Book Review of Nutrition and Physical Degeneration by Weston A. Price
I really enjoyed this book by Weston A. Price:
Nutrition and Physical Degeneration: A Comparison of Primitive and Modern Diets and Their Effects by Weston A. Price (Use Safari's Reader mode for maximum legibility.)
Ancestral Wisdom Rediscovered
You've probably read or watched a number of stories where the main character tries to rediscover the lost technology or magic of their ancestors. This book gives you the same exhilaration, except in real life.
My favorite topics from the book include...
- Tribes who get close to zero cavities when eating their ancestral diets
- Tribes with perfectly straight teeth, with plenty of room for wisdom teeth
- Special diets for prospective mothers AND fathers for 6 months prior to marriage/conception
- Tribes where it's taboo for the parents to have a child without 2.5 year spacing, enough time for mothers to replenish their stores of nutrients
- Fish heads and certain other animal parts are specifically set aside for growing children and elders
- Tribes in Africa whose people regularly grow 6-7 feet tall
- Villages with low to non-existent rates of crime
- Natives in South America who dip their food in special types of mud to protect themselves from water-borne disease
- Miscarriages are frequently a result of a deformed fetus. Improved nutrition can reduce the rate of deformities and thus reduce the rate of miscarriage.
Feel free to skip to the sections that interest you:
- Motherhood spacing
- On Clay / Kaolin to combat dystentary
- Wild animals' understanding of what they need to eat
- On too little vitamin A and birth
- On the importance of green feed, still containing vitamin A, for animals
- Cleft palate and vitamin A
- On paternal responsibility for defects in the offspring
- On miscarriage
- On shrinking height with age
- On soil depletion and calving rate
- On birth spacing & special diets
- On childbirth and infant care
- On special care for pregnant families
- Special diets during nursing and for young girls
- 53-hour vs 3-hour childbirth
- I recommend this book; & further reading areas
[...][S]everal so-called primitive races have been conscious of the need for safeguarding motherhood from reproductive overloads which would reduce the capacity for efficient reproduction. For example, G. T. Baden (3) in his book "Among the Ibos of Nigeria" states:
It is not only a matter of disgrace but an actual abomination, for an Ibo woman to bear children at shorter intervals than about three years. . . . The idea of a fixed minimum period between births is based on several sound principles. The belief prevails strongly that it is necessary for this interval to elapse in order to ensure the mother being able to recuperate her strength completely, and thus be in a thoroughly fit condition to bear another child. Should a second child be born within the prescribed period the theory is held that it must inevitably be weak and sickly, and its chances jeopardized.
Similarly, the Indians of Peru, Ecuador and Columbia have been familiar with the necessity of preventing pregnancy overloads of the mother. Whiffen (4) in his book "North-West Amazons" states:
The numbers (of pregnant women) are remarkable in view of the fact that husbands abstain from any intercourse with their wives, not only during pregnancy but also throughout the period of lactation--far more prolonged with them than with Europeans. The result is that two and a half years between each child is the minimum difference of age, and in the majority of cases it is even greater.
On Clay / Kaolin to combat dystentary
One of the sources that I have found to be helpful in studying primitive races is an investigation of knapsacks. I have asked for the privilege of seeing what is carried in their knapsacks. I found dried fish eggs and dried kelp in the knapsacks in the high Andes. It is also of interest that among this group in the Andes, among those in central Africa, and among the Aborigines of Australia, each knapsack contained a ball of clay, a little of which was dissolved in water. Into this they dipped their morsels of food while eating. Their explanation was to prevent "sick stomach." This is the medicine that is used by the native in these countries for combating dysentery and food infections. It is the treatment that was given me when I developed dysentery infection in central Africa while making studies there. The English doctor in Nairobi whom I called in said he would give me the native treatment of a suspension of clay. It proved very effective. An illustration of the way in which modern science is siowiy adopting practices that have been long in use among primitive races, is to be found in the recent extensive use that is made of clay (kaolin) in our modern medicine. This is illustrated in the following: (3)
In the course of an expedition to Lake Titicaca, South America, financed by the Percy Slade Trustees in which one of us (H.P.M.) took part, an interesting observation was made in regard to the diet of the Quetchus Indians on the Capachica Peninsula near Puno. These people are almost certainly descendants of the Incas and at the present time live very primitively. They exist largely on a vegetable diet of which potatoes form an important part. Immediately, before being eaten, the potatoes are dipped into an aqueous suspension of clay, a procedure which is said to prevent "souring of the stomach."
