Interpreting the Work of Dr. Weston A. Price
“I am deeply interested not only in your health individually but in the efficiency and welfare of your families. It is particularly important in these times of industrial and financial stress, that children shall not suffer defects which may mark and handicap them for their entire life.” So wrote Dr. Weston A. Price, author of Nutrition and Physical Degeneration, the classic work on the relation of diet to disease, to his nieces and nephews in the year 1934, signing the letter, “Lovingly, Uncle Weston.”
“Fortunately, an adequately defensive nutritional program can be provided without much expense and indeed often more cheaply than the currently selected foods. There will be no necessity for any child of yours to develop dental caries or tooth decay if the simple procedures that I am outlining shall be adequately carried out. . .
“There are two ways in which I could make suggestions relative to the mineral and vitamin problem in the selection of food, the one on the basis of detailing a special menu for each day, which is very unsatisfactory, and the other would be in the form of general principles which should control and guide you in selecting the foods which will meet the body’s daily needs. I would suggest the latter and the following is an outline of the principles involved.”1
This letter, which resides in the archives of the Price-Pottenger Nutrition Foundation, provides us with a look at the principles that motivated Dr. Price and neatly summarizes his philosophy. His motivation was quite simply the unselfish desire for all peoples to obtain their natural birthright of good health; and the principle that guided him throughout his career–a principle most people have difficulty comprehending, even today–was that only a good diet, one that supplied the body with an abundance of nutrients, can confer good health, epitomized by broad facial development during the growing years and freedom from dental decay throughout life. What Price provided was the general principles of a healthy diet and a list of the richest sources of fat-soluble vitamins, rather than special menus and elaborate plans. The practical application– menus, plans, sources and how-to’s–was a task left to those who followed in his footsteps.
NUTRIENT DENSE FOOD
“We have a sense of hunger which expresses itself as appetite and we eat until this is satisfied, but this only applies to that part of our food which produces power and heat. We have almost no sense of hunger for the minerals and other chemicals and vitamins that are needed for building new and repairing old tissues.”2 Price may not have been able to pinpoint the exact nutrients needed for various individual health conditions, nor all the nutrients contained in various foods, but he understood this fundamental law of nutrition, that without provision of the nutrients we need, no body can be built strong and resistant and no lasting healing can take place.
Instead of nourishing food, modern medicine gives drugs, the chief modus operandi of which is to sequester nutrients from one part of the body and carry them to the part that is diseased or injured. This is akin to robbing Peter to pay Paul, rather than simply making sure that Paul has all the nutritional wealth he requires. A perfect example is synthetic adrenal cortex extract, such as Prednisone, which can provide what seems like miraculous relief–immediate “healing”–of conditions as diverse as sports injuries, colitis and psoriasis. Drugs like prednisone work by stimulating cells throughout the body to give up cholesterol and other nutrients, and then carrying them to the site of injury. The problem is that you can only rob Peter for so long before he becomes bankrupt; then either the injury returns or a new problem breaks out somewhere else. And once the cells have become depleted, drugs like Prednisone no longer work. Continuing medication is akin to whipping a dead horse.
Price explained the situation in clear scientific terms: “Most people need from 2000 to 3000 calories a day, according to the nature of their physical activities. Similarly, we need two grams of phosphorus and one and one-half grams of calcium a day in our food in order to keep up the body’s daily requirements. Our problem, then, is to get enough of the minerals and vitamins without exceeding our limit in calories. . .
“It is not wise to fill the limited space with foods that are not doing our bodies any particular good. You would be interested to know that while you would have to eat 7 1/2 pounds of potatoes or 11 pounds of beets or 9 1/2 pounds of carrots to get the daily phosphorus requirement, all of which would provide too high a number of calories, you would obtain as much phosphorus from 1 pound of lentils. This would also provide the calcium. You would also supply the entire day’s requirement of minerals from 0.8 pounds of fish or 0.6 pounds of cheese. . . .3
“There is a misapprehension regarding the value of fruits as food. Of course fruits are desirable as an adjunct, but most of them are very low in minerals. You would for example, have to eat 37 pounds of apples a day or 26 pounds of oranges to get your two grams phosphorus and when these fruits are sweetened into jams or jellies, you would have to eat 32 pounds of orange marmalade a day, which would provide 33,000 calories; few of us could take care of more than 3000 calories. . . it would take three large loaves of white bread a day to provide our requirements for phosphorus, but this would give us 10,000 calories, an amount which it would be physically impossible to utilize. Eating this with skimmed milk would be one of the surest way to produce dental caries and in some cases might even produce convulsions.”4
REMEMBER THE ACTIVATORS!
Thus, as Price perceived so clearly, the only way for humans, with their limited ability to take in food, to properly nourish themselves is to eat mostly nutrient-dense foods; and the emerging science of biochemistry confirmed the dietary habits of primitive peoples by revealing just which foods best meet these requirements–all of them animal foods, and not necessarily steak or chicken but seafood, and milk products and organ meats from animals raised on mineral-rich soil. These were the very foods valued so highly by the peoples Price studied.
While noting that the diets of primitive peoples differed in their particulars–from the mostly animal diet of the Alaskan Eskimos to the tropical diets of South Sea Islanders–Price took pains to point out the common underlying characteristics of these diets, namely the high level of minerals and the very high level of fat-soluble activators. By activators, he was referring to vitamins A and D, and what he called Activator X (now believed to be Vitamin K2), found only in certain sea foods such as shellfish, fish livers and fish eggs, in butterfat and organ meats from animals eating rapidly growing green grass, and in lesser amounts in eggs from pastured chickens and the fat of certain animals such as the guinea pig.
