Saturday, November 3, 2007

Book Review: Nutrition and Physical Degeneration

Weston A. Price, 1939
Embark on an all-expenses-paid tour from the Swiss Alps to the plains of Peru. This anthropological journey will bring you face-to-face with ancient races on the interface of tradition and modernization.
In the 1930s, Dr. Weston Price traveled the world in search of the answer to tooth decay, studying isolated groups who displayed uncanny immunity to almost all modern degenerative disease. He documented their diets, cultures and health in various stages of modernization.
Across the world, the patterns were the same. While the people were still living on their native diets, they remained in excellent health. They had broad skeletal structures, straight teeth and defined tribal features, which passed perfectly from generation to generation. They knew instinctively what to eat for disease prevention, even to the point of targeting specific deficiencies, and sometimes traveled miles for special foods. Price marveled at their physical excellence and strength of character.
As soon as these isolated people accepted the modern foods of trade – white flour, sugar, jams and canned goods – their health quickly deteriorated. Tooth decay became rampant, causing unforeseen misery and desire for death among formerly carefree people. Tuberculosis, once unknown, became a primary concern. General hardiness diminished. Most telling of all were the skeletal changes. Physical divergences from the tribal pattern began appearing in children born to modernized parents. Children were born with narrower faces, crowded teeth, pinched nostrils and skeletal deformities, all of which were magnified in younger children of the same family. Narrowed hips led to difficulty in childbirth. In all cases when some or all of a group returned to their native foods, they regained their health and active dental decay ceased.
Upon his return home (in what I expected to be the boring half of the book), Price analyzed and developed practical applications for his discoveries. He concluded that nutrition, not genetics, was the primary cause of degenerative disease. Tooth decay was just one outward expression of serious internal deficiencies; the same conditions that led to visible decay of the teeth also caused invisible decay of other organs. Price followed that principle back to pre-conception and found that the nutritional deficiencies in parents that caused bone deformations in the child could also create irregularities elsewhere – including the brain.
The conclusion that nutrition, not genetics, lies at the root of our modern ailments is an astoundingly hopeful one. If it were genetic or random, there would be nothing we could do. If it is nutrition, we can help ourselves. The damage is reversible. Price and subsequent research observed that parents with health problems, including apparently genetic abnormalities, produced healthy children when they had adequate nutrition. Among the already born, Price documented drastic health improvements through minor dietary changes.
Dr. Price presents his findings in a factual, unbiased manner. His logic and supporting data are clear and effective, his language quaint and vivid. If any emotional slant comes through, it is a humble awe at the workings of nature and grief at the loss of health among the modernized. Some of his wording is culturally insensitive today (i.e. “savages”), but the content of his observations communicates a deep respect and admiration for the people from whom he learned so much.
The photographs in this book are priceless. Hundreds of faces tell the story better than words ever could. As the text is entirely available online, complete with pictures, there is no reason not to avail yourself of this groundbreaking resource. It revolutionized the way I think about food and started me on the road to traditional cooking. I highly recommend it.


Ann Marie said...

I am two thirds of the way through the book. It is utterly fascinating.

Have you read "Good Calories, Bad Calories" yet? I'm reading that next.

Oh, and "The Omnivore's Dilemma".

Deborah said...

I haven't heard of "Good Calories, Bad Calories," but "Omnivore's Dilemma" is next on my reading list!