In this excerpt, first published as a section in “Seasonal Variations in Butter-Fat Vitamins and Their Relation to Seasonal Morbidity, Including Dental Caries and Disturbed Calcification,” in the Journal of the American Dental Association, May 1930, Price touches on many themes, including the vital role of the fat-soluble activators A and D and the importance of pasture feeding. His remarks on the variation of quality in mammalian milk, in humans as well as cows, and the dependence of Americans on milk products in the 1930s are especially interesting. Unfortunately, the American dairy industry has not followed Price’s advice, which was to develop methods for increasing the levels of fat-soluble vitamins naturally occurring in butterfat. Instead the milk industry opted for confinement feeding and “enrichment” of substandard milk with synthetic vitamins.
A striking advance in knowledge regarding the factors involved in immunity has been the discovery of the role of the vitamins. While vitamin A has a marked influence on growth, perhaps even this is not considered to be so important a discovery as its influence on the defense of the body against infection, particularly infections of the respiratory system. The absence of vitamin A is attended with a decrease in the rate of growth, and the development of a severe disturbance of the eyes known as xeropthalmia, which may result in the destruction of the function of the eye. But this injury seems to be largely the result of the bacterial infection which develops because of the lack of immunity. All epithelial tissue seems to be influenced directly by the absence of this activator.
Similarly, an absence of the antipellagric factor. . . [vitamin B3] produces marked changes, both physically and functionally, in the intestinal tract, one of the characteristics of which is marked in the susceptibility of this tract to invasion. Another striking characteristic is the effect of vitamin D, which is usually thought of as being important in the prevention of rickets. This activator is able to produce marked changes in the hydrogen-ion concentration of the intestinal tract, which largely determines the type of organisms that can proliferate. This vitamin has also been shown to have a marked influence on the metabolism of calcium and phosphorus as well as in their deposition in normal and abnormal calcification processes. The absence of this vitamin, and probably some other activators which are associated in the process, compels the organism to take calcium and phosphorus and probably some other substances from the storage depots of the body for use in the functional processes, in which roles some of it is lost by excretion. I interpret my research data as indicating that one of the important factors in the degeneration of organs and tissues is associated with this general phenomenon of overdraft on the storage of calcium and phosphorus.
We are all familiar with the commonly recognized problem that in elderly people broken bones do not always readily heal. It has not been appreciated that these bones break largely because they have been weakened from within and further that they do not heal or unite because of the stress produced within the body by the establishing of that condition which produced decalcification. In my studies of these problems of calcification disturbance, I am frequently asked to assist in the management of cases of ununited fracture, and it has been most gratifying to find that in many of these cases, complete union is often brought about quite readily, when a negative calcium balance is changed to a positive. It is also of interest that blood chemical analyses will generally disclose whether or not the broken bone would heal readily.
I have discussed this at some length,1 showing that as the chemical conditions of blood improved there was not only the union in fracture which had existed over a period of nine months in a woman 74 years of age, but also that there was roentgenographic [X-ray] evidence of a marked increase in the cortical layer of the bone in the short period of twelve weeks following treatment by increasing the available activators. This condition occurs in young people as well as old. It much more severely affects people beyond middle life. My data indicate to me that it is an important factor in the development of the essential constitutional phases of the so-called horizontal type of pyorrhea. These individuals are, in a sense, literally burning their furniture, because they cannot take from the food, even though the elements are present in the food, an adequate quantity of calcium and phosphorous for the body’s anabolic and catabolic processes.
We are coming to appreciate that the skeleton is as important as a storage depot for the readily available supply of calcium and phosphorus for the fluctuating demands of routine life as it is as a framework. Many forms of sea life maintain storage depots in their shells, just as a bird’s egg provides the calcium for the developing birdling as well as for protection. These depots are necessary because of variation in the available supply of those other products in the foods and because of variation in the supply of the necessary activators for obtaining them from the food. The ignition system is necessary as well as the fuel.