“An essential characteristic of the successful dietary programs of primitive races has been found to relate to a liberal source of the fat-soluble activator group,”9 wrote Price. He used the term activator because these fat-soluble nutrients act as catalysts for mineral absorption. “A question arises as to the efficiency of the human body in removing all of the minerals from the ingested foods. Extensive laboratory determinations have shown that most people cannot absorb more than half of the calcium and phosphorus from the foods eaten. The amounts utilized depend directly on the presence of other substances, particularly fat-soluble vitamins.
“It is at this point probably that the greatest breakdown in our modern diet takes place, namely, in the ingestion and utilization of adequate amount of the special activating substances, including the vitamins needed for rendering the minerals in the food available to the human system.
“It is possible to starve for minerals that are abundant in the foods eaten because they cannot be utilized without an adequate quantity of the fat-soluble activators.”10 This is the crux of Dr. Price’s teachings–that good health is impossible without the activators found in a small list of carefully selected animal foods. Many health writers and practitioners use his name, but few understand this basic principle.
ACTIVATOR X (Vitamin K2)
After Weston Price retired, he added an additional chapter to Nutrition and Physical Degeneration in which he described “a new, vitamin-like activator,” which he termed Activator X, also sometimes called the Price Factor. According to Price:
- it plays an essential role in the maximum utilization of bodybuilding minerals and tissue components;
- its presence can be demonstrated readily in the butterfat of milk of mammals, the eggs of fishes and the organs and fats of animals;
- it has been found in highest concentration in the milk of several species, varying with the nutrition of the animal;
- it is synthesized by the mammary glands and plays an important role in infant growth and also in reproduction.11
Price found the X Factor in butter from cows eating rapidly growing green grass, fish eggs, some (but not all) samples of cod liver oil and certain animal fats and organ meats. The presence of X Factor in some sea foods can be explained by the fact that fish consume plankton, the basic rapidly growing and dividing unicellular food of the sea. It seems that animals form the X Factor from a substance uniquely present in young, rapidly growing plants and store it in certain fatty tissues.
Deep yellow color in butter is a clue to the presence of the X Factor. Price found it in organ meats, fish eggs, and some samples of cod liver oil. Seal oil was also found to be a potent source, as was reindeer meat. Price was able to concentrate the X Factor in high-vitamin butter oil, produced by a low-temperature centrifugal process applied to yellow butter from cows eating rapidly growing green grass.
Price first became aware of the presence of the activator while performing a chemical test called the Yoder test for determining vitamin D values. This suggests that Activator X is similar to vitamin D, though the nature of this similarity is unclear. We can only conclude that the substance probably contains a ring structure and has hormone-like activity.
After Price’s death, a number of researchers commented on the X Factor and put forth theories as to what it actually is, some of which widely miss the mark. For example, Jeffrey Bland proposed that the X Factor was the omega-3 fatty acid EPA, but this cannot be the case, first because EPA does not have a ring-like structure, and second because EPA is present in all cod liver oil, whereas Price found the X Factor only in some samples of cod liver oil. A company called Zenith Advanced Health Systems once sold a formula that combined cod liver oil and flaxseed oil, claiming that the X Factor was an unsaturated fatty acid (sometimes called vitamin F) found in flaxseed oil.
A letter from the Price-Pottenger Nutrition Foundation archives suggests that Activator X is similar to or derived from “a special kind of oxygen-containing heterocyclic ring” called 6-methoxybenzoaxazolinone which “acts as a sex-stimulant in voles.”
Other researchers have suggested that the X factor is similar to or derived from vitamin K, a nutrient involved in bone formation. Very preliminary work referring to “Unidentified Growth Factors in Grass” or the “grass juice factor” may yield clues to the precursors of the X Factor. Japanese researchers have identified a new vitamin called Pyrrolo Quinoline Quinon (PQQ), similar to co-enzyme Q10, as an important nutrient present in green plants and fermented food.
Green Pasture Dairy, producers of high-vitamin butter oil, is currently testing samples of butter oil, cod liver oil and seal oil using Price’s chemical test. The X Factor shows up in these foods, but we have yet to identify its chemical formula. We’ll keep you posted as new findings emerge.
UPDATE: Price’s X-Factor is most likely vitamin K2. See Chris Masterjohn’s article for full details: “On the Trail of the Elusive X-Factor: A Sixty-Two-Year-Old Mystery Finally Solved”
One of the purposes of Price’s expedition to the South Seas was to find, if possible “plants or fruits which together, without the use of animal products, were capable of providing all of the requirements of the body for growth and for maintenance of good health and a high state of physical efficiency.” 12 What he found was a population that put great value on animal foods–wild pig and seafood–even groups living inland on some of the larger islands. Even the agricultural tribes in Africa consumed insects and small fish–and these groups were not as robust as the tribes that hunted, fished or kept herds.
“It is significant,” said Price, “that I have as yet found no group that was building and maintaining good bodies exclusively on plant foods. A number of groups are endeavoring to do so with marked evidence of failure.”13
Yet, proponents of vegetarianism do not hesitate to invoke the name of Weston Price. One of the earliest was Alex Jack, a prolific writer on the virtues of macrobiotics. In Let Food Be Thy Medicine, Jack cites Weston Price in support of a diet that omits “beef, whole milk and eggs” in favor of lowfat, high-fiber vegetarian foods.14 In his description of Price’s work, he makes no mention of the emphasis that Price puts on animal foods.
