If the Hunza People Could Live to 100+ Years –
So Can We**
In ‘How To Live to 100+ Years, Free from Symptoms and Disease’ (see the homepage of this website), brief reference is made to the Hunza people who
“..... in their natural, primitive state, exhibited perfect mental and physical health……..They lived on fresh fruit and fresh vegetables, dried fruits, legumes, wholegrain foods and goats’ cheese and butter. Meat was only eaten on ceremonial occasions, this is, infrequently. Everything was organically grown in mineral rich soils. In their way of life, there was no refined sugar, no pasteurisation of milk, no hydrogenation of oils, no chemical fertiliser, no chlorination or fluoridation of water and no inoculation”. (page 21).
Such a brief summary deserves a more detailed presentation, and that is the purpose of this article.
Sir Robert McCarrison (who died in 1960) spent some seven years in the Hunza Valley. Dr McCarrison was the resident surgeon and medical research worker for the British Army in Gilgit from 1904-1911. Gilgit is 68 miles (109 km) from Baltit. He was probably the first medically qualified Westerner to visit the Hunza Valley. In the publication ‘Studies in Deficiency Disease’, he said “My own experience provides an example of a race unsurpassed in perfection of physique and freedom from diseases in general … among these people the span of life is extraordinarily long; and such service as I was able to render them was confined chiefly to the treatment of accidental lesions …. or the treatment of maladies wholly unconnected with food supply.”
In 1961, an article in the Journal of the American Medical Association described Hunza Land, a remote region in the Himalayan Mountains. The article reported that, in this region, healthy people lived to be 120 or even 140 years of age.
As a result of this publication, Dr JAY M. HOFFMAN was sent to the Hunza valley, under the auspices of the National Geriatrics Society, to conduct research to find the secrets of the health and longevity of the Hunza people. Resulting from his extensive research into their lifestyle and, of particular interest, their diet, Dr Hoffman wrote his book ‘HUNZA - Secrets of the world’s healthiest and oldest living people’. This book was originally published in 1968, and most recently revised in 1997 (Dr J.M.Hoffman, Newwin Publishing Inc., Clinton, NJ, 1997).
Today, in the 21st century, the benefits of a vegetarian diet are well known and documented. It is of interest to look at the role that such a diet plays in the prevention of disease and in achieving optimal health and longevity, and to compare today’s knowledge with the results of Dr Hoffman’s research into the Hunza people some 40 years ago.
The arterial diseases (involving the heart-coronary heart disease, the brain- cerebrovascular disease, including stroke, peripheral vascular disease and hypertension), cancer, and diabetes with its complications, are responsible for the majority of deaths in Western Society. None of these were found in the Hunza people, by either Sir Robert McCarrison or by Dr Jay Hoffman.
Following is a brief overview of some of the health benefits of a vegetarian diet in relation to these major disease groups. This is not a complete and exhaustive list of known benefits in these diseases. It is intended to give a focus on the positive health outcomes when a dominantly vegetarian diet is consumed, as was done by the Hunza people.
Plant-based diets significantly reduce the intake of cholesterol and saturated fat. There is NO cholesterol in plant/vegan foods. Both saturated fat and cholesterol are two dietary factors strongly linked to the development of arterial disease, including coronary artery disease.
The less we eat of them, the better it is for our heart.
A plant-based diet is also a rich source of soluble fibre. Soluble fibre is effective in helping to lower blood cholesterol. It binds bile salts, which are then excreted rather than reabsorbed (enterohepatic circulation). Extra bile salts have to be produced by the liver to replace those lost and these are made from cholesterol.
Fruit and vegetables are a major source of folic acid.
This vitamin (B9) helps reduce the risk of heart disease by lowering levels of the harmful amino acid homocysteine.
Vegetarian diets are low in iron, compared to the high levels found in animal based diets, especially red meat.
Excess iron promotes cell-destroying free radical activity. Free radicals promote aging. They also oxidize LDL (“bad”) cholesterol, making it even more harmful to arteries, promoting arteriosclerosis.
Fruits and vegetables are rich in phytochemicals (“plant” chemicals), which are anti-aging antioxidants or scavengers of harmful free radicals, which protect against arterial disease.
A diet rich in fruit and vegetables is beneficial in reducing the risk of stroke.
There is strong scientific evidence that a diet rich in fruit and vegetables protects against many forms of cancer. These include cancers of the lung, colon, stomach, mouth, larynx, oesophagus, bladder and prostate.
