This article is part of a series on Discovering the Word of Wisdom. To view all the articles in this series, see Featured Author Jane Birch.
Like many of you, I’ve been following the news on the spread of Ebola and praying for those who are suffering. While I don’t think there is any cause for panic, the potential threat from a disease like Ebola is truly frightening. To me, this is a foreshadowing of what will occur over the face of this earth in the last days, and it brings to mind the beautiful promise in the Word of Wisdom:
And I, the Lord, give unto them a promise, that the destroying angel shall pass by them, as the children of Israel, and not slay them. (D&C 89:21)
What does diet have to do with Ebola? Currently, there is no known cure for this deadly disease. The best medical experts can do is to treat the symptoms and hope that the patient’s immune system is able to fight off the disease. Dr. Bruce Ribner, who runs the infectious disease unit at Atlanta’s Emory University Hospital where they successfully treated several aid workers with Ebola, said:
We depend on the body’s defenses to control the virus . . . We just have to keep the patient alive long enough in order for the body to control this infection.
So the question is, what does diet have to do with the immune system? A great deal, as it turns out. The nutrients our bodies need to be healthy enough to ward off disease and overcome illness come largely from a proper diet. Of course eating a healthy diet will not protect us from every ill, but it will protect us from so many!
Am I ready to claim that eating a whole food, plant-based Word of Wisdom diet will protect us from Ebola? No, no one (certainly not I) claims that. But we have every reason to suspect that eating a wholesome diet gives our body a greater chance of fighting off disease than a diet filled with unwholesome foods! Not only is this supported by science, it is supported by the Lord’s word in D&C 89.
But there is yet another link between the Word of Wisdom and Ebola. Our love of meat drives much our contact with animals that carry infectious diseases, including Ebola. According to the European Food Safety Authority, “Food-borne zoonotic [animal-derived] diseases are a significant and widespread global public health threat.” Could this be another reason why the Lord promises us protection if follow His counsel in D&C 89?
But I’m not sure that physical protection is even the most important blessing that comes from following the Lord’s counsel in the Word of Wisdom.
In a Crisis, What We Need is Spiritual Blessings
When we think of the Word of Wisdom, we often connect it to blessings of physical health, but LDS Church leaders have consistently made it clear that the greatest blessings that come from heeding this counsel are spiritual in nature. For example, Elder Stephen L. Richards taught:
The Word of Wisdom is spiritual. . . . the largest measure of good derived from its observance is in increased faith and the development of more spiritual power and wisdom.
What spiritual power can we expect by fully embracing the Word of Wisdom? President Boyd K. Packer taught, “The Word of Wisdom is a key to individual revelation.” He further explained:
Our physical body is the instrument of our spirit. In that marvelous revelation, the Word of Wisdom, we are told how to keep our bodies free from impurities which might dull, even destroy, those delicate physical senses which have to do with spiritual communication.
As we purify our physical tabernacles, we invite the Spirit of God to dwell with us more fully, which leads to another promise in the Word of Wisdom: finding “wisdom and great treasures of knowledge, even hidden treasures” (D&C 89:19).
When you think about it, if a plague were to strike your community, what blessing would you need the most? Would it not be wisdom and the ability to be in tune with the Spirit of the Lord, to receive clear revelation and spiritual communication to guide and direct your actions.
The greatest surprise to me since the day in 2011 when I began to follow D&C 89 more closely has been the increased sensitivity to the Spirit that I have experienced. Moreover, I have found this same pattern in the lives of others Latter-day Saints as they more fully embrace the wisdom in D&C 89.
I testify that the spiritual blessings of the Word of Wisdom are the greatest treasures we receive by following this beautiful, protective counsel.
The Real Threat to our Mortality and Quality of Life
While the deaths from Ebola are tragic, let us not forget that the number of those who have died from Ebola (a few thousand) pale in comparison to the number who die every year from chronic diseases that we already know are preventable on a whole food, plant-based diet! In the U.S. alone, over 600,000 people die of heart disease every year! And this doesn’t even include the annual death toll from diabetes, strokes, and many other diseases that are largely preventable on a Word of Wisdom diet of wholesome fruits, vegetables, and grains with little to no animal foods.
Are these deaths any less important because they are so commonplace?
We don’t know how well a whole food, plant-based diet would protect us from succumbing to Ebola, but we do know it is near 100% protection against many common chronic diseases. We are a million times more likely to die of these diseases than Ebola!
As an apostle, Elder Harold B. Lee said the following about the promise of protection implied in the last verse of D&C 89:
There are promises of protection in the Word of Wisdom. The Lord’s word of wisdom commanding abstinence from a worldly “king’s portion” of tobacco, tea and coffee, and alcoholic beverages that are habit-forming, and which counsels the simple diet of fruits, grains, and vegetables in season, with meats used sparingly, has been given you as a revelation of God’s great law of health. It stands today as a challenge to a world surfeited with things condemned as unclean and unfit for the human body.
