Health Lessons from the Amish, Mennonites and Other Plain People

Health Lessons from the Amish, Mennonites and Other Plain People

the back of an Amish womanStory Highlights
  • The Plain People, which includes the Amish and Mennonites, may offer the best chance to evaluate the health differences between mostly vaccinated and mostly unvaccinated children.
  • Many of the Plain People vaccinate their children, but rates of full compliance are much lower than in the general population.
  • While their insular communities have opened the Plain People up to an increased rate of genetic disorders, their healthy lifestyle protects them from many of the more common diseases.

Since a scientific study comparing the long-term health outcomes of vaccinated versus unvaccinated children is considered “unethical” by traditional medical standards, it is unlikely to be initiated any time soon. Of course, there is a population of children whose parents choose not to vaccinate and would likely be more than willing to allow the health and well-being of their children to be compared to that of fully vaccinated children in exchange for being allowed to raise their family as they see fit, without government interference and mandates. As things stand, however, those parents are still fighting for their right to avoid vaccines and, if they are identified and tracked, that choice is likely to be used against them.

A Natural, if Imperfect, Source for Comparison

The best chance for evaluating the impact of many modern practices, not only vaccination, may be to look at populations that, by nature, tend not to fully participate in those interventions: Protected religious separatist groups like the Plain People, which includes the Amish, the Mennonites and comparable offshoots of Europe’s “Anabaptist Movement” that followed the Protestant Reformation of 1525.1 The hard part is teasing out the effects of any one particular practice, such as vaccines.

The various subgroups tend to eschew vaccination as a tool of the modern world, but vaccination per se is not forbidden by their religion or lifestyle tenets, varies greatly among the different subdivisions (there are more than 40), and has been shown to increase in the face of outbreaks of diseases promoted as preventable by vaccination.2 As an example, a massive vaccination campaign in response to an outbreak of 314 measles cases among the Ohio Amish in 2014 significantly increased vaccination rates among that population and is being credited with preventing “widespread transmission of measles within the entire North American Amish population.”3

Responses to a 2007 survey of Amish parents showed that 68 percent of families had allowed at least one vaccine for all of their children, 17 percent had allowed some of their children to receive at least one vaccine, and 14 percent had not vaccinated their children at all. In most cases (86 percent), Amish parents who did not vaccinate gave the same reason as most any other parent: concern over adverse effects.4 The survey does not address which vaccines were given, at what age, or on what schedule. Since most of the children are born at home or at a birthing center, “allowing at least one vaccination” is still a far cry from “fully vaccinated according to the recommended schedule” and suggests that studying the health of these groups still might offer important insights for the general population.

A Different Chronic Disease Profile

Looking at the predominance of disease and chronic conditions in the Plain communities compared to more mainstream American populations exposes some provocative findings. Though not a clean comparison of vaccinated/unvaccinated, many of the conditions potentially linked to the chronic inflammations associated with vaccine toxicity are missing or rare among the Amish.

Cancer Rates Are Low in Amish Communities

A study of Ohio Amish communities showed that cancer of all types among Amish adults was 60 percent that of the average age-adjusted adult rate in Ohio (389.5/105 vs. 646.9/105; p < 0.0001). Looking specifically at tobacco-related cancers, the Amish rate was 37 percent of the overall rate for Ohio adults (p < 0.0001). The Amish incidence of non-tobacco-related cancers was 72 percent of the age-adjusted adult rate in Ohio (p = 0.0001). The authors of that study concluded that cancer rates among the Ohio Amish are significantly lower overall compared to the general population and that the reduced incidence can be only partially explained by differences in tobacco usage.5

Autism Rates Are Also Lower Among the Amish

An oft-repeated report from 2005 contending that there were only three cases of autism in a Pennsylvania Amish community, and that two of the children had been vaccinated,6 has been hotly challenged by numerous sources. One particularly vitriolic critic says, “He somehow failed to notice that there’s an entire autism clinic in Amish country, the Clinic for Special Children.”7

In truth, the Clinic for Special Children in Pennsylvania is not geared toward autism but is focused on all types of disorders of genetic mutation, such as maple syrup urine disease (MSUD), glutaric acidemia (GA-1), and propionic academia, among many others overexpressed among the Amish and Mennonites as a result of the relatively small size of their gene pool.8 The Amish and Mennonites descend from small pockets of Europeans who immigrated to the United States in the 1700s to escape religious persecution and have subsequently reproduced from within that small sample, amplifying the impact of genetic mutations.9

