Diet and Recovery from Chronic Disease

Weston Price showed us that the fundamental cause of disease is inadequate nutrition. In virtually every indigenous culture he visited and studied, from tropical regions to the extreme north, people who were eating entirely according to the traditional wisdom of their ancestors were immune to chronic diseases. His interviews of medical practitioners who served in these areas confirmed the fact that diseases such as rheumatoid arthritis, cancer, tuberculosis and gastrointestinal problems requiring surgical intervention did not occur until the people began eating “the white man’s foods”–sugar, flour, vegetable oils, canned goods and other refined foods.1

Price was not alone in his discoveries. In the first three decades of the twentieth century, many explorers, anthropologists and physicians who traveled in remote areas and lived amongst traditional people described the splendid health and absence of chronic disease these people enjoyed.2,3

I first read Price’s classic work, Nutrition and Physical Degeneration, in the 1970s when I was studying to be a naturopathic physician. I began incorporating the dietary principles I learned into my own diet, and this step was instrumental in healing my chronic intestinal problems. Then, as I began my work as a physician, I used the principles I learned from Dr. Price with my patients. In 1987, I published my first book, Traditional Foods Are Your Best Medicine, in which I wrote extensively about Dr. Price’s work and its application.

And yet, many of the people who have consulted with me over the years have had the same problem that I had: despite having some understanding of the nutritional principles that Dr. Price discovered and elucidated, they often have great difficulty in finding and implementing a diet that will prevent or reverse chronic diseases.

WRONG ASSUMPTIONS

One mistake made by nearly anyone seeking healing through food is the assumption that one diet is right for everyone. A corollary of this premise is the notion that a diet that worked well for you for a while will continue to be right for you indefinitely. On the contrary, each of us has different needs and idiosyncrasies. What works beautifully for me may not work well for you, and vice-versa. Furthermore, one’s needs change over time, so that your “best diet” today may well need to evolve dramatically over the weeks, months and years.

An example: if you go from a diet of mostly steak, pasta, Scotch and cheesecake, to raw fruits, vegetables and juices, you might well feel better, lose unwanted weight, and think you’ve discovered the fountain of youth–for a while. But at some point–a point that will vary markedly for different people–you’ll run into trouble. And many people will then think, “Gee, I did great on that diet. Why won’t it work now? Something else must be wrong since my diet is fine.”

But this is probably the wrong conclusion. The physical part of the explanation for health problems can almost always be found in the diet. My objective in this article is to explain some ideas about how each individual may use the nutritional principles Dr. Price discovered in order to move toward his or her health goals. I’m a believer in the ancient credo “Physician, heal thyself,” so I will start out with my own case and go on from there to details about my work with patients and then generalizations I think apply to most of us.

THE CHOLESTEROL TRAP

I initially fell into the trap of being overly influenced by the conventional wisdom about animal fats and cholesterol. Like most of us, I’d been thoroughly indoctrinated about the alleged dangers, and in the 1970s and 1980s I read a lot of literature about “primitive” and “Paleolithic” diets, which maintained that such diets, while high in protein, were low in fat. I bought into this idea, and advocated the use of moderate amounts of meat and raw dairy foods along with large amounts of vegetables, fish, and some fruit and whole grains (a diet not unlike that which many Price Foundation members report that they eat).

Now that is a diet that many people do very well with for some time, and this was true for me. But as I described above, the belief that the same diet that you may have thrived on for a number of years will always be right for you is often fallacious. It’s quite natural to make this error; we all become attached to the things we like, to our routines. Change is difficult.

AN ATTACK OF LYME

In the summer of 2002, I came down with a severe and debilitating case of Lyme disease. I’d had unexplained joint and muscle pain for several weeks, which I’d attributed to the normal strains of being an aging athlete. On a hot July evening after a long run in extreme heat, I experienced severe shooting pains throughout my upper body, with fever and chills, headache and a variety of other extremely uncomfortable symptoms. Only my training as a naturopathic physician kept me from going to the emergency room–I knew there was nothing conventional medicine could do for me that I would want done. These symptoms raged on for several days, and I sent a sample of my blood to a laboratory that confirmed what I suspected–I was having an acute attack of chronic Lyme disease.

In the late 1990s, I had finally figured out, with the help of the Weston A. Price Foundation, that optimal native diets were invariably high in the fat-soluble activators available in animal fats. I’d begun using more raw dairy foods and fatty meats to complement the huge amount of raw vegetables and moderate amounts of fresh fish and fruit that I’d eaten for decades. When I came down with Lyme, I’d just begun working on my next book, The Untold Story of Milk, which was published a year later.

