There is only one possible study that can claim the title of the most important study ever. This is of course, Weston Price ‘s decade long study of primitive and modernised peoples conducted in the 1930s.
Who Was Weston Price and What Was His Research About?
Weston Price was a Canadian dentist who was interested in tooth decay, as rates were rapidly increasing in the industrial nations, among other western diseases like tuberculosis. He began to theorize that tooth decay was largely the result of a poor diet. The 1930s were a unique time as there were still many people living a ‘traditional’ or ‘primitive’ lifestyle. The same lifestyle that their ancestors had lived for 1000s of years. However, some of these people had moved over to a modern diet. Therefore, Weston Price had a control group, the people living the primitive lifestyle and an experimental group, the people who had moved onto a modern lifestyle and diet. Essentially, he compared the effects of modern foods vs. traditional foods on peoples from different parts of the world.
Note: For the purposes of this article, these 2 groups are termed ‘the traditionals’ and ‘the moderns’.
Today, industrialisation and modern processed foods have touched almost every corner of the globe. Whereas, in the 1930s industrialisation was still very much in the process of spreading across the world. I can’t stress this enough, that his research was totally unique and almost impossible to conduct and replicate today, certainly on the scale he did so.
What Methods Did Weston Price Use?
His research was largely qualitative, meaning that it was very descriptive and observational. However, he also performed dental examinations wherever he went, took thousands of photographs, performed laboratory analyses of foods and tested his theories on patients of his. Furthermore, he examined ancient skulls from across the world to strengthen his findings. The research was published in his seminal 1939 book: Nutrition and Physical Degeneration.
Where Did Weston Price Go?
- Switzerland. He visited the Loetschental Valley, Rhone Valley, Visperterminen, Canton of Wallis, Canton of Bern, St. Moritz and Herisau. Many of these places contained swiss villages that were relatively isolated from the modern world, high up in the beautiful Swiss Alps.
- Scotland. Specifically the Isle of Lewis and the Isle of Harris in the north of Scotland. Apart from the port town of Stornoway, the people had no access to modern foods. He studied the Gaelic people who had lived there for 1000s of years.
- Alaska. He traveled to places where Inuit and Indian tribes still lived in isolation such as SleetMute and McGrath. He also met Eskimos from more northerly regions that were traveling or had migrated.
- Canada. North British Columbia and the Yukon Territory. Price went into the Rocky Mountains, to the Liard river which had on it the last outpost of the Hudson Bay Company. Here furs were exchanged for modern foods with the Indian Tribes, some of which had come from the far north of Canada. He compared these Indians to ones eating modern foods at Brantford, Ontario, the largest Indian Reservation in Canada.
- USA. Weston Price visited Indians living in Southern Florida near Miami and Albuquerque, New Mexico.
- Pacific Islands. New Caledonia, Fiji, Hawaiian, Marquesas, Cook, Tongan and Samoan Islands. Weston Price literally went all over the Pacific Ocean and studied the native Melanesians and Polynesians, again comparing isolated to modernised groups.
- Africa. Price embarked on an epic 6000 mile journey of Africa. He traveled down the Red Sea, into Ethiopia, then to Kenya. Afterwards, he traveled deep inland to Uganda and the Democratic Republic of Congo. Next, he turned northwards going through South Sudan, Sudan and finally Egpyt. Overall, he studied 15 diverse peoples including the famous Masai tribe.
- Australia and Torres Strait Islands. Weston Price undertook another large journey. He traveled up the east coast of Australia from New South Wales to the top of Queensland. Next, he visited the Torres Strait Islands, between Australia and Papua New Guinea. Afterwards, he followed a similar route back. He met many tribes of Australia Aborigines and Melanesians.
- New Zealand. On his way back from his Australian trip, Price traveled around New Zealand’s North Island, where he studied the Maoris.
- Peru. In Price’s final trip he went to southern Peru and northern Bolivia. Here, he was able to study the Inca people, who lived high up in the Andes mountains. He also traveled to the lowlands of Peru and studied ‘Amazon Jungle Indians’ in his words, residing in the Amazon basin.
What did Weston Price Find?
Firstly, he found that ‘the moderns’ had experienced severe tooth decay. This became worse the more they relied on modern foods for their nutrition. The modern foods Price was referring to were sugar, white flour, jams, and canned foods. Thus, it is quite easy to see why their teeth were rotting. The high sugar diet, combined with a lack of dental care produced severe tooth decay. Interestingly, ‘the traditionals’ had almost no tooth decay, confirmed by Price’s extensive dental examinations. This was even true in traditional diets that were high in fruit sugar.