If you have faith as the youthful Daniel and his brethren and purpose in your hearts that you will not defile yourselves with “king’s meat and wine,” even though you may be two thousand miles east of the Suez Canal, your faith will have the reward of hidden treasures of knowledge, of strong bodies that can “run and not be weary and walk and not faint.” If by faith in this great law, you refrain from the use of food and drink harmful to your bodies, you will not become a ready prey to scourges that shall sweep the land, as in the days of the people of Moses in Egypt, bringing death to every household that has not heeded the commandments of God.
Think how prophetic that last phrase is! Are there not already scourges of heart disease, cancer, obesity, and diabetes that are sweeping our land? We now see that the way we are eating is indeed “bringing death to [almost] every household” as we find people around us succumbing to illnesses that are preventable by strict adherence to the Word of Wisdom.
It is not “If” but “When”
Even those who do not believe the prophecies in scripture predict that it is not a matter of “if” but “when” the next deadly infectious disease spirals out of control to spread worldwide. Before the 1918 influenza went on to kill as many as 100 million people worldwide, doctors and other medical specialists had begun to believe that with the new modern science, they’d be able to control the type of widespread destruction that had take place in earlier generations. That was before the virus struck and it quickly became clear that this type of disease is no match for science. The rate at which some viruses mutate as they spread is simply too fast—too fast not only for present science but also any foreseeable science.
As good and invaluable as science is, it will take a lot more than science to control the next worldwide pandemic. It will take an act of God. It will take righteousness.
And who can say when the prophecies will come to pass and we “shall see an overflowing scourge; for a desolating sickness shall cover the land” (D&C 45:31). Whether it is Ebola, untreatable superbugs, or other threatening diseases, when God warns the inhabitants of the earth by spreading “pestilences of every kind“ (D&C 43:25), will not our obedience to the Word of Wisdom protect us? Will we not be grateful for the Lord’s promise “that the destroying angel shall pass by them, as the children of Israel, and not slay them” (D&C 89:21)?
For now, there should not be any panic about a worldwide spread of Ebola or a similar disease. For now, the real threat to us is not Ebola, it is heart disease, strokes, diabetes, and many other largely preventable chronic diseases from which thousands of people are dying every day. We are so much more likely to die or become incapacitated from one of these than from Ebola. And for these diseases, we already know what we can do!
Before we get too worried about a deadly virus in Africa, let us make sure we are doing what we can to prevent the greater threats to our health and well being. Don’t forget the promises in the Word of Wisdom!
Real Mormons • Real Stories
This section features Latter-day Saints who have adopted a Word of Wisdom diet.
Laura Bridgewater, a brilliant professor of Microbiology and Molecular Biology at Brigham Young University, had been physically active and thin. Gradually, however, a steady diet of the typical American foods took its toll. She recalls, “I used to feel smart, but now my mind felt foggy, and it was hard to remember things and to come up with creative ideas. My stomach hurt every day. I was always tired and couldn’t sit still for more than about 30 minutes without falling asleep. I started waking up with nagging headaches that would last most of the day. Joints and muscles hurt randomly for no good reason. After work I felt worn out with no energy left for anything else.” All that changed when she switched to a whole food, plant-based Word of Wisdom diet. Read her full story here, “I feel so good!”
(If you have a story to share, please contact me here.)
Inviting Your Comments and Questions!
In forthcoming articles, I plan to respond to a few of the comments and questions submitted by Meridian readers. If you have a question you’d like me to address, I invite you to contact me.
Jane Birch is the author of Discovering the Word of Wisdom: Surprising Insights from a Whole Food, Plant-based Perspective (2013) and many articles on the Word of Wisdom. She can be contacted on her website, Discovering the Word of Wisdom.
 Associated Press, “Ebola: Keeping Patients Alive as Body Fights Back” (October 20, 2014).
 Emmanuelle Moens and Marc Veldhoen, “Epithelial Barrier Biology: Good Fences Make Good Neighbours,” Immunology 135 (2012): 1–8.
 World Health Organization, “Fact Sheet: Ebola Virus Disease,” (September, 2014). See also Alexandra Kamins, et al., “Ebola: Bats Get a Bad Rap When It Comes to Spreading Diseases” (October 17, 2014).
 European Food Safety Authority, “Food-borne Zoonotic Diseases,” (March 25, 2014).
 Stephen L Richards, “Keep the Commandments,” In LDS Conference Report (April 1949): 141.
 Boyd K. Packer, “Revelation in a Changing World,” Ensign (October 1989).
 You can read my story and much more in my book, Discovering the Word of Wisdom: Surprising Insights from a Whole Food, Plant-based Perspective (Provo, Utah: Fresh Awakenings, 2013).
 You can read many of these stories on my website, Discovering the Word of Wisdom.
 See my previous Meridian articles were I present the evidence and build the case for the power of a whole food, plant-based Word of Wisdom diet (see also the footnotes in these articles).
 Harold B. Lee, The Teachings of Harold B. Lee (Salt Lake City: Desert Book, 1996), 205 (emphasis added).
 John M. Barry, The Great Influenza: The Story of the Deadliest Pandemic in History (New York: Penguin, 2005).