Scientists have long been fascinated by the Mormon health code. Mormon is a nickname sometimes given to members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. The health code came by revelation to Joseph Smith in the early 1800s and contained what was, at the time, unusual advice about how to eat. The code, known as the Word of Wisdom, can be found in a book of Mormon scripture called the Doctrine and Covenants
The revelation asked Mormons to avoid tobacco, alcohol, coffee, and tea. (Some Mormons avoid other forms of caffeine but that is not required. The term “hot drinks” in Joseph Smith’s time referred only to those drinks.) They were encouraged to eat a diet of whole grains, fresh fruits and vegetables in season, to enjoy herbs, and to eat meat sparingly. They were taught to get enough sleep. Those who followed this command would be healthy, have plenty of energy, enjoy wisdom, and be protected from Satan’s powers.
In his day, this might have seemed unusual, but over time, scientists began to be curious about the eating habits of Mormons. In 1925, Franklin S. Harris and Newbern Butts published a scientific study revealing Mormons had fewer incidents of cancer, tuberculosis, pneumonia and kidney diseases and were less likely to commit suicide or to kill others.
In 1975, a study out of UCLA showed that Mormons had far fewer heart problems than did other people—one third to one half fewer, in fact. Studies continued to show other health benefits—fewer cases of diabetes, continuing lower rates of cancer, and even a lifespan for highly committed Mormon men that was more than nine years longer than that of the average American male.
Scientists have begun to suspect that the Word of Wisdom might play a contributing role in these showings of good health. If it does, it can become a model for healthy eating, and in fact, many experts already recommend just such a pattern. As we better understand addiction, many are choosing to avoid addictive substances. Many are included more whole grains, fruits, and vegetables in their diet.
Read more about studies on Mormon health.
Another aspect of Mormon life that scientists are beginning to become interested in is the monthly fast. Once a month, Mormons fast completely for twenty-four hours, avoiding all food and drink. The money they save by doing so is donated to the church to care for the poor in the congregation. This is done, of course, for spiritual benefit, allowing Mormons to become closer to God through the fasting process, as taught in the Bible. Jesus fasted prior to starting His mission. In addition, it allows Mormons the privilege of taking care of others. By experiencing hunger for a day, we can better understand the hunger faced by others on a regular basis and have the means to help resolve it without having to spend more money to do so.
However, Mormons believe all things are spiritual and so it turns out there may be a physical benefit as well. Some scientists believe it allows the body to reset itself and Mormons who fast have a forty percent lower risk of Coronary Artery Disease. The study factored in other Mormon health practices to isolate the actual benefit of fasting.
Mormons believe their bodies are a gift from God and that we must take care of them for this reason. They are essential to our growth and development on earth and were made in the image of God. Mormons try to show respect for their bodies by living a healthier lifestyle and also living a moral lifestyle. They practice the law of chastity—no sex outside of marriage. This helps to prevent a wide range of health problems, from sexually transmitted diseases to teen pregnancy.
They also try to make their primary identity be that of a child of God. By remembering who they are and that God loves them, they reduce their mental health risks. By trying to live a life of service to others, they increase their self-esteem and focus outwardly more often. All of this serves to lower stress when done with the proper attitude and eternal perspective.
While no lifestyle can prevent all health problems, Mormons are well on their way to a healthy life—and do so following a diet prescribed by God Himself.