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

Written by Professor Anna Gray, Updated on June 24th, 2022
Reading Time: 4 minutes

Cancer, unfortunately, has still not been cured as of 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 interesting finding as of late is that the people of the Middle East or West Asia, have the lowest cancer rates around the world. Why is this? Also, how can this be when they consume the highest amounts of sugar – a known source of fuel for cancer cells?

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

Let's look at the specifics regarding the rates of cancer of 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 rates of cancer.

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 hangry for glucose, the basic 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 off of 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 for cancer developments.

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. Inflammatory areas are areas of the body that cancer loves and quickly spreads into. With fasting, you rid the body of inflammatory hot spots for cancer as well as increase the antioxidant networks of the body, ridding it of harmful free radicals which damage DNA and cells, leaving them open to cancer development.

High Consumption of Anti-Cancer Spices

The population of the Middle East consume 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 well 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 brings the entire average down for that country significantly. Interestingly, 40% of women in Chili use tobacco and 41% in Serbia. 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 off, smoking increases your risk of cancer by 22% when 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 having a direct link to cancer – who knows what the other 4,930 are doing!

Alcohol is Prohibited in Most Areas of 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 on a regular basis? 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 making decisions about your lifestyle and how you want to remain cancer-free or implement preventative measures in your daily life.

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