Traveling around the world, Weston A. Price visited numerous traditional communities. Some of them hunter-gatherers and others agricultural, including some rural communities in Europe. This was earlier last century when industrialization had yet to take hold in most places, a very different time in terms of diet, even in the Western world.
What he found was how healthy these people were, whether they consumed more or less meat, dairy or not — although none were vegetarian (the typical pre-agricultural diet was about 1/3 to 2/3 animal products, often a large part of it saturated fat). The commonality is that they ate nutrient-dense foods, much of it raw, fermented, or prepared traditionally (the singlemost nutrient-dense food is organ meats). As a dentist, the first thing Price looked for was dental health. A common feature of these traditional societies was well-developed jaws and bone structure, straight uncrowded teeth, few cavities facial symmetry, etc. These people never saw a dentist or orthodontist, didn’t brush or floss, and yet their teeth were in excellent condition into old age.
This obviously was not the case with Price’s own American patients that didn’t follow a traditional diet and lifestyle. And when he visited prisons, he found that bone development and dental health was far worse, as indicators of worse general health and by implication worse neurocognitive health (on a related note, testing has shown that prisoners have higher rates of lead toxicity, which harms health in diverse ways). Between malnutrition and toxicity, it is unsurprising that there are so many mentally ill people housed in prisons, especially after psychiatric institutions were closed down.
Another early figure in researching diet and health was Francis M. Pottenger Jr, an American doctor. While working as a full-time assistant at a sanatorium, he did a study on cats. He fed some cats a raw food diet, some a cooked food diet, and another group got some of both. He also observed that the cooked food diet caused developmental problems of bone and dental structure. The results were worse than that, though. For the cats fed cooked food, the health of the next generation declined even further. By the third generation, they didn’t reach adulthood. There was no generation after that.
I was reading about this at work. In my normal excitement about learning something new, I shared this info with a coworker, a guy who has some interest in health but is a conventional thinker. He immediately looked for reasons for why it couldn’t be true, such as claiming that the generations of cats kept as pets disproves Pottenger’s observations. Otherwise, so the argument goes, domestic cats would presumably have gone extinct by now.
That was easy to counter, considering most pets are born strays who ate raw food or born to parents who were strays. As for purebred cats, I’m sure breeders have already figured out that a certain amount of raw food (or supplementation of enzymes, microbes, etc that normally would be found in raw food) is necessary for long term feline health. Like processed human food, processed pet food is heavily fortified with added nutrients, which likely counteracts some of the negative consequences to a cooked food diet. Pottenger’s cats weren’t eating fortified cooked food, but neither were the cats fed raw food getting any extra nutrients.
The thing is that prior to industrialization food was never fortified. All the nutrients humans (and cats) needed to not only survive but thrive was available in a traditional/natural diet. The fact that we have to fortify foods and take multivitamins is evidence of something severely wrong with the modern, industrialized food system. But that only lessens the health problems slightly. As with Pottenger’s cats, even the cats on a cooked food diet who had some raw food added didn’t avoid severely decreased health. Considering the emerging health crisis, the same appears to be true of humans.
The danger we face is that the effects are cumulative across the generations, the further we get from a traditional diet. We are only now a few generations into the modern Western diet. Most humans were still consuming raw milk and other traditional foods not that long ago. Earlier last century, the majority of Americans were rural and had access to fresh organic food from gardens and farms, including raw milk from pastured cows and fertile eggs from pastured chickens (pastured meaning high in omega-3s).
Even living in a large city, one of my grandfathers kept rabbits and chickens for much of his life and kept a garden into his old age. That means my mother was raised with quite a bit of healthy food, as was my father living in a small town surrounded by farms. My brothers and I are the first generation in our family to eat a fully modern industrialized diet from childhood. And indeed, we have more mental/neurocognitive health problems than the generations before. I had a debilitating learning disorder diagnosed in elementary school and severe depression clearly showing in 7th grade, one brother had stuttering and anxiety attacks early on, and my oldest brother had severe allergies in childhood that went untreated for years and since then has had a host of ailments (also, at least one of my brothers and I have suspected undiagnosed Asperger’s or something like that, but such conditions weren’t being diagnosed when we were in school). One thing to keep in mind is that my brothers and I are members of the generation that received one of the highest dosages of lead toxicity in childhood, prior to environmental regulations limiting lead pollution; and research has directly and strongly correlated that to higher rates of criminality, suicide, homicide, aggressive behavior, impulse control problems, lowered IQ, and stunted neurocognitive development (also many physical health conditions).
