Wise Woman herbal eZine with Susun Weed

May 2005

Empower Yourself...
Traditional Diets
Nasty,Brutish, and Short?
by Sally Fallon

Traditional Diets
Nasty,Brutish, and Short?

by Sally Fallon
Author of Nourishing Traditions

Part one of a three part article (part2)

In order to believe that our society has "progressed," we must believe first that the lives of our ancestors were indeed nasty, brutish and short. But, as study after study has confirmed, the health of traditional peoples was vastly superior to that of modern industrial man.

Modern technology—father of the combine harvester, the automobile, the flush toilet and the fully electric house—does not bestow his blessings without a price. These twentieth century tools that have conferred freedom of movement and comfort, and freedom from drudgery and dirt, leave dark trailings of pollution, congestion and alienation. This much is apparent. The wise use of technology has exercised the minds of thinkers and writers for a fair number of decades. Less obvious is the connection between modern technology and health. Conventional wisdom asserts that our current health crisis—in which one in three people in the Western world develops cancer and almost half suffer from heart disease—will be solved by more technology, not less, and that disease, like drudgery and dirt, will give way to a combination of innovation and funding.

My colleague, Dr. Tom Cowan, likes to tell the story of a typical patient who comes in for a checkup. "It's just a precaution," says the patient, "I'm actually very healthy." Yes, he had his tonsils removed when he was a youngster; he had his wisdom teeth taken out and his teeth straightened with braces; he has a mouth full of fillings and several root canals; he had a hernia operation a few years ago and his back bothers him sometimes. True, he often feels under stress, even depressed, and wishes he had more energy, but he passes these off as normal conditions, just what one would expect in the course of an average life-span.

A family history reveals a sister who died at the age of 40 from breast cancer and a father who is senile with Alzheimers living in a nursing home. Both his children were born by Cesarean section. They needed extensive (and expensive) orthodontics. His daughter suffers from allergies and his son attends a special school for the hyperactive and learning disabled.

What allows Dr. Cowan's typical patient to claim that he is healthy is, indeed, the same technology that gave us the vacuum cleaner and the computer. Without the modern inventions used to shore up his teeth, safely remove his tonsils, repair his hernia and help his wife give birth, our typical patient would be a toothless, childless cripple—or dead before adulthood. But the technology that allows him to fly to California in five hours and illumine his living room with the flick of a switch was not able to save his sister from cancer nor his father from Alzheimers. The solutions proffered for his depression and fatigue, his daughter's allergies and his son's difficulties in school are palliative at best, and dangerous at worst.

Modern technology allows the appearance of health but not the substance. The age of solutions has a health crisis it cannot solve. Although heart disease and cancer were rare at the turn of the century, today these two diseases strike with increasing frequency, in spite of billions of dollars in research to combat them, and in spite of tremendous advances in diagnostic and surgical techniques. In America, one person in three suffers from allergies, one in ten will have ulcers and one in five is mentally ill.

Every year, one quarter of a million infants are born with a birth defect, who then undergo expensive heroic surgery, or are hidden away in institutions. Other degenerative diseases—arthritis, multiple sclerosis, digestive disorders, diabetes, osteoporosis, Alzheimers's, epilepsy and chronic fatigue—afflict a significant majority of our citizens. Learning disabilities such as dyslexia and hyperactivity make life miserable for seven million young people—not to mention their parents.

These diseases were extremely rare only a generation or two ago. Today, chronic illness afflicts nearly half of all Americans and causes three out of four deaths in the United States. Most tragically, these diseases, formerly the purview of the very old, now strike our children and those in the prime of life. We have almost forgotten that our natural state is one of balance, wholeness and vitality.

It seems as if the twentieth century will exit with a crescendo of disease. Things were not so bad back in the 1930's, but the situation was already serious enough to cause one Cleveland, Ohio dentist to be concerned. Dr. Weston Price was reluctant to accept the conditions exhibited by his patients as normal. Rarely did an examination of an adult patient reveal anything but rampant decay, often accompanied by serious problems elsewhere in the body, such as arthritis, osteoporosis, diabetes, intestinal complaints and chronic fatigue. (They called it neurasthenia in Price's day.)

But it was the dentition of younger patients that alarmed him most. Price observed that crowded, crooked teeth were becoming more and more common, along with what he called "facial deformities"—overbites, narrowed faces, underdevelopment of the nose, lack of well-defined cheekbones and pinched nostrils. Such children invariably suffered from one or more complaints that sound all too familiar to mothers of the 1990's: frequent infections, allergies, anemia, asthma, poor vision, lack of coordination, fatigue and behavioral problems. Price did not believe that such "physical degeneration" was God's plan for mankind. He was rather inclined to believe that the Creator intended physical perfection for all human beings, and that children should grow up free of ailments.

He had heard utopian stories about the good health of primitive cultures and resolved to find out if the "backward" societies that American was intent on evangelizing and colonizing were indeed healthier than his own. For the next ten years, he traveled to various isolated parts of the earth, where the inhabitants had no contact with "civilization," in order to study their health and physical development. His investigations took him to isolated Swiss villages and a windswept island off the coast of Scotland. He studied traditional Eskimos, Indian tribes in Canada and the Florida Everglades, Southsea islanders, Aborigines in Australia, Maoris in New Zealand, Peruvian and Amazonian Indians and tribesmen in Africa.