Katherine Alexander describes Price’s work in her book Get a Life –Detoxification Made Easy but then goes on to recommend a lowfat “detoxification” diet based on plant-source protein and skimmed milk, along with a great amount of green juices–something never recommended by Price. She makes no mention of the fat-soluble activators, so necessary for mineral metabolism and for the function of the family of detoxification enzymes.15
Paul Saul, editor of the Doctor Yourself Newsletter claims that “researchers such as. . . . Dr. Weston Price. . . have repeatedly shown that ‘primitive’ peoples or laboratory animals eating a natural, nearly vegetarian diet simply do not have serious diseases.”16 Dr. Saul cites Cornell University’s China study for this claim, while at the same time providing a link to the Weston A. Price Foundation’s website.
Alive Publishing in Canada, in what is otherwise a fairly accurate description of Price’s research, states that Weston Price “found that the ancient cultures that displayed remarkable longevity ate predominately vegetable-source foods.”17
Many commentators have attempted to weld Price’s work to political correctness. An example is The Appetites of Man: An Invitation to Better Nutrition from Nine Healthier Societies, published 1978.18 The authors describe the diets of nine traditional peoples, naming foods like raw camel, cow and goat milk products, coconut and organ meats. But then they caution against saturated fat from coconut oil and state that the healthiest fats come from nuts, seeds and vegetable oils. According to the authors, primitives ate “lean game” but preferred fish with its “lower fat and more complete protein than meat.”
WESTON PRICE ON COD LIVER OIL
Weston Price prescribed cod liver oil to his patients but he also warned against giving too much. “There are two great sources of fat soluble food activators, namely the pastures of the sea and those of the land. Many people have the opinion that fish oil, particularly cod liver oil, would be a complete substitute for the fat soluble vitamins of land plant origin [that is, of land animals that eat plants]. In my clinical and technical investigations of the activators for inducing mineral metabolism, I have continually found evidence indicating that cod liver oil contains products that are very seriously toxic to humans and other land animals and can do much harm when given in large doses, even only as large as frequently advocated.”20
Price gave cod liver oil along with grass-fed butter, or high-vitamin butter oil, in the context of an improved diet, usually one that included calcium-rich whole milk. He cites a study in which cod liver oil given by itself to pregnant mothers caused slight calcification of the placenta and slight fontanelle closure (slight in comparison with the calcifying effects of synthetic vitamin D) whereas cod liver oil given with calcium had no detrimental effects. Cod liver oil is a wonderful source of vitamins A and D but cannot be expected to provide much benefit when given in the context of a diet of processed, devitalized foods. It is also important to note that Price gave high-vitamin cod liver oil, which provided liberal amounts of A and D without an overdose of unsaturated fatty acids.
An egregious example of getting Price wrong can be found in The Metabolic Typing Diet by William Wolcott and Trish Fahey.19 From the foreword by Etienne Callebout, MD, we learn: “Then in the mid-1980s I heard about a group of scientists and clinicians in the United Sates who had, over a period of years, evolved a unique way of addressing this problem, with a system they called metabolic typing. Researchers such as William Kelley, George Atson, and Roger Williams had built upon the work of scientists and clinicians of an earlier era: men like Weston Price, Francis Pottenger, and Royal Lee. What they all shared was a profound interest in a concept that Williams described as “biochemical individuality,” or the idea that no two individuals are alike on a biochemical or physiological level [emphasis added].”
The fact is that Weston Price did not express particular interest in biochemical individuality; rather, he consistently stressed the fact that, in spite of the differences in actual foods eaten by primitive peoples, the intake of nutrients was remarkably similar, from northern climates to the tropics.
To continue: “As far back as the 1930s, Weston Price embarked on extraordinary anthropological expeditions to remote corners of the globe and uncovered the link between modern eating habits and the incidence of chronic degenerative illness. He also discovered that there is no such thing as a standard ‘healthy diet.’ Due to tremendous variations in climate, indigenous food supplies, environmental conditions and the principles of evolution, adaptation, and heredity, different cultural and ethnic groups, over a period of many centuries, developed distinctly different kinds of dietary requirements . . .”
Note how the observed differences in foods eaten has morphed into “distinctly different kinds of dietary requirements,” which is a complete contradiction of Price’s message.
Then from the preface by the author: “There is no such thing as a healthy diet, and there never has been. There’s nothing intrinsically healthy or unhealthy about any given food.” This statement completely turns the work of Weston Price on its head. Price took great pains to point out the fact that the difference between healthy and unhealthy food is one of nutrient density.
In Chapter 1 the authors continue their fraudulent summation: “The most noteworthy observer of the declining health of primitive cultures was Dr. Weston Price, a remarkable medical researcher who began his career as a dentist in Ohio in the early part of the twentieth century [is]. . . . The Myth of the Universal Diet” This statement is accompanied by a page of photographs from Nutrition and Physical Degeneration.
To continue: “For example, many people who currently inhabit tropical or equatorial regions have a strong hereditary need for diets high in carbohydrates such as vegetables and fruits and grains and legumes. These foods provide the kind of body fuel that is most compatible with the unique body chemistry of people who are genetically programed to lead active lifestyles in warm and humid regions of the world. Their systems are simply not designed to process or utilize large quantities of animal protein and fat.” No mention here of coconut and pork, fatty components of South Sea diets specifically mentioned by Dr. Price.