I thought my diet was great. But why did I get sick? I’ve always maintained that if health is optimal, one should be resistant to all disease, acute or chronic. Yet here I was with a debilitating case of Lyme disease. What was going on?

My lab tests made it clear that my Lyme was chronic, that I had had it for some time. The unexplained symptoms I’d been experiencing before the acute attack confirmed that the problem had existed for many months. I’d continued to function at an intense physical level –two or three hours of tennis many days and runs of five to fifteen miles a couple of times a week. In fact, I was overdoing it, and eventually the Lyme overwhelmed my system and I became acutely ill. But the question remained, why had I been susceptible to Lyme?

Because of my basic assumption that the fundamental cause of all disease is faulty diet, I went back to the drawing board. I decided to question all my assumptions and make any changes that seemed reasonable.

Understanding what Weston Price taught– as complicated as that is–is really just the beginning of understanding how to use food to prevent and heal chronic disease. Think of it this way: Price studied cultures all over the world, all of which ate wildly different diets. From the vast amount of information he gathered, he extracted certain principles about what foods were most important and the nutrients those foods contained. Based upon these principles, we must try to choose, from the foods available to us today, those that will best supply the essential nutrients common to these varied traditional diets. In so doing, it’s essential to decide what the optimal proportions of different foods are, how much of each to eat. Then there is the question of which foods, and how much of them, are best eaten raw or undercooked. These are among the issues I looked at in tackling my Lyme problem.

I resolved that I would not take antibiotics. When the disease is diagnosed early, when it initially appears, antibiotics are not unreasonable, and often eradicate the organism that is involved in Lyme. Many people go this route and never have a further problem. However, once Lyme is established for several months, as mine was, conventional treatment calls for months of intravenous antibiotics. Results are at best mixed; I’ve interviewed many patients who continued to suffer severe symptoms in spite of such treatment.

The symptoms of chronic Lyme tend to exacerbate into acute attacks lasting a few days about every four weeks, and that was my experience. A month after my first acute attack, I again had several days of marked symptoms, but this time only about half as severe as the initial attack. I’d been applying what I’d learned, and was eating much more animal food and much more raw food (more on this later). It took me three or four months to get to the point where I felt 95 percent well, to where I was playing tennis and running again (although less than before, having decided that there is wisdom in moderation and that discretion is the better part of valor). During my recovery, I was writing The Untold Story of Milk, and in the spring we bought the small farm where we now live.

RECOVERY

My recovery from Lyme is complete; I do the usual farm chores, milk cows, build fences, carry heavy stuff, play some tennis and go for an occasional run. I feel “100 percent.” And yet, the Lyme is there, and I think perhaps it may remain with me for several years. We’ve learned to live together. This requires some explanation.

I’ve often seen individuals recover from a chronic disease only to have the problem recur within a few months or years. Related to this is the fact that we all have health problems that go back to our younger years, which tend to come back periodically. It appears that with concerted effort in the areas of diet and lifestyle, chronic issues can usually be controlled to one degree or another, but they continue to lurk beneath the surface, only to emerge again when one lets one’s guard down, so to speak. I believe that the key to healing more completely, at a deeper level, and eliminating the recurrence of chronic problems, is the same as the key to establishing a path of recovery initially in dealing with a chronic disease. And that is to be very thorough in one’s approach to diet. Special food extracts, supplemental nutrients, and natural and herbal medicines should be used to complement the diet. But the details of the diet and the supplements taken should be highly individualized according to one’s tastes, medical history, resources and health goals.

COMMON MISTAKES

The observations of Price and other anthropologists studying native people in their indigenous state and in the early stages of modernization made it clear that even small amounts of “the white man’s foods” resulted in sickness. We tend to think in black and white terms: that native people were eating their native diets and were immune to disease, and then they started eating lots of white flour and sugar and got sick. What really happened was in many cases much more subtle. Physicians on Arctic expeditions in the 1920s and 1930s, referred to above, found that the introduction of relatively small amounts of refined flour products into otherwise pristine native diets resulted in some natives developing high blood pressure and heart disease. Northern Indians and Eskimos Price studied in trading villages commonly ate a combination of native foods and refined foods, and many developed the diseases of civilization. Meanwhile, Josef Romeg, a surgeon who spent 35 years amongst native Eskimos and Indians and who was interviewed by Price in 1933, found that native Alaskans with tuberculosis usually recovered when returned to their remote native villages–where none of the white man’s foods was available.

