Word of Wisdom
God has revealed important laws to help us care for our physical and spiritual health.
We lived with God, our Heavenly Father, as spirit children long before we came to earth, and in that premortal existence we progressed, learning all we could before it became necessary to obtain a body in order to progress further. At the time of our birth we received that body; it was a sacred gift from God created in His image, a physical temple for our spirit. Ultimately, when we are resurrected, our bodies will be perfected and reunited eternally with our spirits. Until that time, we’re responsible for our temporal health.
After His Church was restored in our day, God revealed an important law called the Word of Wisdom, which is composed of inspired counsel for our physical and spiritual well-being. In it we’re advised to eat nutritious foods such as fruits, vegetables, and grains. We are also counseled to eat meat sparingly and to avoid addictive substances such as tobacco, alcohol, coffee, tea, and any other drinks or food containing harmful substances.
Since that revelation, prophets of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints have also added counsel to abstain from using illegal drugs, abusing prescription drugs, and overeating. In addition to their council, Church members are encouraged to sleep seven to eight hours a night, to exercise regularly, and to fast once a month—where we abstain from two consecutive meals—both to help us learn to master our physical appetites and to help us be more spiritually in tune.
As with fasting, abstaining from harmful food and drink and addictive substances also brings blessings that are both spiritual and physical, the latter of which weren’t widely understood until the mid-to-late 20th century. As one author noted, cigarette smoking was widespread by World War I, but it wasn’t until the mid-1950s that medical warnings connecting the habit to lung cancer became public. The adverse effects of smoking also include cancer of the larynx, oral cavity, and esophagus. Drinking alcohol can cause cirrhosis of the liver and degenerative diseases of the central nervous system. And then, of course, there are the sobering consequences of drunk driving, as well as the spousal and child abuse that can occur when someone is under the influence of alcohol or drugs.
In the last 50 years, a wide range of studies by esteemed scientific and medical institutions and schools unaffiliated with The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints have tracked the positive health effects of following Word of Wisdom practices; the numbers are noteworthy. Fasting, moreover, reduces the risk of coronary artery disease by 40 percent. The number of cases of diabetes, leukemia, lymphoma, and cancer of the kidney, stomach, and bladder among Mormons are half that of the national average; the number of cases of lung cancer was 80 percent lower among Mormons. As early as the mid-1970s, newspapers such as the Wall Street Journal, USA Today, and the Washington Post ran front-page headlines trumpeting the studies and the corresponding numbers that initially seemed hard to believe.
Following a 25-year study among 10,000 Mormons, UCLA’s School of Public Health finally quantified the numbers in terms of overall life expectancy rates: Mormon women were living 5.6 years longer than the U.S. national average, and Mormon men on average outlived other men in the U.S. by 9.8 years. The results were published by UCLA in 2008 with this added commentary: “Active California Mormons practice a healthy lifestyle advocated by their religion, which emphasizes a strong family life, education and abstention from tobacco and alcohol” (see “Lifestyle and Reduced Mortality among Active California Mormons, 1980–2004,” Preventive Medicine, vol. 46, no. 2 [Feb. 2008], 133–36).
Mormons sometimes refer to themselves as a “peculiar people”—peculiar because their culture and lifestyle set them apart and reflect their devotion to God. Our physical bodies were created in God’s image and were intended to help us further our eternal progression while we live on this earth. We are commanded to care for our bodies because they are a gift from God. Understanding this divine stewardship influences the way we take care of ourselves, and Word of Wisdom guidelines are useful tools to help us do that. When we treat our bodies as temples (see 1 Corinthians 6:19) and as God-given gifts, we gain emotional and spiritual blessings that outweigh even the physical benefits of obeying the Word of Wisdom—we gain a closer relationship to God and a greater sense of our divine identity.