” . . . Of course, it’s entirely possible that your native dietary needs are both clearly defined and not too hard to fulfill. For instance, maybe both your parents come from a purebred Greek lineage, in which case you’d have little trouble accessing fish, pasta, garlic, olive oil, salads, beans, and wine–roughly the kinds of foods that kept your ancestors healthy and fit. Similarly, if you’re of Asian extraction, you’d likely do well with rice and sea vegetables and soy [emphasis added].”
What follows is a recommendation of one of three different diets depending on what a short self-administered quiz reveals to be your metabolic type. All of the diets are woefully low in fat–the high-carb diet diet allows 15 percent (presumably of calories) fat, the mixed diet allows 20 percent fat and the protein diet allows 30 percent fat. The diet that comes closest to that of Price’s primitives is the protein diet, which emphasizes organ meats, fish eggs, shell fish and fatty fish. Yet the primitives who ate this type of diet also consumed very high levels of fat–often up to 80 percent of calories. The authors give passing reference to the fat-soluble vitamins but insist–without any references–that vitamin A is bad for certain types and vitamin D is bad for other types.
Price’s research demonstrated that the nutritional requirements needed for good health are remarkably consistent–just much higher than admitted by most commentators. The universal need for high levels of nutrients means that in fact, our dietary requirements can be very difficult to fulfill, and that great wisdom and care is needed in the production and choice of our food–from the farm to the kitchen table. These high requirements are very unlikely to be fulfilled with any of diets as described in The Metabolic Typing Diet.
WHAT ABOUT SYNTHETIC A AND D?
Synthetic vitamin D or vitamin D2, produced by irradiating ergosterol (a plant-based sterol) from yeasts with ultra-violet light, was available in Dr. Price’s day and often given as drops in a preparation called viosterol. In expressing his concerns about the use of this synthetic preparation, Price refers to a study by Dr. Wayne Brehm published in the Ohio State Medical Journal.21 Brehm studied the effect of various courses of vitamin D treatment on 540 obstetrical cases in two Columbus, Ohio hospitals. During pregnancy, Group 1 received calcium and synthetic vitamin D, Group 2 received calcium alone; Group 3 received synthetic vitamin D alone, Group 4 received calcium and cod liver oil, Group 5 received cod liver oil alone and Group 6 had no supplementation. Those receiving synthetic vitamin D alone had moderate to marked placental calcification and moderate closure of the fontanelle (a sign of abnormal calcification). Those receiving synthetic vitamin D plus calcium had extensive calcification in the placenta, marked closure of the fontanelle and marked calcification in the kidneys. In other words, the synthetic vitamin D had the opposite effect of natural vitamin D, causing calcification of the soft tissues rather than the bones.
Vitamin D3 is said to be “natural” vitamin D because it is manufactured by the irradiation of cholesterol (an animal-based sterol) with ultra-violet light. Unlike D2, D3 is not toxic, but it is not the same as vitamin D from food either. Price cites a study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association, 1938, which describes eight distinct factors in vitamin D and refers to information indicating the presence of at least twelve.22 “Clearly,” he writes, “it is not possible to undertake to provide an adequate nutrition simply by reinforcing the diet with a few synthetic products which are known to represent certain of these nutritional factors.”23
As for vitamin A, although Price did not refer to the synthetic form, called retinol, we know that as with vitamin D, vitamin A exists in food as a combination of isomers. Use of retinol, which is added to many processed foods, is associated with birth defects, and possibly also with bone problems, while use of natural vitamin A in cod liver oil is associated with protection against birth defects and strong, healthy bones.
THE ACID-ALKALINE THEORY
Price was dismissive of certain dietary theories that had become popular in his day. One concerned the use of mostly alkaline foods (fruits and vegetables) instead of acid foods (meat and whole grains) as a way to prevent dental caries. This theory was suggested by a Dr. Martha Jones in a paper entitled ” Our Changing Concept of an Adequate Diet in Relation to Dental Disease,” and has appeared in many forms thereafter, even raising its hoary head in health books today.
Said Price: “An important source of misapprehension is the literature and teachings of faddists. Such, for example, is the misapprehension of many people that they must use only alkaline producing foods and that a great danger is associated with the use of acid producing foods. In the primitive races I have found practically no difference between the acid balance meat diet of the isolated Eskimos of the far north and the less acid vegetable and milk diet of other groups as efficient factors in the control of caries. . . our bodies have a mechanism for maintaining proper acid and alkali balance in the blood and this varies through only a very narrow limit whether the balance of the total food eaten is acid or alkaline.”24 What is important for the prevention of tooth decay–and Price stresses this point over and over again–is adequate minerals and fat-soluble vitamins, whether from animal foods, seafood or dairy products, and the absence of refined foods, especially white flour and sweeteners.
Price actually published a paper on this subject, “Acid-Base Balance of Diets Which Produce Immunity to Dental Caries Among the South Sea Islanders and Other Primitive Races,”25 in which he compares the amount of acid ash and alkaline ash minerals in the diets of primitive Swiss, Gaellics, Eskimos, native Americans and South Sea Islanders. In all but the South Sea diet, acid ash foods predominated. But the important point is that the overall mineral content in every primitive diet was at least four times, and sometimes more than ten times, higher than the mineral content in the modernized diet.
