Sunday, March 7, 2010

Paleo Diet pH IV: Weston Price on pH

It appears to me that some people into paleo diet and Weston A Price Foundation seem to think that Weston Price has the final say in all debates, that nutrition research ended with Price and anyone who contradicts or appears to contradict Weston Price has to “correct” his/her view to reflect what they believe Weston Price taught. 

Well, I have read Nutrition and Physical Degeneration cover-to-cover several  times. I have also read several of the articles Price published in medical, nutrition, and dental journals, including the one he entitled “Acid-Base Balance of Diets Which Produce Immunity to Dental Caries Among the South Sea Islanders and Other Primitive Races” (available online here). I use his works in several classes that I teach. I think I have a pretty good grasp of Price’s findings.

I did not come away from reading Price with the impression that he had he had discovered every significant nutrition fact. Price did not have omniscience.

Secondly,  Price's research suffers from some weaknesses.  Price did not spend much time with any of the groups he studied, nor did he perform extensive medical testing to determine the incidence of any diseases other than dental decay and malocclusion among them. Interviewing frontier doctors does not count as basic research; those guys could have made mistakes as well. Price assumed that people with good development and resistance to dental decay would also have resistance to all other disorders afflicting humans. This is not a justifiable assumption. A diet could support exceptional development and resistance to dental decay yet have adverse effects on aging.  Finally, he made almost no attempt to accurately report the quantities of foods consumed by the various groups.  He used vague terms like "largely composed of milk products" or such.  Such reports preclude making firm conclusions about amounts of various foods consumed by each group.

Third, I want to emphasize that he only intensively studied dental disorders and developmental skeletal disorders, not disorders of aging, like osteoporosis. He looked at skeletons of some groups, but nowhere in his book does he report determining the age of death of the skeletons. He doesn't even list dental decay rates in age-adjusted figures.

In the aforementioned article, Price wrote:
“My investigations are showing that primitive groups have practically complete freedom from deformity of the dental arches and irregularities of the teeth in the arches and that various phases of these disturbances develop at the point of contact with foods of modern civilization.

“It is not my belief that this is related to potential acidity or potential alkalinity of the food but to the mineral and activator content of the nutrition during the developmental periods, namely, prenatal, postnatal and childhood growth. It is important that the very foods that are potentially acid have as an important part of the source of that acidity the phosphoric acid content, and an effort to eliminate acidity often means seriously reducing the available phosphorus, an indispensable soft and hard tissue component.

It is my belief that much harm has been done through the misconception that acidity and alkalinity were something apart from minerals and other elements. Many food faddists have undertaken to list foods on the basis of their acidity and alkalinity without the apparent understanding of the disturbances that are produced by, for example, condemning a food because it contains phosphoric acid, not appreciating that phosphorus can only be acid until it is neutralized by combining with a base.”

Notice that he did not claim that his investigations showed that all primitive groups have complete freedom from all diseases of civilization. He only claimed resistance to “deformity of the dental arches and irregularities of the teeth in the arches.”

Next, he says he does not hold a “belief” in the acid-base theory with regards to dental decay and deformity. He specifically states that he thinks that he thinks that resistance to these disorders comes via “mineral and activator content of the nutrition during the developmental periods, namely, prenatal, postnatal and childhood growth.” [emphasis added] He says nothing about his whether he “believes” that the potential acidity or alkalinity of food might affect the occurrence of other skeletal or metabolic diseases associated with aging. He does not mention age-related osteoporosis and did not study it.

Then he goes on to use a broad brush to discount people who do believe that acidity or alkalinity of foods might impact health. He calls them “food faddists.” This term would not apply to the serious scientists who I have already and will in upcoming articles refer to in regards to research on Eskimo bone health or the effects or metabolic acidity on bone metabolism.

Next, he suggests that these “faddists” don’t understand the importance of foods rich in phosphorus and “condemn” them. This certainly does not apply to me, Loren Cordain, S.Boyd Eaton, Staffan Lindeberg, Thomas Remer, Friedrich Manz, Anthony Sebastian, Lynn Frasseto, or  Jurgen Vormanne.

I don’t “condemn” meat, fish, poultry, eggs, or nuts, all rich in phosphorus and protein, and acidogenic. If you look at my diet and dietary recommendations, you can see that I eat plenty of meat and that it plays an important role in my dietary recommendations.

However, I don’t blindly worship meat, etc. either. I remain aware of the basic principal of toxicology, that anything – even things essential for health -- can produce toxic effects in large enough dose.

Experiment has established that for humans dietary protein becomes acutely toxic at levels of 240-280 g per day due to limits on the liver’s ability to synthesize urea from the ammonia generated when cells convert excess protein to glucose. [See Maximal Rates of Excretion and Synthesis of Urea in Normal and Cirrhotic Subjects, full text.]

Thus, we know that excess protein can act as an acute toxin for humans. We can reasonably suspect that anything that acts as an acute toxin in large amounts can act as a chronic toxin in reduced amounts. As with other nutrients, we can reasonably expect that people will suffer from deficiency diseases if they get too little protein and toxicity diseases if they get too much, and that between these extremes we will find an optimum intake that maximizes the benefits while avoiding detriments.