This calls to mind the work of Max Gerson, a medical doctor who developed a dietary treatment for cancer and other chronic diseases in the 1930s. Gerson’s regime involved large amounts of raw vegetable juices and raw liver juice (extracted in a special way by pressure, not by pulverization); fermented raw milk; a variety of natural medications; and strict avoidance of everything not specifically included in his program. Very thorough documentation exists showing that many of Gerson’s patients recovered from advanced cancer (virtually all had not had chemotherapy, a highly toxic therapy that severely impairs chances of recovery by natural means). Gerson was adamant that the use of even the smallest amounts of what he called forbidden foods would prevent recovery.

It’s important to realize that we’re considering here the optimal diet for people with very serious medical problems. What may work well for the vast majority of basically healthy people is very different from the far more stringent routine that seriously ill people may require.

The observations of Price, the early anthropologists and Dr. Gerson are entirely consistent with my own observations over the past twenty-five years. While most patients feel better and make at least a partial recovery from medical problems by adopting a diet that includes more of the foods Price showed us are critical to good health, at the same time many limit the extent of their recovery by their inability to go further in eliminating the refined foods that cause problems, while failing to include adequate amounts of superior foods.

With this background, here are what I believe to be the two most common mistaken thoughts my patients have in attempting to recover from serious medical problems.

1. A little bit of refined foods won’t hurt.

2. A modest amount of high-quality animal foods is enough.

I’ve described some of the evidence that shows why number one is a mistaken thought. From hundreds of case histories from my own practice, let me give three examples as further evidence.

  • A 45 year-old man with chronic herpes for years remains completely symptom-free for several months but when he eats one or two commercial walnuts or a small cup of soup at a health food store, he breaks out with herpes sores the next day.
  • A 60-year-old woman with painful arthritis in her hips is pain-free for weeks until eating three or four cookies at a birthday party for her grandson. The next day, her pain is so severe she has difficulty walking.
  • A 22 year-old man with a ten-year history of epileptic seizures at least every two weeks has no seizures for three months. One afternoon, he has several handfuls of dried fruit and commercial cashews as a “treat.” Three hours later, his roommate finds him in the midst of a grand mal seizure, and he is hospitalized for several days.

These are not coincidences. Through careful observation of my patients and my own body, I’ve concluded that every food eaten has subtle (or sometimes obvious) effects.

The second common mistake in thinking– that a modest amount of high-quality animal foods is enough–requires first at least a brief explanation of what high-quality animal foods are. Put simply, these are foods that come from animals fed their natural diets–grass-fed farm animals, wild game and wild seafood. This would include raw milk and the foods made from it (cheese, yoghurt, kefir and especially butter and cream); red meats, especially organ meats; fish and shellfish; and eggs from free-range chickens. How much should be eaten raw and how much cooked, and how cooked, is an important but highly individual matter; however, the dairy products should always be raw. (Some individuals have problems with even the best raw milk and raw milk cheeses.)

Many of these are the farm-fresh foods we’ve been taught to be afraid of because they contain cholesterol and saturated fat. And even when one has some understanding of Price’s work, there’s a tendency to think that one shouldn’t eat too much of these foods, perhaps just to be safe, to hedge one’s bets a bit. And the mixed diet we’ve all been taught is essential–lots of fruits and vegetables and whole grains–only leaves so much room for animal foods.

But on the contrary, to put it succinctly: for most people with chronic disease, when it comes to fresh raw or lightly cooked food from grass-fed animals, you can’t eat too much. And the more the better.

THE FAT-SOLUBLE ACTIVATORS

This principle is easy to understand in light of Dr. Price’s discoveries about the importance of fat-soluble activators found in significant quantity only in seafood and certain fats of grass-fed animals. The natural forms of vitamins A and D are crucial for mineral metabolism and immune function. The nutrient Price called “Activator X,” (now believed to be vitamin K2) most richly concentrated in milk fat from cows grazing on rapidly growing pasture, may be the most important activator of all. Price was able to reverse tooth decay and cure many diseases using “X-Factor” butter oil concentrate in conjunction with high-vitamin cod liver oil.

