This is the third installment in a series of posts in which I will lay out the most salient points from my 2012 Real Food Summit talk, “Weston Price on Primitive Wisdom.” See these links for part 1 and part 2.
In this post, I’ll address the scope of Price’s work. Although his most rigorous findings were that tooth decay and dental deformities consistently showed dramatic increases with modernization when modernized subgroups of each “racial stock” were compared to their traditionally living counterparts, the full extent of Price’s work is broader than this.
He provided evidence that tuberculosis, cancer, ulcers, appendicitis, cystitis, and gall bladder disease also increased, with the evidence being strongest for tuberculosis. He also performed animal experiments and clinical interventions, provided fascinating anecdotes from his clinical experience, and set his research in the context of the most rigorous science of the time, which together offered even stronger support for his hypothesis that nutritional deficiencies induced by the “displacing foods of modern commerce” were behind these epidemics of degenerative disease.
One of the most impressive things about the scope of Price’s investigations is the sheer amount of data he collected. Price placed the following advertisement in a 1929 issue of the Journal of Heredity:
The print is small so you may have to download the figure and enlarge it to read it. In the advertisement, Price stated that he had already been taking samples of butter between once a month and once a week from 270 locations in the United States, Canada, Cuba, and Mexico to measure the vitamin content. The purpose of the ad was to expand the operation as broadly as possible. Price offered to pay for the shipping cost and requested information about the date, diet, and living conditions of the animals. By 1945, Price had analyzed over 20,000 samples of butter and had expanded the operation to include locations in Australia, Brazil, and New Zealand. Price also mentioned measuring the vitamin content of butter samples from Switzerland and Egypt.
With these data, Price showed that even in a single location, the vitamin content in dairy products could vary up to 50-fold seasonally, and that in sixteen different locations the fluctuation in vitamin content over the course of the year was inversely related to the mortality from heart disease and pneumonia.
For his comparisons of tooth decay and dental deformity rates between isolated and modernized subgroups of different “racial stocks,” Price took thousands of pictures, as well as samples of food, soil, and saliva. With the latter data, he was able to show that the isolated groups not only ate largely different foods, but deliberately maintained the nutritional value of their soil such that the same food consumed by the isolated groups might have several times the value of certain nutrients as that consumed by their modernized counterparts.
He also built upon his past research as the director of the American Dental Association’s Research Institute to show that vulnerability to tooth decay was associated with changes in the chemical properties of the saliva, and to demonstrate among his own patients that the simple addition of high-vitamin butter oil and cod liver oil could alter the properties of the saliva in a way that favored immunity to the disease.
Price performed controlled animal experiments showing that rats grown on whole wheat were immune to tooth decay, while those grown either on white flour or bran developed tooth decay. He conducted other experiments in rats and turkeys showing that high-vitamin butter oil and cod liver oil synergized to promote healthy mineral balance, protecting against rickets and weak legs.
Price conducted a nutritional intervention in his patients consisting of the following: 3/4 teaspoon each of high-vitamin butter oil and cod liver oil chased with four ounces of tomato or orange juice; stews made from green vegetables, carrots, meat, marrow, and the juices of broiled meat, which were rotated with organ meats and fish chowder; rolls made from freshly ground wheat with liberal quantities of high-vitamin butter; cooked fruit; and two glasses of whole milk. This regimen reversed over 90 percent of active cavities, without the need for fillings, as shown by X-ray and in limited cases by silver nitrate staining.
Although Price did not have a control group, his findings are consistent with those of Edward Mellanby’s controlled study based on similar principles. Price also cited a controlled study showing that cod liver oil reduced the incidence of tooth decay. Moreover, the findings are simply remarkable and the likelihood of such a reversal occurring by chance seems negligible.
Price’s work went beyond dental health. His evidence that modernization led to a dramatic increase in the risk of tuberculosis included the following:
- Although the Swiss government considered tuberculosis the most serious disease affecting Switzerland, Price found not a single case among the isolated groups of the Loetschental Valley. Several Swiss clinicians told Price that tooth decay tended to correlate with tuberculosis among the modernized Swiss, but Price did not obtain any quantitative data about this relationship.
- On the Isle of Lewis, tuberculosis was rapidly becoming a problem in the younger generation inhabiting the modernized parts of the island. Despite the immunity of previous generations, and despite the similar vulnerability of Gaelics living in modernized houses, experts blamed the tuberculosis on the smoky living conditions in the traditional thatched-roof houses rather than the change in nutrition.
