Spring 2021 True Natural Health Magazine
By Roger French
About 40 ̶ 50 years ago, a group of medical ‘ecologists’ (scientists) concluded that in modern Australia, virtually all illnesses are diseases of civilisation and that genuinely inherited disease is very rare.
This is actually very good news, because it means that we don’t need to look forward to old age plagued by numerous illnesses. We have the ability to keep ourselves as healthy and disease-free as we wish ̶ that is, within reason, personal circumstances permitting.
In the development of the lifestyle that we call ‘Natural Health’, the early researchers/practitioners developed a number of basic principles, the first three of which are hugely significant:
- Good health is the normal condition of the human body and mind and should continue from birth until death. Illness and premature ageing will not occur unless their causes are built into our everyday lifestyle.
- Broadly speaking, infectious disease is not primarily an attack on the body by some foreign agent, most commonly a bacteria or virus. Rather it’s the body’s defences at work attempting to preserve the status quo of good health.
- The human body, given the right conditions, is an efficient self-healing organism. We all know that a cut on the skin will heal, but what about damage to internal organs? They have just the same ability to heal.
All this means that we have the ability to essentially enjoy life, illness-free, provided we are willing to practise the lifestyle advocated by the Natural Health Society. This is centred around what we put in our mouths in terms of food and drink, having regular physical activity, minimising exposure to toxic man-made chemicals, practising techniques to handle stress and obtaining vitamin D (safely) from the sun.
In short, we can aim to die young, but at a very ripe old age.
For proof of that these principles work in practice, we only need to look at ‘primitive’ populations which did not have the typical Western lifestyle.
Primitive peoples, that is, peoples isolated from the West, not savage, that were studied before Western influence reached them, include the Hunzas living in the foothills of the Himalayas in northern Pakistan, the Georgians, Azerbaijanis and Abkhazians near Russia and the Vilcabambans in Ecuador. All these populations had exceptional longevity ̶ with a good number of centenarians ̶ and relative freedom from disease.
They all consumed a lot of fresh fruits and vegetables and tended towards lacto-ovo-vegetarian eating. They had plenty of physical activity, breathed pure mountain air and lived in close-knit communities where social isolation and loneliness were virtually unknown.
In more recent years, also well studied were rural Chinese people, Okinawan islanders in Japan, Pacific Islanders and the Tarahumaras in Mexico.
Hunzaland was totally isolated from the Western world until just prior to 1920 when visited and studied by a British medical practitioner and researcher, Dr Robert McCarrison, who was eventually knighted for his work with these people.
Dr McCarrison found that the Hunza people exhibited perfect mental and physical health, with many of the population living to over 100 years of age or even possibly to 150. Men at 90 years of age were known to have fathered children, while women at the age of 80 looked like Western women of 40, retaining beautiful complexions. Sickness was rare. Virtually unknown were ulcers, appendicitis, colitis, high blood pressure or heart disease. In the entire population of around 20,000 people, it appears that there was not a single case of cancer.
Childhood diseases were almost non-existent and the children’s teeth were white and perfect, with healthy gums. They had beautiful skins free of pimples or other blemishes.
The men regularly played vigorous games including volleyball and polo. The younger men, aged 16 to 50, would play against the elders, who were all over 70. As the Mir (King) said, “The men of 100 felt no more fatigue than the men of 20.”
They lived on fresh vegetables, fresh fruits, dried fruits, legumes, whole-grain foods and goats’ cheese and butter. Meat was eaten only on ceremonial occasions, so it was a rarity in the diet. They did indulge in a strong grape wine. Everything was organically grown on mineral-rich soils.
In their way of life there was no refined sugar, no pasteurisation of milk, no hydrogenation of oil, no chemical fertilisers, no chlorination or fluoridation of drinking water and no vaccination.
Needless to say, there were no obese people in Hunzaland.
Sir Robert McCarrison later wrote that he had been amazed that, although the Hunzas were surrounded on all sides by peoples afflicted with many kinds of degenerative and infectious diseases, they still did not contract any of them.
It is striking that the Hunzas and other long-living peoples had a major thing in common – their calorie intakes were just above subsistence level. They had enough energy in their diets, but not too much. This was the result of including plenty of food from the plant kingdom and consuming no refined carbohydrates or other highly processed foods.
