(NaturalNews) A study of Seventh Day Adventists, published in 2000, showed that several of their lifestyle factors increase longevity and quality of health. The study was conducted among 34,192 self-identified California Adventists. Subjects were asked to complete questionnaires that pinpointed demographics, medical history, diet, physical activity, and a few psycho-social variables. Subjects were evaluated for 12 years in regard to deaths and hospitalizations.
Comparisons were made among the subjects according to several lifestyle choices, and secondly, the Adventist statistics as a whole were compared to the vital statistics of non-Hispanic Californians in general. It was found that there was more variation in longevity between vegetarian Adventists and non-vegetarian Adventists than between Adventists as a whole and non-Adventists. It appears that some of the factors studied are those which can add years to one's life if adopted.
The factors evaluated for the study were: vegetarianism, body mass index, past smoking (there were no current smokers), exercise, Hormone Replacement Therapy (HRT) in women, and eating of nuts. A vegetarian diet was defined as meat consumption, never or less than once per month; and semi-vegetarian as eating of meats more often than vegetarians, but less than once per week. All others are non-vegetarians. Few Adventist vegetarians are vegan. Meat was identified as beef (hamburger, steak, other beef, or veal), pork, poultry, and fish. Nut consumption was included in these analyses because of previously published evidence showing protective associations between nut consumption and deaths due to coronary heart disease. Unfortunately, the article did not define what was considered a nut for the purposes of this study.
Generally it was found that among the non-Hispanic Californian population, those identified as Seventh Day Adventists lived longer, on the average of 7.3 extra years for men, and 4.42 more years for women. Among the Adventist population itself, it was found that high physical activity, frequent consumption of nuts, vegetarian status, and medium body mass index each result in an approximate 1.5- to 2.5-years gain in life expectancy. Hypertension accounts for the loss of 4.2 and 3.2 years and diabetes for the loss of 4.6 and 8.6 years in men and women, respectively.
The effects ascribed to "non-vegetarian status" are probably related to the greater intake of foods high in saturated fat and the lower intake of foods higher in unsaturated fat, fiber, antioxidant vitamins, and other phytochemicals. This may affect mortality due to cardiovascular causes and cancer. Similarly, those who consume more nuts have been shown to have 35% to 50% lower rates of coronary events in other studies. This is probably due in part to the blood cholesterol–lowering effects of nuts, and perhaps to their unusually high content of antioxidant vitamin E. Increased physical activity is associated with important reductions in the relative risks of coronary events, stroke, and cancers of the breast and colon.
The mechanisms are not entirely understood, but probably include effects on blood lipid levels, sex hormones in women, blood insulin level, the immune system, obesity and on the reduced risk of diabetes and hypertension. Whatever the mechanisms, it seems apparent that half of Adventist men and women are losing more than 4 years of life, apparently due to their less than optimal behavioral choices which are also not in adherence to their faith's dietary guidelines.
Of the 5193 observed deaths, 1373 (26.4%) were ascribed to coronary heart disease, 1074 (20.7%) to cancer, and 531 (10.2%) to stroke. Almost half died of other causes which were not listed.
The subjects of this California study enjoying the longest lives were the vegetarians. Other studies have shown health benefits from vegetarian diets, so one conclusion is that it is better for one's heart to eat less meat. A UK study found, for example, in comparison with regular meat eaters, mortality from coronary heart disease was 20% lower in occasional meat eaters, 34% lower in people who ate fish but not meat, 34% lower in lacto-ovo-vegetarians, and 26% lower in vegans. There were no significant differences between vegetarians and non-vegetarians in mortality from cerebrovascular disease, stomach cancer, colorectal cancer, lung cancer, breast cancer, prostate cancer, or all other causes combined.
A further note on the Seventh Day Adventist (SDA) philosophy: The SDA organization is evidently very concerned with health in general. Their university at Loma Linda, California, does much in the way of medical research. It is possible that this concern filters down into its followers' life choices and further increases their longevity. Smoking and alcohol consumption are discouraged. In other ways, though, SDA followers are like the rest of their neighbors. For example, they follow the requirements of their state in regard to vaccinations for their children. The author found no evidence that SDA parents complained against the inoculations provided by SDA schools, nor sought waivers for their children to opt out of vaccinations.
The results of this study and others do strongly suggest that behavioral choices influence the expected age at death by several years, even as much as a decade. The study shows that commonly prescribed recommendations to improve diet, increase physical activity, stop smoking, and reduce body weight are relevant to increasing life expectancy and quality of life. The addition of nuts to the diet is a less prescribed habit that seems to provide increased health benefits as well.
Key TJ, Fraser GE, Thorogood M, Appleby PN, Beral V, Reeves G, Burr ML, Chang-Claude J, Frentzel-Beyme R, Kuzma JW, Mann J, McPherson K.: Imperial Cancer Research Fund, Cancer Epidemiology Unit, Oxford, United Kingdom
About the author
Cathy Sherman is a freelance writer with a major interest in natural health and in encouraging others to take responsibility for their health. She can be reached through www.devardoc.com.