Price made it clear that the alkaline diet idea had caused much suffering: “It is my belief that much harm has been done through the misconception that acidity and alkalinity were something apart from minerals and other elements. . . An illustration of this is the following case: A girl was brought for assistance and study who still had her childhood face at sixteen years of age. There had been marked delay in physical development and function other than this growth factor. I was advised that the nutrition of this child had been very largely guided by the literature of the Defensive Diet League which, as one of its principal premises, has urged the keeping down of the acid-producing foods.”26
Having analyzed the diets of the various groups, Price noted, “It is of particular significance that when all of the foods of these various primitive groups are reduced to their chemical and activator content they are found to be relatively equivalent. This strongly indicates the direction in which the dental profession can profitably move in the matter of the prevention of decay.”27 Unfortunately, the majority of the dental profession today has no inkling of this fundamental principle.
Another misconception becoming popular in Price’s day was the theory of food combining, namely, that proteins and carbohydrates should never be eaten together. An early advocate was Henry Ford; more recently the notion was popularized in the best-selling Fit for Life, by Harvey and Marilyn Diamond. Said Price: “I have seldom found anywhere in the world such a high percentage of physical excellence with high immunity to our modern degenerative disease as among these people of the South Sea Islands. Their diet practically every day consisted of eating the proteins from the animal life of the sea with the carbohydrates of their land vegetables, many of which were very rich in starch. This was equally true of the Gaelics in the Outer Hebrides, living almost entirely on oats and sea foods.”28
Another common misconception about the diet Price recommended is that it was a low-carb diet. Price frequently warned against high-carbohydrate refined foods such as sugar and white flour, but he did not advise his patients to avoid high-carb foods like fruits, whole grains or root vegetables. These he considered an important adjunct to the diet. He was particularly enamored of poi, the fermented taro preparation of the South Sea Islanders.
“There is no objection to having the children fill up on bulky foods such as potatoes and vegetables, if the daily mineral and vitamin requirements have been satisfied first,”29 he advised his nieces and nephews.
Nevertheless, it is probably easier for westerners to obtain high levels of nutrients from a diet in which carbs are minimized. But that does not mean one should overdo on protein. Price did not advocate a high-protein diet. “The protein requirement can be provided each day in one egg or a piece of meat equivalent to the bulk of one egg a day,”30 was his Depression-era advice. The best protein foods, according to Price, are nutrient-dense organ meats, shellfish and small oily fish such as anchovies or sardines, eaten with the bones. In addition, he recommended one quart of whole milk per day for children, to ensure adequate minerals and fat-soluble activators.
One of the most interesting aspects of Weston Price’s studies is the light he sheds on the causes of dental deformities– narrow jaws, crowded teeth, overbites and underbites–a condition he referred to as the “underdevelopment of the middle third of the face.” Price convincingly argued that this lack of development was nutritional in origin, akin to building a house with substandard building materials. Without proper nutrients in the form of minerals and fat-soluble activators–the bricks and mortar of human biochemistry–the facial bones cannot be built strongly enough to support broad facial structure. His findings have yet to be accepted in the mainstream. Most orthodontists tell their patients that crowded teeth are “just genetic” or due to thumbsucking.
The theory prevalent in Price’s day to explain the sudden appearance of crooked teeth in populations exposed to western influence was race mixing, resulting in a “degenerated” type of facial structure. Price premptorily–and bravely, considering the attitudes of his day–dismisses this notion. “The blending of different racial stocks produces typical characteristics of either or both ancestral patterns. When, however, marked divergences appear without mixing of racial stocks, the result is not due to heredity, but occurs in spite of heredity.”32 He then follows with numerous examples of facial narrowing in offspring of parents of the same race, and excellent facial structure in offspring of parents of different races who maintained a traditional diet.
Another theory, popular with many pioneers in orthodontics in the early 1900s and resurrected by R. Corrucinni of the University of Illinois at Chicago, is called the “Disuse” theory, namely that malocclusions are due to changes in chewing habits.33 Professor Carl Johnson, DDS, PhD, attributes this theory to Weston Price: “Price attributed both to dietary change and to changes in chewing habits.” This statement is, of course, incorrect, as anyone who has read his entire book would know. Price attributed the change in facial structure entirely to dietary changes. According to Johnson, the attribution of tooth decay to lack of trace elements in the diet “is no longer mainstream” but the Disuse theory is”good science because it can be tested.” He then cites several studies in which malocclusions increased in children after processed food was introduced to a community. The refined carbohydrate foods caused deformities, he asserts, not because they were lacking in nutrients, but because they were “soft” and “sticky,” resulting in underuse of the lower jaw.
Primitive peoples certainly had strong jaws, which allowed them to eat hard and gristly food, but to attribute this strength simply to greater exercise ignores much contradictory evidence. Facial narrowing can be detected in babies at birth, before they have ever chewed anything. And, as Price pointed out, facial narrowing always accompanies narrowing of other structures, such as the pelvic opening, which no tortured logic can associate with chewing habits. It’s not even clear that native diets are more difficult to chew. The South Sea Islanders consumed mostly seafood and poi–a quintessentially soft and sticky high-carbohydrate food.
THE RAW FOODISTS
The all-raw folks also claim Dr. Price. Yet, Price never advocated an all-raw diet. He described the use of cooked foods in every culture he visited and specifically recommended that grains and most vegetables be cooked. His advice to his nieces and nephews: “The cooked vegetables are better since raw vegetables are usually too bulky to allow very much mineral to be obtained from them.”31 He never recommended raw vegetable juices, and most certainly not as a major part of the diet.