About 20,000 centenarians lived in the republic of Georgia in the 1960s, according to the Soviet Institute of Gerontology. In one city, all the council members were over 100. They fathered children at age 90 or 100, tended animals at 120 and some lived to 150.
The Georgians lived physically vigorous lives and played a ferocious version of polo. ‘Early to bed and early to rise’ gave them ample rest and sleep. They were highly intelligent and emotionally stable.
Their smoking and light drinking of alcohol were more than compensated for by a high intake of fresh fruit and vegetables and maize, flavoured with garlic, pepper and spices.
The People of Azerbaijan
In the neighbouring state of Azerbaijan, in the 1960s there were also around 20,000 centenarians, with one man having reached 169 years, according to the Academy of Science in the USSR. He had worked for 150 years and never had a day’s sickness in his life, having eaten sparingly, mostly vegetables and fruits.
Living in the same region, the Abkhazians’ life expectancy was over 100 for both sexes, with some living to 120, 130 and even 150. They never retired from work, even at 100. While ever they remained in isolation from Western influence, there was no evidence of cancer in any of the population.
They definitely did not overeat, consuming one quarter less calories than workers in Moscow. As with other isolated populations, their fruits and vegetables were grown without artificial fertilisers or toxic chemicals, and they ate cornmeal rather than wheat. Their meat was free-range and they made buttermilk from unpasteurised goats’ milk and used large quantities of garlic – nature’s ‘antibiotic’. Instead of sugary sweets, they nibbled sunflower seeds.
The People of Vilcabamba Valley
Similarly to Hunzaland, this isolated and fertile valley in Ecuador appeared to be another Shangri-la early in the 1900s. Again, there was a good number of centenarians.
The Vilcabambans’ health and longevity were superior to that of the rest of Ecuador and far superior to that of the industrial nations. High blood pressure, heart disease and cancer were extremely rare.
The diet of the Vilcabambans was largely plant-based and low calorie, averaging 1,500 to 1,700 calories daily for an adult. They ate fruits and vegetables freshly picked, accompanied by whole grains, seeds and nuts. They drank herb tea and locally distilled rum and also smoked. The fact that these vices did not destroy their excellent health and longevity simply serves to emphasise how powerfully beneficial is a low-calorie, organic, uncontaminated, plant-based diet.
Revealing Studies of ‘Primitives’ Versus ‘Moderns’
In the 1930s, an American dentist, Dr Weston A. Price, conducted nine years of research around the world, comparing the health of peoples living the way they had done for thousands of years with the health of peoples consuming modern Western diets. His findings were published in a book entitled Nutrition and Physical Degeneration, and first published by Keats Publishing Inc. in 1939.
Dr Price found that the ‘primitive’ peoples eating natural diets ̶ of fresh, whole foods that were free of refined foods, salt and other additives ̶ had strikingly good teeth, jaws and health generally. Their teeth were beautiful and white, and decay was almost unknown. They had admirable physiques with splendidly built bodies.
They also had high levels of immunity to most diseases.
The diets of the primitive societies collectively included fresh vegetables and fruits, whole grains and protein foods in the form of nuts, other plant sources and animal sources.
In stark contrast, Dr Price found that for people consuming imported processed foods, their dental, physical and mental health went to pieces. Tooth decay became rampant and dental conditions were extremely bad.
There was also deterioration in physical condition. Dr Price described some individuals as “sad wreckages in physique” and said that, in general, facial and bodily beauty had been destroyed.
Susceptibility to all types of disease also increased. In every instance where the diet changed to processed foods, there was an early loss of the resistance to disease, and infectious diseases began to cause serious harm, in some cases children dying of tuberculosis.
Worse still, a portion of the modernised group also had personality disturbances, the most common of which was mental backwardness. Children’s intelligence was generally lower than in the isolated group and they readily developed inferiority complexes as a result. Some of these backward individuals later exhibited delinquent behaviour.
The lessons of the Hunzas and other ‘primitive’ peoples seem a bit remote, but their experience has been replicated recently right on our doorstep.
In the Pacific Islanders, wherever our modern, Western way of living has been adopted, there is now an ‘epidemic’ of degenerative diseases. This was observed in 1978 by Professor Paul Zimmet of Monash University, who later became President of the International Diabetic Association.
