, beans, squash, cumin, and other crops – also helps maintain proper blood sugar levels, preventing an overproduction of insulin.

mexico_copper_canyon_cholesterol_low_disease_rate_soliant

Place: Costa Rica’s Nicoya Peninsula
Disease/ailment that is non-existent or rare: Death before age 90
Reason[s] why: Residents of this small town two hours out of San Jose spend hours each day chopping wood and making all their meals by hand, from scratch. The area also has some of the hardest water around, loaded with beneficial minerals such as calcium and magnesium.
http://www.oprah.com/slideshow/oprahshow/20081009_tows_bluezones/2

costa_rica_long_life_countries_low_disease_rate_soliant

Place: Japan
Disease/ailment that is non-existent or rare: Heart disease
Reason[s] why: Diets rich in soy and omega 3 fatty acids but low in refined sugars keeps the Japanese in good heart health, according to most statistics http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/health/2133674.stm Interestingly enough, one study proposes Japan’s relative immunity to heart disease may be “on paper” only, suggesting that a lot of heart disease in Japan is chalked up to heart failure http://www.bmj.com/cgi/content/extract/319/7204/255

japan_heart_disease_low_disease_rate_soliant

Place: Iceland
Disease/ailment that is non-existent or rare:
Depression
Reason[s] why: Like the Japanese, Icelanders consume healthy amounts of omega-3 and other healthy fats from sources such as pasture-raised lamb and wild game. Like green tea in Japan, Icelanders ward off a variety of cancers with the antioxidants in black tea, vegetables, wild berries, barley, and rye. Despite the soul-sucking winters during which the nation is plunged into almost 24-hour darkness, experts believe this diet also helps fight off the depression normally associated with such lack of sun.

iceland_depression_countries_low_disease_rate_soliant

Place: rural Northern India
Disease/ailment that is non-existent or rare: Alzheimer’s
Reason[s] why: A slew of studies of people in this region are being done to see why only 1% of the population over 65 is affected by Alzheimer’s disease (compared to more than 5% of American’s older than 65.) Though the practical non-existence of Alzheimer’s in Northern India (and select parts of Africa) might simply be a lack of proper diagnosis, another explanation may be genetic. http://www.searo.who.int/EN/Section1174/Section1199/Section1567/Section1823_8066.htm

northern_india_alzheimers_low_disease_rate_soliant

Place: Loma Linda, California
Disease/ailment that is non-existent or rare: Anything well into your 90s
Reason[s] why: Like many cultures who seem to be able to ward off disease at a disproportionally-high rate, the people of this Moreno Valley eat a healthy diet. The community is home to 900 members of the Seventh Day Adventist faith, in which smoking, booze, meat, and processed foods are a big no-no.
http://www.oprah.com/slideshow/oprahshow/20081009_tows_bluezones/10

california_loma_linda_countries_low_disease_rate_soliant

Place: Thailand
Disease/ailment that is non-existent or rare:
Cancer (all types)
Reason[s] why: Areas of the world subject to high levels of infection seem to have the lowest rates of cancer. In many cases, the lower a nation’s Gross Domestic Product, the lower its people’s risk of developing cancer. One explanation is the so-called “hygiene hypothesis” – that people whose bodies are forced to fight off diseases in their youth are more likely to be toughened-up for battles later in life, such as cancer.

thailand_cancer_low_disease_rate_soliant

Place: Sardinia
Disease/ailment that is non-existent or rare:
Largest population on Earth of men age 100+
Reason[s] why: Folks on this island 200 km off the Italian coast eat lean, fruit-and-veggie-based diet high in whole grain breads and dairy like hearty fresh cheeses. Meat is consumed in extreme moderation and is more of a side-dish than main staple of this mountain-trekking Mediterranean diet.

sardinia_age_low_disease_rate_soliant

Place: United Kingdom
Disease/ailment that is non-existent or rare: Epilepsy
Reason[s] why: Your odds of dying from Epilepsy in the UK are lower than anywhere else in the world. By the mortality numbers, the worst place to have a seizure is Estonia.
http://www.nationmaster.com/graph/mor_epi_percap-mortality-epilepsy-per-capita

united_kingdom_arthritis_low_disease_rate_soliant

Place: Japan
Disease/ailment that is non-existent or rare:
Obesity
Reason[s] why: Though we think of Scandinavia as flawlessly healthy, the country that pops up most often for having a healthy population and a relatively risk-free and sustainable diet that’s easy to adopt (you don’t even have to eat Japanese food to ward off obesity like the Japanese, just eat more fish, veggies and fruit, and don’t forget to chew thoroughly.)
http://www.webmd.com/diet/features/diets-of-world-japanese-diet

japan_obesity_low_disease_rate_soliant

Place: United States
Disease/ailment that is non-existent or rare:
Death from arthritis
Reason[s] why: Believe it or not, the U.S. is the last place on Earth it’s almost statistically impossible to succumb to this widespread ailment. Slovenia has dozens of times the carpometacarpal arthritis death rate: One per two million people.
http://www.nationmaster.com/graph/mor_art_of_fir_car_joi_percap-first-carpometacarpal-joint-per-capita

states_arthritis_low_disease_rate_soliant

Place: anywhere in the Muslim world
Disease/ailment that is non-existent or rare:
Skin cancer
Reason[s] why: Countries close to the equator with high immigrant European populations (Australia) and tanning-obsessed countries with populations of people with low skin pigmentation have some of the highest skin cancer rates. Muslim nations fare well, experts say, due to populations with high skin pigmentation and heavy cover from the sun in the way of traditional clothing.
http://www.cbc.ca/health/story/2008/07/30/f-forbes-skincancerhotspots.html

