The Inuit (“Eskimo”) Diet Causes Rapid Aging, Early Death

The Inu­it are the indige­nous peo­ple of Green­land as well as north­ern Cana­da and Alas­ka. Since the 1970s, we have been told that the Inuit’s tra­di­tion­al high-fat, low-car­bo­hy­drate diet is healthy. Today, advo­cates of the “keto” and “Paleo” diets make false claims about the Inu­it diet. In real­i­ty, the Inu­it who were eat­ing their tra­di­tion­al diet did not go into keto­sis unless they were fast­ing. Also, the Inu­it have always had a short lifes­pan. That fact was obvi­ous to the ear­li­est Euro­peans who stud­ied them.

Inuit, Not Eskimo

The Inu­it were often called Eski­mos, but that name is con­sid­ered offen­sive. The cor­rect name is Inu­it. The sin­gu­lar form of the word is Inuk.

The Inuit Diet

The Inu­it had man­aged to sur­vive in a hos­tile envi­ron­ment: one that was frozen and cov­ered in snow for many months out of the year. As a result, the Inuit’s tra­di­tion­al diet for most of the year con­sist­ed of meat and fish, often eat­en raw.

Since the 1970s, many food fad­dists have been claim­ing that the Inuit’s diet pro­tects against coro­nary artery dis­ease. The goal of this pro­pa­gan­da is to encour­age peo­ple to eat meat and fish and to take fish oil cap­sules and to shun car­bo­hy­drates. Yet even the ear­li­est out­side observers of the Inu­it noticed some­thing odd about them. The young Inu­it seemed hale and hearty, but the Inu­it seemed to age quick­ly, and there were prac­ti­cal­ly no Inu­it old­er than 60 years. Stud­ies of ancient mum­mies and skele­tons of Inu­it peo­ple con­firmed that the tra­di­tion­al Inu­it diet caused ath­er­o­scle­ro­sis and osteo­poro­sis.

Health Problems Among the Inuit

The Inu­it have always had a remark­ably short life expectan­cy. They were at risk for dis­eases of pover­ty and dis­eases of afflu­ence. The dis­eases of pover­ty include star­va­tion, expo­sure, acci­dents, and gen­er­al lack of med­ical care and social sup­ports. The dis­eases of afflu­ence result main­ly from a rich diet: a lot of ani­mal pro­tein, fat, and cho­les­terol. In trop­i­cal and tem­per­ate regions, only the rich could afford to eat a lot of meat and oth­er ani­mal-source foods. But in the Arc­tic, meat was the only avail­able food for much of the year. Thus, the Inu­it were poor peo­ple eat­ing a rich diet. As a result, they aged rapid­ly and died young.

The Inuit’s tra­di­tion­al diet of fat­ty meats and fish can sus­tain a young per­son. Oth­er­wise, the Inu­it would not have suc­ceed­ed in set­tling in the Arc­tic region. How­ev­er, the Inu­it diet is bad for your health in the long run, for sev­er­al rea­sons:

  • Peo­ple can catch par­a­sitic dis­eases by eat­ing raw meat. (More than 12% of elder­ly Inu­it in Green­land had trichi­nosis).
  • The high fat and cho­les­terol con­tent of the Inu­it diet leads to clog­ging of the arter­ies.
  • A high-pro­tein diet increas­es the risk for liv­er and kid­ney dis­ease, as well as osteo­poro­sis.
  • Ani­mal-source food con­tains a con­cen­trat­ed dose of pol­lu­tants from the envi­ron­ment.

The Inuit Diet Was Not Ketogenic

Advo­cates of a keto­genic diet some­times use the Inu­it diet as a mod­el. The goal of a keto­genic diet is to put some­one into a state of keto­sis. Keto­sis means that the per­son has an abnor­mal­ly large amount of keto acids in the blood. This con­di­tion nor­mal­ly hap­pens dur­ing fast­ing or when the per­son is eat­ing no car­bo­hy­drates. It can also result from insulin defi­cien­cy. The Inu­it ate prac­ti­cal­ly no plant mate­r­i­al for months at a time. Thus, many peo­ple expect­ed that the Inu­it would have been in keto­sis most of the time. Yet a study done in the 1920s found that the Inu­it did not go into keto­sis unless they are fast­ing.