Genetic Links to Disorders With Autism Features

That’s not to say that there are no children with autism-spectrum disorders (ASD) among the Amish, but evidence indicates that many of the disorders with autism-like symptoms noted among these communities are linked to genetic mutations, rather than to a primary diagnosis of ASD. The Clinic for Special Children treats more than “150 genetic disorders affecting Amish and Mennonites… dominated by those influencing brain growth and development and previously misdiagnosed as conditions such as cerebral palsy, autism, and epilepsy. Immune system disorders and those causing prolonged seizures, sudden infant death syndrome, lethal heart irregularities, and cerebral hemorrhages also appear.”10

The clinic was originally started after the founder, pediatrician D. Holmes Morton, realized that an Amish boy diagnosed with cerebral palsy, though he had seemed healthy for his first year, actually had a genetically linked metabolic disorder called glutaric aciduria type 1, or GA1, which causes irreversible brain damage from a buildup of toxic levels of glutaric acid in the brain. Morton had seen the frustration of the Amish and Mennonite families as they traveled long distances seeking help from institutions that had little experience with the disorders they were bringing in.

Realizing that early intervention was critical to ensure the best possible outcome for these children, Morton was inspired to begin a clinic focused on the unusual genetic disorders found in that population. Several other similar centers have arisen since then, such as the DDC Clinic in Middlefield, Ohio, all focused on screening and treatment of genetic disorders.11

The genetic link to autism is an important research topic in these clinics. “Like many tales of gene discovery, the finding that mutations in CNTNAP2 lie behind a variety of brain conditions—autism, seizures, schizophrenia, Tourette syndrome, and language disorders—began with different threads,” says Ricki Lewis, a journalist who has spent time at the Clinic for Special Children with Dr. Morton. She describes the first family she encountered at the clinic, in which four of five siblings were affected by a seizure disorder with autistic-like features, and quotes Dr. Morton as saying, “One mutation can cause different types of seizures. Four kids in one family respond differently. Some are very disabled, some not very affected.”12

Health-wise, there is an interesting paradox found in looking at the so-called Plain people. On the one hand, their insular communities have made them genetically vulnerable to disorders that are much more rare in the general population, while on the other hand, their healthy, natural, and hard-working lifestyle has protected them from many of the ills of modern society. As a whole, we have much to learn from both facets of these populations.


1 Kraybill D. Who’s Amish and Who’s Not? PBS: American Experience.
Grabenstein JD. What the World’s Religions Teach Applied to Vaccines and Immune Globulins. Vaccine, Elsevier. February 2013.
Thompson KM, Kisjes KH. Modeling Measles Transmission in the North America Amish and Options for Outbreak Response. Kid Risk. July 23, 2015.
Westman JA, et al.  Low Cancer Incidence Rates in Ohio Amish. Journal of Cancer Causes and Control January 2010. (This is the abstract; to access the first two pages of the article go to “look inside” here.
Olmsted D. The Age of Autism: The Amish anomaly. UPI Apr. 19, 2005.
7 Merlan A. Dammit, Stop Using the Amish as an Excuse to Not Vaccinate Your Kids. Jan. 6, 2015.
Clinic for Special Children. Services: Diseases and Mutations. 2016.
Salamon M. Clinic for Special Children. Genome Jan. 11.2016.
10 Ibid. 
DDC Center for Children With Special Needs. About Us.
12 Lewis R. Autism, Seizures, and the Amish. DNA Science Blog, Plos Dec. 19, 2013.

6 Responses to "Health Lessons from the Amish, Mennonites and Other Plain People"

  1. Jenny M.   August 12, 2016 at 5:43 pm

    Quote: Since a scientific study comparing the long-term health outcomes of vaccinated versus unvaccinated children is considered “unethical” by traditional medical standards

    That’s a lot of doublethink, isn’t it? They say that would somehow be unethical, yet they’ve had a 100 year long experiment going on in the US and the world regarding vaccines.

    Doctors and their minions never read the data.

  2. Tony Ryan   April 12, 2017 at 11:43 pm

    I have yet to encounter a member of the medical profession who is ethical enough to objectively peruse evidence about vaccinated versus unvaccinated health status; or about the success of cansema and cannabis oil treatments of cancers. I conclude that the medical industry possesses a similar level of integrity as your average mafia or tong member, or neighbourhood ice seller. But then it seems to me that science per se has gone down this same corrupt and corporatised road. it will be justice indeed if they are all eventually punished the same way; which will happen when the Law is also de-corporatised and de-corrupted.