It is logical to deduce from Price’s writings that the decision of whether or not to cook a certain food should be made on the basis of whether or not heat treatment liberates nutrients or inhibits their availability. Pasteurization greatly reduces the mineral availability of milk, so milk and milk products should be consumed raw. Cooking destroys vitamin C in many fruits, so these are best eaten raw.
On the other hand, cooking makes the minerals in most vegetables more available, so they should be cooked–and then eaten with a source of activators, such as butter or cream. Bones yield their minerals by cooking into broth. And studies carried out subsequent to Dr. Price’s research reveal that grains and legumes must be soaked or sour leavened to neutralize mineral-blocking phytic acid.
A SMALL PRICE
In the face of so many misinterpretations, getting Price right is a first step of utmost importance for those who wish to regain and maintain their health. And for parents, effort expended in the application of his principles to the diets of their children is a small price to pay for the incalculable benefits in physical health and mental outlook they will bequeath to their offspring.
As for the host of degenerative diseases that now plague the “civilized” world, diseases for which countless remedies both conventional and holistic have been proposed, Price’s findings point to only one lasting solution: nutrient-dense food.
As Price saw so clearly, chronic disease manifests not so much as a collection of symptoms, but is itself a symptom of malnutrition’s inexorable conclusion–death to the organism and die out of the species. “The accumulating evidence suggests the consideration of disease being, in many cases, more correctly speaking, a symptom and that individuals often, instead of dying because they contract disease, primarily develop disease because they are dying.”34
SOME INTERESTING FACTS ABOUT DR. WESTON A. PRICE (1870-1948)
- Weston Andrew Valleau Price, the ninth child in a family of 12, grew up on a farm in Newburg, Canada. This backwoods Canadian family produced an inventor, a medical doctor, two dentists, a Methodist minister and a resourceful farmer son.5
- The Price family lineage goes back through a long line of Celtic princes, traced as far as 230 AD. The name derives from ap Rees or ap Rice, a family centered around the town of Brecon in Wales.
- Price’s nephew, Willard DeMille Price (son of Albert, his inventor brother), was a famous writer, explorer and traveler whose reports were often featured in the National Geographic magazine.
- Price became interested in diet as a prime factor in dental decay after he was stricken with typhoid fever in 1893. At the time he was practicing dentistry in Grand Forks, North Dakota. His older brother Albert nursed him back to health, but during his illness Weston’s teeth had decayed alarmingly. He went back to the family farm to convalesce where not only his health improved, but his dental deterioration was arrested. The following spring, he and his uncle William Delmage camped for an extended period in the back country of Canada, living on salmon, small game and berries. Delmage was a man of great intuitive wisdom who understood the role of natural food sources for refurbishing and sustaining the body. The backwoods diet worked wonders for Weston Price.
- Weston shared an interest in electricity with his brother Albert. He taught “applied electricity and electro-therapeutics” at Western Reserve University (now Case Western Reserve University) from 1897 to 1904. After he left the faculty in 1904, his subject matter was dropped from the curriculum.6
- In 1899, Weston Price and his wife Florence built the Bon Echo Inn on the shores of Mazinaw Lake in southeast Ontario. Florence suggested the name Bon Echo because of the marvelous echo that rebounded from the face of the granite cliff on the opposite shore. The remote site presented an incredible challenge and building the 28-room inn was “a feat which never could have been accomplished without the indomitable persistence of Dr. Price and his sublime indifference to the almost incredible difficulties that beset him at every turn,” according to Merrill Denison, a later owner of the Inn. Dr. Price and his wife operated the Inn during the summers until they sold it in 1910. The site later became Bon Echo Provincial Park.7
- Dr. Price and his wife lost their only son Donald to complications from an infected root canal, which Price himself had put in. Price went on to write a 1000-page tome on the problems of systemic dental infections from root canals.
- After selling the Inn, Price established a dental practice in a house at 8926 Euclid Avenue in Cleveland, Ohio. (He lived several blocks away on Lamont Street.) At the height of his career, the practice included several dentists on the first floor and a laboratory on the second floor where Mr. Howdy, a chemist of German origin, performed analyses for fat-soluble activators in hundreds of samples of butter and other foods sent to Dr. Price from all over the world.
- Dr. Price was a devout Methodist who taught Sunday school at his neighborhood church. However, later in life he expressed dismay over the fact that Christian missionaries were so often the vector for the introduction of modernized foods into native populations.8
QUACKWATCH ON DR. PRICE
Stephen Barrett of Quackwatch.com, the self-appointed arbiter of correctness in the fields of medicine and nutrition, describes Weston Price as “a dentist who maintained that sugar causes not only tooth decay but physical, mental, moral, and social decay as well.” He dismisses Price’s monumental research project as “a whirlwind tour of primitive areas” in which he “examined the natives superficially, and jumped to simplistic conclusions. While extolling their health, he ignored their short life expectancy and high rates of infant mortality, endemic diseases, and malnutrition. While praising their diets for not producing cavities, he ignored the fact that malnourished people don’t usually get many cavities.”
He then puts his own politically correct spin on Price’s findings: “Price knew that when primitive people were exposed to ‘modern’ civilization they developed dental trouble and higher rates of various diseases, but he failed to realize why. Most were used to ‘feast or famine’ eating. When large amounts of sweets were suddenly made available, they overindulged. Ignorant of the value of balancing their diets, they also ingested too much fatty and salty food. Their problems were not caused by eating ‘civilized’ food but by abusing it. In addition to dietary excesses, the increased disease rates were due to: (a) exposure to unfamiliar germs, to which they were not resistant; (b) the drastic change in their way of life as they gave up strenuous physical activities such as hunting; and (c) alcohol abuse.”
