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The LDS Word of Wisdom

Section 89 of the Doctrine and Covenants

Note: The following text was given to Joseph Smith as revelation in the year 1833. It outlines principles of healthy living that go far beyond the scientific knowledge of the 1800s and much of this century. It is only in the last few decades that the health hazards of tobacco have become known, and only recently that the other nutritional guidelines here have been validated. These guidelines include a primary emphasis on grains, going easy on meats, eating fresh vegetables, and avoiding tobacco, alcohol, tea and coffee ("hot drinks" were officially interpreted to refer to these substances). Exercise is also implied ("run and not be weary, walk and not faint").

The text of Section 89:

1 A Word of Wisdom, for the benefit of the council of high priests, assembled in Kirtland, and the church, and also the saints in Zion--

2 To be sent greeting; not by commandment or constraint, but by revelation and the word of wisdom, showing forth the order and will of God in the temporal salvation of all saints in the last days--

3 Given for a principle with promise, adapted to the capacity of the weak and the weakest of all saints, who are or can be called saints.

4 Behold, verily, thus saith the Lord unto you: In consequence of evils and designs which do and will exist in the hearts of conspiring men in the last days, I have warned you, and forewarn you, by giving unto you this word of wisdom by revelation--

5 That inasmuch as any man drinketh wine or strong drink among you, behold it is not good, neither meet in the sight of your Father, only in assembling yourselves together to offer up your sacraments before him.

6 And, behold, this should be wine, yea, pure wine of the grape of the vine, of your own make.

7 And, again, strong drinks are not for the belly, but for the washing of your bodies.

8 And again, tobacco is not for the body, neither for the belly, and is not good for man, but is an herb for bruises and all sick cattle, to be used with judgment and skill.

9 And again, hot drinks are not for the body or belly.

10 And again, verily I say unto you, all wholesome herbs God hath ordained for the constitution, nature, and use of man--

11 Every herb in the season thereof, and every fruit in the season thereof; all these to be used with prudence and thanksgiving.

12 Yea, flesh also of beasts and of the fowls of the air, I, the Lord, have ordained for the use of man with thanksgiving; nevertheless they are to be used sparingly;

13 And it is pleasing unto me that they should not be used, only in times of winter, or of cold, or famine.

14 All grain is ordained for the use of man and of beasts, to be the staff of life, not only for man but for the beasts of the field, and the fowls of heaven, and all wild animals that run or creep on the earth;

15 And these hath God made for the use of man only in times of famine and excess of hunger.

16 All grain is good for the food of man; as also the fruit of the vine; that which yieldeth fruit, whether in the ground or above the ground--

17 Nevertheless, wheat for man, and corn for the ox, and oats for the horse, and rye for the fowls and for swine, and for all beasts of the field, and barley for all useful animals, and for mild drinks, as also other grain.

18 And all saints who remember to keep and do these sayings, walking in obedience to the commandments, shall receive health in their navel and marrow to their bones;

19 And shall find wisdom and great treasures of knowledge, even hidden treasures;

20 And shall run and not be weary, and shall walk and not faint.

21 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. Amen.


Joseph Smith, himself, is quoted as having taught: "I understand that some of the people are excusing themselves in using tea and coffee, because the Lord only said 'hot drinks' in the revelation of the Word of Wisdom. Tea and coffee are what the Lord meant when he said 'hot drinks.'" (John A. Widtsoe, The Word of Wisdom, pp. 75-92.)

So what are the results of the LDS Word of Wisdom? Here is an excerpt from an Associated Press release on April 28, 1997, as printed in the Deseret News:

LDS Lifestyle May Be Secret to Long Life
Associated Press

LOS ANGELES: Want to live longer? The secret, some researchers say, may be to live like a Mormon.

Devout members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints don't smoke, take drugs or consume caffeine. They also practice premarital chastity and marital monogamy.

