Healthy Friday: Lower cancer incidence in clean-living Amish

Cancer researchers from Ohio State University were convinced they’d find a high incidence of cancer when they began studying a community of Amish living in Ohio, because Amish religious beliefs and traditions limit contact with mainstream society, and intermarriage in this small population could increase the incidence of cancer-related gene mutations.

Instead, they found just the opposite, said Dr. Judith Westman, division director of Human Genetics at The Ohio State University Comprehensive Cancer Center (OSUCCC-James).

Westman, fully expected to find some genetic links to cancer within the 92 families she studied.

But in a paper recently published in the journal Cancer Causes & Control, the researchers revealed that they found no such markers and instead are left wondering whether the Amish have genetic differences that protect them from cancer.

The Amish probably have protection against many cancers

“The Amish are at an increased risk for a number of genetic disorders but they probably have protection against many types of cancer both through their lifestyle – there is very little tobacco or alcohol use and limited sexual partners – and through genes that may reduce their susceptibility to cancer,” said Westman.

Even skin cancer rates are lower for Amish, despite the fact that many Amish make their living working outdoors where they are exposed to sunlight and UV rays.

They eat food that they grow or raise and rarely consume processed foods. They tend to get more physical activity, and even though they sometimes are overweight, obesity is rare.

They employ time-tested, organic methods that provide them with healthy fruits, vegetables, milk, meat, and other untainted foods that most people never have access to.

They live in rural areas and have less exposure to pollutants than people who live in cities.

Then there are the genetic mysteries that might contribute to lower cancer incidence.

That’s something Westman and others would love to know more about, but “it is a statistical genetic nightmare”.

WATCH: Cleaner living – Healthier lives

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