The trend of decline seems to be continuing. My nieces and nephews eat almost nothing but heavily processed foods, way more than my brothers and I had in our own childhoods, and the produce they do eat is mostly from nutrient-depleted soil, along with being filled with farm chemicals and hormones — all of this having continuously worsened these past decades. They are constantly sick (often every few weeks) and, even though still in grade school, all have multiple conditions such as: Asperger’s, learning disorder, obsessive-compulsion, failure to thrive, asthma, joint pain, etc.
If sugar was heroin, my nephew could be fairly called a junky (regularly devouring bags of candy and on more than one occasion eating a plain bowl of sugar; one step short of snorting powdered sugar and mainlining high fructose corn syrup). And in making these observations, I speak from decades of experience as a junkfood junky, most of all a sugar addict, though never quite to the same extreme. My nieces too have a tremendous intake of sugar and simple carbs, as their families’ vegetarianism doesn’t emphasize vegetables (since going on the paleo diet, I’ve been eating more organic nutrient-dense vegetables and other wholesome foods than my brothers and their families combined) — yet their diet fits well into the Standard American Diet (SAD) and, as the USDA suggests, they get plenty of grains. I wouldn’t be surprised if one or all of them already has pre-diabetes and likely will get diabetes before long, as is becoming common in their generation. The body simply can only take so much harm. I know the damage done to my own body and mind from growing up in this sick society and I hate to see even worse happening to the generations following.
To emphasize this point, the testing of newborn babies in the United States shows that they’ve already accumulated on average more than 200 synthetic chemicals from within the womb; and then imagine all the further chemicals they get from the breast milk of their unhealthy mothers along with all kinds of crap in formulas and in their environments (e.g., carcinogenic fire retardants that they breathe 24/7). Lead toxicity has decreased since my own childhood and that is a good thing, but thousands of new toxins and other chemicals have replaced it. On top of that, the hormones, hormone mimics, and hormone disruptors add to dysbiosis and disease — some suggesting this is a cause of puberty’s greater variance than in past generations, either coming earlier or later depending on gender and other factors (maybe partly explaining the reversal and divergence of educational attainment for girls and boys). Added to this mix, this is the first generation of human guinea pigs to be heavily medicated from childhood, much of it medications that have been shown to permanently alter neurocognitive development.
A major factor in many modern diseases is inflammation. This has many causes from leaky gut to toxicity, the former related to diet and often contributing to the latter (in how the leaky gut allows molecules to more easily cross the gut lining and get into the bloodstream where they can freely travel throughout the body — causing autoimmune disorders, allergies, asthma, rheumatoid arthritis, depression, etc). But obesity is another main cause of inflammation. And one might note that, when the body is overloaded and not functioning optimally, excess toxins are stored in fat cells — which makes losing weight even more difficult as toxins are released back into the body, and if not flushed out causing one to feel sick and tired.
It’s not simply bad lifestyle choices. We are living in unnatural and often outright toxic conditions. Many of the symptoms that we categorize as diseases are the bodies attempt to make the best of a bad situation. All of this adds up to a dysfunctional level across society. Our healthcare system is already too expensive for most people to afford. And the largest part of public funding for healthcare is going to diabetes alone. But the saddest part is the severe decrease in quality of life, as the rate of mood and personality disorders skyrockets. It’s not just diet. For whatever reason (toxins? stress?), with greater urbanization has come greater levels of schizophrenia and psychosis. And autism, a rare condition in the past, has become highly prevalent (by the way, one of the proven effective treatments for autism is a paleo/keto diet; also effective for autoimmune conditions among much else).
