Study of Amish shows many clues to cancer, good health

March 16, 2010 2:57:07 PM PDT
We've heard it many times: if you want to be healthy, stay active, eat fresh food and don't drink or smoke. If you want proof of the benefits of "good living," look no further than Amish Country.

Modern scientists are learning a lot from the culture's simple, old-fashioned ways.

It began in the nation's largest Amish community - Holmes County, Ohio.

Scientists set out to prove a theory that since the Amish are closely related, diseases like cancer that run in their families must be common in their communities.

But they discovered something completely different.

Dr. Judith Westman, of Ohio State University's James Cancer Hospital, says, "We just published a paper that said that they have a DECREASED incidence of cancer."

Dr. Westman says her team went door-to-door in Amish communities, documenting cancer cases.

After looking at 24 different types of cancer, they found overall cancer rates are 40% lower than in the rest of us.

And tobacco-related cancers are 63% lower.

Some of that is due to clean living -

Alcohol and tobacco use is rare among the Amish, they have few sexual partners, and they work hard.

But that may not account for everything.

Dr. Westman says, "They may have some genetic factors that actually protect them from cancer that we don't know what they are."

Andy Yoder has a stake in finding out.

He grew up Amish, and though he left the church, he comes back often.

Now, as a future doctor, he may be able to help researchers look deeper into Amish life.

"Because of me coming from that community, and speaking their language - Pennsylvania Dutch, they would trust me, and I think it would open a lot of doors," says Yoder.

Doctors say the Amish also practice one more healthy habit.

Even though they spend a lot of time outdoors, they usually wear long sleeves and broad-brimmed hats... That helps prevent skin cancer.