13 August 2012

Diseases of Civilization - The Inuit

Vilhjalmur Stefansson (November 3, 1879 - August 26, 1962) - Harvard anthropologist, Arctic explorer, spent 10 years among the Inuit of northern Canada and Alaska eating nothing but meat. The Inuit diet consisted of caribou, seal, polar bear, rabbits, birds and eggs. In extreme necessity the root of a local plant was consumed as well. The Inuit considered vegetables and fruits "not proper human food".

The Inuit knew the type of food they had to feed their children to develop optimal health. According to Stefansson the head and the tail of the fish were "saved for the children". The fat behind the eyes of the fish is very high in vitamins. In summer, the Inuit made a lot of effort to dry the fish eggs for later use (for pregnant women and children). All these foods were high in fat and rich in vitamins, especially A and D, required to build healthy bones (healthy teeth and broad jaws).

Today, in our balanced diet, we cut out the fat and keep the "muscle" meat. For the Inuit the fattest parts were the most valuable dietary items.

According to Stefansson, the Inuit were vigorous and in perfect health. (Here, more about Stefansson's experience among the Inuit.)

Here is how Weston Price describe the Inuit:
"The eggs of the salmon are dried and stored as an important item of nutrition for both children and adults. They are also used to increase the fertility of the women. From a chemical standpoint they are one of the most nutritious foods I have found anywhere." 
"The food of [the Inuit] in their native state includes caribou, ground nuts which are gathered by mice and stored in caches, kelp which is gathered in season and stored for winter use, berries including cranberries which are preserved by freezing, blossoms of flowers preserved in seal oil, sorrel grass preserved in seal oil, and quantities of frozen fish. Another important food factor consists of the organs of the large animals of the sea, including certain layers of the skin of one of the species of whale, which has been found to be very high in vitamin C." 
"The [Inuit] thrived as long as he was not blighted by the touch of modern civilization."  
"In his primitive state [the Inuit] has provided an example of physical excellence and dental perfection such as has seldom been excelled by any race in the past or present." 
"It is a sad commentary that with the coming of the white man the [Inuit] and Indians are rapidly reduced both in numbers and physical excellence by the white man's diseases."

We can see clearly, that here again the Inuit's health declined shortly after western food was introduced. Over the last century we can observe the increasing cases of chronic diseases among this population:

  • 1936, Canadian Medical Association Journal: "In the Western Arctic Dr Urquhart has as yet not met a single case of cancer in the seven years of his practice."

  • Similar observations came from Dr Samuel Hutton (he was treating local population in Labrador from 1902 to 1913): "Some diseases common in Europe have not come under my notice during a prolonged and careful survey of the health of the [Inuit]. Of these diseases the most striking is cancer. I have not seen or heard of a case of malignant new growth in an [Inuit]."

  • As the Inuit replaced their traditional food with western food, their immunity dimished. In 1984 Dr Hildes and Dr Schaefer noted: "The most frequent tumours in the most recent period studied were lung, cervical and colorectal cancers. Breast cancer [...] rates in the longer-acculturated Inuit of Alaska and Greenland have approached those prevailing in modern Western women."

A balanced diet, essential for good health, defined by conventional wisdom, is a varied diet, rich in fruits and vegetables, some carbohydrates and lean meat (low in fat).

But "if the Inuit could thrive in the harshest of environments without eating carbohydrates and whatever nutrients exist in fruits and vegetables, they, by definition, were consuming a balanced, healthy diet." (Gary Taubes)

About vitamin and mineral deficiencies, more here.

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