It has been known for some years that the more foods were purified, the shorter would be the period for which they would maintain life. It has also been known that certain vegetable and animal products could not, of themselves, maintain life, but would do so with a minute addition of some other animal products. For example, the laws have required that oleomargarine carry a certain percentage of butter because it was known that alone, under certain conditions, it could not maintain life. With the addition of but 25 percent of butter, it is life sustaining and will insure growth.
It has not been appreciated to what extent these vitamins were present in the butters used to vitalize the oleomargarine, nor the factors controlling the variation. It is now recognized that human beings cannot, and probably few of the other animal forms can, develop without the presence of an adequate supply of vitamins. Some of these are quite readily provided in the vegetation, particularly vitamins B, C and E, and in some instances A. It is probable that there is a greater general stress due to the absence of vitamin D than any other of the known activators because of its scarcity. The civilizations of the world have been built around three principal sources of food; namely, dairy products, sea foods and leafy vegetables. Some communities have had all three, but most communities have depended chiefly on either dairy products or sea foods. A few have had to depend, in considerable part, and usually with great difficulty, on obtaining these vitamins from the sterols of vegetation, particularly of special plants.
American civilization is built largely around the dairy cow as a source of vitamin D and, in a lesser degree, as a source of vitamin A. All mammalian forms are dependent on milk as the principal or sole source of nourishment for the early period of extrauterine life. In the United States, we maintain approximately 25,000,000 dairy cows, or one for every five of the population, approximately eight for every square mile of the habitable country.
The dairy industry constitutes one of the great enterprises of the United States. Approximately forty cents of every dollar that is earned in wages and salaries in the United States goes to buy food; which amounts to about two billion dollars; and probably more is expended for milk and milk products than for any other food. On the basis of its merits and efficiency, this is as it should be and this is probably not so large a sum as it will become with the knowledge and means for increasing the food value of dairy products through an increasing of the vitamins. In my researches on means for preventing dental caries and improving calcification processes, I have been impressed not only with the structure of the teeth, but also with their freedom from dental caries in peoples who have come from certain communities, as, for example, some places in southern Europe, and we have observed that when these people came to America, this immunity was lost, often within a year or two and that, particularly under stress or overload, they have developed caries. This has been more noticeably true of growing children and in motherhood during the lactation period. It is particularly significant that, in some districts, women will be relatively immune to dental caries through the childbearing period; while, in certain other districts, their immunity may be adequate or nearly so up to the childbearing period, and then be lost.
We should have these and similar data in mind when considering the importance of the activators in various foods, especially dairy products. Most people are familiar with the fact that some mothers cannot efficiently rear their own infants on the breast-food that they produce. Probably, few people having no direct contact with the dairy industry have been familiar with the difficulty that is sometimes encountered in raising calves on their own mother’s milk, while the milk of some other cow will be entirely efficient. Similarly, it is a matter of common knowledge that infants and growing children do not thrive well on the milk of some cows but do on that of others. By ordinary chemical analyses, these different milks are often found to be comparable; the milk that is unsatisfactory may have a higher caloric value than the one that is satisfactory. With the development of biologic chemistry, particularly in conjunction with the study of the vitamins, it has come to be quite a common practice to use dairy products as a source of essential food elements, usually, if not generally, with the presumption that milk is milk and butter is butter, and, therefore, one is as good as another.
An interesting observation was made by McCollum, Simmonds and Becker under the title, “Studies on Experimental Rickets; Variation of Vitamin D Content of Butter Fat as a Factor in the Development of Rickets Induced by Diets Suitable for Preparing Rats for the Line Test.”2 They found, in using the same formula in two different periods of the year, where apparently the only difference was the butter fat sample, for the quantity of butter was the same, that there was a marked difference in the effect of the diet. In one series of experiments, these diets produced marked deficiencies in the bone structures in twenty-five days; whereas, they would usually not be ready for the line tests [indicating deficiency] for about from thirty to forty days. In a series of experiments run in the autumn of that year, the same quantities of butter from a different source being used, the bones were almost normal in structure. The authors state: “Since we have chanced to use a sample of butterfat which contained more than the usual amount of vitamin D, we publish this brief account of our experience in order to point out the necessity of keeping the butter content of the diet as low as possible, since this may in certain cases be a disturbing factor [in the attempt to induce rickets].”
