Nutrition and Physical Degeneration: A Comparison of Primitive and Modern Diets and Their Effects (1939)by Dr Weston Price
Review by Dr. Stephen Byrnes
In the 1900s, Dr Weston A. Price, a dentist, did extensive research on the link between oral health and physical diseases. He was one of the major nutritional pioneers of all time, and his classic book Nutrition and Physical Degeneration is full of wonderful pictures documenting the perfect teeth of the native tribes he visited who were still eating their traditional diets.
Your Diet May be Even More Important Than Your Toothbrush
In the quest for healthy teeth and gums, nothing may be more important than your diet. Dr Price found that the native people’s teeth were perfectly straight and white, with high dental arches and well-formed facial features. And there was something more astonishing: none of the people Price examined practiced any sort of dental hygiene — not one of his subjects had ever used a toothbrush!
Dr Price noticed some similarities between the native diets that allowed the people to thrive and maintain such healthy smiles. Among them:
- The foods were natural, unprocessed, and organic (and contained no sugar except for the occasional bit of honey or maple syrup).
- The people ate foods that grew in their native environment. In other words, they ate locally grown, seasonal foods.
- Many of the cultures ate unpasteurized dairy products, and all of them ate fermented foods.
- The people ate a significant portion of their food raw.
- All of the cultures ate animal products, including animal fat and, often, full-fat butter and fatty meats.
If you, too, eat properly and maintain optimal health, you’re highly unlikely to develop cavities or other dental problems. They really only occur when you’re eating the wrong foods. So pay attention to your diet, as this is a key to keeping you safely out of the dentist’s chair — at least for visits that involve more than routine cleaning..
Dr Price studied the diets of native peoples and the impact on their teeth very carefully. He found that what they ate varied greatly from region to region, but the one thing they had in common was that they ate whole unrefined foods, and NO sugar or white flour.
Remarkably, with absolutely no access to tooth brushes, floss, fluoridated water or tooth paste, the primitive people he studied were almost 100 per-cent free of tooth decay. Further – and not unrelated – they were also almost 100 per-cent free of all the degenerative diseases we suffer from, such as problems with the heart, lungs, kidneys, liver, joints and skin (allergies).
No one food proved to be magic as a preventive food. However, you can thrive best and maintain optimal health by eating a wide variety of whole foods.
Modern medicine has a drug and a diagnostic test for just about everything and, because of this edifice of pharmacological technology, people are generally in awe of doctors and the medical profession.
Despite our amazing scientific advances – television, movies, the space shuttle, walking on the moon, etc. – we have got nowhere when it comes to chronic disease.
The same goes for people afflicted with Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s, cancer, lupus, multiple sclerosis, and AIDS: medical science, with all its technological wizardry (and overweening pride), has NO effective treatments or cures for any of these diseases. And the rates for these diseases keep climbing.
When it comes to CVD, for example, doctors may claim that they have reduced the mortality rates of people who’ve had heart attacks, but this is because science has the technology to keep people alive once they’ve had the heart attack. The risk and incidence of CVD, however, has only risen and worsened. Despite the pushing of low fat/cholesterol diets, blood thinning drugs, polyunsaturated oils, and calorie counting, there is hardly a dent in the rates of CVD.
Things were not so bad back at the turn of the last century, but the situation was worsening enough to make one man take notice. Dr Weston Price of Cleveland, Ohio, was a dentist in private practice that had a truly glorious and distinguished career.
He had taught the science to thousands at dental schools, authored technical papers and textbooks, and headed an incredible study on the role of root canals in physical diseases of various types. Despite Price’s amazing work, it has largely been forgotten and this is unfortunate, for in it is a treasure trove of nutritional information that can help lead us to greater health and vitality, and away from the scourge of chronic disease.
Dr Price’s Nutrition Studies
Price noticed that his patients were suffering more and more chronic and degenerative diseases. He also noticed that his younger patients had increasingly deformed dental arches, crooked teeth, and cavities. This definitely concerned him: he had not seen such things just ten or fifteen years ago.