bosporus

Place: Japan
Disease/ailment that is non-existent or rare:
Prostate cancer
Reason[s] why: Anti-oxidants in green and chai tea, drank as much as 15-20 times a day in the land of the rising sun, ward off all sorts of cancers. The people of Okinawa practice calorie restriction and load up on in-season vegetables like bok choy and kale. http://www.usrf.org/CBS/newsArticles.asp.htm

japan_prostate_cancer_low_disease_rate_soliant

Place: Ethiopia
Disease/ailment that is non-existent or rare:
Parkinson’s disease
Reason[s] why: Interestingly-enough, the highest rate of Parkinson’s is in American Amish communities (almost 1% – 950 in 100,000 – of the Amish population has Parkinson’s), possibly due to unchecked pesticide use. Ethiopia’s is a comparably non-existent 7 in 100,000. Genetics? Sadly no: the answer may be that few Ethiopians actually live to the age at which Parkinson’s strikes.
http://viartis.net/parkinsons.disease/prevalence.htm

ethiopia_parkinsons_low_disease_rate_soliant

Place: U.S. and Canada
Disease/ailment that is non-existent or rare:
Tuberculosis
Reason[s] why: Gone are the days of mass cases of consumption (the old term for the final stages of TB) but the World Health Organization is still engaged in battle with vaccine-resistant strains. TB rates in the U.S. and Canada are a tenth that of Africa, though Americans of African descent are five times more likely to contract tuberculosis in the U.S. than Americans of Native or European descent.

states_canada_tuberculosis_low_disease_rate_soliant

Place: Czech Republic
Disease/ailment that is non-existent or rare: Diabetes
Reason[s] why: Modest eating have kept Type 2 diabetes especially down in this country, where fast food is less available and people only eat until they are “almost” full.

czech_diabetes_low_disease_rate_soliant

Summary:
The U.S. healthcare system can learn and incorporate much from these unique and wonderful places. First, prevention appears to be easier than cure, and just as possible. The real question then becomes, even if everyone was aware of all the preventative measures, would they forgo the “good life” to remain healthy longer? Then, how can our healthcare system help to enforce this “healthy alternative”?

What are your thoughts?

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{ 14 comments… read them below or add one }

Scott Cowley 09.02.09 at 4:50 pm

Depression is only foreign to Icelanders because they were born there, not because of the food. I know from personal experience that Iceland and the Icelandic diet won’t protect you from seasonal depression if you’re a foreigner that ends up living there. It’s a wonderful place to visit, but not to live.

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Alex McArthur 09.02.09 at 7:07 pm

Very interesting stuff. Now if we could just combine these places…

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Patrick McIntosh 09.02.09 at 7:33 pm

Sardinia-Bella Sardinia! They forgot to mention that goat cheese is consumed there a lot and there are a lot of omega 3s.
Plus there is no stress allowed on that Island.

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pariah 09.03.09 at 12:22 am

Your explanations of why are for the most part conjecture and unproven which is a nice way of describing BS.

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Ryan Winter 09.03.09 at 8:44 am

Thanks all for your comments.

Pariah and Joanne,

You are certainly correct in that some of the explanations have not yet been proven, or at least we could not find the research to prove them. That said, the explanations for these truly amazing finds, are the leading theories to be tested when research is ultimately performed. Fortunately, these geographic anomalies have been identified, so future research can be performed, leading to hope that many of these diseases can actually be prevented. That’s truly exciting!

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korgo 09.03.09 at 11:17 am

What about the international space station? 🙂

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Phil E. Drifter 09.10.09 at 3:22 am

US healthcare doesn’t care about peoples’ health, they care about peoples’ money.

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Kent 09.10.09 at 7:25 am

This is utterly and completely BS!

This is posted under “healthcare news”?? wow, what are your sources?

K

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Ryan Winter 09.10.09 at 9:10 am

Kent,

The source for each is the link for each location. Thanks.

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K.A. 08.12.10 at 12:12 am

I liked the article, though much of it I knew. But the arthritis thing? Who knew! Beautiful pictures, too.

As for the explanatory part, he’s trying to sum up simply the most likely reason based on research, e.g., Amish pesticide use is the most obvious possibility according to studies on factors contributing to Parkinson’s disease risk (though another contributor would likely be their high intake of dairy, which has also been cited as contributing to Parkinson’s, in part because pesticides are concentrated in the milk fats.)

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Ann 11.04.10 at 7:39 am

If pertinent, you might add breast cancer among (East?) Africans is lower than, say, among Brits and Americans, although it may not be “non-existent.”

About the Tarahumara, they have tried to keep their ancient traditions, despite the world around them. They’re not far from the U.S. border. We quite lovely people, known for their runners, who race in 100 mile or so competitions that last for days, not hours.

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purcon 11.15.10 at 4:46 am

I liked the article, though much of it I knew. But the arthritis thing? Who knew! Beautiful pictures, too.

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Windows 8 Technical Manual 03.17.11 at 3:29 am

Your explanations of why are for the most part conjecture and unproven which is a nice way of describing BS.

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Windows 8 Technical Manual 04.02.11 at 1:08 am

What about the international space station?

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