What are some examples of Amish food

Why the Amish are so helpful to obesity research

In fact, because they have only married each other for centuries, the Amish genetic diversity is almost as limited as that of laboratory mice. "From the geneticists' point of view, the Amish gene pool basically consists of around 50 sets of chromosomes from the founding families," says Alan Shuldiner. The researcher from the University of Maryland in Baltimore came up with the idea in the early 1990s to use this natural “Amish experiment” to identify gene variants that promote diabetes, obesity or cardiovascular disease. The “order”, the set of rules for the Amish living together, also proved useful. It defines what a godly life should look like. This does not just mean doing without cars, cell phones or other technical aids. It also regulates the way of life and nutrition, which is therefore very similar for all Amish people. Just as useful for researchers is the "Fisher Book", in which the pedigrees of the Amish families are recorded as far back as the 18th century, which enables researchers to trace the inheritance of certain gene variants.

Researcher Shuldiner was able to convince many Amish to participate

On his first visits to Amish families, however, Shuldiner was chased from the farm with a pitchfork. But then he made the acquaintance of Sadie, an Amish woman around 60 at the time. With their help, the researcher, who comes from a German-Jewish family, was able to make a pilgrimage from farm to farm. Since then, a third of the approximately 13,000 adult Amish Lancasters have volunteered for Shuldiner's studies.

First, he looked at diabetes in the Amish population. His consideration: If the Amish diabetes occurs more frequently in some families, then the gene variants responsible for it should also be found there. Sadie's relatives were the first to be persuaded to take Shuldiner's "glucose tolerance test": drink a large glass of orange lemonade with the sugar content of one and a half cans of cola. If the blood sugar level does not fall below a certain threshold two hours later, then diabetes is suspected. As it turned out, a number of Sadie's family members suffered from diabetes without even knowing it. Since the Amish rarely go to the doctor, diabetes is usually only recognized when organ damage has already occurred or there is a threat of blindness due to long-term fluctuations in blood sugar. In the meantime, Shuldiner's studies have led the Amish to recognize and treat diabetes early enough. For example in his "Amish Research Clinic", where the Amish are not only examined for studies, but also receive free medical help.

The Amish eat a lot and fat - typically German

So far, the analyzes show that the Amish are less likely to develop diabetes than the rest of the US white population. "But they are just as often overweight," says Shuldiner. “They eat a lot and fat, so they are not always healthy.” Actually, being more overweight also means more diabetes, but the Amish physically work in agriculture and walk a lot. That doesn't protect them from being overweight, but it does protect them from diabetes, says the hormone specialist. And despite their diet, which is still typically German and high in fat, the blood lipid levels are better than in the normal American population, says Shuldiner. However, more and more Amish are now leaving the farms and switching to jobs that require less physical labor. "We could perhaps see more diabetes cases in the Amish in the future," fears the researcher.

A gene mutation slows down the breakdown of certain fats

Only recently, with the help of the Amish, Shuldiner discovered a mutation in a gene called HSL (hormone-sensitive lipase), which plays a role in lipid metabolism. It increases the risk of developing adult diabetes. In the non-Amish population, the frequency of the mutation is 0.2 percent too rare for a study to be able to determine this effect. Among the Amish, around five percent of the 2,700 study participants carried the mutation. Since diabetes and obesity are caused by the interaction of many different gene variants, Shuldiner's Amish studies help to complete the list of these genes. Only then can it be checked whether the same gene variants in the Polynesians cause the tendency to become overweight or whether it is more the lifestyle that leads to extra pounds. Another, more positive gene mutation that Shuldiner found in the Amish slows down the breakdown of certain fats in the blood and apparently protects against cardiovascular diseases.

Even if the Amish live 8000 kilometers away, genetically they are a sample from the German gene pool of the 18th century. The Amish gene variants that promote obesity and diabetes are also likely to exist in the motherland of the emigrants, says Shuldiner: "It would be interesting to know how common these mutations are in the general German population."

  • The Amish experiment
  • Why the Amish are so helpful to obesity research
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