Why was it happening now? Price also noticed a strong correlation between dental health and physical health: a mouth full of cavities went hand in hand with a body either full of disease, or generalized weakness and susceptibility to disease. In Price’s time, tuberculosis was the major infectious illness, the White Scourge. He noticed that children were increasingly affected, the ones with the lousy teeth.
Dr Price had heard rumours of native cultures where so-called primitive people lived happy lives, free of disease. He hit on an idea: why not go find these people and find out (1) if they really are healthy, and (2) if so, find out what they’re doing to keep themselves healthy. Being well off financially, he and his wife started traveling around the world to remote locations. They were specifically looking for healthy peoples who had not been touched yet by civilization – at that time, such groups were still around.
Price’s work is often criticized at this point for being biased. Critics claim that Price simply ignored native peoples that were not healthy; therefore, his data and conclusions about primitive diets are unfounded. These critics are missing the point and motivation for Dr Price’s work. Dr Price was not interested in examining sick people because he’d seen enough of them in America.
Price wanted to find HEALTHY people, find out what made them so, and see if there were any patterns among these people. During his nine years of journeys, Price did indeed come across groups of primitives who were having problems for various reasons. Price noted these groups down, what appeared to be their difficulty, and then passed them over. Again, he was not interested in sick people. Price often found that the health problems were caused by food shortages (especially a lack of animal products), droughts, things people living off the land must face from time to time, or contact with white European civilization.
Dr Price and his wife went just about everywhere in their journeys. They travelled to isolated villages in the Swiss Alps, to cold and blustery islands off the coast of Scotland, to the Andes in Peru, to several locations in Africa, to the Polynesian islands, to Australia and New Zealand, to the forests of northern Canada, and even to the Arctic Circle. In all, Price visited with fourteen groups of native peoples.
After gaining the trust of the village elders in the various places, Price did what came naturally: he counted cavities and physically examined them. Imagine his surprise to find, on average, less than 1% of tooth decay in all the peoples he visited!
He also found that these people’s teeth were perfectly straight and white, with high dental arches and well-formed facial features. And there was something more astonishing: none of the peoples Price examined practiced any sort of dental hygiene; not one of his subjects had ever used a toothbrush!
For example, when Price visited his first people, isolated Swiss mountain villagers, he noticed right away that the children’s teeth were covered with a thin film of slime, yet they had no tooth decay. What a difference this was from the children in Ohio!
Dr Price also noticed that, in addition to their healthy teeth and gums, all the people he discovered were hardy and strong, despite the sometimes difficult living conditions they had to endure. Eskimo women, for example, gave birth to one healthy baby after another with little difficulty.
Despite the Swiss children going barefoot in frigid streams, there had not been a single case of tuberculosis in any of them, despite exposure to TB. In general, Price found, in contrast to what he saw in America, no incidence of the very diseases that plague us moderns with our trash compactors and cellular phones: cancer, heart disease, diabetes, haemorrhoids, multiple sclerosis, Parkinson’s, Alzheimer’s, osteoporosis, chronic fatigue syndrome (it was called neurasthenia in Price’s day), etc.
Dr Price also noticed another quality about the healthy native peoples he found: they were happy. While depression was not a major problem in Price’s day, it certainly is today: ask any psychiatrist. While certain natives sometimes fought with neighbouring tribes, within their own groups, they were cheerful and optimistic and bounced back quickly from emotional setbacks. These people had no need for anti-depressants.
Lest you think Dr Price made all of this up, he was sure to take along with him one modern invention that would forever chronicle his research and startling conclusions: a camera. Dr Price and his wife took pictures – 18,000 of them. Many of the pictures are contained in Price’s masterpiece Nutrition and Physical Degeneration. The pictures show native peoples from all over the world smiling wide as the Mississippi river, their perfect teeth shining bright.
What the People Ate
In addition to examining the natives, Dr Price also gathered considerable data about their distinctive cultures and customs, and these descriptions fill many of the pages of his book. Price took great care to observe what these people were eating for he suspected the key to good health and good teeth was in good food.
He was surprised to find that, depending on the people in question and where they lived, each group ate very differently from the other.