Narrowed Dental Arches
Secondly, he found that ‘the moderns’ had underdeveloped faces and dental arches. Typically, they had narrowed nostrils, underdevelopment of the face and crowded teeth. These are the characteristics of people that would need teeth removing and braces in the modern era. In contrast, ‘the traditionals’ had broad faces, broad nostrils, and near perfect teeth. They had no crowding of the teeth and all this without ever seeing a dentist in their life. Remember, this is the same group of people, with the same genetics, only with a different diet.
If the people had been brought up on a traditional diet, they had properly developed faces and dental arches, but then switched to modern foods in adult life, they merely had tooth decay. However, if they were brought up on modern foods, they had tooth decay, underdeveloped faces, and narrowed dental arches. The problem of facial deformities often starts when the parents adopt modern foods. Then their children suffer these consequences. This pattern was observed everywhere by Weston Price and is an indisputable observation.
This is quite a remarkable finding as it parallels what we find in the modern world. The majority of us have misaligned teeth, and for many, it is so severe we need braces.
The first photo shows natives of the Islands of the Great Barrier of Reef, just above Australia. Note their perfect teeth and well formed dental arches. The second picture shows children whose parents had adopted modern foods (from the same islands). You can clearly see the narrowed dental arches, crowding of the teeth and pinched nostrils.
Poor Health In General
A theme of Nutrition and Physical Degeneration is the exposure of peoples to tuberculosis. Price often notes that ‘the traditionals’ have greater immunity to the disease than ‘the moderns’. However, this is probably explained by the fact that ‘the traditionals’ were more isolated from the modern world, and therefore were exposed to the bacterium less. In contrast, Weston Price tells of one doctor who sent those infected by the disease back to live their traditional lifestyles. He claimed that the survival rate was much higher, which is likely due to the improved nutrition of their native diets.
Examples of Poor Health
Nutrition and Physical Degeneration is full of colorful anecdotes. Price frequently tells of tales that illustrate the poorer health of ‘the moderns’. In one case, an Eskimo woman had 20 children and was still in perfect health. Furthermore, he also explains he was told that
[the] average adult Eskimo man can carry one hundred pounds in each hand and one hundred pounds in his teeth with ease for a considerable distance.
Secondly, when visiting the Isle of Lewis in Scotland, Weston Price met a family of 4 living in the interior of the Island. Here he reports on the health of the 2 boys in the family.
The older boy [right], with excellent teeth, was still enjoying primitive food of oatmeal and oatcake and sea foods with some limited dairy products. The younger boy, seen to the left, had extensive tooth decay. Many teeth were missing including two in the front. He insisted on having white bread, jam, highly sweetened coffee and also sweet chocolates. His father told me with deep concern how difficult it was for this boy to get up in the morning and go to work.
On the Isle of Harris in Scotland, Price makes another striking comparison. He visits the small Isle of Scalpay right next to the Isle of Harris.
For nutrition, the children of this community were dependent very largely on oatmeal porridge, oatcake and sea foods….The general physical development of these children was excellent… Note their broad faces.
He contrasts this to the children of Tarbert, the Isle of Harris’s only shipping port. Here, there is access to modern foods such as ‘jams, marmalades, and other kinds of canned foods’.
The children in the top of the photo are from the Isle of Scalpay. They have broad faces and nostrils. They look happy and full of life. Contrast this to the bottom group, from Tarbet. They have narrowed faces and nostrils and look unhappy. You don’t need a PhD to figure out something is wrong.
The foods ‘the moderns’ had begun to eat were: white flour products, sugar, jams, marmalades, and canned foods.
The traditional diets varied greatly from region to region, but were exclusively composed of whole, minimally processed foods. Of course, they were all organic since artificial pesticides were not used back then. The soils were generally very nutrient-rich, unlike our modern depleted soils, and foods could only have been eaten in season. People always used animal foods where available. Generally, they ate plenty of animal food if they had access to it. The concept of vegetarianism or veganism would have been completely foreign to them, and would have been contrary to their collective wisdom.
Grains and dairy products were used in certain locations. For instance, the bulk of the Swiss diet was rye bread, butter, and hard cheese. However, in other locations such as in Australia, a pure hunter-gatherer diet existed. People made use of the local plants and animals and often relied on just a few nutritious staples for the bulk of their diet.
So what can we learn from Weston Price’s research? Well, at least part of the puzzle of the rise of chronic disease can be attributed to the shift in diet, from the traditional to the modern. We see that humans on traditional diets were stronger and healthier than those on modern diets. Moreover, their children developed better and lacked the dental problems, so common in the modern world. Weston Price did not know the precise reasons underlying this biological degeneration, and we still do not know them all. However, one does not need to understand these to experience the benefits of whole food diets.
For more information, I encourage you to read the original book and check out the Weston A Price Foundation, who have continued Price’s original research and greatly expanded on it.
Photo Credit: Photo by CEphoto, Uwe Aranas.