It’s getting worse and worse, generation after generation. Imagine what this means in terms of epigenetics and transgenerational trauma, as nutritional deficits and microbiotic decimation accumulates, exacerbated by a society driven mad through inequality and instability, stress and anxiety. If not for nutrients added to our nutrient poor food and supplements added to our unhealthy diet, we’d already be dying out as a society and our civilization would’ve collapsed along with it (maybe similar to how some conjecture the Roman Empire weakened as lead toxicity increased in the population). Under these conditions, that children are our future may not be an affirmation of hope. Nor may these children be filled with gratitude once they’ve reached adulthood and come to realize what we did to them and the world we left them. On the other hand, we aren’t forced to embrace fatalism and cynicism. We already know what to do to turn around all of these problems. And we don’t lack the money or other resources to do what needs to be done. All that we are waiting for is public demand and political will, although that might first require our society reaching a point of existential crisis… we are getting close.
The stumbling block is that there is no profit in the ‘healthcare’ industry for advocating, promoting, incentivizing, and ensuring healthy diet and healthy conditions for a healthy population. Quite the opposite. If disease profiteering was made illegal, there would be trillions of dollars of lost profit every year. Disease is the reality of capitalist realism, a diseased economic system and social order. This collective state of sickliness has become the norm and vested interests will go to great lengths to defend the status quo. But for most who benefit from the dysfunctional and destructive system, they never have to give it much thought. When my mother brought my nephew to the doctor, she pointed out how he is constantly sick and constantly eating a poor diet. The doctor’s response was that this was ‘normal’ for kids (these days), which might be true but the doctor should be shocked and shamed by his own admission. As apathy takes hold and we lose a sense of hope, low standards fall ever lower.
We can’t rely upon the established authority figures in seeking better health for ourselves, our families, and our communities. We know what we need to do. It might not be easy to make such massive changes when everything in society is going against you. And no doubt it is more expensive to eat healthy when the unhealthiest foods (e.g., high fructose corn syrup) are being subsidized by the government. It’s no accident that buying off the dollar menu at a fast food is cheaper than cooking a healthy meal at home. Still, if you are willing to go to the effort (and it is worth the effort), a far healthier diet is possible for many within a limited budget. That is assuming you don’t live in a food desert. But even in that case, there is a movement to create community gardens in poor neighborhoods, people providing for themselves what neither the government nor economy will provide.
Revolutions always begin from the bottom up. Or failing that, the foundations of our society will crumble, as the health of our citizenry declines. It’s a decision we must make, individually and collectively. A choice between two divergent paths leading to separate possible futures. As we have so far chosen suicidal self-destruction, we remain free to choose the other option. As Thomas Paine said, “We have it in our power to begin the world over again.”
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by Ron Schmid, N.D.
Parallels Between Pottenger’s and Price’s Work
While the experiments of McCarrison and Pottenger show the value of raw foods in keeping animals remarkably healthy, one might wonder about the relevance to human needs. Cats are carnivores, humans omnivores, and while the animals’ natural diet is raw, humans have cooked some foods for hundreds of thousands of years. But humans, cats, and guinea pigs are all mammals. And while the human diet is omnivorous, foods of animal origin (some customarily eaten raw) have always formed a substantial and essential part of it.
Problems in cats eating cooked foods provided parallels with the human populations Weston Price studied; the cats developed the same diseases as humans eating refined foods. The deficient generation of cats developed the same dental malformations that children of people eating modernized foods developed, including narrowing of dental arches with attendant crowding of teeth, underbites and overbites, and protruding and crooked teeth. The shape of the cat’s skull and even the entire skeleton became abnormal in severe cases, with concomitant marked behavioral changes.
Price observed these same physical and behavioral changes in both native and modern cultures eating refined foods. These changes accompanied the adoption by a culture of refined foods. In native cultures eating entirely according to traditional wisdom resulted in strength of character and relative freedom from the moral problems of modern cultures. In modern cultures, studies of populations of prisons, reformatories, and homes for the mentally delayed revealed that a large majority of individuals residing there (often approaching 100 percent) had marked abnormalities of the dental arch, often with accompanying changes in the shape of the skull.