- Price was unable to find people living under primitive conditions in Wales. Some suggested he might find such people on the Island of Bardsey off the northwest coast, but the people he found living there were recent colonists living largely off white flour, marmalade, sugar, jam, and canned goods. Tuberculosis, mouth breathing, and tooth decay were rampant. Public health officials told Price they believed that the people’s defenses against the disease were declining for unknown reasons. They observed a tendency for tuberculosis and tooth decay to correlate, although again, Price did not report quantitative data for this relationship. To Price, the walls of the ancient castles, cemeteries, and great monuments of this island bespoke the glory and power of a lost people. In the new era, tuberculosis had wiped out the people almost to the point of extinction. The government had recently repopulated the island with fifty healthy families, but they too were dying of tuberculosis.
- Similarly Price found severe cases of tuberculosis among the modernized North American Indians, but did not report any cases among the isolated subgroups, noting that the “modernized Indian children are dying of tuberculosis which seldom kills the primitives.” Price was also able to find some Indians at the point of contact with modern civilization where tuberculosis appeared to attack the younger generation whose bodies were built on modern foods, with the typical signs of modernization such as mouth-breathing, dental deformities, and an underdeveloped middle third of the face, whereas the parental generation appeared to be free of the disease. Price made similar findings among the native Alaskans. Price also spoke to Dr. Josef Romig, a surgeon with thirty-six years of experience among both traditional and modernized subgroups, who told him that large numbers of modernized natives of Alaska and Canada die of tuberculosis. The good doctor told them to return to their traditional diets, on which they tended to recover.
- Price also found tuberculosis common among the modernized groups of Peru, the Pacific Islands, Africa, and Australia.
- In some cases, Price examined the rates of dental deformities in tuberculosis sanataria, such as those in New Zealand and those housing modern Americans, and found rates exceeding 90 percent and even approaching 100 percent.
- The native Maori considered the traditional seafoods, particularly fish organs, as highly effective in the treatment of tuberculosis, indicating they had some experience with the disease, but were apparently able to keep it in check with good nutrition.
- Finally, Price cited published research conducted among modern Americans showing a strong statistical relationship between an underdeveloped, deep, narrow chest, rather than a “flat and wide” chest, and tuberculosis. These also correlated with low income. While Price recognized the role of bacteria in the disease, and the role of nutrition in the immune defense, he considered poor nutrition during development to make a major contribution to the increased risk of tuberculosis among modernized people by compromising the development of the chest cavity just as it compromises the development of the face and dental arch.
Price provided limited evidence that other diseases were associated with modernization. This evidence includes the following:
- Dr. Romig, mentioned above, informed him that in 36 years of experience treating both primitive and modernized natives of Alaska and Canada, he had never seen a single case of malignancy among the primitives but found it frequently among those who had modernized. Similarly, acute surgical problems with internal organs such as the gall bladder, kidney, stomach, and appendix were rare among the primitives and common among those who had modernized.
- Dr. J. R. Nimmo, the government physician serving a group of Torres Strait Islanders for thirteen years, informed Price that he had operated on several dozen malignancies in several hundred modernized whites over the course of that time, but had not seen a single definite case and had seen only one possible case among some four thousand traditionally living natives over the same period of time. Nimmo also stated that other issues requiring surgical intervention were rare among these natives.
- Dr. Andersen, in charge of a government hospital in Kenya, informed Price that in several years serving the primitives of that district he had rarely seen malignancies and had seen no cases of appendicitis, gall bladder trouble, cystitis, and duodenal ulcer.
Price also provided fascinating anecdotes from his clinical experience, wherein nutrient-dense foods corrected hypocalcemia-related seizures and chronic fatigue, made remarkable improvements in chidrens’ performance at school, and wherein a surgical intervention to correct a narrowed palate induced puberty in a child long failing to develop through that stage of life, probably by releasing pressure on the pituitary gland.
As mentioned above, Price also provided statistical evidence that the vitamin content of butter inversely correlated with mortality rates from heart disease and pneumonia, and set his findings in the context of a rich array of published science showing the impact of vitamins on proper development and immunity to disease.
Thus, while Price’s most rigorous findings were those falling within his field of specialty, oral health and dental deformities, Price also made a compelling case that the “physical degeneration” associated with modern refined foods is much broader in scope, and that adequate nutrition beginning with the prenatal nutrition of the parents and continuing through development and adulthood is one of the most importance defenses we have against disease, and one of the most important bulwarks we have to support vibrant health.
Read more about the author, Chris Masterjohn, PhD, here.