Talk:Medical genetics of Jews

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Merge material[edit]

The material below needs to be merged and condensed into a new history section. Tim Vickers (talk) 16:37, 25 November 2009 (UTC)

This discussion has been closed. Please do not modify it.
The following discussion has been closed. Please do not modify it.

As a highly endogamous group, with highly distinct cultural practices, illness among Jews often differs from that among non-Jews in its frequency and impact. Historical sources state that certain diseases and illnesses were more frequent among Jews than among the general population, at least prior to the late 20th century. It was argued that institutional endogamy was been a major contributor to these statistics[1], as well as behaviour due to Jewish cultural norms[2]. On the other hand, greater immunity, and lower morbidity, is shown for a few illnesses[2]. In modern medicine, the medical genetics of Jews have been intensively studied.


Infectious disease[edit]

A number of infectious diseases were thought to be rarer among Jewish populations in the 19th and early 20th centuries.[2] In 1505, in Europe, there was an epidemic of typhoid fever, but Jews were unaffected by it[2]; 19th century Typhoid epidemics also show a higher level of resistance among Jews, which though not quite as remarkable, in some cases produced a morbidity that was half that of non-Jews[2].

Tuberculosis, historically, was rare among the Jews, and even for those who did catch it, mortality was less frequent[3]. Explanations of this tend to suggest a connection to Jewish behaviour, such as careful inspection of meat[3], or the cleaning of surfaces with a damp cloth instead of a dusting brush (a brush would lifts more dust into the air)[3], rather than genetic factors.

As for pneumonia, the morbidity among Jews was drastically lower than among non-Jews[2]; in 19th century Verona, Italy, for example, non-Jews suffering from the disease were 5 times more likely to die[2]. One explanation which has been offered is that Jews tend to have jobs which require them to stay indoors, meaning that they are not exposed as much to inclement weather[2].

In the 19th century, childhood disease, such as diptheria and measles, proved to be less fatal to Jewish children than to non-Jews, except in Amsterdam, where they were three times more dangerous[2]. Scarlet fever appears to have affected Jews more or less the same as the rest of the population[2]. Curiously though, Jewish children suffered less from diarrhea-causing diseases, than their non-Jewish peers, even if they were living in the worst excesses of Victorian squalor[2]; in Budapest, Jewish children were three times less likely to die from diarrhea-causing disease, than non-Jewish children, and similar resistance to such disease was seen among Jewish children in other cities[2].

Syphilis, a sexually transmitted disease which is now quite rare, but was somewhat more common in the 19th century, was then quite rare among Jews[2]. For example, in one hospital in a Jewish area of 19th century London, there were 15 times as many cases of syphilis in non-Jews than in Jews, despite nearly a quarter of the hospital's patients being Jewish[2]. In America the discrepancy was even more extreme, with less than 1% of the patients in a Jewish hospital having syphilis, despite nearly 12% of the general American population having the disease[2].

Gastro-intestinal illness[edit]

Indigestion and hyperchlorhydria were very common among Jews, and nearly half of all victorian Jews suffering from cancer were likely to be suffering from gastrointestinal cancer, despite this being the case for only a quarter of non-Jews.

In the 19th century, medical professionals put this down to poor eating habits, such as workaholic behaviour, and habitually eating food on a Shabbat which had been kept warm in an oven for the previous 12–24 hours (due to the traditional obligation to avoid cooking during the Shabbat)[2]. In 19th century Italy, Jews were more likely to die from gastro-intestinal illness, than non-Jews were; it has been suggested that this might be connected to the popularity, among Jews living there, of eating fatty foods, despite the warm climate[2]. However, it is now known that genetic factors are responsible for many of these issues (indigestion not being one of them).

Disease of the circulatory system[edit]

Among 19th century Americans, Jews were twice as likely as non-Jews to die from circulatory disease[2]; chronic rheumatism was frequent among Jews, and they were much more likely than non-Jews to die from it[2]. Intermittent claudication, due to severe atherosclerosis, is more frequent in Jews than in non-Jews, especially in 19th century Russia[2]. Fatal strokes were twice as common among 19th century Italian Jews, than among non-Jews in Italy during the same period[4]; the reverse appears to have been the case in 19th century Russia and Poland[4].

