Eating Human Brains Helped This Papua New Guinea Tribe Resist Dementia

Indrani Sengupta
Does a brain a day keep the...never mind. We're not going there.

Caveat #1: The Fore tribe of Papua New Guinea used to be cannibalistic. Not anymore.

Caveat #2: We wouldn’t recommend the Hannibal Lecter route, and this is why.

The Fore tribe practiced “mortuary cannibalism,” i.e. they consumed the dead. Why on earth would anyone want to do something like that? Easy. So that they could maintain a permanent relationship (in body, so in spirit) with loved ones who had passed. See? The act itself may be creepy to us, but the underlying sentiment is universal!

But don’t try this at home, kids, because:

By the 1950s, the ritual had been forbidden by the Papua New Guinea government, likely because of the major outbreak of kuru disease—a nasty, incurable, and completely degenerative neurological disorder—among the tribe. In addition to losing the ability to eat or stand, those afflicted by the illness would---quite chillingly--- be prone to fits of laughter. At one point, 2% of the population was dying every year.

But because evolution is awesome, the remainder of the population developed a resistance to the prion, or protein, found in humans (or corpses, for that matter) that was causing the disease.

And here’s the kicker: the kuru-resistant gene also offers complete protection against all other forms of Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease (which is like Mad Cow Disease….for people).

Now, scientists have recognized that the process through which mad human disease (not the official nomenclature) develops is identical to the way in which dementias like Alzheimer’s, and neurodegenerative diseases like Parkinson’s, come to be.

So, with further study of the Fore tribe, we may be able to find a cure for the as-yet incurable.

That's 47.5 million people, and 7.7 million more each year, who could recover from the dementia's death sentence.

Science is where it's at. 

Read more: Is Hibernating The Key To Treating Dementia?