These may be among the reasons that they are some of the healthiest and longest-living people in the country, according to University of California, Los Angeles, study to be published this summer and reported in the Los Angeles Times on Saturday.

Conducted by UCLA epidemiologist James E. Enstrom, the research tracked the mortality rates and health practices of nearly 10,000 California Mormons whose church rank is called high priest. Wives were also tracked in the 14-year study.

The study found that LDS Church members who follow religious mandates barring smoking and drinking have one of the lowest death rates from cancer and cardiovascular diseases - about half that of the general population.

Moreover, the healthiest LDS Church members enjoy a life expectancy eight to 11 years longer than that of the general white population in the United States. . . .

Although other religious groups with similar practices also rank as some of the healthiest Americans, "Mormons form a really good model because there's a large number who are really adhering to this doctrine," Enstrom said.

According to the study, LDS high priests have only 16 percent of the expected deaths from smoking-related cancers and 6 percent of the expected deaths from emphysema, asthma, ulcers, cirrhosis of the liver, homicide and suicide.

Also, high priests who exercise regularly and get proper sleep have an overall death rate that is only 38 percent of all white males in the United States.

The death rate refers to the number of people expected to die in the general population during a given year. The study's author said the rates for LDS deaths are significantly lower than those for the general population.

The study also noted that LDS Church members with a strong family life enjoy good health.

"Mormons have a sense of a larger community, of belonging to a larger church unit that is like an expanded family," said Michael J. Fairclough, a high priest. "Now there's more scientific evidence that people who live in stable families tend to be happier and have less stress. I think all those things contribute to emotional and mental health, which in turn probably helps physically."

Should caffeine be avoided?

The Church does not officially require avoidance of caffeine. Many members assume that caffeine should be avoided because it is a stimulant, and a slightly addictive one at that, which is present in tea and coffee, both of which are forbidden drinks. While that position is logical, we must realize that the Lord did not specify which chemicals in tea and coffee are of most concern to Him. Perhaps one day we will receive a detailed Celestial MSDS (Material Safety Data Sheet) on tea and coffee giving the reasons for the concern. Until then, it's up to us to be wise with the information we have. Personally, I avoid caffeinated beverages like cola drinks - though I do get a small amount of caffeine through the chocolate I occasionally enjoy.

On the issue of caffeine, Tim Germann sent me a quote from a Church bulletin in 1972:

With reference to cola drinks, the Church has never officially taken a position on the matter, but the leaders of the Church have advised, and we do now specifically advise, against the use of any drink containing harmful habit-forming drugs under circumstances that would result in acquiring the habit. Any beverage that contains ingredients harmful to the body should be avoided.

Priesthood Bulletin, 1972

This seems to distinguish between caffeine and harmful habit-forming drugs, though if caffeine does fall into the latter category (perhaps it does for some people), it would seem wise to avoid it.

Science has not fully explored the potential health problems of caffeine, but several studies suggest that large amounts are unhealthy. For example, a recent report shows that caffeine in large quantities, such as that obtained in drinking six cups of coffee per day, can double the risk of miscarriage. This was reported by in an Associated Press report, Nov. 24, 1999, by Linda A. Johnson ("Caffeine-Miscarriage Risk Studied"). Some excerpts from the article follow:

Pregnant women can drink a couple of cups of coffee per day without raising the danger of a miscarriage, but six or more cups can double the risk, a study found. Pregnant women generally are urged to limit their caffeine intake, though studies on this subject have been unclear. Some have found harm in a cup or two a day. Others found the higher miscarriage risk only in women who suffered morning sickness, and still others found no increased risk. "This research not only shows a risk of miscarriage from consuming large amounts of caffeine, it also provides a valuable research tool for other investigators studying caffeine consumption," said Dr. Duane Alexander, director of the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development. The study, conducted by doctors from the institute and the University of Utah, was published in Thursday's New England Journal of Medicine....

