Tuesday, June 2, 2009

Seal of Approval

Prevalence of MS among aboriginal populations has been rarely studied. The few studies conducted indicate MS prevalence is low, but not rare. In the Northern part of Norway, Troms and Finnmark, the prevalence of MS is relatively low; in fact, in the Sami population, an indigenous population of Norway, no MS is found among those of pure Sami heritage. I haven’t been able to find any info on MS in the Innuit populations of Northern Canada and Alaska.

You might think that these populations would have a higher incidence of MS because of their geography. That appears not to be the case. These populations have limited access to neurologists, so that may account for some going undiagnosed. But there has been an increase in the incidence of MS over the years, possibly due to the fact that there is greater intermingling of the aboriginal population with those of Northern European descent and improved diagnostic tools. Still, over all, there is a lesser prevalence of MS in these populations.


Because of where they live, these populations have a definite lack of natural sunlight year round, thus less Vitamin D via sunshine. So where do they get Vitamin D (thought to protect people from MS)? It must be in the food. So what do these populations eat?

Seal and whale. They are staples of the Northern Canadian aboriginal diet. And seals and whale eat fish. The northern species of fish are high in omega 3s and vitamin D, passing along those nutrients to the higher organisms when consumed.

Last week, the Governor General of Canada, Michaelle Jean, who is the Queen’s representative in this country, was touring the northern communities of Canada. During one stop, she participated in a ceremony involving cutting open a freshly killed seal, and eating part of its heart. Aside from the queasiness factor, this was a symbolic gesture to show solidarity with the northern communities and their way of life. I thought it was very brave on her part. She's not the first non-native or even the first Governor -General to eat raw seal meat. She's just the first to do so in such a public manner and at a time when the European Union is miffed about the Canadian seal hunt.

But it is more than just a brave gesture. It may be a way of returning to lower incidences of MS in the Canadian population.

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