The dosage of X-factor oil Price used to treat a four-year old boy suffering with rampant tooth decay and an unhealed fracture is instructive–a “large spoonful” five times a day! When I became ill with Lyme disease, I had for many years used cod liver oil daily, but not the high-vitamin type, and X-factor oil was not available. (Also, intense exercise depletes vitamin A and I was doing that on a daily basis.) I switched to high-vitamin cod liver oil, and when it became available about a year and a half ago, I added X-factor oil to my supplements. I’ve since used 2 large tablespoonfuls a day of high-vitamin cod liver oil, providing about 70,000 IU of vitamin A and 7,000 IU of vitamin D, and two or three teaspoons of X-factor oil.

“High vitamin” cod liver oil is something of a misnomer, for it actually is “normal-vitamin” cod liver oil. Most popular brands of cod liver oil today have been molecularly distilled to remove up to ninety percent of the vitamin A and D. This is in response to the general fear of overdosing on these vitamins, a fear which has been magnified to the point that many doctors now tell their pregnant patients not to eat liver. This fear is based on misinformation, for it is the synthetic forms of vitamins A and D that are toxic in even moderate doses. The natural forms of these vitamins, as found in cod liver oil, liver and butterfat from cows grazing on green grass, are not toxic even in amounts far greater than the substantial amounts that I and many of my patients take. The “high vitamin” cod liver oil we use is actually cod liver oil that contains the normal content of vitamins A and D that naturally occur in this oil, a superfood that has been used for centuries as an elixir.

Cod liver oil also provides the fatty acids eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA), unknown in Dr. Price’s day but now recognized as important factors to human health.

RAW VERSUS FERMENTED

Prior to getting Lyme disease, I had for decades habitually consumed a large raw vegetable salad nearly every day. But about two years ago, I switched to fermented vegetables almost exclusively, primarily unpasteurized kimchee, which is loaded with live enzymes. Fermented vegetables are wonderful for digestion, and provide far more enzymes than fresh salad vegetables. I believe that the healthiest diets are built around grassfed animals (meat, organs and bones) and raw milk products, and fermented vegetables. Traditionally prepared vegetables, grains, nuts and seeds, fruits and other foods play complementary roles.

CAN’T EAT TOO MUCH

These facts provide a basis for understanding the principle that most people with chronic disease simply can’t eat too much top quality animal food. It’s my belief that this simple but little understood principle is a key to recovering from chronic disease. It certainly has been central in my recovery from Lyme disease; I have lived on little but raw milk, raw or very undercooked grassfed beef, and fermented vegetables, along with my cod liver oil and X-factor butter oil supplements, for over a year now.

Think too of the “milk cure” described in the Summer, 2002 issue of Wise Traditions. The milk cure is nothing less than a diet of 100 percent raw animal food–and it works best when the cows are strictly grass-fed.

I mentioned above the fact that chronic diseases often linger and recur. What appears to happen is that we go far enough with our diets to alleviate symptoms, but not far enough for long enough to completely change the body in a way that eliminates all traces of the disease. Gerson found that eighteen months of intense therapy (and the therapy was incredibly intense, calling for twelve glasses daily of raw vegetable juice, three glasses of raw liver juice, fermented raw milk, coffee enemas, a host of supplements and various other special foods) were required to have a reasonable chance of eliminating cancer or other serious chronic diseases. Even then recurrences would strike if one strayed too far from a very careful diet.

My own belief is that human beings are designed to function optimally on a diet made up exclusively of perfect food. When after a lifetime–be it 20, 40, 60 or 80 years–of eating way too much of the wrong stuff, we begin eating the right stuff, it just takes time for the body to really come around. One might feel better quite rapidly indeed, even after just a few days; I see this often in my patients. But a deep and thorough healing appears to be a very long process.

And the kicker is that even small amounts of poorly chosen or even less-than-optimal foods appear to slow down or derail the healing process. An example: early in dealing with my Lyme disease, I adopted an all raw-foods approach for a time, including raw meat and fish and raw milk. I also included unprocessed, unheated honey. Over the course of a few months, it became clear to me that honey was one factor in my diet that was clearly responsible for the continued low-level symptoms of Lyme I experienced. Honey was something I simply could not eat if I wanted full recovery. Similarly, there was no place for any but the smallest amount of fruit in my diet if I wanted a complete recovery. This need to eliminate nearly everything sweet in order to get well has been the case for many of my patients, patients with a wide variety of medical problems.

The highly addictive nature of not only sweets and other highly processed modern foods, but also carbohydrates in general, including whole grain foods, makes the extreme regime of the milk cure or any similar program based on animal foods a difficult proposition for many people to accept. The heart of the matter lies in the relative importance one assigns food in the overall scope of one’s life.