For example, the Swiss mountain villagers subsisted primarily on unpasteurized and cultured dairy products, especially butter and cheese. Rye also formed an integral part of their diet. Occasionally, they ate meat (beef) as cows in their herds got older. Small amounts of bone broths, vegetables and berries rounded out the diet. Due to the high altitude, not much vegetation grew. The villagers would eat what they could in the short summer months, and pickle what was left over for the winter. The main foods, however, were full fat cheese, butter, and rye bread.
Gaelic people of the Outer Hebrides ate no dairy products, but instead had their fill of cod and other sea foods, especially shellfish (when in season). Due to the poor soil, the only grain that could grow was oats, and it formed a major part of the diet. A traditional dish, one considered very important for growing children and expectant mothers, was cod’s head stuffed with oats and mashed fish liver. Again, due to the extremely inhospitable climate, fruits and vegetables grew sparsely. Price noted that a young Gaelic girl reeled in puzzlement when offered an apple: she had never seen one!
Eskimo, or Innu, ate a diet of almost 100% animal products with hefty amounts of fish. Walrus and seal, and other marine mammals also formed an integral part of the diet. Blubber (fat) was consumed with relish. Innu would gather nuts, berries, and some grasses during the short summer months, but their diet was basically all meat and fat. Price noted that the Innu would usually ferment their meat before eating it. That is, they would bury it and allow it to slightly putrefy before consuming it. Innu would also eat the partially digested grasses of caribou by cutting open their stomachs and intestines.
The Maori of New Zealand, along with other South sea islanders, consumed sea food of every sort – fish, shark, octopus, sea worms, shellfish – along with fatty pork and a wide variety of plant foods including coconut and fruit.
African cattle-keeping tribes like the Masai consumed virtually no plant foods at all, just beef, raw milk, organ meats, and blood (in times of drought).
The Dinkas of the Sudan, whom Price claimed were the healthiest of all the African tribes he studied, ate a combination of fermented whole grains with fish, along with smaller amounts of red meat, vegetables, and fruit. The Bantu, on the other hand, the least hardy of the African tribes studied, were primarily agriculturists. Their diet consisted mostly of beans, squash, corn, millet, vegetables, and fruits, with small amounts of milk and meat. Price never found a totally vegetarian culture. Modern anthropological data supports this: all cultures and peoples show a preference for animal foods and animal fat.
Hunter-gatherer peoples in Northern Canada, the Florida Everglades, the Amazon, and Australia, consumed game animals of all types, especially the organ meats, and a variety of grains, legumes, tubers, vegetables, and fruits when available.
Price noted that all peoples, except the Innu, consumed insects and their larvae. Obviously in more tropical areas, insects formed a more integral part of the diet. Price noted that the natives of Africa know that certain insects are very rich in special food values at certain seasons, also that their eggs are valuable foods. A fly that hatches in enormous quantities in Lake Victoria is gathered and used fresh and dried for storage. They also use ant eggs and ants. Bees, wasps, dragonflies, beetles, crickets, cicadas, moths, and termites were consumed with zest also, particularly in Africa.
Price also noted that all cultures consumed fermented foods each day. Foods such as cheese, cultured butter, yogurt, or fermented grain drinks like kaffir beer (made from millet) in Africa, or fermented fish as with the Innu were an important part of native diets.
Curiously, all native peoples studied made great efforts to obtain seafood, especially fish roe which was consumed to have healthy children. Even mountain dwelling peoples would make semi-annual trips to the sea to bring back seaweeds, fish eggs, and dried fish. Shrimp, rich in both cholesterol and vitamin D, was a standard food in many places, from Africa to the Orient.
The last major feature of native diets that Price found was that they were rich in fat, especially animal fat. Whether from insects, eggs, fish, game animals, or domesticated herds, primitive peoples knew that they would get sick if they did not consume enough fat. Explorers besides Dr Price have also found this to be true.
For example, anthropologist Vilhjalmur Stefansson, who lived for years among the Innu and Northern Canadian Indians, specifically noted how the Indians would go out of their way to hunt down older male caribou for they carried a 50 pound slab of back fat. When such animals were unavailable and Indians were forced to subsist on rabbits, a very lean animal, diarrhoea and hunger would set in after about a week. The human body needs saturated fat to assimilate and utilize proteins and saturated animal fats contain high amounts of the fat soluble vitamins, as well as beneficial fatty acids with anti-microbial properties.
