You’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.
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.
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
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.
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
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.)
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.
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.
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
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.
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.
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.
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?