Sugar, White Flour and Cancer: The Evidence

| Posted on Tuesday, March 09, 2010

In the early 20th century it was common occurrence for colonial or missionary physicians to document the health of the native populations they ministered to. From these numerous documents we can observe a distinct pattern emerging that has become common in experience the world over:

- In 1913 Nobel peace prize winning Dr. Albert Schweitzer noted on his arrival in Gabon, Africa “I was astonished to encounter no cases of cancer.” This native population still lived on a traditional diet at the time. Over the next 40 years as civilization crept in and western foods were introduced, Sweitzer would see a steady rise in cancer victims and would attribute this “to the fact that the natives were living more and more after the manner of the whites.”

- In 1902, Dr. Samuel Hutton treated the Inuit on the northern coast of Labrador. He found western diseases were extremely rare. “the most striking is cancer” he said after 11 years. “I have not seen or heard of a case of malignant growth in an Eskimo.” He also noted that “the Eskimo is a meat eater, the vegetable part of his diet is a meager one.” Over time Hutton was able to observe the Inuit who ate the food of the European settlers tended to suffer more from scurvy, were “less rubust, fatigued easier and their children are puny and feeble.”

- Stanislas Tanchou, a French physician who served with Napoleon kept in communication with physicians working in North Africa during the mid 20th century. These doctors remarked that cancer had once been rare or even nonexistent in their regions but the number of cases was now “increasing from year to year, and that this increase stands in connection with the advance of civilization.”

- F.P. Fouche, district surgeon in South Africa reported to the British Medical Journal in 1923 after serving six years at a hospital that ministered to fourteen thousand native Africans that “I never saw a single case of ulcer, colitis, appendicitis or cancer in any form in a native although these diseases were frequently seen among the white or European population.”

- In 1908 physician and anthropologist Ales Hrdlicka, curator of the division of Physical Anthropology at the Smithsonian authored a 460 page report about the health status of Native Americans. After undertaking six expeditions he found that “malignant diseases, if they exist at all (that they do would be difficult to doubt) must be extremely rare.” Among more than two thousand Native Americans he examined he saw only three cases of heart trouble and “not one pronounced instance of advanced arterial sclerosis, no case of appendicitis, ulcer or any grave disease of the liver”. He also noted that the natives lived as long as or longer than the local white population.

- Hrdlicka's observations on cancer were confirmed by Columbia University pathologist Isaac Levin in 1910. Levin surveyed 107 physicians who worked on reservations throughout the Midwestern and Western states. The findings include:
Dr. Chas M. Buchanan who practiced 15 years among two thousand Indians and saw only one case of cancer.

- Dr. Henry E. Goodrich, thirteen years among thirty-five hundred Indians and not a single case of cancer.

- During the year 1914 a survey of physicians working for the U.S. Bureau of Indian Affairs found that ”among some 63,000 Indians of all tribes, there occurred only 2 deaths from cancer.”

- Over 115,000 Native Americans treated by the doctors in this survey for anywhere from a few months to twenty years and only 29 documented cases of cancer.

- In 1900 W. Roger Williams, a fellow of the British Royal College of Surgeons traveled the world documenting cancer. In Fiji among 120,000 natives there were only two recorded cancer deaths. In Borneo a Dr. Pagel reported that after 10 years in practice he had never seen a case. Proportionally in the U.S. Cancer deaths rose dramatically. In New York from 32 deaths per every 1000 people in 1864 to 67 deaths per every 1000 people in 1900. In Philadelphia, from 31 deaths in 1861 to 70 in 1904. To compare: 120,000 Fijians and only two cancer deaths. 120,000 New Yorkers and 8040 cancer deaths.

American statistician Fredrick Hoffman dedicated most of his career to understanding these observations. In 1937 he wrote a 700 page update of all the evidence entitled “Cancer and Diet” and said that “cancer deaths were increasing “at a more or less alarming rate throughout the entire world.” he also stated that “evidence is convincing that in the opinion of qualified medical observers cancer is exceptionally rare among primitive peoples.”

Hoffman began to look at modern processed foods, the foods “demanding conservation or refrigeration, artificial preservation and coloring, or processing otherwise to an astonishing degree.” As a result of eating these foods, said Hoffman, “far-reaching changes in bodily functioning and metabolism are introduced which, extending over many years, are the cause or conditions predisposing to the development of malignant new growths, and in part at least explain the observed increase in the cancer death rate of practically all civilized and highly urbanized countries.”

Here we can see photos of Australian aboriginal peoples living in a traditional manner. This is the condition of the population as the physicians would have found them upon first arrival.

Today however, around six out of 10 Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people are either overweight or obese. They also have the fourth highest rate of Type II diabetes in the world.

The undeniable trend witnessed in the documents of these colonial and missionary physicians reveals that as Western civilization encroached upon the native populations of the New World the natives inevitably began to live as the westerners. As these physicians initially arrived before the period of assimilation they were able to observe and document the changes that took place. During the hundred year period between the mid 1800's and mid 20th century we can see native populations all over the world go from being virtually free from diseases such as cancer, diabetes and heart disease to becoming populations with high incidences of these diseases.

Early on it was hypothesized that meat was the culprit in all this cancer. But evidence revealed prevalent cancer among vegetarian Hindu's in India but a rare to absent cancer rate among the Inuit and Masai who eat an almost entirely meat diet. Isaac Levin also remarked that the American Indian eat a great deal of meat, “frequently to excess.”

It was also suspected to be industrialization and the increase in industrial toxins in the environment. But the data showed the diseases growing at similar rates whether in heavily industrialized areas or remote locations without industry.