Of course, the foods that Price’s subjects ate were natural and unprocessed. Their foods did not contain preservatives, additives, or colourings. They did not contain added sugar (though, when available, natural sweets like honey and maple syrup were eaten in moderation). They did not contain white flour or canned foods. Their milk products were not pasteurized, homogenized, or low fat. The animal and plant foods consumed were raised and grown on pesticide-free soil and were not given growth hormones or antibiotics. In short, these people always ate organic.
What the Samples Showed
Dr Price was eager to chemically analyse the various foods these primitives ate. He was careful to obtain preserved samples of all types for analysis. Basically, the diets of these healthy peoples contained 10 times the amount of fat-soluble vitamins, and at least 4 times the amount of calcium, other minerals, and water soluble vitamins than Western diets at that time. No wonder these people were so healthy!
Because of the consumption of fermented and raw foods (including raw animal products), Price noted that native diets were rich in enzymes. Enzymes assist in the digestion of cooked foods.
Price noted that all peoples had a predilection and dietary pull towards foods rich in the fat-soluble vitamins. Price considered butter from pasture-fed cows, rich in these vitamins as well as minerals, to be the premiere health food. Fat-soluble vitamins are found in fats of animal origin, like butter, cream, lard, and tallow, as well as in organ meats.
And to dispel a common myth about native peoples, they did live long lives. Dr Price took numerous photos of healthy primitives with heads full of grey hair. While we don’t know exactly how old they were since they did not have calendars, they were, by all appearances, well past 60.
The Aborigines, for example, had a special society of the elderly. Stefansson also reported great longevity among the Innu. It is true that death rates at younger ages were higher among some groups, but these mortalities were from the dangerous lifestyle these people lived, not from their diet. When you live in the Arctic Circle, for example, constantly fighting the elements, polar bears, ice flows, and leopard seals, you run the risk of an early death.
Another common misconception that modern nutrition holds towards native peoples and their high meat and fat diets is that they suffered from all sorts of degenerative diseases, especially osteoporosis and heart disease. The facts, however, do not support these contentions. Despite some studies done in the past few decades that tried to show the high rates of osteoporosis among the Innu were due to their high protein diet, other studies have shown no such thing.
The work of Herta Spencer and Lois Kramer conclusively proved that the protein/calcium loss theory to be nonsense. As it turns out, the negative studies on the Eskimo were done, not on Innu following their traditional diet, but among modernized Innu who had adopted modern eating habits and alcohol.
Alcoholism is a major factor in bone loss. Certainly, Dr Price would have noted that bone loss was a problem if it had been, especially since he was examining teeth which are made of calcium, but he did not. While in Switzerland, Price got permission to dig up skeletal remains of some villagers: the bones were sturdy and strong. There are pictures in Price’s book of these bones (and skulls showing mouths of perfect teeth free of decay). Price found no incidence of any major diseases, including heart disease.
This is not to say that native peoples did not have ANY problems for such is certainly not the case. Price learned of native remedies for a host of minor ills such as headaches, colds, wounds, and burns. But as far as degenerative diseases go, he found nothing.
This brings up the other major finding of Dr Price’s research: the effects of a modern diet on native peoples.
The Roots of Disease
When Dr Price visited the various primitive groups, he noted that white European civilization had begun making inroads into the areas where they lived. Some of the native peoples opted to leave and move into areas influenced by Europeans. Dr Price also had the opportunity to compare white colonialists who were living alongside, or close to, the native peoples he was studying. What he found was what he thought he would find: disease and dental decay.
When people read Nutrition and Physical Degeneration, it often changes their lives because not only does it describe how healthy people look, feel, and eat, it also shows in painful detail what happens to those people when they abandon their native eating patterns and adopt modern foodstuffs.
The pictures Price took of natives and moderns on what Price disdainfully called the displacing foods of modern commerce are horrifying and stand in stark contrast to the pictures next to them of healthy, smiling natives. Nutrition writer and Price enthusiast Sally Fallon explains:
His photographs capture the suffering caused by these foodstuffs – chiefly rampant tooth decay. Even more startling, they show the change in facial development that occurred with modernization.