By the 1980s, the expla­na­tion was clear. The Inu­it had been eat­ing far more car­bo­hy­drate than any­one expect­ed. The Inu­it ate a lot of raw meat that was fresh-killed or that froze imme­di­ate­ly after being killed. This meat still con­tained a lot of glyco­gen (ani­mal starch). Also, the Inu­it would pre­serve a whole seal or bird car­cass under an intact whole skin, with a thick lay­er of blub­ber. Some of the pro­tein in the meat would then fer­ment into car­bo­hy­drates.

Omega 3 Fatty Acids and Heart Attacks

Back in the 1970s, some sci­en­tists from Den­mark claimed that the Inu­it of Green­land had a low risk of heart attack. They claimed that the Inu­it were being pro­tect­ed by the large amounts of omega-3 fat­ty acids in their diet. In real­i­ty, the Inu­it have a high risk of coro­nary artery dis­ease. The ear­li­er research sim­ply under­es­ti­mat­ed the num­ber of fatal heart attacks. The caus­es of deaths among the Inu­it were not being accu­rate­ly record­ed. In the 1970s, the Inu­it in Green­land sel­dom got med­ical atten­tion while they were alive. They sel­dom under­went autop­sy after their death. So their true cause of death was often unknown.

The Inu­it diet is a mod­el for how Stone Age peo­ple can sur­vive in the Arc­tic. It is not a mod­el for liv­ing a long and healthy life in a mod­ern indus­tri­al­ized soci­ety. The pop­u­la­tions that live the longest, health­i­est lives have two things in com­mon. They have access to mod­ern med­ical care, and they eat a high-car­bo­hy­drate diet based on starch­es and veg­eta­bles.

Pho­to by Inter­net Archive Book Images

6 thoughts on “The Inuit (“Eskimo”) Diet Causes Rapid Aging, Early Death”

  1. Your final state­ment about high carbs is at least ques­tion­able based on cur­rent main­stream med­ical knowl­edge. The diet that seems to be the most rec­om­mend­ed is the mediter­ranean diet, which is a medi­um fat and medi­um carb diet. A very recent arti­cle in The Lancet reached the con­clu­sion that a mod­er­ate carb diet was asso­ci­at­ed with the longest lifes­pan. Both low and high carb diets fared worse.

    1. The PURE study showed noth­ing of the sort. What it real­ly showed was that poor peo­ple in poor coun­tries have a short life span. Keep in mind that most of the peo­ple who are eat­ing a real­ly low-fat, high-car­bo­hy­drate diet are extreme­ly poor. The Lancet study did not ade­quate­ly con­trol for the dead­ly effects of pover­ty itself. The study was so poor­ly designed and mis­lead­ing that I was amazed that it was pub­lished. As any intro­duc­to­ry epi­demi­ol­o­gy text­book will tell you, caus­es of death tend to fall into two cat­e­gories: dis­eases of pover­ty and dis­eases of afflu­ence. Dis­eases of pover­ty include things like star­va­tion, occu­pa­tion­al acci­dents, infec­tious and par­a­sitic dis­eases (e.g., tuber­cu­lo­sis and schis­to­so­mi­a­sis), and lack of basic med­ical care. The dis­eases of afflu­ence result from a rich diet: too much fat and cho­les­terol and ani­mal pro­tein and not enough starch and fiber. So you can­not just com­pare the death rates in rich and poor coun­tries and assume that the dif­fer­ences are due to diet alone. Note that the results of the PURE study con­flict with bet­ter-designed stud­ies. For exam­ple, Sev­enth-Day Adven­tists in the Unit­ed States live longer than do Mor­mons or the gen­er­al pub­lic. Also, the death rates from dis­eases of afflu­ence dropped sharply in the Euro­pean coun­tries dur­ing wartime food rationing, when the pop­u­la­tions had to shift from their reg­u­lar mod­er­ate- to high-fat diet to a low-fat, starchy diet. The Chi­na-Cor­nell-Oxford Project showed us that adding even small amounts of ani­mal-source food to the diet result­ed in a mea­sur­able increase in the risk of death from degen­er­a­tive dis­ease (eg, breast can­cer). There did not seem to be any safe lev­el of intake.