In an accompanying editorial, Brenda Eskenazi of the University of California School of Public Health said pregnant and breast-feeding women should still limit caffeine intake because the effects on child brain development are unclear.

On the other hand, other studies suggest that caffeine poses no general health risk. The jury is still out. Until it comes back with a verdict, why not enjoy a nice frosty glass of orange juice? Caffeine-free orange juice, that is.

Red Meat and the Word of Wisdom

As reported at Nature.com in 2005, a major new study by the American Cancer Society found that red meat is strongly associated with colon or rectal cancer. The study tracked 150,000 people in the US over a 10-year period. The people were grouped into three categories. The high red meat category had a 40% higher incidence of colorectal cancer. Those in the high risk group averaged 55-85 grams of red meat a day, roughly equivalent to one average hamburger (less than a quarter-pounder).

The reference for the study itself is A. Chao et al., Journal of the American Medical Association, vol. 293, pp. 172 - 182 (2004).

Mormons and all people, actually, would do well to take the revealed Word of Wisdom seriously. The recommendation to "eat meat sparingly" may be important to your health. There is more to living the Word of Wisdom than just avoiding tobacco and alcohol.

It's time to add a little more wisdom to our lives.

(The above post on red meat and cancer was first published at Mormanity on Jan. 17, 2005.)

Responding to Critics

Anti-Mormon writers nitpick at a variety of issues regarding the Word of Wisdom. An excellent review of some typical attacks, with responses, can be found in Lance Starr's article, "The Word of Wisdom," which responds to an anti-Mormon publication on the topic and also provides helpful information about the history of the Word of Wisdom and the development of its application in modern LDS life. The article is part of the excellent FairMormon.org site.

Another helpful article is "Up In Smoke: A Response to the Tanners' Criticism of the Word of Wisdom" by Michael R. Ash. He explores charges that the Word of Wisdom was derived from medical knowledge or prohibition movements in Joseph's day, and also examines charges of hypocrisy among early LDS leaders regarding the Word of Wisdom. This is a detailed article with a lot of research behind it.

Related information comes from an excellent article that covers the development of the cigarette: William Kremer, "James Buchanan Duke: Father of the Modern Cigarette," BBC News Magazine, Nov. 12, 2012, URL: https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/magazine-20042217, accessed Dec. 9, 2012). This is also discussed in "Liberated? As in, Liberated Lungs?" on Mormanity. Here is an excerpt from Kremer:

We now know that cigarettes are far more addictive than cigars. The fact that the smoke is inhaled - which it is not traditional for cigars - also makes them more dangerous. But a correlation with lung cancer was not made until the 1930s and the causal link was not established until 1957 in the UK and 1964 in the US.

Cigarettes were in fact promoted as beneficial for health. They were listed in pharmaceutical encyclopaedias until 1906 and prescribed by doctors for coughs, colds and tuberculosis (a disease which the World Health Organization now links with tobacco).

There was an anti-cigarette movement in the early 1900s, but it was more concerned with morality than health.

What we were given in the Word of Wisdom is more than just repackaging common knowledge and beliefs from Joseph's day. It truly was a revelation designed to bless us if only we would listen and obey

Other Pages of Interest

LDS Introduction

Introduction to the Book of Mormon

Evidences for the Book of Mormon

LDS FAQ - Frequently asked questions about Latter-day Saint beliefs.

List of Jeff Lindsay's pages

Depiction of the food pyramid - compare this modern information with the Word of Wisdom. Yes, wisdom!

Liquor may boost colon-cancer risk - news story.

'Atkins'-Type Diets May Raise Risk of Heart Problems: Study

Problems with Low Carb Diets - possibly of use for those wondering about the apparent clash between the Atkins Diet ("avoid grains") and the Word of Wisdom ("grain is for man").

Studies Back Coffee Link to Miscarriage

Curator: Jeff Lindsay ,   Contact:
Last Updated: Dec. 9, 2012

URL: https://www.jefflindsay.com/WWisdom.shtml