We have examined this clay and found it to consist of kaolin containing a trace of organic material, possibly coumarin, and presumably a decomposition product of the grass from underneath which the clay is dug. The local name for the clay is Chacco, and the Indians distinguish between good and bad qualities. This dietetic procedure is universal among the Indians of the Puno district, and is probably of very ancient origin.
Such a practice by a primitive people would appear rather remarkable in view of the comparatively recent introduction of kaolin into modern medicine as a protective agent for the gastric and intestinal mucosa and as a remedy for bacterial infections of the gut.
Wild animals' understanding of what they need to eat
Update: it seems that animals learn what to eat from their parents and peers, and eat to counteract deficiencies, rather than preventatively.
The story is told of a trip to Africa made by a wild animal specialist from the London zoo for the purpose of obtaining additional lions and studying this problem. While in the lion country, he observed the lion kill a zebra. The lion proceeded then to tear open the abdomen of the zebra and eat the entrails at the right flank. This took him directly to the liver. After spending some time selecting different internal organs, the lion backed away and turned and pawed dirt over the carcass which he abandoned to the jackals. The scientist hurried to the carcass and drove away the jackals to study the dead zebra to note what tissues had been taken. This gave him the clue which when put into practice has entirely changed the history of the reproduction of the cat family in captivity. The addition of the organs to the foods of the captive animals born in the jungle supplied them with foods needed to make reproduction possible. Their young, too, could reproduce efficiently. As I studied this matter with the director of a large lion colony, he listed in detail the organs and tissues that were particularly selected by animals in the wilds and also those that were provided for animals reproducing in captivity.
During my biological investigations using animals, I have had barn rats gnaw their way into the room where the rabbits were kept and kill several animals during a night. On two different occasions, only the eyes of the rabbits had been eaten, and the blood may have been sucked. On another occasion the brains had been eaten. It was evident that these rats had a conscious need for special food elements that were provided by these tissues.
On too little vitamin A and birth
A similar impressive comment was made to me by Dr. Romig, the superintendent of the government hospital for Eskimos and Indians at Anchorage, Alaska. He stated that in his thirty-six years among the Eskimos, he had never been able to arrive in time to see a normal birth by a primitive Eskimo woman. But conditions have changed materially with the new generation of Eskimo girls, born after their parents began to use foods of modern civilization. Many of them are carried to his hospital after they had been in labour for several days. One Eskimo woman who had married twice, her last husband being a white man, reported to Dr. Romig and myself that she had given birth to twentysix children and that several of them had been born during the night and that she had not bothered to waken her husband, but had introduced him to the new baby in the morning.
On the importance of green feed, still containing vitamin A, for animals
It is of interest that in October, 1935, Professor Hale reports that the Texas Agricultural Experiment Station was informed that a litter of fourteen pigs had been born blind in June, 1935, on a farm at Ralls, Texas. Of these, six pigs were raised and brought to the Station for further study. The farmer owning the pigs stated that no green feed was available on his farm from March, 1934, until May, 1935. It will be noted that this condition paralleled the experimental conditions at the station under which by restricting vitamin A before and immediately after gestation fifty-nine pigs were produced without eyeballs.
Cleft palate and vitamin A
Weston A. Price also draws a line between lack of Vitamin A and human overbites, underbites, and lack of room for wisdom teeth. In another section he discusses "overshot" and "undershot" sheep jaws. Update: based on my follow-up research it seems vitamin K2 is partially responsible for full jaw growth.
Matings were made between blind pigs. These were fed rations containing ample vitamin A, and normal pigs with normal eyeballs were produced. Even the mating of a blind son with his mother who had produced him when on deficient diet, produced only normal pigs when both had ample vitamin A. He states, "If an hereditary factor had been the cause of this congenital blindness, these matings would have produced some blind pigs, even if vitamin A were present in the ration." The problem of congenital cleft palate has been very embarrassing to those parents whose children have been so afflicted. It is of interest that breeders of fancy dogs are frequently embarrassed by having this problem develop in their kennels or among litters born to parent stock obtained from their kennels.