Parents who had changed their diets gave birth to children who no longer exhibited the tribal patterns. Their faces were narrower, their teeth crowded, their nostrils pinched. These faces do not beam with optimism, like those of their healthy ancestors.
The photographs of Dr Weston Price demonstrate with great clarity that the foods of modern commerce do not provide sufficient nutrients to allow the body to reach its full genetic potential – neither the complete development of the bones in the body and the head, nor the fullest expressions of the various systems that allow humankind to function at optimal levels –
- immune system
- nervous system
And what were the offending foods that these unfortunate people consumed? Why everything we find on our grocer’s shelves:
Sugar, white flour, jams, jellies, biscuits, condensed milk, canned vegetables, pastries, refined grain products, margarine and vegetable oils.
Price noted in several places that where modern foods had displaced traditional ones, suicide rates from dental caries were high. As most of us know, dental pain can be excruciating. With no drugs to ease their pain, and no dentist around to pull the dying tooth, people took their own lives to escape the torture.
White Europeans who lived in Africa had to leave periodically for health reasons. Children born there had to be sent away several times during their youth in order to survive. Such was the hardy effect of modern foods on these people. Native Africans, of course, had no such problems as long as they stayed on their native diets.
As noted earlier, the major infectious disease at Price’s time was tuberculosis, the White Scourge. Price took several photographs of children, usually the children of either Europeans or natives who had adopted the modern foods before their children were born. They are disturbing in their depictions of suffering. Some of the children were too sick to be moved to better lighting for photographing. Others had pus visibly draining from their lymph glands and dental abscesses.
Invariably, parents and children who had adopted modern foods were highly susceptible to tuberculosis and other degenerative diseases.
The native Hawaiians are a tragic example of this shift. Price did visit the Hawaiian Islands on his journeys. He, of course, noted that Hawaiians who ate their traditional diet of coconut, fish, shellfish, taro, sweet potatoes, and fresh fruits were healthy and strong.
Today, however, the health of native Hawaiians is frightening. Obesity and diabetes are rampant. Because canned meats with nitrates in them are popular there, rates of stomach cancer are high (nitrates convert into carcinogens in the stomach – vitamin C can help halt the conversion).
Hawaiians today eat their fair share of sugar, soft drinks, vegetable oils, macaroni salad, white flour, and white rice. Coconut is sometimes eaten, but usually as part of a sugary snack. High blood pressure and heart attacks are common. Rates of Alzheimer’s are elevated as well. Such is the effect of processed foods on a beautiful race of people.
In the last decade or so, however, a diet was proposed called the Hawaii Diet. Though it is a little low in fat for my tastes, it advocates a full return to traditional eating patterns: fish, taro, sweet potatoes, fresh fruit and vegetables, and, occasionally, pork (wild boar and feral pig are native to the islands). Specifically avoided are white rice, sugar, Spam, and processed foods in general.
The change is dramatic: people lose weight, they have more energy, their health problems dissipate or become more manageable, and their teeth invariably improve as well.
Price noticed this pattern also. If a native abandoned his ancestral eating habits in favour of modern foods, ill health and dental caries followed. If that same person switched back to the original eating pattern, however, health returned and the progression of dental decay stopped and reversed itself. This is perhaps the most uplifting aspect of Price’s work: one can always reverse the trend; there is always hope.
Price accurately and ominously predicted that as Western man consumed more refined sugar and substituted vegetable oils for animal fats, disease would increase and reproduction would be more difficult. Today, some 25% of Western couples are infertile, and rates of cancer, diabetes, and heart disease have skyrocketed. Price was truly a modern Cassandra of Troy – prophesying the truth, but with no one listening.
A Return to Sanity, Please?
For many decades, Price’s work has been buried and forgotten. Due to the efforts of the Price-Pottenger Nutrition Foundation, however, and the re-publication of Price’s book for the public, that is fortunately starting to change.
Price’s conclusions and recommendations were shocking for his time. He advocated a return to breast-feeding when such a practice was discouraged by Western medicine. He urged parents to give their children cod liver oil every day. He considered fresh butter to be the supreme health food.
