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Croat Med J. 2006 Aug;47(4):553-65.

Lifestyle, genetics, and disease in Sami.

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Department of Genetics and Pathology, Rudbeck Laboratory, Uppsala University, S-571 85, Uppsala, Sweden.



To present a summary of the lifestyle, genetic origin, diet, and disease in the population of Sami, indigenous people of northern Fennoscandia.


A survey of the available scientific literature and preliminary results from our own study of the Swedish Sami population.


The Sami probably have a heterogeneous genetic origin, with a major contribution of continental or Eastern European tribes and a smaller contribution from Asia. The traditional Sami diet, high in animal products, persists in Sami groups still involved with reindeer herding, but others have adopted a diet typical of Western cultures. Early reports indicated a lower prevalence of heart disease and most cancers, except stomach cancer. Recent studies have not found a lower risk of heart disease, but have consistently shown an overall reduced cancer risk. Sami have been reported to share some specific health-related genetic polymorphisms with other European populations, but none that would explain the observed differences in disease risk.


The genetic structure of the Sami population makes it suitable for studies of the genetic and environmental factors influencing the development of common diseases. The difference in incidence of heart disease between studies may reflect the ongoing transition from a traditional to a more Westernized lifestyle. The ability to compare population segments with different lifestyles, combined with the genetic structure of the population, creates unusual possibilities for studies of the genetic and environmental factors involved in the development of common disease.

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