“Diabetes, high blood pressure, obesity and heart disease are now reaching epidemic proportions in the urbanised populations,” he wrote. “These diseases had previously been unknown in the area and were still unknown in the islands where the traditional diet and way of life has been retained.”
This illustrates an amazing phenomenon. We modernised peoples can put a man on the moon, but we don’t widely recognise that with the right lifestyles we can remain well in body and mind and be able to enjoy life to the full.
The ‘Grande Prix’ China Study
The most comprehensive nutritional study of all time was a 20-year study conducted by Professor T. Colin Campbell, Professor Emeritus of Nutritional Biochemistry at Cornell University in the United States. It looked at the association between food and degenerative disease in 6,500 adults living in 65 counties across China. The findings were published in a book entitled, The China Study, Benbella Books Texas, 2005.
A momentous finding was that the people who ate the most animal-based foods developed the most chronic diseases. Even relatively small intakes were associated with adverse effects. In contrast, people who ate the most plant-based foods were the healthiest and tended to be free of chronic disease.
Prof. Campbell’s major conclusion is that we could prevent or cure most disease (heart disease, cancer, diabetes, autoimmune diseases, bone, kidney, eye and other diseases) by eating a whole-foods plant-based diet, drastically reducing our protein intake and avoiding meat and dairy products entirely.
Although the 20-year study did not focus on infectious diseases, the fact that the rural Chinese people were remarkably healthy suggests that these illnesses were, like degenerative diseases, also rare.
The Healthiest and Longest-Living People in the modern World
In year 2000, there were more centenarians in the Okinawa islands, south-west of Japan, than in any other population on the planet, which was roughly four times the rate for Australia. Gerontologists, Dr Bradley Willcox, Dr Craig Willcox and Dr Makoto Suzuki, conducted The Okinawa Study, which ran for 25 years.
They found the centenarians to be in extraordinarily good shape. They were lean, youthful-looking, energetic and relatively free of the health problems that we associate with ageing. They had remarkably low rates of heart disease, cancer and Alzheimer’s disease. Diabetes and high blood pressure were rare and their bones were strong. They had no words for retirement or menopause, and prostate and breast cancer were virtually non-existent.
The Okinawan people consumed far fewer calories than most Westerners – about one third less than the average in Australia.
Their diet consisted of approximately 80% plant-based foods and 20% animal-based foods. The Okinawans consumed a lot of vegetables and fresh fruits; purple sweet potato; whole grains, mainly brown rice and whole wheat; protein mainly from legumes, mostly soya products, and fish (typically, protein was only 10% of total calories); and a lot of jasmine tea.
Contrasting this diet with the Australian diet, the researchers wrote, “If you take a typical meal in Australia, three-quarters of the plate is a chunk of meat – that Aussie steak – and you have this tiny little salad. It should be the other way around.”
The centenarians practised a model lifestyle. They had regular exercise, didn’t smoke and drank alcohol only in moderation.
Are the Okinawans genetically lucky? Researchers found that Okinawans who moved away from their homeland or adopted a Western diet and lifestyle (as some now do), suffer the same health problems as we do, so the superior health of the traditional Okinawans was not genetic, it was lifestyle.
The Tarahumara Tribe of Mexico
This is a population of 90,000 people located in the Sierra Tarahumara region of Mexico.
The people of this indigenous tribe call themselves ‘the running people’. They are quick and agile because the rocky region they occupy makes endurance running an obligation. When they competed in the Olympics in 1992 and 1994, the Tarahumara runners not only passed the other runners, but were not out of breath at the end of the race. The man who won in 1992 was 52 years of age.
Such a great running ability reflects great health, which is what they are known for. A National Geographic study found that almost non-existent were diabetes, vascular disease and colorectal cancer. A 1991 study, published in the New England Journal of Medicine, revealed an absence of high blood pressure and heart disease and low levels of total cholesterol and LDL cholesterol.
The Tarahumara do not eat a lot of animal products. The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition in a 1979 issue reported that their diet centred on vegetarian food, mainly lots of beans, squash, chili peppers and wild greens.
They drink alcohol in the form of Tesgüino, made from fermented corn with an alcoholic content comparable to beer, but very nutritious.
In his book, Born to Run, Christopher McDougall describes the Tarahumara as “Perhaps the healthiest and most serene people on earth and the greatest runners of all time”.
Source of population details: How a Man Lived in Three Centuries by Roger French