On paternal responsibility for defects in the offspring
A practical case from my field studies includes a full-blooded Eskimo woman who was married twice, the second time to a white man, by whom she had several children. She had insisted on selecting and preparing the native foods for herself, though she prepared the white man's imported foods for him. With a total of twenty-six pregnancies she did not have any tooth decay. He had rampant tooth decay, and a marked abnormality in the development of face and of the dental arches. Several of the children had incomplete development of the face and of the dental arches. One of the girls who was married had very narrow dental arches and nostrils and a typical boyish type of body build. Unlike her mother, this girl had a very severe experience in the birth of her only child and insisted that she would not take the risk of having another. Several daughters have narrow arches. The question arises whether the deficient nutrition of the father may have been the contributing factor in the injury of their children.
In tracing the development of the human embryo, he tells why the growth process is very different from that of the development of embryos of lower forms. He states regarding deformed ova: "Ova that survive the eighth week tend to live on to term, and are born as monsters." I have referred previously to a personal communication from Professor Shute, of the University of Western Ontario, which states that he had been impressed with the high percentage of deformities in aborted fetuses. This seems to be Nature's method of eliminating defective individuals. Harris says further:
It is sometimes suggested that threatened abortions in early pregnancy should not be treated by rest and quiet, as it is quite possible that the uterus is attempting to rid itself of a pathological ovum which might become a monster in the future.
On shrinking height with age
This passage makes me wonder whether we don't need to lose bone as we age, if only we were eating better. And of course resistence training wouldn't hurt either.
Another important aspect of this problem of borrowing has to do with the progressive shrinking of the skeleton as evidenced by the shortening of the stature. I have measured many individuals who have lost from two to six inches in height in a decade or two. I have seen a few individuals who have lost as much as ten inches of their height by this process of borrowing from the skeleton. Our bodies need a certain amount of fresh minerals every day with which to manufacture blood. The days that these minerals are not provided in the foods they will be taken from our storage depots, the skeleton.
On soil depletion and calving rate
In one of my trips to the Western States I visited a large ranch of some fifty thousand acres. I asked the rancher whether he was conscious of a depletion in the soil of the ranch in its ability to carry pasture cattle. He said that it was very greatly depleted, that whereas formerly the cows on the ranch were able to produce from ninety-three to ninety-five healthy calves per hundred cows annually, nearly all of sufficiently high physical quality to be available for reproductive purposes, now he was getting only forty to forty-four calves per hundred cows annually and usually only ten or eleven of these were physically fit for reproductive purposes. He stated also that he was able to raise as many calves for restocking the ranch on the plant food produced on the fifty acres to which he was applying a high fertilization program as on the rest of the fifty-thousand-acre ranch. Of late most of the calves for the ranch had to be imported from other states.
On birth spacing & special diets
I have presumed in this discussion that the primitive races are able to provide us with valuable information. In the first place, the primitive peoples have carried out programs that will produce physically excellent babies. This they have achieved by a system of carefully planned nutritional programs for mothers-to-be. It is important to note that they begin this process of special feeding long before conception takes place, not leaving it, as is so generally done until after the mother-to-be knows she is pregnant. In some instances special foods are given the fathers-to-be, as well as the mothers-to-be. Those groups of primitive racial stocks who live by the sea and have access to animal life from the sea, have depended largely upon certain types of animal life and animal products. Specifically, the Eskimos, the people of the South Sea Islands, the residents of the islands north of Australia, the Gaelics in the Outer Hebrides, and the coastal Peruvian Indians have depended upon these products for their reinforcement. Fish eggs have been used as part of this program in all of these groups. The cattle tribes of Africa, the Swiss in isolated high Alpine valleys, and the tribes living in the higher altitudes of Asia, including northern India, have depended upon a very high quality of dairy products. Among the primitive Masai in certain districts of Africa, the girls were required to wait for marriage until the time of the year when the cows were on the rapidly growing young grass and to use the milk from these cows for a certain number of months before they could be married. In several agricultural tribes in Africa the girls were fed on special foods for six months before marriage. The need for this type of program is abundantly borne out by recent experimental work on animals, such as I have reported in Chapters 17, 18 and 19.
Another important feature of the control of excellence of child life among the primitive races has been the systematic spacing of children by control of pregnancies. The interval between children ranged from two and a half to four years. For most of the tribes in Africa this was accomplished by the plural-wife system. The wife with the youngest child was protected.
The original Maori culture of New Zealand accomplished the same end by birth control and definite planning. In one of the Fiji Island tribes the minimum spacing was four years.
