Using Primitive Wisdom to Radically Improve Your Health
January 26, 2012
By Dr. Mercola
In the 1900s, Dr. Weston A. Price did extensive research on the link between oral health and physical diseases.
He was one of the major nutritional pioneers of all time, and his research revealed native tribes that still ate their traditional diet had nearly perfect teeth and were almost 100 percent free of tooth decay.
But when these tribal populations were introduced to refined sugar and white flour, their health, and their perfect teeth, rapidly deteriorated.
The implication is, of course, that a traditional diet is superior to a "modern" one, a statement that in many cases is true.
However, it does not reveal the entire picture, nor explain the real point Price was trying to make.
As written in an intriguing article by Chris Masterjohn on the Weston A. Price Foundation web site:
"It can be tempting for us to simplify this observation into the easily digestible message that tooth decay and other degenerative diseases are simply a result of the transition to modern life and diet, but if we do this, we wind up missing the overwhelming emphasis that Price placed on what he called primitive wisdom."
Why Primitive Wisdom Reigns Supreme
You might be surprised to learn that despite my outstanding diet, which has me grain and sugar free most of the time, and my devoted exercise program, I have struggled with dental plaque for some time. Likewise, the truth is that there is evidence of tooth decay in ancient populations, long before there was exposure to refined sugar and white flour.
In fact, even wild animals suffer varying degrees of dental decay and "caries-like lesions" -- even dolphins, which generally eat no carbohydrates whatsoever, only fish, squid, and crustaceans.
We now know, of course, that eating junk food and sugar certainly causes, and worsens, dental decay in humans … but obviously there is more to the story, as in some cases even eating a 100-percent traditional diet is not enough to prevent it. Then again, in some native people it was.
What Price found, and documented in his classic book Nutrition and Physical Degeneration, is that certain native tribes who were eating their traditional diet were almost 100 percent free of tooth decay -- and they did not have toothbrushes, floss, toothpaste, or root canals and fillings. Clearly simply following a traditional diet is not enough to explain this phenomenon, or else there would be no dental decay in ancient records, or among wildlife.
The difference, Price reasoned, came not in eating a traditional diet, but in the accumulated wisdom enjoyed by certain populations, which allowed them to enjoy optimal health.
As Masterjohn explained, Price wrote:
"In my studies of these several racial stocks I find that it is not accident but accumulated wisdom regarding food that lies behind their physical excellence and freedom from our modern degenerative processes, and, further, that on various sides of our world the primitive people know many of the things that are essential for life—things that our modern civilizations apparently do not know.
These are the fundamental truths of life that have put them in harmony with Nature through obeying her nutritional laws.
Whence this wisdom?
Was there in the distant past a world civilization that was better attuned to Nature's laws and have these remnants retained that knowledge? If this is not the explanation, it must be that these various primitive racial stocks have been able through a superior skill in interpreting cause and effect, to determine for themselves what foods in their environment are best for producing human bodies with a maximum of physical fitness and resistance to degeneration."
How Accumulated Wisdom Allowed Me to Solve My Plaque Problem
As I mentioned, despite eating a very healthy diet, I have struggled with dental plaque for some time. The plaque required monthly visits to the dental hygienist. This has frustrated me for many decades, as despite regular brushing, flossing and using a dental irrigator there has been no improvement in the plaque.
Well, after speaking at the Weston Price Wise Traditions event in Dallas in November, I was introduced to fermented vegetables and have been consuming them regularly since then. This is the only change I made in my health habits … and my plaque was reduced by over 50 percent and was much softer. I then added oil pulling with coconut oil for 30 minutes twice a day in addition to the fermented vegetables and the plaque reduced another 50% so now I am down to every other month cleanings.
There is little doubt in my mind that the beneficial bacteria in the vegetables have altered the flora in my mouth and help reduce the plaque. This is a perfect example of the type of accumulated wisdom that can serve to drastically alter your health for the better, and almost always it will involve reverting back to a lost tradition, a wise piece of advice from generations past. As Masterjohn wrote:
"To Price, it was not primitiveness itself that proved protective, but the wisdom that the successful groups had accumulated over time."