The protective compounds in fruit and vegetables include carotenoids (eg in carrots there are some 200 of these, of which bcaroteine is but one: the full health benefit is the combination as found in the whole food), vitamins C and E, selenium, indoles, isothiocyanates, flavinoids, phenols and others.
Plant foods, being rich in fibre, help prevent colon cancer, as well as constipation, and its complications like diverticulosis and haemorrhoids.
There is NO fibre in animal products. Studies show that men who are heavy red meat eaters have a significantly increased risk of getting colon and prostate cancers.
Adult onset (Type 2) diabetes is often well controlled on a vegetarian diet, especially if combined with weight loss. (Most adult-onset diabetics tend to be overweight or obese – the Body Mass Index should be less than 25.)
These are but some of the major diseases and conditions that can be prevented, or even reversed, by eating a vegetarian diet. None of these diseases were found in the Hunza people.
As we will see, a vegetarian diet is only one of many factors that has contributed to the health and longevity of the Hunzas. However, the Hunza diet is probably the most significant healthy lifestyle factor.
Much of the following information on the Hunza people in the early 1960’s is extracted from Dr J.M.Hoffman’s book referred to above, namely ‘HUNZA - Secrets of the world’s healthiest and oldest living people’.
The Isolation of the Hunza People
The early chapters of Dr Jay Hoffman’s book set out the difficulties and challenges that he, and his wife Trudie, experienced in gaining entry to, and visiting, the Hunza valley. Although they are not relevant to this article, they do however make fascinating reading. It required a 10-hour hazardous walk to enter the Valley. He referred to this track as “the world’s most dangerous road”.
For centuries, the Hunza Valley was almost cut off from the rest of the world, almost inaccessible. Even today, although there is a modern road not in existence in 1961, it can still be quite a challenge to get there, the road conditions ranging from bad in the dry season to non-existent in the wet season.
However with a road, compared to only a foot-trail before which necessitated everything having to be carried, many unhealthy foods and beverages can now be more easily imported into the Hunza valley. The result is that the Hunza people are slowly becoming Westernised.
This inevitable change in diet and lifestyle will mean that diseases, once unknown, will become commonplace. Studies, worldwide, show that when populations who eat healthy plant-based diets become Westernised, and convert to unhealthy animal-based or flesh-based diets (high acid diets compared to the alkaline plant-based food diets), the populations also adopt the diseases and illnesses of the Western world, ie the degenerative diseases such as arterial diseases (heart disease/stroke), cancer, diabetes, arthritis etc.
Where is the Hunza Valley?
The Hunza valley is in the western Himalayas. China lies to the north-east, Afghanistan to the north-west and Pakistan to the south. It is approximately 8,000 feet (2,440m) above sea level. The population of the Hunza people in 1961 was in the region of 30,000.
The Hunza valley is surrounded by mountain peaks ranging from 12,000 feet (3,658m) to 25,550 feet (7,787m) (Mt Raka Poshi). All these mountains produce glaciers up to 40 miles (64km) in length (Batura Galcier). The Hunza River is fed by many of these glaciers. Many of the terraced farms go up the mountainsides to as much as 12,000 feet (3,658m).
The capital of Hunza, previously named Baltit, is today called Karimabad. In the hottest months of the year, one can see six snow-capped mountains, all of which have glaciers.
Mt Ultar is 24,044 feet (7,329m) high. It is from the glaciers of this mountain that the farmers around Baltit (Karimabad), Altit and other villages of the Hunza valley, get their water supply for both drinking and irrigation.
Glaciers grind rock, as they move across it, to colloidal minerals. Hence these glaciers supply mineral rich water for the irrigation of the extensive terraces in Hunza Land. There is no rain in the summer months, so the people of Hunza depend exclusively on irrigation, for their terraced farms, from this mineral-rich glacial water. The water leaves a rich sediment of minerals, replaced year by year, for luxuriant plant growth.
What is the Hunza Valley Like?
The Hunza valley has been described as the “Shangri-La of the Himalayas”.
One description of the (present day) Hunza valley is “….. visitors to Hunza are overwhelmed by the rugged charm, the fragrant breeze singing through the graceful trees, and the velvet-green carpet of wheat fields set against the background of snow-covered mountains”
It is said to be one to be the most beautiful regions in Pakistan. “The snows of Rakaposhi glitter in the moonlight, producing an atmosphere of ethereal magnetism”.
In his book, Dr Hoffman also tells us that it is
“ a land where people do not have our common diseases, such as heart ailments, cancer, arthritis, high blood pressure, diabetes, tuberculosis, hay fever, asthma, liver trouble, gall bladder trouble, constipation or many other ailments that plague the rest of the world.