Aside from contradicting himself–implying that Price was wrong to blame sugar for the tooth decay he observed in modernized populations but then stating that “indulging” in sweets suddenly made available was a contributor to caries– Barrett makes several statements that don’t stand up to the facts:
- “Whirlwind tour” and “superficial examination.” Price spent considerable time in each place he visited and carefully examined thousands of mouths, noting the presence of cavities and dental deformities. This part of his research was extremely precise and scientific, and it was published in many peer reviewed journals of his day. His research project took him over 10 years to complete.
- “Jumped to simplistic conclusions.” Price’s conclusions were based on his research. He demonstrated the relationship between the decline in nutrients in primitive diets and the increase in disease. He clinched his argument with case studies showing the reversal of tooth decay and degenerative disease using a diet rich in nutrients. He also quoted from numerous scientific studies that supported his findings and conclusions.
- “While extolling their health, he ignored their short life expectancy and high rates of infant mortality, endemic diseases, and malnutrition.” Price extolled the health of those groups who were healthy, and described the high rates of infant mortality, endemic diseases and malnutrition in the groups that were not healthy. Much of the value of his research comes from the fact that he was able to observe healthy and unhealthy groups of the same racial stock side by side, and thereby demonstrate the correlation between diet and disease. Although we will never be able to ascertain the life expectancy of the primitive peoples he studied, Price noted great longevity among certain groups, such as the Eskimos and the South Sea Islanders.
- “Malnourished people don’t usually get many cavities.” Reference, please? In fact, malnourished people do get cavities. Price proved that cavities are a sign of malnutrition.
- Once modernized, the tribal peoples “ingested too much fatty and salty food.” Price showed that the primitive, protective diets were in fact rich in fatty foods, and also included some salt. Has any scientist yet claimed that salt causes tooth decay?
- The health decline that Price observed was due to “exposure to unfamiliar germs, to which they were not resistant.” Price was amazed to find that the primitive African tribes he studied were resistant to the infectious diseases associated with Africa. By contrast, the whites on their devitalized diet suffered greatly from these diseases. Even though exposed to TB, Swiss villagers and Gaelic seafaring peoples were completely immune as long as they consumed their native diet. Infectious disease did indeed cause much suffering among nonindustrialized peoples as soon as they abandoned their traditional diets; the same dearth of nutrients that made them susceptible to these diseases also made them susceptible to tooth decay and a change in skeletal structure in the next generation.
- The health decline that Price observed was due to “the drastic change in their way of life as they gave up strenuous physical activities such as hunting.” Lack of exercise can in no way explain the great increase in degenerative disease, including tooth decay, that modernized tribal peoples experienced when they changed their way of life.
- The health decline was due to “alcohol abuse.” Alcoholism became a huge problem in these communities after contact with the West. But the introduction of strong alcoholic beverages (many primitive peoples consumed mildly alcoholic beverages) occurred simultaneously with the change in diet, and the drastic lowering of food quality created deficiencies that can lead to alcoholism. Note Barrett’s moralistic tone in the word “abuse,” just as he moralizes about “overindulgence” in sugar. Apparently the blame lies not with the West for introducing these substances, but with the once-primitive peoples who “abused” and “overindulged” because they are “ignorant.” For Barrett, the frailty of people unlike himself is congenital, not, as Dr. Price suggested, the inevitable consequence of processed foods.
NUTRITION AND MORAL CHARACTER
Many commentators have criticized Price for attributing “decline in moral character” to malnutrition. But it is important to realize that the subject of “moral character” was very much on the minds of commentators of his day. As with changes in facial structure, observers in the first half of the 20th century blamed “badness” in people to race mixing, or to genetic defects. Price quotes A.C. Jacobson, author of a 1926 publication entitled Genius (Some Revaluations),35 who stated that “The Jekyll-Hydes of our common life are ethnic hybrids.” Said Jacobson, “Aside from the effects of environment, it may safely be assumed that when two strains of blood will not mix well a kind of ‘molecular insult’ occurs which the biologists may some day be able to detect beforehand, just as blood is now tested and matched for transfusion.” The implied conclusion to this assertion is that “degenerates” can be identified through genetic testing and “weeded out” by sterilizing the unfit–something that was imposed on many women during the period and endorsed by powerful individuals, including Oliver Wendell Holmes.
It is greatly to Price’s credit that he objected to this arrogant point of view: “Most current interpretations are fatalistic and leave practically no escape from our succession of modern physical, mental and moral cripples. . . If our modern degeneration were largely the result of incompatible racial stocks as indicated by these premises, the outlook would be gloomy in the extreme.”36 Price argued that nutritional deficiencies affecting the physical structure of the body can also affect the brain and nervous system; and that while “bad” character may be the result of many influences–poverty, upbringing, displacement, etc.–good nutrition also plays a role in creating a society of cheerful, compassionate individuals.36
Response to Some Common Objections to the Work of Dr. Weston Price
Objection: Weston A. Price is actually a dentist who traveled around the world and looked at the diets of primitive cultures who spend most of their day doing manual labor, but also eat a diet rich in animal foods.
