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By Dr. Stephen Byrnes
It seems that the more things change, the more they stay the same. With the advent of antibiotics in the 1930s, modern medicine has prided itself on its near total eradication of several deadly diseases:
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 gotten nowhere when it comes to chronic disease. Doctors cringe and cower when a patient with arthritis comes to see them.
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, the 20th century has not made 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 who 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 promoting diseases of various types. (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). Despite Price's amazing work, it has largely been forgotten and this is unfortunate, for in it is a treaure trove of nutritional information that can lead modern peoples to greater health and vitality, and awayfrom 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 rumors 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 rather 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 traveled to isolated villages in the Swiss alps, to cold and blustery islands off the coast of Scotland, to the Andes mountains 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 green 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, hemorrhoids, 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 primitives 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 neighboring tribes, within their own groups, they were cheerful and optimistic and bounced back quickly from emotional setbacks. These people had no need for antidepressants.
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 fisher people of the Outer Hebrides ate no dairy products, but instead had their fill of cod and other sea foods, especially shell fish (when in season). Due to the poor soil, the only grain that could grow was oat, 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 support 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 so that we will have healthy children. Even mountain dwelling peoples would make semiannual 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, diarrhea 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 antimicrobial properties.
Of course, the foods that Price's subjects ate were natural and unprocessed. Their foods did not contain preservatives, additives, or colorings. 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 analyze 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. Price took numerous photos of healthy primitives with heads full of gray 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. Obviously, if there were no old people among them, they would have had no need for such a group. 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 Drs. 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. To this, let us now turn.
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About the Author
Dr. Stephen Byrnes is a nutritionist and naturopathic doctor. His books Overcoming AIDS with Natural Medicine, Digestion to the Max! and Healthy Hearts: Natural Medicine for Your Ticker, are available off of www.amazon.com.
Email: [email protected]
Dr. Mercola's Comment:
I thoroughly agree with Dr. Brynes excellent commentary on one of the major nutritional pioneers, Dr. Price. It is my understanding that Dr. Price was a dentist around 1900 when processed food was first introduced. He noticed an incredible increase in tooth decay and started his journey around the world to document the association between processed foods and tooth decay.
I am constantly amazed at how powerful a predictor of health the teeth are. When I have a chronically ill patient with a set of teeth with not many cavities I am encouraged that they will likely get well quickly. If, on the other hand, their mouth is full of fillings and root canals, the prognosis is not as good.
However, God gave us incredible healing capacities that can frequently overcome the ravages of many years of abuse to our bodies. It is quite amazing that the need for dentists would likely decrease by over 95% if we ate properly. As Dr. Price discovered native people eating native diets did not get tooth decay.
I have Dr. Price's book Nutrition and Physical Degeneration. in my exam room to show patients. The pictures are incredible. The book is relatively inexpensive and is a MUST read if you are interested in natural medicine in the least. You don't even have to read the book, the story is all in the wonderful pictures that he took.
Dentists' Logo Used to Promote Coca-Cola Product
Dentist's Tale, The
Fluoride Treatments Not Beneficial
Fluoridated Water Affects Your Thyroid Gland
Free Dental Care Isn't Enough To Prevent Cavities
Genetically Modified Bacteria to Prevent Cavities?
Infected Gums Leak Toxins Into Bloodstream
Root Canal Alternatives
Shedding Some Light on Teeth Whiteners
Six Common Dental Procedures That can Harm Your Health, and How Environmental Dentistry can Help
Tooth Decay May Slow Child's Growth
Toothpaste Can Damage Preschoolers' Teeth
The Toxic Toothpaste
Unhealthy Gums Can Lead to Lung Disease
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The Preference for Animal Protein and Fat: A Cross-Cultural Survey, Food and Evolution, Marvin Harris and Eric Ross, eds., Temple University Press, 1987.
Diorio, L.P., et al The Separate Effects of Protein and Calorie Malnutrition of the Development and Growth of Rat Bone and Teeth, Jnl of Nutrition 103:856-865, 1973.
Fallon, Sally. Nasty, Brutish, and Short? The Ecologist, Jan/Feb 1999.
Menaker & Navia Jnl of Dental Research, 52:680-687, 1973.
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Price, W. Nutrition and Physical Degeneration, Keats Publishing, 1943.
Spencer & Kramer Factors Contributing to Osteoporosis, Jnl of Nutr, 116:316-319, 1986.
Further Studies of the Effect of a High Protein Diet as Meat on Calcium Metabolism, Amer Jnl Clin Nutr, June 924-929, 1983.