      Keep in mind that “main­stream med­ical knowl­edge” is based on an almost com­plete igno­rance of the nutri­tion lit­er­a­ture. As I doc­u­ment in two of my books, med­ical stu­dents are learn­ing prac­ti­cal­ly noth­ing about nutri­tion or dietet­ics in med­ical school. As a result, doc­tors are often giv­ing their patients real­ly bad nutri­tion advice. For exam­ple, they are often urg­ing their dia­bet­ic patients to eat low-carb diets. Sci­en­tists have known since the 1920s that low-carb diets make dia­betes worse, not bet­ter.

      1. You make some inter­est­ing points. Most of the high carb stud­ies in the meta-analy­sis of Lancet seem to come from Asia. Asia as a whole is no longer in pover­ty, yes they are pro­por­tion­al­ly poor­er, but it does not seem to have a sig­nif­i­cant effect on life expectan­cy any­more in most Asian coun­tries. I can agree on the fact that most of these stud­ies are poor and based on obser­va­tion only, so their val­ue is lim­it­ed.

        I also don’t think we can say much about wartime food rationing either, because sure­ly the pri­ma­ry advan­tage of hav­ing food rationing with regards to dis­eases would be that there no longer exists an abun­dance of food to be had. Abun­dance of food caus­es overeat­ing to increase, which in turn leads to a more over­weight pop­u­la­tion, which direct­ly would increase dis­ease. A good exam­ple would be den­tal caries, which didn’t exist among the native pop­u­la­tions and is a direct result of the mas­sive amounts of sug­ar con­sumed.

        And the final point you make about dia­betes, again I don’t claim to know whether extreme­ly low carb diets make dia­betes bet­ter or worse, but eat­ing lots of carbs and sug­ars direct­ly raise the lev­el of blood glu­cose, which then pro­duces insulin spikes. So even with­out a degree in med­i­cine, it seems to clear to me that blood glu­cose spikes are gen­er­al­ly not going to help if you are dia­bet­ic.

        1. Read my dia­betes book: Sci­en­tists have known since the 1930s that high-car­bo­hy­drate diets make the body more sen­si­tive to insulin. For this rea­son, peo­ple on high-car­bo­hy­drate diets have much more sta­ble blood sug­ar. Dr. Wal­ter Kemp­n­er was able to reverse type 2 dia­betes by hav­ing his patients eat noth­ing but white rice (he rec­om­mend­ed Uncle Ben’s Con­vert­ed Rice), fruit, fruit juice, and pure white sug­ar. Even his patients with type 1 dia­betes need­ed to reduce their dosage of insulin.

          All that free sug­ar in the diet would pose a risk of den­tal caries, but the over­all health ben­e­fits were worth the risk. Den­tal caries are large­ly due to free sug­ars in the diet and can be pre­vent­ed by good oral hygiene.

          You evi­dent­ly did not read the lit­er­a­ture on wartime food rationing, or the clin­i­cal research on dia­betes. Note that the sharp drop in dia­betes mor­tal­i­ty in the UK dur­ing World War II hap­pened as the fat in the diet was replaced with car­bo­hy­drate, even though total calo­rie intake remained sta­ble. You can see the same effect when peo­ple are fed a high-carb, low-fat diet in peace­time. When peo­ple with type 2 dia­betes were fed a high-car­bo­hy­drate diet in an all-you-can-eat buf­fet set­ting and were encour­aged to eat until they felt full, they got bet­ter blood sug­ar read­ings by day 7, even though they had been tak­en off at least one of their blood sug­ar pills on day 1.–2891-13–99 Longer-term stud­ies have had sim­i­lar effects. In oth­er words, the evi­dence all points in the same direc­tion. Weight loss of any caus­es revers­es type 2 dia­betes, since type 2 dia­betes is actu­al­ly a defense against stor­ing dietary fat. Yet the main effect on dia­betes mor­tal­i­ty of wartime food rationing in the UK was the result of eat­ing starch instead of fat.

          There are still a lot of poor peo­ple in Asia, and the life expectan­cy of the poor is still low­er than the life expectan­cy of the well-to-do, for the rea­sons I already explained.

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