Moreover, there are no hospitals, no insane asylums, no drug stores, no tobacco stores, no police, no jails, no crimes, no murders and no beggars.
Furthermore, there are no insects to destroy the crops or fruit trees, therefore no need for poisonous sprays.”
An Agricultural Nation
The only occupation that existed in the Hunza was farming. It was strictly an agricultural nation. This is probably one of the prime contributing factors in the longevity of the Hunza people.
The land was distributed almost evenly amongst the people, so that each family had about the same amount. The terraced fields ranged from half an acre to five acres in area.
There were three main produce:
Fruits. These included apricots, peaches, pears, apples, plums, grapes, cherries, mulberries and figs. Many of these were sun-dried on the roofs of the houses.
Vegetables. These included potatoes, tomatoes, all types of beans, lettuce, cucumbers, many types of melons and almost all types of vegetables grown in the West.
Grains. The main one was wheat. Other grains grown were rye, oats, barley, corn, millet and buckwheat. No rice was grown, as there are no lowlands.
The people did not cook very often, mainly because firewood was scarce. Whenever possible, foods were eaten raw.
In the Hunza valley, chemical fertilisers were not used. All the soil is enriched by the mineralised glacial water. In addition to the enrichment of the soil by glacial water, the Hunza people improved the earth with natural compost or manure. The farmers put back into the soil, in the form of compost, what they took out of it in crops.
Analysis of the soil, using samples of the black topsoil of the Hunza, was carried out and the soil was shown to be very rich in all minerals, as were samples of the glacial water.
Vegetation grown in rich mineralised soil brings forth rich mineralised food. Due to the use of natural fertilisers and rich mineralised water, the crops grew in profusion.
No chemical sprays of any form were used. No insects attacked the vegetation or fruit trees. One reason for this was the high altitude of the country. Another was probably the richness of the soil, which produced pest-resistant growth. This was true organic farming.
It is undoubtedly one of the factors that contributed to the health and longevity of the Hunza people.
The Hunzas – a Happy Relaxed People
Dr Hoffman believed that another contributing factor to the health and longevity of the Hunza people was their relaxation and lack of stress.
He described the peaceful part of the world in which they lived. The Hunza people, in 1961, knew very little, if anything, about the stresses and troubles that exist in the outside world beyond their isolated valley.
They were unaffected by the worries, restlessness, confusion, stress and strife of the outside world. They were happy because:
They were truly alive
They did not have worries
They had wonderful terraced farms
They always had abundant water to irrigate
Their crops where always bountiful.
There was abundant harvest to be stored for winter
They were healthy
There were no crimes, no police and no jails.
What About the Climate? Pure Air, Pure Water and Sunshine
Another reason for the longevity of the Hunza people, Dr Hoffman said, was the marvellous climate and clean air they had in their “wonderful Utopian Valley”. There was no air pollution. The atmosphere was ever pure and clean. Dr Hoffman pointed out that they were habitual deep-breathers and physically active people.
They drank copious amounts of water. (Water intake is always high at altitude.)
Dr Hoffman also noted that the Hunza people were exposed to plenty of sunshine.
He says “They drink lots of water and are natural deep breathers. So these three things – sunshine, (pure) water and pure air - are undoubtedly important aids in their seeming boundless vitality.”
The Importance of Exercise
The physical activity of the Hunza people was clearly outlined by Dr Hoffman, and also noted by Dr McCarrison. They were farmers and they had to climb up and down the terraces all day long in order to care for their land. They also carried, to and from the fields, and up and down the terraced mountains, all the equipment they needed to use in planting and harvesting, as well as the final harvest.
It is well known and widely accepted that a physically active life-style is a significant factor in health and longevity. The health and longevity of the Hunza people was linked to their physically active life-style.
Adequate Rest and Sleep
Adequate rest and sleep are further factors identified by Dr Hoffman to explain the Hunza’s robust health and longevity.
In 1961, there was no gas or electricity for lights. The extremely hazardous route into the valley made the importation of kerosene for artificial lighting far too expensive. What little oil they had was extracted from the kernel of the apricot and was reserved for cooking or for medicinal purposes. It was never used for lighting. The people went to bed when it got dark, and they rose in the morning at daybreak.
What a contrast to our way of life! The importance of sleep in health cannot be over emphasised. It is during the restful hours of sleep that the body rebuilds its tissues and alkalinises itself (acid being excreted via the kidneys).