To put it in terms of extremes: some people see food as entertainment, as an end in itself, and some see food as fuel, as a means to an end. Of course we all fall somewhere in between these extremes, but most of us fall closer to one pole than the other. The more food becomes a means to an end, the easier it is to gravitate to foods that promote health. This does not mean that eating simple foods cannot be a great pleasure. In fact, the tastes of plain foods–fresh raw milk, unadorned meat or fish, perhaps raw or lightly cooked with butter and perhaps spices, fermented vegetables–become more pronounced and satisfying as one consistently avoids sweets, breads and other prepared foods. The satisfying and satiating taste of animal fat far surpasses the instant and temporary allure of sweets and starches.

While it is clear to me that carbohydrates that are either refined or are not prepared in traditional ways are to one degree or another a problem for people seeking recovery from chronic disease, the role of traditionally prepared sprouted and fermented grains is much less clear to me. I simply don’t have much experience with the latter (I’m a food-for-fuel type). It seems to me that these foods may often play a role in healing diets, for Price found healthy traditional cultures that included traditionally prepared grains. And too, I know of numerous reliable reports of people recovering from chronic problems using mixed diets that included traditionally prepared grains as well as bone broths.

At the same time, I believe it pays to be aware of how different each of us is when it comes to nutrition and healing. The principles Dr. Price discovered apply to each and every one of us, yet it appears that many of us have idiosyncrasies that profoundly affect our ability to heal and obtain optimal health. The reward of a willingness to experiment and make changes can be profound; the confidence that one’s body will function smoothly and effortlessly into advanced age may provide a unique satisfaction. And when and if it doesn’t–well, then back to the drawing board; life is change, and every symptom has a lesson.


HOW I PREPARE MY MEAT

Braising: Melt raw butter and coconut oil over steam in a double boiler, or alternatively in a skillet over low heat. Cut meat into bite-sized strips and place in melted butter and oil. A minute or so is enough to braise the surface of the meat and warm the inside. Remove skillet from heat and turn each piece of meat, return to flame and braise until meat is cooked to your taste. Add Celtic sea salt, pepper, seasonings, perhaps a little raw cream. Using minimal heat, meat braised in this manner can be prepared more or less raw if desired, but is warm and tasty.

Searing: I like to use a George Foreman electric grill to sear my meat. Smear butter over both sides of a steak, chop or burger. Preheat the grill for a couple of minutes, then grill the meat for 60 seconds or so if you want it mostly raw but with a great grilled flavor, longer if your inclination is for more cooking.

Slow Cooking: I use an old-fashioned Dutch oven with the heat set to about 140 to 150 degrees F. to slow-cook roasts of beef, lamb or pork, and also chicken and turkey. Coat the meat with butter and cook for several hours. Check the central temperature of the meat with a meat thermometer periodically. I like my beef and lamb just barely warm, but cook our home-raised pork and fowl to 150 degrees or so (certainly undercooked by conventional standards, but a far cry from raw).

Eskimo Style: This is my favorite way to prepare fish but it also is great for beef or lamb. Cut fish or meat into 1-inch chunks. Boil a pot of water. Immerse chunks in boiling water, leave flame on high, and cook for 45 to 90 seconds. Pour off water, place chunks in a bowl with lots of butter, Celtic salt and pepper, and lemon if desired. Enjoy!

Raw Meat and Fish: There are many recipes in Nourishing Traditions.for raw and marinated fish and meat. An easy one is Steak Tartare, made by simply mixing raw ground beef with raw egg yolk, raw chopped onion and seasonings.


REFERENCES

  1. Weston A. Price, DDS. Nutrition and Physical Degeneration, The Price-Pottenger Nutrition Foundation, San Diego, CA, 1945, 1970.
  2. Ron Schmid, ND. The Untold Story of Milk. New Trends Publishing, Washington, DC, 2003
  3. Edward Howell, MD. Enzyme Nutrition, Avery Publishing, Wayne, NJ, 1985.

This article appeared in Wise Traditions in Food, Farming and the Healing Arts, the quarterly magazine of the Weston A. Price Foundation, Winter 2004.

One Response to Diet and Recovery from Chronic Disease

  1. Carol Gravante says:

    I enjoyed your article but I have one thought as I have studied lime disease for 4 1/2 years and I found out that the premise that raw milk is the best answer is actually wrong as all cows have been infected by tick bites they all have Lyme disease and it spills into their milk and there are live spirochetes in raw milk and that is possibly how you got lyme disease… I don’t know if you have heard this but is worth a little of your own research

    Please ignore the typographical errors as I am talking my text LOL

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