Why People Didn’t Need Doctors in Shangri-La

It Wasn’t Just the Apricots

In his novel Lost Horizon (http://gutenberg.net.au/ebooks05/0500141h.html), the British writer James Hilton wrote about a fictional valley named Shangri-La, which was located somewhere high in the Himalayas. There’s something magical about this valley. People who enter it regain their health, and they age very slowly while in the valley. So they live seemingly forever.

Of course, there was never really any such place as Shangri-La, but I was reminded of it when I read this passage from Studies in Deficiency Disease, by Sir Robert McCarrison, Oxford Medical Publications, Henry Frowde and Hodder & Stoughton, London, 1921 (http://journeytoforever.org/farm_library/medtest/medtest_mccarrison2.html):

My own experience provides an example of a race, unsurpassed in perfection of physique and in freedom from disease in general, whose sole food consists to this day of grains, vegetables, and fruits, with a certain amount of milk and butter, and meat only on feast days. I refer to the people of the State of Hunza, situated in the extreme northernmost point of India. So limited is the land available for cultivation that they can keep little livestock other than goats, which browse on the hills, while the food supply is so restricted that the people, as a rule, do not keep dogs. They have, in addition to grains — wheat, barley, and maize — an abundant crop of apricots. These they dry in the sun and use very largely in their food.

Amongst these people the span of life is extraordinarily long; and such service as I was able to render them during some seven years spent in their midst was confined chiefly to the treatment of accidental lesions, the removal of senile cataract, plastic operations for granular eyelids, or the treatment of maladies wholly unconnected with food supply. Appendicitis, so common in Europe, was unknown. When the severe nature of the winter in that part of the Himalayas is considered, and the fact that their housing accommodation and conservancy arrangements are of the most primitive, it becomes obvious that the enforced restriction to the unsophisticated foodstuffs of nature is compatible with long life, continued vigour, and perfect physique.

Unfortunately, if the average American journalist got hold of this story, he or she would probably focus on the apricots. We’d soon see apricot extracts, probably in pill form, showing up on the shelves of stores that sell vitamins and herbal products. Everyone would probably miss the main point of this story, which is that the Hunza people were healthy because their diet was based heavily on an assortment of unrefined plant foods, including plenty of fruits and vegetables as well as grains.