Nutrition and Physical Degeneration
RootCause Dispatch #15
Nutrition and Physical Degeneration by Weston A. Price is a totemic work of observational anthropology and epidemiology.
Published in 1939, Price built the case against high-energy, nutrient-poor processed foods of Western civilization (sugar, white flour, seed oils) decades before widespread mainstream recognition of their harm. He also demonstrated the critical role of animal derived fat-soluble vitamins for optimal human growth and development.
Who was Weston A. Price?
Weston A. Price was a dentist from Cleveland, Ohio. In 1932, he and his wife embarked on a worldwide odyssey studying traditional people living in isolated villages in Switzerland, Gaelic communities in the Outer Hebrides, Eskimos and Indians of North America, Melanesian and Polynesian South Sea Islanders, African tribes, Australian Aborigines, New Zealand Maori and the Indians of South America.
The aim of his endeavor was to identify the causes of ‘physical degeneration’ by identifying people free from dental disease and poor health that he was increasingly observing at home in North America.
What did Price do?
Price single-handedly conducted an exquisitely controlled dietary observational study measuring the effect of processed carbohydrates, sugar and seed oils on dentition and general health.
He did this by noting the prevalence of dental caries, facial bone development, facial structure and other markers of physical health in tribes who adopted a Western diet.
He then compared them to neighboring tribes ate their ancestral diet —which had been in continuous practice for thousands of generations and selected for its ability to provide optimal nutrition. This ancestral diet uniformly and consistently prized meat, organs, dairy, seafood, animal fat and consisted of whole, unprocessed grains and vegetables. It was lacking any degree of industrially refined foods.
What did Price discover?
Price made several fascianting observations:
In societies that adopted refined white flour and refined sugar, the prevalence of dental caries skyrocketed. Dental crowding, incomplete development of dental arches and incomplete facial development was noted in children raised on this diet. Neighboring tribes on traditional diet were unaffected. Returning to a traditional diet halted the process of dental decay.
Dental disease induced by this low quality diet placed subjects at higher risk of tuberculosis and other systemic health issues that were less prevalent in groups eating a traditional diet.
Key to the sterling health of traditional people eating their traditional diet was an adequate amount of fat-soluble vitamins, that were obtained from animal foods. Price identified a substance called Activator X, the absence of which he attributed to the development of caries and incomplete facial formation. This substance was later confirmed to be Vitamin K2 MK-4 and is exclusively derived from animal foods.
Consistent among traditional peoples were special feeding periods for young women prior to conception and during child-bearing. These practices specifically emphasized the most nutrient dense foods including organ meats and seafoods.
No societies that Price visited were vegetarian or vegan.
Price commented repeatedly on the happiness and upstanding moral character of the traditional people eating their ancestral diet.
Price’s investigations were made possible by the advent of modern transportation that allowed visitation of remote areas at a time that preceded the cultural infiltration of low-quality processed foods of the Western foods.
What is the quality of causal inference?
The quality of causal inference is crucial because modern scientists, clinicians and academics who dictate clinical guidelines will continue to discard Price’s work as crude, low-quality evidence and insufficient upon which to base population dietary recommendations.
In my opinion, Price’s observations are more than sufficient to make an irrefutable link between the consumption of refined foods of modernity and dental disease, and subsequent deterioration in general health. Most notably for the reproducibility of his findings which were consistent across all tribes he visited. The Bradford-Hill criteria, used to inform questions of causal inference, are well and truly satisfied to a satisfactory degree. No randomized interventional trial is necessary.
This ironically contrasted with the actual dietary experiment currently being played out since the 1900s – in which industrially refined seed oils (literally re-purposed industrial waste) are recommended by industry, government and medical establishment as superior ‘healthy’ replacements for animal fat. Despite the fact that evolutionarily inconsistent amounts of chemically unstable polyunsaturated linoleic acid (found in a seed-oil rich diet) causes inflammation, contributes to heart disease by oxidizing low-density lipoprotein particles, contributes to metabolic syndrome by inducing adipocyte dysfunction and contributes to high calorie malnutrition by inhibiting fat-soluble vitamin absorption.
The modern processed food experiment further took a further turn for the worse in the aftermath of 1970, when dietary recommendations included regular consumption of grains, which conveniently coincided with rampant inflation, government-driven imperative to reduce the apparent cost of food and subsequent industrialization of the food supply (see RCD #12 Fiat Food and the Fiat Standard).
A metabolic health crisis of gargantuan proportions has ensued — note well that none of the traditional people that Price documented suffered similar health issues on their ancestral diet.
Why is Price’s work relevant?
The problems that Weston Price identified — those of ‘physical degeneration’ have only worsened in the 90 years since this study was performed. If anything, the imperative to remove processed foods and return to ancestral dietary and living practices has only become more acute with the rise of the Industrial Food Complex and a corporate bohemoth spending billions to addict people to hyper-processed foods.
Why isn’t Price’s work mainstream?