Once Price had gained the confidence of the tribal or village elders, he did what came naturally to him—he counted cavities. Imagine his surprise at finding groups of people in whom less than 1% of the permanent teeth were decayed. He found 14 isolated groups in all where tooth decay was rare to nonexistent, in people who had never seen a dentist and never brushed their teeth. Freedom from caries always went hand in hand with freedom from disease, both chronic disease like cancer and heart disease, and infectious disease like tuberculosis, which in Price's day afflicted much of the world in epidemic proportions.

These studies occurred at a time when there still existed remote pockets of humanity untouched by modern inventions; but when one modern invention, the camera, allowed Price to make a permanent record of the people he studied. The photographs Price took, the descriptions of what he found and his startling conclusions are preserved in a book considered a masterpiece by many nutrition researchers who followed in Price's footsteps: Nutrition and Physical Degeneration.1 Yet this compendium of ancestral wisdom is all but unknown to today's parents and the medical community.

Nutrition and Physical Degeneration is the kind of book that changes the way people view the world, because it describes not only societies in which excellent health was the norm, but also because it shows us how healthy people look. Healthy people have faces that are broad, well-formed and noble. Their teeth fill the smile with a band of dazzling whiteness, as even and perfect as. . . false teeth. Price took photograph after photograph of beautiful smiles, and noted that "healthy primitives" were invariably cheerful and optimistic. Such people were characterized by "splendid physical development." The women gave birth with ease. Their babies rarely cried and their children were energetic and hearty. Many others have reported a virtual absence of degenerative disease, particularly cancer, in isolated, so-called "primitive" groups.2

Price observed a number of societies in transition where stores or outposts had been established and native foods were replaced by the products of western civilization—sugar, white flour, condensed milk, canned foods, chocolate, jams and pastries—what Price called the "displacing foods of modern commerce." His photographs capture the suffering caused by these foodstuffs—chiefly rampant tooth decay. Even more startling, they show the change in facial development that occurred with modernization.

Parents who had changed their diets gave birth to children who no longer exhibited the tribal patterns. Their faces were more narrow, their teeth crowded, their nostrils pinched. These faces do not beam with optimism, like those of their healthy ancestors. The photographs of Dr. Weston Price demonstrate with great clarity that the "displacing foods of modern commerce" do not provide sufficient nutrients to allow the body to reach its full genetic potential—neither the complete development of the bones in the body and the head, nor the fullest expression of the various systems that allow humankind to function at optimal levels—immune system, nervous system, digestion and reproduction.

The diets of the healthy "primitives" Price studied were all very different: In the Swiss village where Price began his investigations, the inhabitants lived on rich dairy products—unpasteurized milk, butter, cream and cheese—dense rye bread, meat occasionally, bone broth soups and the few vegetables they could cultivate during the short summer months. The children's teeth were covered in green slime but Price found only about one percent decay. The children went barefoot in frigid streams during weather that forced Dr. Price and his wife to wear heavy wool coats; nevertheless childhood illnesses were virtually nonexistent and there had never been a single case of TB in the village.

Hearty Gallic fishermen living off the coast of Scotland consumed no dairy products. Fish formed the mainstay of the diet, along with oats made into porridge and oatcakes. Fishheads stuffed with oats and chopped fish liver was a traditional dish, and one considered very important for growing children. The Eskimo diet, composed largely of fish, fish roe and marine animals, including seal oil and blubber, allowed Eskimo mothers to produce one sturdy baby after another without suffering any health problems or tooth decay.

Well-muscled hunter-gatherers in Canada, the Everglades, the Amazon, Australia and Africa consumed game animals, particularly the parts that civilized folk tend to avoid—organ meats, blood, marrow and glands, particularly the adrenal glands—and a variety of grains, tubers, vegetables and fruits that were available. African cattle-keeping tribes like the Masai consumed no plant foods at all—just meat, blood and milk. Southsea islanders and the Maori of New Zealand ate seafood of every sort—fish, shark, octopus, shellfish, sea worms—along with pork meat and fat, and a variety of plant foods including coconut, manioc and fruit. Whenever these isolated peoples could obtain sea foods they did so—even Indian tribes living high in the Andes.

Insects were another common food, in all regions except the Arctic. The foods that allow people of every race and every climate to be healthy are whole natural foods—meat with its fat, organ meats, whole milk products, fish, insects, whole grains, tubers, vegetables and fruit—not newfangled concoctions made with white sugar, refined flour and rancid and chemically altered vegetable oils.

Modern nutrition researchers are showing renewed interest in the foodways of our ancestors, but myths about primitive diets abound. The first is easily dismissed—that traditional diets were largely vegetarian. Anthropological data confirm what Price found, namely that throughout the globe, all societies show a preference for animal foods and fats.3 Modern scientific literature does not support the claims made for vegetarian diets.4

continued ...part2

by Sally Fallon
Author of Nourishing Traditions

Nourishing Traditions
Revised Second Edition,
October 2000

by Sally Fallon with Mary G Enig, PhD

The Cookbook that Challenges Politically Correct Nutrition and the Diet Dictocrats.

This well-researched, thought-provoking guide to traditional foods contains a startling message: Animal fats and cholesterol are not villains but vital factors in the diet, necessary for normal growth, proper funciton of the brain and nervous system, protection from disease and optimum energy levels. Sally Fallon dispels the myths of the current low-fat fad in this practical, entertaining guide to a can-do diet that is both nutritious and delicious.

Order Sally Fallon's book

Or order via mail: Ash Tree Publishing PO Box 64 Woodstock, NY 12498
include a check or money order for $29.95 (Nourishing Traditions retails for $25.00 plus $4.95 shipping

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