Some important work has been reported by Luce on, “The Influence of Diet and Sunlight upon the Growth-Promoting and Anti-Rachitic Properties of the Milk Afforded by a Cow,”3 in which she states: “Milk from the same cow has been shown to vary within wide limits, as regards its antirachitic and growth-promoting power. A possible contributory cause of the seasonal incidence of rickets in children may be the use of milks whose antirachitic value is higher in the summer than in winter.” She states further: “The antirachitic value depends on the diet of the cow, and possibly also the degree of illumination to which she is exposed. Milk from a pasture-fed cow had a definite and high antirachitic value; the same animal when stall-fed in the dark, yielded a milk much inferior in the antirachitic properties.”
She later reported a continuation of these studies,4 concluding as follows: “These further observations show that sunlight, of summer intensity in this country (England), has no significant effect in raising the growth-promoting value of cow’s milk, when the diet of the cow is deficient in fat-soluble vitamins. The degree of exposure to sunlight appears, however, to have a small effect in determining the antirachitic value of the milk given.”
Chick and Roscoe reported5 experiments made in continuation of those by Luce, which in part were as follows:
The vitamin A content of the milk was found to be dependent on the diet of the cow, being at a maximum when the cow was fed upon fresh green food and least when the cow received a winter feed of cereals and roots.
The degree of exposure of the cow to sunlight had no influence upon the vitamin A value of the milk. When the cow received fresh green fodder in a dark stall the vitamin A content of the milk reached a maximum and no further increase was noted when the cow subsequently went to pasture.
The antirachitic value of the milk (vitamin D content), on the other hand, was found to depend principally upon the degree of insolation of the cow. This result was obtain from experiments with which the rickets-preventing power of the milk (1) was estimated from the growth-promoting power of the milk and (2) was measured by its capacity to prevent rickets in rats receiving a low phosphorus rickets-producing diet.
As the same time there was some indication that the diet of the cow, if consisting of fresh green food, was a contributory factor. Our experiments confirmed that of Luce in showing that “pasture-fed” milk possessed the maximum antirachitic value while that yielded by the cow when receiving a diet of cereals and roots appeared on the whole inferior in this respect, in spite of exposure to maximum illumination out of doors in summer.
While it has been suggested, by the work of McCollum and his associates, that there is a great difference in butters as regards antirachitic factors, and by Luce and later by Chick and Roscoe that diet and exposure play important roles in the development of vitamins in milk fat, there have not been, to my knowledge, any data available as to the relative value of butters from different sources at different seasons, which has been the reason for my undertaking this task. It is apparent that no comprehensive effort has been made to determine the influence of seasonal factors on the various degenerative processes or their influence on the production of activators in foods on which most animal life is helplessly dependent, but by which a sufficiently informed society might be able to find means for reducing morbidity through use of the products obtained by adapting a knowledge of these forces to its needs.
Since the vitamin content of foods is coming to be recognized as quite as important as the energy-producing factors, and since the calcium and phosphorus activators have proved to be so scarce, I have had the conviction that the vitamins in the butter fat of milk not only have supreme importance for the quantities we may now obtain from that source, but that it might be possible greatly to enhance or increase the value of milk by increasing its vitamin content. A search of the literature discloses practically no dependable data as to the amount of the fat-soluble vitamins A and D in milk fat under different conditions, such as season, and the environmental conditions of the animal producing it, including climate and available ration, or the species of the animal.
- WA Price, JADA 16:456, March 1929
- EV McCollum et al, J Biol Chem 70:437-438, Oct 1926
- EM Luce, Biochem J, 18:716-739, 1924
- EM Luce, Biochem J, 18:1279-1288, 1924
- H Chick & MH Roscoe, Biochem J, 20:632-649, 1926
This article appeared in Wise Traditions in Food, Farming and the Healing Arts, the quarterly magazine of the Weston A. Price Foundation, Spring 2001.