It is your humble author’s opinion that the reason why Price’s work isn’t the foundational work of every nutrition, dietetics and medical course is precisely because of the distorted financial incentives post 1971, and fiat money system which has permitted the growth of a industry-university-government partnership that is financially incentivized to encourage the consumption of profitable but nutrient-poor foods while discouraging the consumption the real human-appropriate foods. The vested interests and regulatory capture is why you aren’t recommended a Price-style diet.
Despite the propaganda, if one takes an unbiased, long term holistic view, its clear that the animal-based diet that Price documented clearly has a longer history of effective use that stretches all the way into our ancestral past.
What are the implications of Price’s work?
Reasoning by analogy to the modern day, industrially manufactured plant based foods are inferior to animal foods in providing for human nutritional needs. The continued push towards soy and plant based manufactured foods does nothing to meet humans deeply ancestral need for animal fat and will further accelerate the obesity and metabolic health crisis as people attempt to meet this need with energy-dense sugar and seed oil rich fake foods.
The ongoing prevalence nutrient-poor diet deficient in fat soluble vitamins from high-quality animal fats (particularly Vitamin K2) is contributing to a silent epidemic of orthodontic problems and incomplete facial development. These have flow on effects of distorted facial anatomy leading to poor aesthetics and sub-optimal chewing and breathing. Sleep apnea, crowded oropharynx and recurrent otitis media are some of the complications.
For those interested in optimal health and optimal development of their children, sourcing the highest quality, nutrient-dense animal foods should be a priority. This often requires wild-sourcing or purchase from farmers who specifically use organic or regenerative techniques without the use of pesticides, herbicides or synthetic fertilizers. Otherwise source seasonal produce.
So go and buy a copy of Nutrition and Physcial Degeneration. Or read it for free online. Follow @Weston_A_Price on twitter which tweets out passages from the book, managed by yours truly with contributions from @cultivatingchi.
Everyone, especially health professionals, should read this book and internalize its message. Only then we can we begin to unwind decades of dietary nonsense passed off as fact, and begin to re-forge a society based on ancestral eating in the face of relentless centralization and top-down planning of your diet by the Industrial food lobby.
The Rest Is Up To You….
— RootCause MD
May 28, 2022
P.S. — presenting the most credible alternative explanation for Price’s findings
Dr Jack Kruse has notably attributed the optimal health of ancestral people not to the quality of their diet but to their constant sun exposure, eating outside and living a circadian-regulated lifestyle, which optimizes mitochondrial function. His common refrain is ‘Weston Price would be in my tibe not Sally Fallon’s tribe if he knew what we know now about mitochondria’.
For this to be the case the group eating the Western diet (which suffered poor dental and general health) would have uniformly eaten inside, under artificial light and generally had a poor light environment. In my reading of the book this wasn’t apparent.
Optimal wellness clearly rests on multiple pillars (see RCD #14 —9 Ancestral Tenets) of which diet and light environment are the most critical inputs. The key difference in opinion lies in the belief that people can eat ‘shit on a shingle’ (to quote Dr Kruse) and still have an optimally functioning organism IF their circadian rhythm and their light, water and magnetism inputs are dialled — because this approach facilitates effecient autophagy and apoptosis. The analogy he uses is that putting shit fuel into a ferrari matters less if the ferrari can regenerate its engine (see this video).
The argument of the hierachy of health strategy (light/mitochondria vs diet) and which is more contributory environmental input is interesting but shouldn’t distract from the key point that we should aim to correct BOTH in the pursuit of health. Given that the vast majority of people are eating nutrient-depleted diet (either Standard American or plant-based), and we all have to eat food, and nutrient-dense food tastes the best, the call to incorporate more well-raised, nutrient-dense ancestrally appropriate animal foods still stands.
If you have insight or thoughts feel free to comment below.
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Nutrition and Physical Degeneration by Weston A. Price
Deep Nutrition by Dr. Cate Shanahan
Nourishing Traditions by Sally Fallon Morell
Introduction to The Fully Optimized Pregnancy by RootCause MD
I first learned about Weston Price in Dr. Cate's "Deep Nutrition". By following the advice of her and others in the Keto community I have managed to transition to the healthiest version of myself I've ever been in my 74 years. In my neighborhood of mostly retirees, my wife and I are the only ones with no prescriptions. We should be entering a golden age of health, but the combined efforts of "Big Food" and "Big Pharma", coupled with climate change, rampant inflation, and the end of cheap energy from fossil fuels, are painting a very bleak picture. Trying to achieve a state of perpetual growth on a planet of finite resources is not working. The future of humanity may come down to those remote tribes of indigenous people that manage to survive the increasingly harsh environment.
I think it was in a D. Paul Saladino podcast that I heard about during an extended visit with a hunter gatherer tribe in Africa where the members were very fit, lean and muscular he encountered some female tribe members who were quite fat. They went to a nearby village to work and acquired and consumed refined flours and oils. But otherwise they shared much of the lifestyle of their tribe. If this is correct it would suggest diet is a critical factor largely independent of Jack Kruse's factors of sun and circadan rhythms.