Especially common among Jews are varicose veins. A symptom of this is to have haemorrhoids, which are more common among Jews than any other ethnic group[2]. In fact, in 19th century eastern Europe, the Jew with haemorrhoids was a proverbial saying, and it was considered highly unusual for a Hasidic Jew, in Galicia or Poland, to not have haemorrhoids[2]. Although it is rare for young people in general to suffer haemorrhoids, it is somewhat frequent for young Jews to be treated for the condition[2]; 19th century doctors considered it rare for a Jew to pass middle age without suffering from the problem[2]. The Jewish community of Eastern Europe argued that the prevalence of haemorrhoids, among Jews, stemmed from the Jewish habit of spending most of the day sitting on hard benches, while studying the Talmud[2].

Haemophilia is also more frequent among Jews than among non-Jews; this may have been the case in the classical era, as the Talmud argues that a boy must not be circumcised, if he has two brothers (from the same mother) who have died as a result of being circumcised[2].

Mental and nervous disease[edit]

In the early 20th century it was thought that Jews suffered more from functional nervous disease, than degenerative nervous disease[5]; the most serious degenerative diseases of the brain and spinal cord, etc., are far more frequent among non-Jews than among Jews[5]. It is thought this is connected to the rarity of alcoholism and syphilis among Jews[5].

In the 19th century, Neurasthenia, a condition no longer recognised in Western medicine (although it may somewhat correspond to dysautonomia), was frequently attributed to Jews[5]; in New York, 40% of people diagnosed with Neurasthenia were Jewish[5]. Hysteria was very frequent among 19th century Jews, particularly in Warsaw[5]; unlike most ethnic groups, where there is a large gender imbalance in the frequency of hysteria, it was quite common among male Jews[5]. In general, Neurasthenia was most frequently diagnosed among bankers, and financial traders, which were popular occupations for Jews[5]. It was suggested that the prevalence of hysteria among Jews was due to the anti-semitic persecution, to which Jewish communities had historically been subjected[5].

Water on the brain seems to be less fatally frequent among Jews than among non-Jews; in 19th century Hungary young children were 3 times more likely to die from it if they were not Jewish[5]. Locomotor ataxia, a major disease in the 19th century, was four times more frequent among non-Jews than among Jews[5]; this may be due to the rarity of syphilis among Jews, since locomotor ataxia is often a symptom of advanced syphilis[5]. However, Parkinson's disease was particularly frequent among Jews in the 19th century[5]; in Austro-Hungary 32% of victims of the disease were Jewish, despite Jews being a mere 4% of the population[5].

In 19th century England and Wales, there were 60% more hospital admissions, among Jews, for general paralysis, than among non-Jews[1]. By contrast, in 19th century Russia, there were six times less hospital admissions for the illness, among Jews, than among non-Jews[1]. It was suggested that the Russian figures might be due to the fact that 65% of the people, admitted there for this illness, had previously suffered syphilis, which was a comparatively rare disease among Russian Jews[1]. As for the figures in England and Wales, it was suggested that the statistic might be related to the tendency of Jews, in that period and location, to choose a particular type of occupation - merchant, stockbroker, etc.[1].

Mental illness[edit]

Statistics from the early 20th century suggested that mental illness was proportionately more common among people of Jewish ancestry than among the wider population[1]; and relapse was twice as frequently observed among Jews, than among non-Jews[1]. Statistics suggest that in the 19th century, an ethnic Jew was 4 to 6 times more liable to suffer mental illness than a non-Jew[1][6]. In 19th century London, it was approximately three times more common for Jewish women to become insane after giving birth, than it was for non-Jews[1][7]. Also, the average age (37) for a Jew to become insane was earlier, in a statistically significant way, than the average age (43) for the onset of insanity in non-Jews[1][7].

The victorians observed that Jews were more susceptible to acute psychosis, of the kinds that afflict younger people, than were non-Jews[1]. On the other hand, among Jews it was more likely for insanity to take the form of melancholia than that of mania, and antisocial personality disorder was comparatively rare[1]. Nevertheless, alcohol-induced insanity was comparatively rare among Jews, in the 19th century; in New York, for example, only 5% of the Jewish inmates in the insane asylum had alcoholism, a statistic repeated elsewhere in the world[1].