These practices are in strong contrast with either the haphazard, entirely unorganized programs of individuals in much of our modern civilization, or the organized over-crowding of pregnancies also current. The question arises immediately: what can be done in the light of the data that I have presented in this volume to improve the condition of our modern civilization? A first requisite and perhaps by far the most important is that of providing information indicating why our present haphazard or over-crowded programs of pregnancies are entirely inadequate. This should include, particularly, the education of the highschool-age groups, both girls and boys.
On childbirth and infant care
In the matter of instruction of boys and girls it is of interest that several of the primitive races have very definite programs. In some, childbirth clinics supervised by the midwife are held for the growing girls. With several of these tribes, however, the ease with which childbirth is accomplished is so great that it is looked upon as quite an insignificant experience. Among the ancient Peruvians, particularly the Chimu culture, definite programs were carried out for teaching the various procedures in industry, home-building and home management. This was accomplished by reproducing in pottery form, as on practical water jugs, the various incidents to be demonstrated. The matter of childbirth was reproduced in detail in pottery form so that it was common knowledge for all young people from earliest observation to the time the practical problems arose. Many of the problems related directly were similarly illustrated in pottery forms.
It is not sufficient that information shall be available through maternal health clinics to young married couples. If pigs need several months of special feeding in order that the mothers-to-be may be prepared for adequate carrying forward of all of the inheritance factors in a high state of perfection, surely human mothers-to-be deserve as much consideration. It is shown that it is not adequate that sufficient vitamin A be present to give the appearance of good health. If highly efficient reproduction is to be accomplished there must be a greater quantity than this. There is no good reason why we, with our modern system of transportation, cannot provide an adequate quantity of the special foods for preparing women for pregnancy quite as efficiently as the primitive races who often had to go long distances without other transportation than human carriers.
The primitive care of a newborn infant has been a matter of severe criticism by modernists especially those who have gone among them to enlighten them in modern ways of child rearing. It is common practice among many primitive tribes to wrap the newborn infant in an absorbent moss, which is changed daily. A newborn infant, however, does not begin having regular all over baths for a few weeks after birth. While this method is orthodox among the primitives it is greatly deplored as a grossly cruel and ignoble treatment by most moderns. Dr. William Forest Patrick of Portland, Oregon was deeply concerned over the regularly occurring rash that develops on newborn infants shortly after they are first washed and groomed. He had a suspicion that Nature had a way of taking care of this. In 1931 he left the original oily varnish on several babies for two weeks without the ordinary washing and greasing. He found them completely free from the skin irritation and infection which accompanies modern treatment. This method was adopted by the Multanomah County Hospital of Oregon which now reports that in 1,916 cases of unwashed, unanointed babies only two cases of pyodermia occurred. They record that each day the clothing was changed and buttocks washed with warm water. Beyond this the infants were not handled. Dr. Patrick states that within twelve hours after birth by Nature's method the infant's skin is clear, and Nature's protective film has entirely disappeared. In my observations of the infant's care among primitive races I have been continually impressed with the great infrequency with which we ever hear a primitive child cry or express any discomfort from the treatment it receives. Of course, when hungry they make their wants known. The primitive mother is usually very prompt, if possible, to feed her child.
On special care for pregnant families
Among the important applications that can be made of the wisdom of the primitive races is one related to methods for the prevention of those physical defects which occur in the formative period and which result in physical, mental and moral crippling. When I visited the native Fijian Museum at Suva, I found the director well-informed with regard to the practices of the natives in the matter of producing healthy normal children. He provided me with a shell of a species of spider crab which the natives use for feeding the mothers so that the children will be physically excellent and bright mentally, clearly indicating that they were conscious that the mother's food influenced both the physical and mental capacity of the child. The care with which expectant mothers were treated was unique in many of the Pacific Islands. For example, in one group we were informed that the mother told the chief immediately when she became pregnant. The chief called a feast in celebration and in honor of the new member that would come to join their colony. At this feast the members of the colony pledged themselves to adopt the child if its own parents should die. At this feast the chief appointed one or two young men to be responsible for going to the sea from day to day to secure the special sea foods that expectant mothers need to nourish the child. Recent studies on the vitamin content of crabs have shown that they are among the richest sources available. We have then for modern mothers the message from these primitives to use the sea foods liberally, both during the preparatory period in anticipation of pregnancy and during that entire period. In Fig. 129 will be seen a woman of one of the Fiji Islands who had gone several miles to the sea to get this particular type of lobster-crab which she believed, and which her tribal custom had demonstrated, was particularly efficient for producing a highly perfect infant.