This was not coincidence; thinking is a biological process, and abnormal changes in the shape of the skull from one generation to the next can contribute to changes in brain functions and thus in behavior. The behavioral changes in deficient cats were due to changes in nutrition. This was the only variable in Pottenger’s carefully controlled experiments. As with physical degenerative changes, parallels with human populations cannot help but suggest themselves, although the specific nature of the relationship is beyond the scope of this discussion.
Human beings do not have the same nutritional requirements as cats, but whatever else each needs, there is strong empirical evidence that both need a significant amount of certain high-quality raw foods to reproduce and function efficiently.
Certain groups of these cats were fed quality, fresh, undenatured food and others were fed varying degrees of denatured and processed food, then the effects were observed over several generations. The results from the inferior diets were not so startling for the first-generation animals but markedly and progressively so in subsequent generations. From the second generation on, the cats that were fed processed and denatured diets showed increasing levels of structural deformities, birth defects, stress-driven behaviors, vulnerability to illness, allergies, reduced learning ability, and, finally, major reproductive problems. When Pottenger attempted to reverse the effects in the genetically weakened and vulnerable later-generation animals with greatly improved diet, he found it took fully four generations for the cats to return to normal.
The reflections that Pottenger’s work casts on the health issues and dietary habits of modern-day society are glaring and inescapable. […]
Pottenger’s work has shown us that progressive generations with poor dietary habits result in increasingly more vulnerable progeny and that each subsequent generation with unhealthy dietary habits results in impaired resistance to disease, increasingly poor health and vitality, impaired mental and cognitive health, and impaired capacity to reproduce. It is all part of what we are seeing in our epidemic levels of poor health and the overwhelming rates of autism, violence, attentional disorders, childhood (and adult) behavioral problems, mental illness, fertility issues, and birth defects.
Deep Nutrition, Why Your Genes Need Traditional Food
by Catherine Shanahan, M.D.
The Omega Generation
When I was living and working in Hawaii, four generations sometimes came in to my clinic for an office visit all at once, giving me a front-row view of the impact of modern food. Quite often, this is what I saw: great-grandma, born on her family’s farm and well into her eighties, still had clear vision and her own set of teeth. Her weathered skin sat atop features that looked as though they were chiseled from granite. More often than not, she was the healthiest of the bunch and had a thin medical chart to prove it. The youngest child, on the other hand, often presented symptoms of the whole set of modern diseases: attention deficit, asthma, skin disorders, and recurrent ear infections. Like many of today’s generation, one or more of his organs wasn’t put together quite right. Maybe there was a hole in his heart, or maybe he needed surgery to reposition the muscles around an eye. While the exact effects may be hard to predict, what is predictable, given the dwindling dietary nutrients and proliferation of toxic materials, is some kind of physiologic decline.
Within a given family, the earlier the abandonment of traditional foods for a diet of convenience, the more easily perceptible the decline. I’m thinking of one little boy in particular, the great-grandchild of one of Hawaii’s many wealthy missionary families who developed an ear infection during his visit to Kauai from another island. This little boy bore none of his great-grandmother’s striking facial geometry. His jaw was narrow, his nose blunted and thin, his eyes set too close, and his cheekbones were withdrawn behind plateaus of body fat. The lack of supporting bone under his eyes made his skin sag into bags, giving him a weary look. His ears were twisted, tilted, and protruded, and his ear canals were abnormally curved, predisposing him to recurring external ear infections.