Another observation by Dr Hoffman was that, among the Hunza people, no-one ate before going to bed at night. And none of the people, including children, ate between meals.
The Hunza’s Drinking Habits
The drinking habits of the people of Hunza were, Dr Hoffman claims, undoubtedly another health-inducing factor in their lives.
They did not drink any strong alcoholic beverages such as spirits. They did make a little wine, but this was used mainly for medicinal purposes.
They consumed large amounts of water, just as it comes from the glaciers - a grey mother-of-pearl-coloured water, due to the colloidal minerals suspended in it. The author well recalls this appearance of the water, in the high Himalayas during his first trek in Nepal, when he expected sparkling crystal clear water! The Hunza people had this glacial water available wherever they were, because every field, every terrace had an irrigation stream. They drank lots of water because they believed their water was very rich in minerals (as it was), and that the more they drunk, the more minerals they would put in their system, and the healthier they would be. Their water was pure in the sense that there were no pesticide/herbicide residues or other pollutants such as chlorine/fluoride.
They did not drink colas, sodas and other beverages. These bulky, heavy, commercial drinks were not carried into the valley. Hence they did not have sugary, chemicalised drinks. Water was their staple.
This perhaps should be at the top of the list of reasons for the incredible health of the Hunza people. There is no doubt that the nutritious food consumed by the Hunza people was a very important contributing factor to their health and longevity. Let us look closely at what Dr Hoffman observed in his research, during his visit to the Hunza valley in 1961.
All agriculture was organic, and grown in mineral rich soil, with natural composting and free of all chemicals.
Minerals and trace elements in soil are inorganic. We cannot eat the earth and live: our bodies can only assimilate minerals and trace elements in the organic form. As vegetation grows in the soil, it absorbs inorganic minerals and transforms these into organic minerals. Thus, as the plants and their fruits are eaten, the organic minerals needed for the body are ingested and assimilated.
Every tissue and every cell of our bodies is built, or made, from the food we eat. If we eat good, nutritious food (organically grown, full of organic minerals and trace elements), we are going to have healthy bodies. There is a constant breakdown of the tissues of the body and replacement by new cells. These new cells are made from the breakdown products of the old cells, after the waste or toxic material is removed and excreted, and supplemented from food. If we eat food that is demineralised (as the result of mineral depleted soil, non-rotated crops, non-organic farming) devitalised and dead, it is only natural that we will have sick bodies. All cooked food is dead, as are all the processed and refined foods.
Dr Hoffman writes:
“the people of Hunza land live without the ailments of cancer, heart trouble, arteriosclerosis, high blood pressure, arthritis, diabetes, tuberculosis, mental illness and many other ailments that plague the civilised world. Of what do the die? They die of old age”.
The Hunza people ate whole foods. Foods that have been processed and refined are not whole. Their foods were also free from additives, such as colourings and preservatives.
Another way of saying this is that they did not eat empty calories. An empty calorie is a food that does not contain all of the necessary nutrients as would be found in the food as grown. It lacks vitamins and minerals; it is a food that has been tampered with by man, processed, refined and adulterated by added chemicals. White flour, white rice and white sugar are perfect examples of empty calorie foods. They are demineralised and devitalised. They are not fit to be called food. Refined white flour lacks bulk-producing bran, and lacks about three quarters of the mineral content of the organic wheat grain. In refined white flour, most of the vitamin content has been removed and lost, as well as some of the protein and fat components, and the remaining protein is of inferior grade.
In stark contrast, stone-ground whole grain is full of minerals and is a healthy food.
The Hunza people also consumed a low-fat diet. The only oil they had available came from the apricot kernel, and was used mainly for medicinal purpose. For example, when a person was cut, the wound was washed with wine (alcohol being antiseptic), then saturated with apricot oil and bandaged.
Fat in the Hunza diet, almost exclusively from vegetarian sources, comprised only 10% of the diet. This fat was the natural oils in the food. It was healthy. It was not ‘free fat’. When the oil is taken out of the cell and extracted from the plant or fruit or seed and refined, it is ‘free fat’, which is unhealthy.
The Hunza Diet and Regularity
Dr Hoffman recognised that another reason for the good health among the Hunza people was that they were not constipated.
The norm for them was to have a bowel action three times a day, essentially after each meal. This is called the gastro-colic reflex: food enters the stomach and reflexively makes the colon contract and empty. This prevents auto-intoxication, that is, the reabsorption of toxic waste, like a stagnating sewer. The bowel, if not emptied regularly, becomes a reservoir of putrefying food residues.