For the Indians of the far North this reinforcement was accomplished by supplying special feedings of organs of animals. Among the Indians in the moose country near the Arctic circle a larger percentage of the children were born in June than in any other month. This was accomplished, I was told, by both parents eating liberally of the thyroid glands of the male moose as they came down from the high mountain areas for the mating season, at which time the large protuberances carrying the thyroids under the throat were greatly enlarged.
Among the Eskimos I found fish eggs were eaten by the childbearing women, and the milt of the male salmon by the fathers for the purpose of reinforcing reproductive efficiency.
The coastal Indians in Peru ate the so-called angelote egg, an organ of the male fish of an ovoviviparous species. These organs were used by the fathers-to-be and the fish eggs by the mothers-to-be.
Special diets during nursing and for young girls
Among many of the tribes in Africa there were not only special nutritional programs for the women before pregnancy, but also during the gestation period, and again during the nursing period.
As an illustration of the remarkable wisdom of these primitive tribes, I found them using for the nursing period two cereals with unusual properties. One, was a red millet which was not only high in carotin but had a calcium content of five to ten times that of most other cereals. They used also for nursing mothers in several tribes in Africa, a cereal called by them linga-linga. This proved to be the same cereal under the name of quinua that the Indians of Peru use liberally, particularly the nursing mothers. The botanical name is quinoa. This cereal has the remarkable property of being not only rich in minerals, but a powerful stimulant to the flow of milk. I have found no record of the use of similar cereals among either the English or American peoples. In Chapter 14, I presented data indicating that the Peruvians, who were descendants of the old Chimu culture on the coast of Peru, used fish eggs liberally during the developmental period of girls in order that they might perfect their physical preparation for the later responsibility of motherhood. These fish eggs were an important part of the nutrition of the women during their reproductive period. They were available both at the coast market of Peru and as dried fish eggs in the highland markets, whence they were obtained by the women in the high Sierras to reinforce their fertility and efficiency for childbearing. A chemical analysis of the dried fish eggs that I brought to my laboratory from Alaska as well as of samples brought from other places has revealed them to be a very rich source of body-building minerals and vitamins. Here again, I have found no record of their use in our modern civilization for reinforcing physical development and maternal efficiency for reproduction. As I have noted in Chapter 15 special nutrition was provided for the fathers by tribes in the Amazon jungle, as well as by the coastal tribes.
53-hour vs 3-hour childbirth
Fig. 133 is another illustration. The oldest child, ten years of age, is shown at the upper left. She has a marked underdevelopment of the width of the face and dental arches. The nostrils are abnormally narrow and she tends to be a mouth breather. She is very nervous and is becoming stooped. In the lower left photograph, is shown an x-ray of the narrowed upper arch. At the right is shown her younger sister, six years of age. It will be seen that the proportions of her face are much more normal and that she breathes with complete ease through her nose. She has none of the nervous trouble of her older sister. In the x-rays, below, at the right, it will be seen that her permanent arch, as indicated by the positions of the permanent teeth, although not so far advanced as that of her sister, has good design. The history of these pregnancies is of interest. The duration of labor for the first child was fifty-three hours and for the second three hours. Following the birth of the first child the mother was a partial invalid for several months. Following that of the second child the experience of childbirth made but slight impression on the strength and health of the mother. During the first pregnancy no special effort was made to reinforce the nutrition of the mother. During the second pregnancy the selection of foods was made on the basis of nutrition of the successful primitives. This included the use of milk, green vegetables, sea foods, organs of animals and the reinforcement of the fat-soluble vitamins by very high vitamin butter and high vitamin natural cod liver oil. It is a usual experience that the difficulties of labor are greatly decreased and the strength and vitality of the child enhanced where the mother has adequately reinforced nutrition along these lines during the formative period of the child.
I recommend this book; & further reading areas
I finished the whole book and found it very thought-provoking. I would recommend you read it too–just skim through the parts that are boring for you.
It's given me a few books and subjects I want to investigate:
- Ethnographic Atlas by George P. Murdock (a database on 1167 societies)
- Contemporary hunter gatherer test results, and how we compare (e.g. Hunter-gatherers as models in public health.)
- Comparative nutrition: what nutrients in what amounts do various carnivores and herbivores need in comparison to us
- Safe Childbirth by Kathleen Vaughan. Vaughan also surveyed ancestral cultures for their techniques, although I can't find her book unless I were to get it from a library.
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PS Please send me an email about any other books which impressed you with their ancestral wisdom!