06 August 2012

Diseases of Civilization - Africa

The eyewitness testimony from missionary and colonial physicians lead to two observations:
1. Diseases of civilization were rare to non-existent among isolated populations.
2. These diseases appeared only after populations were exposed to Western foods, in particular sugar and white flour.

Masai nomads (Kenya) had blood-cholesterol levels among the lowest ever measured, despite living on a high cholesterol diet of milk, blood, and meat from cattle. They consumed nearly 3000 calories/day of mostly saturated fat. Their diet contained the highest proportion of fat in any recorded diet. They started to suffer from coronary heart disease once some of the Masai moved to nearby Nairobi and began to eat Western food.

In 1913, when Albert Schweitzer arrived to Lambaréné (Gabon), a small village in West Africa, the main complaints were endemic diseases and infections: malaria, sleeping sickness, leprosy, elephantiasis, tropical dysentery and scabies. He examined over 10,000 natives and could not find one case of cancer. He spent 41 years in Africa attending to the local population.
"On my arrival to Gabon, I was astonished to encounter no cases of cancer [...] I cannot, of course, say positively that there was no cancer at all, but like other frontier doctors, I can only say that if any cases existed, they must have been quite rare. This absence of cancer seemed to me due to the difference in nutrition of the natives as compared with the Europeans [...] In the course of the years, we have seen cases of cancer in growing numbers in our region. My observations incline me to attribute this to the fact that the natives were living more and more after the manner of the whites."
During these years, he has not found a case of asthma and no appendicitis. Actually, Schweitzer encountered his first case of appendicitis among the natives after 41 years living in Africa. 

Stanislas Tanchou was a physician who, following his service with Napoleon, entered private practice and studied the statistical distribution of cancer in Europe and North Africa. Tanchou presented his complex statistical examination of malignancy to the Paris Science Society in 1843. He documented evidence of increased malignancy with increased civilization. One of the prime indicators of a civilizing trend was a diet that included sugar and white flour. The greater the consumption of these foods, the greater the incidence of malignancy.
“Cancer, like insanity, seems to increase with the progress of civilization.” 
In 1913, District Surgeon F. P. Fouche (Orange Free State, South Africa) had spent 6 years at a hospital that served 14,000 natives.
" I never saw a single case of gastric or duodenal ulcer, colitis, appendicitis, or cancer in any form in a native, although these diseases were frequently seen among the white or European population." 

Beginning in 1929 Hugh Trowell, British missionary physician spent 30 years in Kenya and Uganda. He reported the first clinical diagnosis of coronary heart disease in a native African. He had been living in England and had been eating a "Western diet" for 20 years. 

When Trowell returned to East Africa, he was amazed by the number of obese Africans living in towns. All cities had a large diabetic clinic. 

In the 1950s George Campbell was running a diabetic clinic in South Africa. He made the following observation: the local whites suffered from diabetes, coronary thrombosis, hypertension, appendicitis, gall-bladder disease... The rural Zulus did not, "no case of diabetes has ever been discovered in any of them". 

The urban Zulu population also suffered from diabetes. Here, the increase in sugar consumption could be blamed. Campbell concluded that the rural Zulus consumed 6 pounds of sugar each year compared to the urban Zulus who consumed 80 pounds each year.

Dr Weston Price writes more in detail about the dental health of different tribes in Africa. It is an interesting insight into the life and dietary habits of native tribes still living traditionally.

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