Eye diseases[edit]

In the early 20th century, it was thought that, of the diseases of the eye, that Jewish people suffer more than others from

These diseases (apart from blepharitis, which just makes the eyelashes fall out, and sometimes causes an unsightly distortion in the eyelid), if uncorrected, can lead to blindness[8]. Hence blindness was more common among Jews than among most non-Jews[9]. The Jews of America, and of its ex-patriots (and their descendants), are an exception to this, as historically stringent immigration laws prevented blind people from entering the country[9].

Or perhaps not. It is based on a source of over 100 years old that relies only on the most rudimentary epidemiological priciples and predates the development of modern genetics and microbiology. Very quaint but uninformative. JFW | T@lk 22:57, 25 November 2009 (UTC)
Might be useful as a source for a sentence saying "In the 19th century, people believed.." but at the moment my priorities lie with the 2009 flu pandemic, so this won't be done any time soon. Tim Vickers (talk) 03:30, 26 November 2009 (UTC)

Unreferenced Comment?[edit]

"Geneticists are intrinsically interested in Jewish populations as a disproportionate percentage of genetics researchers are Jewish"

Sounds a bit suspect to me, does anyone have any actual figures for this? —Preceding unsigned comment added by (talk) 22:50, 5 January 2011 (UTC)


I've seen a research paper on PubMed noting a genetic basis for the above-average prevalence of myopia in the Ashkenazi population. EIN (talk) 09:41, 29 January 2013 (UTC)

I've deleted the following as it's based on wrong understanding of vagely written article [46].

"The DNST3 gene makes Ashkenazi Jews 40% more likely to develop schizophrenia and similar diseases. The first portion of the study included the largest-ever sample group of Ashkenazi Jews ever researched. Of the 2,500 Ashkenazi Jews from Israel who contributed DNA samples for the study, 1,500 were healthy, while 1,000 were affected by mental disorders related to schizophrenia"

Actually there is no evidence that the rate of schizophrenia among the Ashkenazim differs from that in other populations (as stated in [47]). The reason reseachers have focused on this population is for reducing genetic heterogeneity among subjects and thus increasing the detectable effects of any particular locus.

Study cited in [46] was actually done on 906 cases of schizophrenia and 1620 healthy controls and its only goal was establishing correlation between known variation of specific gen and chances to develop schizophrenia (which was much stronger between Ashkenazi due to reduced genetic heterogeneity). Any comparison about rate of schizophrenia between different population were completely out of scope of this study (see — Preceding unsigned comment added by Arusinov (talkcontribs) 13:42, 28 August 2014 (UTC)

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  1. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l m  This article incorporates text from a publication now in the public domainSinger, Isidore; et al., eds. (1901–1906). "Insanity". Jewish Encyclopedia. New York: Funk & Wagnalls Company. 
  2. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l m n o p q r s t u v w x y z aa ab ac ad ae  This article incorporates text from a publication now in the public domainSinger, Isidore; et al., eds. (1901–1906). "Morbidity". Jewish Encyclopedia. New York: Funk & Wagnalls Company. 
  3. ^ a b c  This article incorporates text from a publication now in the public domainSinger, Isidore; et al., eds. (1901–1906). "Consumption (Tuberculosis)". Jewish Encyclopedia. New York: Funk & Wagnalls Company. 
  4. ^ a b  This article incorporates text from a publication now in the public domainSinger, Isidore; et al., eds. (1901–1906). "Apoplexy". Jewish Encyclopedia. New York: Funk & Wagnalls Company. 
  5. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l m n  This article incorporates text from a publication now in the public domainSinger, Isidore; et al., eds. (1901–1906). "Nervous Diseases". Jewish Encyclopedia. New York: Funk & Wagnalls Company. 
  6. ^ G. Buschan, Einfluss der Rasse auf die Form und Häufigkeit Pathologischer Veränderugen. in Globus 67:21, 67:43, 67:60, 67:76
  7. ^ a b M. Beadles, The Insane Jew, in The Journal of Mental Science, volume 26, pages 731-737
  8. ^ a b c d  This article incorporates text from a publication now in the public domainSinger, Isidore; et al., eds. (1901–1906). "Eye". Jewish Encyclopedia. New York: Funk & Wagnalls Company. 
  9. ^ a b  This article incorporates text from a publication now in the public domainSinger, Isidore; et al., eds. (1901–1906). "Blindness". Jewish Encyclopedia. New York: Funk & Wagnalls Company.