Black citizens die much younger, on average, than whites. In 2005, the death rate for all cancers combined was an astounding 33% higher in African American men and 16% higher in African American women than in white men and women, respectively.
Why would blacks die at so much higher rates of not only cancer, but other serious disease? I believe there are two reasons, both resulting in the degradation of the immune function: stress from racism, and skin color blocking out vitamin D.
Who is a black person?
I believe there is only a human race, and arbitrarily classifying people can be an exercise in futility. I have heard some estimate that, on average, those identified as “African American” are over half European in ancestry.
There are those who classify some of the darkest-skinned people of India, as dark as any African, as Caucasian because of their facial characteristics.
In the traditional racist culture of the USA, those with three white grandparents and one black are usually defined as “black.”
So for this column, we should not be concerned about arbitrary things like racial classifications, and more concerned about the amount of melanin in the skin, which is the thing that filters out sunlight, inhibiting the production of vitamin D.
The stress of racism
It has long been known that stress, such as the stress of victims living in a racist society, damages the immune system, allowing disease to spread. Stress consumes nutrients needed by the immune system for optimal performance, in effect, starving the immune system.
When you are black in America and apply for a job and are told you were not selected, you may wonder if it is because of your race, a stressful thought. Or when you don’t get the apartment with the VACANCY sign on it. Or when the taxi doesn’t stop for you when you hail it at night, but stops on the next block for a white person. Or when the policeman stops you for going two miles an hour over the speed limit.
Meditation has been shown to dramatically reduce stress in studies at the Harvard Medical School by Herbert Bensen, M.D. This method of stress relief has long been known by Buddhist masters in India, China, Korea, Japan and Vietnam, but isn’t widely practiced in the West.
My friend Phil Murray, M.D., says meditation works well to relieve stress, and Western-trained medical doctors who work with Eastern as well as Western medicine (Andrew Weil, Deepak Chopra, Bernie Siegel) swear by it and regularly prescribe it for their patients with serious disease.
At the end of this column I will show you how to meditate, thereby eliminating the physical effect of racism which leads to serious illness and, I believe, causes African Americans to die much younger than others, but it may not be the most important cause, which I will next address.
Another reason blacks die younger is the inability to absorb sunlight in northern latitudes because of the extra melanin in their skin. This has been documented by a scientist friend, William Grant, who is world renowned for his studies of sunlight.
Melanin acts as a sunlight filter to protect skin from allowing too much sunlight. Blacks in Africa, on the equator, get plenty of sunlight, and over thousands of years adapted to the environment by selecting for melanin. As the theory goes, early humans, who were both naked and lighter skinned probably did not do well and died out, living on the equator, where our species originated.
Near the equator, one produces plenty of vitamin D no matter how dark-skinned, and dark-skinned people don’t have the higher cancer rates we have in North America, according to Grant’s data.
As people moved out of Africa, the darker-skinned ones died at greater rates over the millennia moving north, through natural selection, until only light-skinned people occupied the more northern latitudes of Europe.
This is because dark-skinned people did not get enough sunlight in northern latitudes to manufacture the necessary vitamin D3 for good health. Lighter-skinned people, with less melanin in the skin, absorb sunlight at much greater rates and manufacture vitamin D3 at greater rates in lower sunlight, thereby boosting the effectiveness of their immune system to fight disease.
The major medical studies have concluded that those who get the least sunlight get the most cancer. Those who get moderate sunlight get the least cancer.
William Grant has done a number of studies to prove that vitamin D3 can save your life by improving the efficiency of the immune system. Grant has changed the way the medical community sees vitamin D, the results of his studies having been published in several medical and scientific journals.
Grant explains why some relatively dark-skinned people survive in the north, such as Aleuts. They are in historical human terms relative newcomers to the northern latitudes (therefore not having had time to select for less melanin, which may take tens of thousands of years). But as luck would have it, Eskimos ate a great deal of fish, which is high in vitamin D, thereby protecting their immune systems even though their bodies were not getting enough sunshine to manufacture their own vitamin D in arctic latitudes.
In recent decades, these northern people are dying at higher rates from disease most likely owed to their changes in diet to more typical American food which does not contain significant vitamin D.
In my youth there was an “old wives tale” that if you gave cod liver oil to a child they would recover from a cold sooner. Now we know it is true, because cod liver oil contains vitamin D, which helps strengthen the immune system.
