Saturday, May 07, 2011

Chapter 6: Primitive and Modernized North American Indians

Continuing my review of Nutrition and Physical Degeneration by Weston A. Price...

One of the nice things in reading this book is the great respect that Price has for all of the peoples he visits. He treats them as equals - and even superiors at times. Although some of the terminology he uses would not be used today by scientists, it is clear that he always means respect while using those contemporary words. Here's an example of this respect:
When I asked an old Indian, through an interpreter, why the indians did not get scurvy he replied promptly that that was a white man's disease. I asked whether it was possible for the Indians to get scurvy. He replied that it was, but said that the Indians know how to prevent it and the white man does not. When asked why he did not tell the white man how, his reply was that the white man knew too much to ask the Indian anything. p.69
What follows is an account of how he then asked the Indian and they went to the chief to get permission to reveal to Price the knowledge. Permission was given and Price learned that when they kill a moose, they are careful to save the adrenal glands, dividing them up between family members. These powerful, yet very tiny organs are crucial to the hormonal balance of the body, but they also contain huge amounts of vitamin C. I have tried to look for the adrenal glands in the past few pigs we've butchered, but have been unsuccessful in finding them. I know pigs have them because they are sold as a beneficial supplement for human adrenal gland problems.

In several Indian groups that Price looked at, he found zero evidence of tooth decay. Zero. Wow. Not even one cavity or used to be cavity among thousands of teeth. How can evidence like this be ignored? And yes, I use the word evidence for observation. Because all science is observation. Even controlled double blind experiments are nothing more than observation. What is observed is just made up under artificial conditions, often completely separate from what exists in the real world.

Matters of childbirth are important to Susan and I, so we were very interested to read his account of the reserve at Brantford, Ontario. It is a fairly well off population, so they could afford many luxuries including much white man food. Here he is talking of the director of the hospital on the reserve:
He stated that in his period of contact he had seen three generations of mothers. The grandmothers of the present generation would take a shawl and either alone or accompanied by one member of their family retire to the bush and give birth to the baby and return with it to the cabin. A problem of little difficulty or concern, it seemed. He stated that today the young mothers of this last generation are brought to his hospital sometimes after they have been in labor for days. They are entirely different from their grandmothers or even mothers in their capacity and efficiency in the matter of reproduction. p.75
This explains a lot. And should give all women great pause. Childbirth is not meant to be like what it is for so many women today: "an illness". (This term will be familiar to those of you with health insurance.) Clearly teeth are Price's primary interest, but as the book goes on, more and more he relates stories about the whole health  picture involved in eating a traditional diet versus the modern diet.

I was going to write next about a section he wrote on the Eskimo and Inuit, but I though instead I would produce a quote from a recent New York Times article which it just as useful:
In 1984, Canadian physicians published an analysis of 30 years of cancer incidence among Inuit in the western and central Arctic. While there had been a “striking increase in the incidence of cancers of modern societies” including lung and cervical cancer, they reported, there were still “conspicuous deficits” in breast-cancer rates. They could not find a single case in an Inuit patient before 1966; they could find only two cases between 1967 and 1980. Since then, as their diet became more like ours, breast cancer incidence has steadily increased among the Inuit, although it’s still significantly lower than it is in other North American ethnic groups. Diabetes rates in the Inuit have also gone from vanishingly low in the mid-20th century to high today.("Is Sugar Toxic?" New York Times April 13, 2011)
Time after time I am reading about a progression from traditional diet to refined foods ending in health disasters. There is an interesting line in this chapter that does offer a glimmer of hope, though. Price relates the practice of a doctor to the Northern Indians who routinely sends them away from white man's food and back to a traditional diet: "Indeed he reported that a great number of the afflicted recover under the primitive living and nutrition." p.84 So how can we get back to more primitive living and nutrition?

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