Narrow face, thin bones, flattened features—sound familiar? This is a dynamic symmetry shift. The nature and degree was something I’d expect to see if he were child number three or four of siblings born in quick succession. But the young man sitting on my exam table was only the couple’s second child, and though mom had given herself a full four years between the two, it hadn’t protected his health. He was the fourth-generation product of a century of nutritional neglect and the consequential epigenetic damage. The last century has derailed our entire culture from the traditions that sustained us, so he is far from alone in enduring visible epigenetic damage. And the consequences impact more than a child’s skeletal system; his entire genome is at risk. I believe this is why, according to a landmark 2003 Center for Disease Control (CDC) report, this child, like all others born in 2000, had a one-in-three chance of developing diabetes, a condition that reduces life expectancy by between ten and twenty years. 179 What is going unreported is the fact that it isn’t just diabetes on the warpath. Every year, growing battalions of familiar diseases are cutting a wider and wider swath of destruction through the normal experiences of childhood. 180
Whereas in previous centuries part of a parent’s responsibility was to work hard to prevent their children from getting sick, today so many of us are sick ourselves that we’ve grown to accept disease as one of life’s inevitables—even for our children. Today’s kids aren’t healthy. But rather than make such a sweeping and terrifying declaration, we avert our eyes from the growing mound of evidence, fill the next set of prescriptions, and expand our definition of normal childhood health to encompass all manner of medical intervention. This latest generation of children has accumulated the epigenetic damage of at least the three previous generations due to lack of adequate nutrition along with the overconsumption of sugar and new artificial fats found in vegetable oils. The family genome has been getting battered relentlessly for almost a century—even during key, delicate periods of replication. The physiologic result of these accumulated genetic insults? Distorted cartilage, bone, brain, and other organ growth. Many physicians have noted an apparent increase in young couples complaining of problems with fertility which, given the implications of epigenetic science, should come as no surprise. Children born today, I’m afraid, may be so genomically compromised that, for many, reproduction will not be possible even with the benefit of high-tech medical prodding. This is why I call these children the Omega generation, referring to the last letter in the Greek alphabet.
Born by cesarean section (often necessitated by maternal pelvic bone abnormalities), briefly breast-fed (if at all), weaned on foods with extended shelf lives—the human equivalent of pet foods—these Omega generation children see the doctor often and, whether first-born or not, will likely suffer from both biradial and dynamic symmetry shifts. In the same way we talk about bracing for the aging baby boomers’ medical needs, we had better reinforce the levees of our medical system for the next rising tide: medicine-dependent youth. These children will age faster, suffer emotional problems, and develop never-before-seen diseases. In my experience as a doctor, parents have an intuitive sense that their children are already dealing with more health problems than they ever did, and they worry about their future, for good reason. But no parent is helpless. If you have children, or are planning to, I can think of at least one child who can do something to avoid all this illness and start getting healthy—yours.
Restoring Your Family’s Genetic Wealth
If having an Omega generation baby sounds terrifying, you can do something about it. You can get off the sugar and vegetable oils that would block your child’s genetic potential. That means cutting out processed food, fast food, junk food, and soda. And you should give yourself at least three, preferably four, years between pregnancies and make every effort to fortify your body with vitamin-rich foods (or if you can’t, at least use prenatal vitamins) before conception. Those who want to do everything possible to have a healthy baby will find additional instruction throughout this book. But this discussion opens up a new question: If I do everything right, how beautiful and healthy can I expect my child to be?
My first answer to that question is that, of course, all children are beautiful. But if you’re asking if your child will have extraordinary health, excel scholastically and in sports, and be so physically striking as to elicit the envy of peers, then the answer is, It depends. It depends on how much genetic wealth you gave him. Which, in turn, depends on what you inherited from your parents.
Genetics is all about information. Your genetic wealth is a function of how much of the information in your genes has been damaged or remains intact, and how well the supportive epigenetic machinery is able to express the surviving data contained in your genetic code. To gauge the present condition of your genetic data, you can begin by asking your parents and grandparents what they ate when they were little. Find out if you were breastfed. Were they? Learn whatever you can about who was born when (including birth spacing). Dig up as many family pictures as you can find to look for the telltale signs of Second Sibling Syndrome. The more you know about your family history, and the more objectively you measure your health and appearance along with that of your partner, the more clues you will have to assess your genetic, and epigenetic, health.