In the northern latitudes, even light-skinned people should take vitamin D3 in winter, when the angle of the sun is such that too little sunlight gets to people (who are also bundled up to keep warm, with little skin exposed to the sun).
I would recommend at least one thousand international units of vitamin D3 daily. There are a great many scientific studies now to back this. If you are dark-skinned, this may be a matter of life and death over time. At the very least, you will reduce the number of colds you catch.
In summer, people with high melanin in the skin need to spend more time in the sun to get the same amount of vitamin D as people with less melanin, or in other words, the darker you are, the more time you need to spend in the sun.
Some black friends have told me when they get too much sunlight, they develop vitiligo from the destruction of melanocytes (skin pigmentation cells) and they think it is unsightly, so do not like to be exposed to much sunlight. In this case, I would recommend vitamin D be taken orally. And just as in light-skinned people, if you have very dark skin you still need to avoid sunburn, which is dangerous long-term.
To eliminate the harmful physical effects of racism or other stress, I believe one must meditate. The practice goes back as far in history as there has been writing, so we really don’t know how old it is. But more than 6,000 years ago, in the earliest Sanskrit, meditation was referenced as a thing to be embraced for one’s health.
In the Eastern world meditation is practiced by millions of people, and in many traditions is used to treat illness. Tibetan monks, for example, use it as a primary treatment for serious disease such as cancer.
Stress consumes nutrients which are essential to the health of the immune system. When you get rid of the stress, the immune system gets the nutrients it needs (provided one has a good diet) and will be strengthened considerably. The biggest contributor to serious disease such as cancer is a weakened immune system.
From my observations of students recovering from serious disease such as cancer, I believe it is common for Americans to be dangerously stressed, so simple meditation often leads to recovery after the immune system regains strength. Dr. Bernie Siegel’s studies back this up, as time after time, people he thought were so seriously ill they would die, within months recovered to good health after daily meditating.
How to meditate
In preparation for meditation, turn off radios, TV, and disconnect the telephone. Go to your bedroom and close the door for a quiet environment in which you will not be disturbed for twenty minutes.
Lie on your bed, flat on your back, and get comfortable. Close your eyes gently and leave them closed.
Move your attention to your toes and command them to relax so that they go limp. Move down your feet, commanding the rest of the feet to relax. Then do the same for the ankles. Allow your feet to go free to sink into the mattress.
Move your attention to your calves and knees, gently commanding them to go limp with relaxation. Feel your legs sink into the mattress.
Command your thighs and hips to sink into the mattress, relaxed.
Command the trunk of your body to relax and go limp into the mattress.
Move your attention to your shoulders and let them sink into the mattress, relaxed. Move down your arms commanding them to relax, and let your hands sink into the mattress.
Let your neck and head go, sinking into the mattress, or a pillow if you need one. Let your mind wander back over your body looking for stress, and when you find it, gently command that part of your body to relax.
Finally, let your thoughts go. In the Western world we say that we have five senses which keep us in the waking state of consciousness; sight, hearing, smell, taste and touch, but in the Eastern world they believe there are six, as they include thought as one of the senses.
So you must get away from thought to move to the meditative state. Thinking holds you in the waking state of consciousness. When a thought appears, gently say to it, “go away.”
To drown out thinking, one may silently concentrate on the breath, “breathing in, I breathe in calmness, breathing out, I breathe out stress.”
After a little time of practicing this, you will be meditating and feeling wonderful. Meditation does amazing things to your body, as it eliminates stress so that vital nutrients can get to your immune system. Your immune system will fight cancer and other serious disease when it is running optimally, as well as the common cold.
You can do it
I have been teaching meditation for decades and my students have found it to be remarkable in aiding their recovery from serious disease. Improving their health is the primary reason students have come to my classes.
If you are black, I am certain that adding meditation and vitamin D3 to your daily regimen will improve your health and extend your life. If you make fresh fruits and vegetables the main part of your diet, and exercise by continuous walking for an hour three times a week, you will do wonders for your health through strengthening your immune function.
There is absolutely no reason why someone who is darker skinned must die any earlier than one who is light skinned.
There is often a lot of suffering with the many diseases blacks get at greater rates than whites in our culture. But people do have the power to extend years of life, and live with good health into their golden years.
Jack Balkwill does the web site Liberty Underground of Virginia and has written for publications as varied as the little-read English Honor Society’s Rectangle to the millions of readers USA Today. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.