He warned against: pesticides, herbicides, preservatives, colourings, refined sugars, and vegetable oils. In short, all the things that modern nutrition and agriculture have embraced and promoted the last few decades. Price believed that margarine was a ealth destroyer, contrary to its manufacturers claims. With recommendations like these, he was REALLY unpopular! But the result of his research speaks for itself.
Knowing that his data flatly contradict virtually everything that politically correct nutrition holds, it is common to find his work belittled. If Price’s studies are accurate, then the low-fat school must go the way of all flesh: into the graveyard. It is typical, therefore, for critics to say things like Price only superficially examined the peoples he encountered and made simplistic conclusions about their health.
Price is also accused of ignoring the nutritional deficiencies of the peoples he studied, as well as their high rates of infant mortality. It is also asserted that the modern foods that Price argued were these people’s downfall were actually wholesome, but the primitive peoples over consumed them and didn’t balance their diets correctly, hence their high rates of disease after adopting modern food stuffs.
Critics also claim that malnourished people usually don’t have dental problems, so it is immaterial that the natives Price photographed had perfect teeth, or that the modernized ones had poor ones.
It is truly amazing how far some experts will go to defend the processed food industry and shaky nutritional hypotheses! Even a cursory look at Price’s book will tell any rational person that Price did not superficially examine the people he studied. The detail about native customs, eating habits, and history of the various areas argues against any accusations of superficiality.
Additionally, Price was a physician with many years of experience; it is ludicrous to claim that he would make a superficial examination and reach simplistic conclusions about people’s health.
If there were nutritional deficiencies, he would have noted them down, but no such descriptions exist for the simple reason that no such deficiencies existed. We know this to be true for, if we examine the modern descendants of Price’s subjects, we find that they enjoy robust health and freedom from both dental caries and more chronic diseases, IF they have not abandoned their native diets.
It is true that high infant mortality rates existed, but only AFTER exposure to and adoption of the white European way of life. Further, if the foods of modern commerce were so wholesome, then they would have provided the nutrients within them to avert death, dental decay, and disease in the person who ate them, regardless of how they ingested them. The claim does not stand the test of logic.
The last claim about dental condition not being related to the body’s nutritional state is simply false. Numerous researchers have noted the clear and obvious connection between dental and bodily health. They all assert without hesitation that the health of the body is reflected quite accurately in the health of the teeth.
Dr Price’s Message
The obvious conclusion of Price’s research is that for humanity to survive, it must eat better. And the foods it must eat must be whole, fresh, and unprocessed. More and more, people are beginning to see this and have been changing their eating patterns. But for the majority, however, the continuation of negative dietary habits will inevitably lead to decreased vitality, unhealthy children, in short, the degeneration of the human race. Besides, eating whole foods tastes good! The first happy lesson to be gleaned from traditional diets and Price’s work is that good food can and should taste good. It’s OK to saute vegetables and meats with butter. It’s OK to consume whole(unpasteurized, non-homogenized) milk, meat with its fat, eggs, shrimp and lobster, and liver with onions and bacon. It’s OK and healthy to eat homemade soups made from gelatin-rich bone broths and sauces made from drippings and cream.
Eating whole foods is good for the environment as well. The building blocks of a whole foods diet are pesticide-free plant foods raised on naturally enriched soils, and healthy animals that live free to graze and manure the paddocks of their farms, as opposed to standing in a cramped stall, never seeing sunlight, being fed soybeans and corn meal, and being shot up with steroids and antibiotics.
Westerners live in countries where food is readily available, unlike other parts of the world where people routinely starve or are malnourished. Further, we live with a choice between two ways of eating: the way of whole foods, and the way of processed junk foods. With such a privilege, we owe it to ourselves and our children to choose the way of life: the way of whole foods. By making this decision, we can stem the tide of chronic disease that threatens to consume our bodies and minds.
(Root canals and Disease For those of you interested in reading more about this aspect of Dr. Price’s work, you can check out the Price-Pottenger Nutrition Foundation’s webpage at www.price-pottenger.org)
With thanks to Dr. Stephen Byrnes at : http://articles.mercola.com/weston price
See also: http://www.westonaprice.org