Let’s give it a try. Let’s attempt to gauge a person’s genetic momentum using Claudia Schiffer as our case subject. Though both her parents were tall and reasonably attractive, you wouldn’t guess they could produce the superstar beauty they did. Their genetic equation was complicated by the fact that her father and mother were born during the Depression and raised under the conditions of post-war food shortages. Claudia’s secret weapon of genetic wealth may be that her great-great-grandmother grew up in the most wholesome and remote of farming communities in Austria, a town near Elbigenalp, which changed very little in the thousands of years before Claudia’s grandmother’s birth. 193
This close relation to someone living in a successful, stable, indigenous society is truly a rare gift. Adding to this, Claudia’s father’s family was affluent, meaning that (during their formative years) he and his parents presumably had access to the best foods of the early twentieth century. Put the two together, and keep the good food coming, and— voilà —a genome operating under moderate duress for a spell is effectively rehabilitated.
Let’s look at a broader example of genetic rehabilitation, this time dealing with height. Height is one of the most desirable proportions for a man. Aside from the obvious social and mating advantages, the professional advantages gained with every additional inch of height are well documented. Studies show that tall men take home higher salaries, obtain leadership positions more often, and have more sex. 194
Hawaiian archeological evidence shows that for hundreds of years a man’s stature helped to secure him a better official position in the class hierarchy. Our language—”big shoes to fill,” “big man on campus,” “someone you can look up to”—reflects society’s universal preference for the tall. The positive perception of the taller among us often extends to women, as well. I am not suggesting that taller people are better, only that height affords certain physical and social advantages. With that in mind, can relatively diminutive parents who want those advantages for their children have a baby who might someday walk tall and rise above the fray to stand head and shoulders above the rest?
Absolutely! This potential is encoded in our genetic memory. We’ve all heard that we used to be a lot shorter, how few of us could fit into one of those little suits of armor worn by medieval knights. But around the world, accumulating evidence suggests that thousands of years prior, our Paleolithic predecessors were at least as tall, if not taller, than most of us are today. 195 Even in the early Middle Ages, 1,000 years ago, European men were nearly as tall as they are now. What caused the temporary skeletal shrinkage? As the population grew, crowding reduced access to nutrients until stature reached an all-time low in the early 1700s. 196 Improvements in agricultural technology, most notably the series of inventions attributed to lawyer-turned-farmer Jethro Tull, revolutionized the process of tilling soil, vastly increasing productivity. 197 By the late 1700s, having recovered some of its former nutritional inputs, the European genome rebounded—and with it the average European’s height. But it would probably have dipped again, so that a tall man today might measure just over five feet, were it not for the early twentieth-century invention of refrigeration. The ability to freeze food meant that fishermen could travel as far as they needed and fill their hulls to brimming. Refrigeration also meant that even during winter, wealthy countries could reach down to the tropics for summer fruits and vegetables, making it profitable for millions of acres of rain forests around the globe to be converted over to crop production. For the past 100 years, industrialized nations have had consistent access to enough nutrition to achieve our Paleolithically pre-programmed height. Of course, height doesn’t equal health. But generally speaking, when a genome has access to a surplus of complex nutrition, it is far better positioned—and may be said to have a built-in preference—for the production of offspring with more robust, larger frames.
179. Lifetime risk for diabetes mellitus in the United States, Venkat Narayan, KM, JAMA, 2003, 290:1884-1890.
180. America’s children in brief: key national indicators of well-being, 2008, Federal Interagency Forum on Child and Family Statistics.
193. Anna Stainer-Knittel: portrait of a femme vitale, Kain E, Women’s Art Journal, vol. 20, no. 2, pp. 13-71.
194. Mirror, Mirror … The Importance of Looks in Everyday Life, Hatfield E, SUNY Press, 1986.
195. Stature of early Europeans, Hormones, Hermanussen M, Athens, July-September 2003, 2(3):175-8.
196. New light on the “dark ages”: the remarkably tall stature of Northern European men during the Medieval era, Steckel RH, Social Science History, 2004, 28(2), pp. 211–229.
197. The Cambridge World History of Food, Cambridge University Press, 2000.