The Hunza people did not sit on seats or commodes to have their bowels open, they squatted. This position is physiologically correct: the sigmoid (s-shaped) colon straightens and this facilitates evacuation, minimising the need to strain. This squatting position appears to be universal among all people with the exception of those who call themselves civilized, ie the Western world.
The high fibre diet of the Hunza people in the 1960’s was an integral part of preventing constipation and its complications.
What, then, was the Basis of the Hunza Diet?
They subsisted mainly on vegetarian food.
There was insufficient land to graze a large number of cattle. What land was available was needed for agriculture. Thus the basic foods of the Hunza people were fruits, vegetables and grains (excluding rice).
If they were to divert the use of some of the land from raising produce to pasture land for animals, there would not be enough food for the needs of the people. Dr Hoffman saw that the few animals they had usually grazed on the rocky soil, or on grasses along the pathways. He estimated that the Hunza people were “about ninety-nine percent vegetarian”.
As previously mentioned, their food was organically grown and mainly eaten, whenever possible, raw.
Dr Hoffman noted that the babies were all breast-fed: a boy child for three years and a girl child for two years. The importance of breast-feeding is well known today.
All food comes from the vegetable kingdom. Plants are food producers; animals are food users. Flesh foods are secondary or second-hand products, since all food comes originally from the vegetable kingdom.
There is nothing necessary or desirable for human nutrition that is found in animal foods which is not in, and derived from, vegetable products.
As we well know today, all animal products are acid-forming in the body. The ideal diet aims to have 75%-80% of foods alkali-forming, and the only way to achieve this is on a dominantly egetarian diet. (refer to my September 2005 newsletter, ‘Acid Alkali Balance – the Ideal Diet’)
In the animal world, herbivorous or vegetarian animals are long-living: statistics show that carnivorous (flesh-eating) animals only live about one-third as long as herbivorous animals. The herbivorous animals, for example elephants, horses, camels and oxen, have a tremendous capacity for hard and prolonged work, much more so than carnivorous animals.
Endurance studies carried out, for example at Yale University, showed vegetarians, or near vegetarians, had much greater endurance in muscular activities that meat eaters.
What of Spices, Condiments and Caffeine?
Spices, pepper, ginger, mustard, cinnamon, cloves, salt, vinegar and caffeine-containing foods and beverages were NOT used by the Hunza people when Dr Hoffman carried out his survey in 1961. He believed that the non-use of these substances was another reason for the health of the Hunza people, and the absence of the degenerative diseases that plagued the western/civilized world in 1961.
Pepper, ginger, spice, mustard, cinnamon, cloves etc are all strong irritants.
It is suggested that any seasoning substance which can be eaten as is, in the concentrated form, without irritation, is a safe seasoning substance to use, eg parsley. The opposite is also suggested, namely that any seasoning /agent/ substance which, when taken in concentrated form, causes irritation, should either not be used, or, at most, used sparingly.
Salt is another item for seasoning. The natural salt (sodium) in foods is sufficient for the bodies needs. Salt should not be added to food at any stage of preparation or consumption.
Vinegar (acetic acid) is highly acidic and reduces the alkali reserves of the body. Apple cider vinegar is the exception, as it is slightly alkaline in the body.
The adverse effects of caffeine-containing foods and beverages (coffee, tea, cola drinks, chocolate) are well known. Caffeine is a drug and a central nervous system stimulant. A standard cup of tea contains about half the amount of caffeine as a standard coffee.
The Seven Requirements for Health
The Seven Requirements for Health, as set out in Chapter 2 of ‘How To Stop Feeling So Awful’ (see the homepage of this website) are:
In reviewing the findings of Dr Hoffman, when he researched the Hunza people in 1961, it is clearly apparent that the lifestyle of the Hunza people fulfilled all the Seven Requirements for Health. Their health and longevity was the result of proper nutrition, pure air, pure water, exercise, sunshine, rest and positive thinking.
E.G.White reminds us that: “Disease never comes without a cause. The way is prepared, and disease invited, by disregard of the Laws of Health”.
We, too, can look forward to health and longevity if we take the example of the Hunza people and follow the “Seven Requirements for Health”. These can be summarised as:
A plant-based diet, which emphasis fresh, raw fruits and vegetables
An environment which includes pure air, pure water, healthy working conditions and aesthetic beauty
Appropriate activity including balanced exercise, rest, work and play
A sound psychology based on self-responsibility, self-acceptance, self-awareness and self-mastery
YOU DO NOT HAVE TO BE SICK
** Copyright 2006: The Huntly Centre.