Response: Actually not all of the groups Price studied ate diets rich in animal foods. All of the ones who were healthy, however, did eat at least some animal products. Many of these subsisted largely on animal products while some subsisted largely on plant products. Among those who were healthy and ate a small percentage of their calories as animal products, they selected very nutrient-dense products such as whole insects and frogs, shellfish, and so on. To give you an example of the difference between a small amount of very nutrient-dense animal foods and no animal foods at all, consider vitamin B12: 64% of vegans, 43% of lacto-ovo-vegetarians and 16% of the elderly in one study were found to have stage III (relatively advanced and becoming serious) vitamin B12 deficiency. (Herrmann et al. Usefulness of holotranscobalamin in predicting vitamin B12 status in different clinical settings. Curr Drug Metab. 2005; 6(1): 47-59. One could satisfy the B12 requirement with a serving of meat per day, on the one hand, or with a serving of clams per month. This is not the only important nutrient from animal foods but just an example of how even small amounts of animal foods can make a diet fundamentally different from one that is free of animal foods if they are the right ones.
Objection: Dr. Price recommends a diet that is high in fat (especially saturated fat), cholesterol, and protein and is low in carbohydrates. This diet is similar to the Atkins Diet, and we do not recommend these types of diets because of the many health risks associated with consuming high amounts of protein and fat and low amounts of carbohydrates and fiber.
Response: The diet Price used with his patients included whole milk, whole wheat, stews made from bone broths, meats and organ meats, fruits and vegetables. It was not devoid of plant foods or very low in carbohydrates. The Weston A Price Foundation and Sally Fallon’s book Nourishing Traditions do not recommend specific carbohydrate and fat guidelines. Nourishing Traditions recommends limiting protein intake to 15-20% of calories and experimenting to find the right balance of carbohydrates and fats that will be determined by ancestry, circumstance and other factors.
Objection: Weston A. Price’s scientific stances are not based on solid clinical research. Most of Dr. Price’s positions are based on observations made while studying other cultures, not on clinical trials.
Response: Price followed the scientific method from start to finish. He began by making observations, and where possible, he made observations that could control for the different variables he was looking at. From these observations, he formulated a hypothesis that tooth decay was a specific manifestation of general physical degeneration and that its cause was nutritional deficiencies, and its solution the provision of nutrients through whole foods grown on rich soils. He tested his theory in several experiments with lab animals and humans and developed quite a following because of the clinical success with his patients. Within his book, Nutrition and Physical Degeneration, he provides X-ray photos of cavities refilling by secondary growth of the dentin on his dietary protocol that allowed the caries to heal without the need for oral surgery. He also performed an extensive analysis of over 20,000 samples of dairy products sent to him at two-week or four-week intervals from all over the world and created charts of the seasonal fluctuation of the amounts of fat-soluble vitamins in the butter and found that in each district, the government records for pneumonia and heart disease showed a pattern inversely associated with the fat-soluble vitamin content, which was one of many pieces of evidence supporting his theory that tooth decay and other degenerative diseases shared a common nutritional cause.
- Weston A. Price. Letter to his Nieces and Nephews, 1934. PPNF archives.
- Donald Delmage Fawcett, “Weston A. V. Price, Truly a ‘Great’ Uncle,” PPNF Journal.
- Frederick Clayton Waite, AM, PhD, History of the School of Dentisty or Western Reserve University, 1940.
- Bon Echo Provincial Park newsletter, 2002, page 10.
- Personal Communication, Donald Delmage Fawcett, nephew of Weston A. Price
- Weston A. Price, Nutrition and Physical Degeneration, PPNF, p 259.
- Weston A. Price, Nutrition and Physical Degeneration, PPNF, p 269.
- Weston A. Price, Nutrition and Physical Degeneration, PPNF, p 438.
- Weston A. Price, Nutrition and Physical Degeneration, PPNF, p 109.
- Weston A. Price, Nutrition and Physical Degeneration, PPNF, p 282.
- Alex Jack, Let Food Be Thy Medicine, One Peaceful World Press, 1999.
- Katherine Alexander, Get a Life – Detoxification Made Easy
- doctoryourself.com, Vol 3, No 16. July 5, 2003.
- http://alivepublishing.com, October 10, 2005
- Sally DeVore and Thelma White, The Appetites of Man, Anchor Books, 1978.
- Wolcott, William and Trish Fahey, The Metabolic Typing Diet, NY: Random House, 2000.
- Weston A. Price, Nutrition and Physical Degeneration, PPNF, p 300.
- Brehm W. Ohio State Medical Journal 1937:33;990.
- Bills, CE. Journal of the American Medical Association, 1937:108;12.
- Weston A. Price, Nutrition and Physical Degeneration, PPNF, p 257.
- Weston A. Price, Nutrition and Physical Degeneration, PPNF, p 299.
- Weston A. Price, Dental Cosmos, September 1935.
- Weston A. Price. Letter to his Nieces and Nephews, 1934. PPNF archives.
- Weston A. Price, Nutrition and Physical Degeneration, PPNF, p 302.
- http://www.uic.edu/classes/osci/osci590/7_1Anthropology.htm, October 10, 2005.
- Weston A. Price, American Journal of Health, June 1931, XXI(6):613.
- AC Jacobson, Genius (Some Revaluations), New York, Greenburg, 1926
- Weston A. Price, Nutrition and Physical Degeneration, PPNF, p 395.
This article appeared in Wise Traditions in Food, Farming and the Healing Arts, the quarterly magazine of the Weston A. Price Foundation, Fall 2005.