Why Does the Middle East Have the Lowest Cancer Rates Across the Globe?

Written by Professor Anna Gray, Updated on May 9th, 2024
Reading Time: 4 minutes

Unfortunately, cancer has still not been cured yet, despite our best efforts. It is still something that pretty much everybody fears hearing as their diagnosis or the diagnosis of a loved one.

We know that some people are more genetically prone to developing certain cancers (for example, breast cancer), and some are caused by lifestyle choices (for example, lung cancer).

One exciting finding as of late is that the people of the Middle East or West Asia have the lowest cancer rates worldwide.

Why is this? Also, how can this be when they consume the highest amounts of sugar – a known fuel source for cancer cells?

Despite High Sugar Consumption, Middle Easterners Have the Lowest Rates of Cancer

Let's look at the specifics regarding cancer rates in the Middle East versus the rest of the world. The global average of cancer incidence is 198/100,000 people, whereas Saudi Arabia, just one example country from the Middle East, is 96/100,000 – the lowest of all countries.

Australia is the highest, with 468/100,000, and the United States is the 4th worst on the list: 352/100,000. Other countries of the Middle East are similar to Saudi Arabia: Yemen = 97/100,000; Oman = 104/100,000.

So, what is their secret? Let’s look at some of the unique qualities of the culture within the Middle East that are most likely contributing to such low cancer rates.

Ramadan is Basically Intermittent Fasting

First up on the list is the holiday of Ramadan, when the population essentially does intermittent fasting for a month straight. They will fast from dawn to sunset.

We have heard before about the benefits of intermittent fasting, especially for weight loss, increasing growth hormone, and just general health.

In terms of cancer, fasting starves the cancer cells. Cancer cells are hungry for glucose, the fundamental molecule that all sugar is broken down into in the body.

Cancer cells have 10-50x more insulin receptor cells than a regular cell and will use up the glucose available as quickly as possible.

Based on this fact, we have developed the PET scan to find cancer which looks for areas of high metabolism of sugar within the body. If you fast, you are not consuming sugar to feed the cancer, plain and simple.

In addition, fasting stimulates autophagy. Autophagy is when cells recycle old, damaged proteins and mitochondria.

Specifically, cancer is caused by damaged mitochondria, the organelles within a cell that fuels metabolism and produces energy for the cell and body. If these damaged mitochondria are removed, there is less risk of cancer development.

Fasting also generates new immune cells, such as killer T cells and helper T cells, strengthening the immune system. Not only this but fasting gets rid of inflammation. Cancer loves and quickly spreads into inflammatory areas of the body.

With fasting, you rid the body of inflammatory hot spots for cancer and increase the body's antioxidant networks, ridding it of harmful free radicals that damage DNA and cells, leaving them open to cancer development.

High Consumption of Anti-Cancer Spices

The population of the Middle East consumes a lot of spices, and I mean a lot. Personally, Indian food is one of my favorite dishes, and it’s that strong curry that makes it so delicious, among other spices.

If you want to protect yourself against cancer, consider using some of the following spices, as they have been found to be anti-cancer, anti-inflammatory and/or anti-tumor.

  • Turmeric
  • Saffron
  • Cardamon
  • Nutmeg
  • Cinnamon
  • Coriander

Low Tobacco Usage in Women

Worldwide, about 20% of the population smokes tobacco, but in Iraq, only 3% of women smoke tobacco, and in Oman, just 0.7% of women use tobacco! Because of such low percentages of women consuming tobacco, it significantly brings the entire average down for that country. Interestingly, 40% of women in Chili and 41% in Serbia use tobacco. What a difference!

We all know that smoking is bad for your health and lungs. However, some people haven’t truly listened to that message and quit for good. If you are one of them, please listen carefully now and quit ASAP. Your lungs are begging you.

First, smoking increases your risk of cancer by 22% compared to non-smokers. 25% of all known cancers are caused by smoking or chewing tobacco – that’s a quarter of all known cancers.

One of the scariest facts about cigarettes: there are 5,000 different chemicals found in cigarettes, with 70 of them directly linked to cancer – who knows what the other 4,930 are doing!

Alcohol is Prohibited in Most Areas of the Middle East

Alcohol is a known neurotoxin. This is evident by what it does to people and how it impairs their thinking and motor skills. It is used to kill and preserve insects – is this really what you should be consuming regularly?

The people of the Middle East think not, and perhaps they’re right. In fact, drinking alcohol increases the risk of developing six different types of cancers, including in the liver and the back of the throat or roof of the mouth.

Countries of the Middle East have the lowest incidences of this throat/mouth cancer, whereas countries of Western and Northern Europe, as well as North America, have the highest rates.

There you have it, some unique qualities of the Middle East that most likely contribute to their significantly lower rates of cancer when compared to the rest of the world.

There are probably other factors at play, but consider this list when deciding about your lifestyle and how you want to remain cancer-free or implement preventative measures in your daily life.

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