The most successful groups health-wise were those who paid attention to and integrated such knowledge and dietary wisdom into their lives. Examples cited by Price in his book, as reported by Masterjohn, include:
- "The natives often went to great lengths to nourish their soil. After heavy rains, the Swiss villagers would collect runaway soil by hand and return it to their pastures and fields (page 388). Their milk products were several times higher in fat-soluble vitamins than the equivalent milk products from most European and American sources, including lower Switzerland (page 25). The Gaelics of the Outer Hebrides collected the residue of the smoke of peat fires to fertilize their soil, which Price confirmed to be highly effective using a laboratory experiment (page 57).
- The natives of British Columbia and the Yukon Territory knew of scurvy, and prevented it by using the vitamin C-rich adrenal glands of moose (page 75). These natives also had a plant product that they used for the prevention and cure of type-one diabetes (page 266). Price cited evidence that Canadian natives of the sixteenth century also knew that a drink made from the roots of spruce trees could also prevent scurvy (page 279). He cited another case in which a native cured xerophthalmia with vitamin A-rich flesh behind fish eyes (page 278).
- The natives of the Andes, central Africa, and Australia all carried knapsacks with balls of clay that they would use to dip in their food to prevent "sick stomach."
- The natives he studied practiced systematic child spacing of two and one-half to four years, and used special diets for pregnancy, lactation, and pre-conception, always for the mother and sometimes for the father (pages 397-8, 401).
- Many of the groups would wrap newborns in an absorbent moss that was changed daily but would not wash the baby until several weeks after birth, which prevented irritation and infection of the skin (page 399).
- In some of the Pacific Islands, inland-dwelling groups relying mostly on plant products understood their need for shellfish and thus engaged in trade with the coast-dwelling populations to obtain these foods (page 109).
- Natives of the Andes knew of goiter, and used kelp to prevent it (page 265). Some African groups also knew of goiter and treated it with various iodine-rich plant foods (page 402).
- Price noted that "probably few primitive races have developed calisthenics and systematic physical exercise to so high a point as the primitive Maori. . . . This has a remarkably beneficial effect in not only developing deep breathing, but in developing the muscles of the body, particularly those of the abdomen, with the result that these people maintain excellent figures to old age" (page 214). Price considered not only their diet but their "system of social organization" to be responsible for their development of "what was reported by early scientists to be the most physically perfect race living on the face of the earth.""
How Can You Use This Ancient Wisdom to Your Advantage?
While we may consider ourselves to be at the pinnacle of human development, our modern food manufacturing processes have not created a race of super-humans in possession of great health and longevity. Quite the contrary...
Humans today suffer more chronic and debilitating diseases than ever before. And there can be little doubt that our food choices play a major role in this development.
During the Paleolithic period, many thousands of years ago, people ate primarily vegetables, fruit, nuts, roots and meat—and a wide variety of it. And many are finding that by reverting to this simpler "Paleo" way of eating, by eating foods that are concordant with your genetic ancestry and ancient wisdom, you can avoid many of the diseases associated with our modern diet, including diabetes, heart disease, obesity and cancer.
While you wouldn't be able to find many of the wild varieties of plant foods eaten by cavemen even if you wanted to, you can certainly mold your diet around the principles and ancient dietary wisdom of Paleo people rather easily by following my nutrition plan.
I believe it to be one of the most profound interventions for the 21st century, and it is the culmination of more than 20 years of work and collaborative knowledge. Quite simply, we've strayed too far from the foods we are designed to eat, so going back to basics and refocusing your diet on fresh, whole, unprocessed, "real" food can improve just about anyone's health. The full details are outlined in my nutrition plan, but generally speaking a "healthy diet" is qualified by the following key factors:
- Unprocessed whole foods
- Often raw or only lightly cooked (ideally, try to eat at least one-third of your food raw, or as much as you can manage)
- Organic or grass-fed, and free from additives and genetically modified ingredients
- Comes from high-quality, local sources
- Carbohydrates primarily come from vegetables (except corn and potatoes, which should typically be avoided)
Perhaps most importantly of all, listen to the innate wisdom in your own body. You can trust your body to provide you with a better indication of what is good and healthy for you than just about any other source -- as long as you are willing to listen, and are honest about what you hear.