There seemed to be however, one constant and consistent factor in the appearance of the chronic illnesses of civilization. As Robert McCarrison, a Scottish nutritionist put it, the diseases could be attributed to “the extensive use of vitamin-poor white flour and to the inordinate use of vitamin-less sugar.” he spent nine years in the Himalayas, “amoungst isolated races far removed from the refinements of civilization.” McCarrison noted, “During the period of my association with these peoples, I never saw a case of dyspepsia, ulcer, appendicitis, colitis or of cancer, although my operating list averaged over 400 operations a year.” McCarrison believed their good health was a result of a diet of “the unsophisticated foods of nature.” He said, “I don't suppose much sugar is imported into their country in a year as is used in a moderately sized hotel of this city in a single day.”

Why is white flour and sugar to blame out of the Western foods? Because it was the rise in these two items in the diets of native peoples that coincides with the rise in prevalence of Western diseases. After all, it was in the mid 19th century that roller mills were invented for the purpose of refining grain at such quantities as to make white flour inexpensive and widely available. It was at this time when sugar-beet cultivation spread around the world and cheap sugar also became widely available. It became common for explorers to carry enormous quantities of sugar and white flour on their travels and trade them or give them away to the native populations they encountered. These foods then became the primary trade items used with isolated native populations well into the 20th century.

It becomes increasingly difficult to question what seems so obvious in these reports namely, that the foods of modern western civilization are having a devastating effect on health around the world. It is of critical importance to note that this takes place before high fructose corn syrup,before grain fed, feed-lot meat, before the advent of trans fat and deep-frying, before industrial pollutants, chemical fertilizers, pesticides and hormones, before denatured soil and before plastics. The initial culprits must be recognized as highly processed and refined carbohydrates such as sugar and white flour.

The nutrition researchers at the time realized what was behind theses diseases because of the overwhelming anecdotal evidence. They lacked the scientific understanding to grasp why these foods caused disease but nevertheless knew that they did. We now understand how the human body processes food and can identify why these foods cause a diseased state and confirm what these early researchers knew all along.

How highly processed and refined carbohydrates cause disease will be explored in the next article.

For more information see Gary Taubes excellent book "Good Calories, Bad Calories" from which the above research was gathered.

Comments (4)



Very compelling research. Very good stuff. Intriguing.

But it leaves me shrugging it off because then I ask... why were their so many illnesses leading to premature death in so many pre-modern cultures? Even in Jesus' time... all sorts of diseases and people ate pure organic unrefined, unprocessed foods. Isn't our life expectancy longer now than in say, England in the dark ages? Is this a study of just Native People and their diets or all people before the age of _____? What, if any advantages do we have now in terms of health and medicine? Do you know what I'm saying? I started getting skeptical because I have in my mind all the plagues and diseases I have heard of that people suffered with before modern civilization. Whooping cough. Scarlet fever. The bubonic plague. High Infant mortality rates. Maybe I am bringing medicine into this when I shouldn't be. But I think this needs to be addressed somehow... We have cancer. They had a hundred other diseases that shortened their life. No?

Hey thanks for your well considered response,

But consider the diseases which you are referring to that native populations contended with before western civilizations namely, malaria, sleeping sickness, leprosy, elephantiasis, tropical dysentery, scabies. These are all endemic diseases or infections. Notice however that they are all curable or treatable. Modern medicine has already prevailed over these. But all the diseases of western civilization namely cancer, heart disease, diabetes, Alzheimer's; these are incurable. What would you rather have, an easily treatable disease like malaria which you could recover from in a few weeks or diabetes?
Do not forget that many of the other diseases you are thinking of were brought over from western civilizations and released upon native populations who lacked the immunity to fight them off (smallpox, measles, influenza, bubonic plague, diphtheria, typhus, cholera, scarlet fever, chicken pox, yellow fever, and whooping cough).
If all we had to deal with in life were all these preventable, curable, treatable diseases then it would seem that health care would not be much of an issue. As it now stands health care is a multi-billion dollar megalith founded upon these "diseases of western civilization".
As for living longer, sure we live longer in modern western civilization but that is due to hospitals, ambulances and pharmaceutical drugs. We live longer but do not age well. Our old age and retirement homes tell that story well. We live longer in a feeble, diseased, decrepit, demented state. Who wants to live a long time in that state? That is the reality of the coveted longevity of the west.
What I am saying is, the things that shorten life in primitive societies are all preventable or curable for us. We need to take the good of those civilizations, combined with modern medicine and we will have as perfect health as is attainable in this life.
Look at the data: 120,000 Fijians and only two cancer deaths. 120,000 New Yorkers and 8040 cancer deaths.
Point being, If the Fijians had full access to the medical care that was available even 50 years ago they would have virtually no health problems to deal with. This can be our reality today.

Hey there boys.

Well, when I think of modern civilization in comparison to pre-modern civilization in relation to what Antonio said (how the death rate of pre-modern communities died seemingly earlier than we do now), I can't help but realize that our showers every morning, and our nice porcelain toilets that flush our waste out of sight and out of mind, our protective homes fit with security systems and our antibacterial hand gels play a critical role in our prolonged life VERSUS those of the past.

Most middle to lower class Europeans didn't bathe every day (maybe once per month), diseases could spread easier due to very populated cities and poor sanitation systems, I personally never had to run from a lion or tiger or bear (speaking of African and Asiatic peoples in rural communities)...and so on and so on.

Then factor in our so-called "advanced medicine and science" and you have key reasons why we could be living longer despite all the CANCER, DIABETES AND HEART-ATTACKS on the news and in our families.

Makes sense?

Excellent point Sunrae, thanks for your input.

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