  3. Leanne   April 7, 2018 at 3:57 am

    To the above two statements,here here,totally agree
    What are the pharma companies afraid off
    You may have some of us brain washed but the rest of us now see the true light
    And the more you try to hide the truth by buying off main stream media and google etc the more we realise you have a whole heap of lies that you are all trying to hide
    Im not a god person but man should not be stuffing around with what the planet has given us
    And the sooner ppl realise its the healthy eating and living that will improve their health and not these fake man made money making greedy corrupts( pharma) ,i mean how many ppl have pharma really cured??
    No money in cures ,pharma would be out of business if they did that.
    No theres only money in keeping us just sick enough so we have to keep going back for more drugs
    And ive noticed with google and main stream media everything is one sided,which tells me only one thing ,its all complete and utter lies,cause when ppl try to hide the other side this much you know they are bull shitting ya.
    And im not saying that ppl cant get vaccinated ,i mean if you want to be filled with toxins go right ahead,but to force vaccinations on to ppl who dont want them,well thats a nazi regime right there and i thought hitler was a bad person so what are these pharma groups who are forcing their agenda on everyone,yes they are worse then the nazis and anyone who goes along with them are collabrators and equally as evil.
    Our buys died so we could have our freedoms and you greedy nazis are taking away our rights

  4. patricia hinton   February 14, 2019 at 10:56 pm

    Our guys died because those in government wanted them dead, and as of yet, it’s illegal to just go out and shoot them…

    So they create an unnecessary war, and send them to battle…

  5. Zach H.   March 1, 2019 at 2:16 pm

    As a college student studying biology, I may not fit in here, but I might as well make this post because I believe it the right thing to do.

    Vaccines DO contain toxins – they have several different chemicals in them that, at large enough amounts, will do harmful things to your body. The important thing about this though is that they do NOT have enough of these toxins to hurt you. Take formaldehyde for example, a dangerous chemical that can kill you with just 1 ounce. Vaccines though only have 0.02 milligrams (there are 30,000 milligrams in one ounce). This is not nearly enough to cause significant harm. If you look at the individual chemicals contained in vaccines, you’ll find all of them to be dangerous. But you have to also look at how much is considered dangerous vs how much is contained in the vaccine. These chemicals are nearly all also contained in the food you eat every day. At small amounts such as in vaccines, they won’t hurt you. That’s what the studies done to test the safety of vaccines are there for – to make sure no one gets hurt.
    You can think of this last point from a business point of view. Big Pharma may not be the cleanest industry out there, but science itself cannot be corrupted, because it is just a process of review. These pharmacy companies have to have their studies reviewed hundreds of times, by the government, by other companies (their competitors!), and by actual scientists who have nothing to do but make sure that these studies are done right and they are actually safe. Every one of these people reviewing these studies have their jobs on the line if the vaccines end up being harmful – they will make sure first and foremost that they are safe (before even seeing if they work, which is another story).
    I’ve surveyed hundreds of people on the reasons for not being vaccinated. They vary from person to person – some people believe they cause autism (which hasn’t been proven, but hasn’t necessarily been disproven either because you quite literally cannot prove that something won’t cause autism), some people are afraid of needles, and some people are just too lazy. All of these are real reasons that need to be heard, and talking to professionals whether they’re your doctors, therapists, or even just priests can help you clear your head – no matter which decision you end up coming to.
    The point is, many of the big vaccines (Mumps/Measles/Rubella for example) are incredibly important. We don’t know if they cause autism – we don’t think so because it hasn’t been proven, but giving up vaccines specifically is a big deal. These diseases are deadly and we’ve been able to get rid of them with the MMR vaccine. However, they’re coming back now and causing deaths like they once did. Now I’m not a doctor, but I suggest weighing the options of getting a vaccine against the chances of these diseases finding their way to your door. The potential for autism (which, again, hasn’t been proven but is possible) is out there, but there is no potential about these diseases. They are real and they are growing. We are having more outbreaks of these diseases than we have in decades, and people are dying. The more people who don’t get vaccinated (which is a number that continues to go up), the bigger these diseases will get and the more at risk for them you and your families will be.
    I’m not at all telling you to get vaccinated, that’s up to you. But I appreciate that the people on this website want ALL the factors spelled out on this decision, because it’s a big one. These are just some of them – and by all means please continue to look into it on your own! The information is out there, on Google and in libraries everywhere. I just wanted to contribute what I could!

  6. Thomas   March 14, 2019 at 4:46 pm

    ”Vaccines have toxins..the important thing about this though is that they do NOT have have enough of these toxins to hurt you”.
    For some people,just a small ,single dose can induce an adverse reaction that leads to death,so you might want to adjust your emphatic opinion that vaccines are ”NOT;” ”Possibly harmful and even lethal in quite a number of cases”,to be more accurate.
    Only 1 person has died on the United States from Measles in the past 12 years during when HUNDREDS have died as a direct result of being injected with the Measles vaccine.
    Source,Editor of Health Impact News quoting from VAERS(Vaccine Adverse Event Reporting System).


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