Price himself seemed to acknowledge that some primitive diets might have protected against decay and malocclusions but not produced the optimum development for humans. In chapter 9 of NPD, he wrote:

Neurs, Malakal, Sudan. The Neurs at Malakal on the Nile River are a unique tribe because of their remarkable stature. Many of the women are six feet tall and the men range from six feet to seven and a half feet in height. Their food consists very largely of animal life of the Nile, dairy products, milk and blood from the herds.

A study of 1,268 teeth of thirty-nine individuals revealed only six teeth with dental caries, or 0.5 per cent. Only three individuals had caries, or 7.7 per cent.

Dinkas, Jebelein, Sudan. This tribe lives on the Nile. Its members are not as tall as the Neurs. They are physically better proportioned and have greater strength. They use fish from the Nile and cereals for their diet. They decorate their bodies profusely with scars.

An examination of 592 teeth of twenty-two individuals revealed only one tooth with caries, or 0.2 per cent.”

You will notice that this passage, typical of NPD, contains no attempt to even identify whether either of these groups suffered from any diseases other than tooth decay. Further, Price’s description of the Dinka diet is, like most of his other dietary descriptions, sketchy.  He makes no effort to accurately quantify their dietary composition. According to

“Dinka have traditionally produced all the material resources needed to sustain their livelihood via a combination of horticulture (gardening) with pastoralism (nomadic herding), fishing and occasional hunting. Millet is the mainstay of the Dinka diet [Emphasis added]. Depending on the season, it is supplemented with cow milk, fish, meat, beans, tomatoes, or rice.”

[Read more: Dinka .]

This almost certainly fails to itemize and quantify all the foods in the Dinka diet (judging by my experience with Ethiopian food, most likely the Dinka also eat a wide variety of vegetables and herbs), but at least it identifies millet as their main food. Thus, it appears that Price believed that the almost exclusively animal-sourced Neur diet produced more tooth decay and weaker, disproportionately developed people when compared to the grain-dominated Dinka diet.

How such statements by Price get converted to the idea that healthy people got all their vitamins and minerals from animal sources, and that plant foods are not important to health,  is beyond my comprehension.

Price also prescribed diets containing whole wheat, apparently unaware of the hazards associated with gluten exposure.  

Yet what appears to me as a Weston Price Personality Cult seems bent on suggesting that Price demonstrated and believed that the only groups eating predominantly animal-sourced diets--particularly milk products-- had in every case the best development and health. 


J. A. Deep said...

The "Passion of the Price" comes, at least for me, from the marvel of having even one truthful voice actually heard for nearly a century above the corporate-paid media and its literally sickening deceptions.

When Weston A. Price inspires whole communities, where the real work of educating goes on, an audience is nurtured for other new and important voices, like yours and the scientists you mention.

That Price's work has survived, for all these years, the corporate and regulatory forces paying vast sums to silence good science, gives us hope that so will yours and others like you.

Much appreciated!

Anand Srivastava said...

Great article Don.

I think Price was also not closed to the thought that Acid and Base may not be important. But he thought they could be balanced. The quote given by you ended in this way.

"not appreciating that phosphorus can only be acid until it is neutralized by combining with a base.”

So yes Acid may be wrong, we don't know for sure, but its better to neutralize it with a base, just in case it may be important. Many traditions seems to do that.

In India, we always cook our meat in highly basic vegetables, lots of onions and garlic. And many strict vegetarians abhor garlic and onions. Possibly due to making food too basic ???

Gyan said...

I suppose gluten problem existed at sub-clinical levels in Traditional dietry cultures. Notice that he combines wheat with butter. The problem becomes acute once butter is left out and replaced with margarines and PUFA.

Don said...

JA Price,

Point well taken. I value Price's work for that reason and others.


Right on.


Agreed. I also think some traditional wheat-eating cultures had illnesses they attributed to possesion, devils, or whatever, that were actually due to gluten insensitivity: e.g. schizophrenia, migraine headaches, or other neurological disturbances.

Shareef said...

Whoever the cap of dogma fits let him wear it!

The community of people most interested in the work of Weston A Price are the exact opposite of a faith community. They are a community of skeptics! They are skeptical that the modern loud clamoring university types are going to be correct, over the long run, when they advocate abandoning the good ole fashioned food the nourished their families for generations. It just so happens the findings of Weston A Price tend to confirm their biases.

I have though, been listening in (via RSS feed) on a so called nutrition community that asks you to believe in a pantheon of gods. Gods that you will never see or get to ask questions. They speak only through a select clergy. They command you, by right of having begotten you, to eat as they eat and even exercise as they do. They command you but not directly, only through the scriptures. Scriptures that are, of course, interpreted by the clergy who have all the qualifications of many a familiar lay minister.

"Who" you may ask, "are these gods?" They are the great and powerful Paleos! "What are these scriptures?" you ask. They are the latest an-three-po-logical university type papers! "How does one speak for the Paleos?" you ask. Just stand up and start pontificatin', if the people listen you are now an expert!

I could go on and on about how the recommendations change every 6 months or so or how the "studies" of the past century have delivered a health disaster yet are still being consulted. "The test tube and microscope have failed so let's turn it over to the pick-axe and dust brushes."

Thanks for writing this BS post as my RSS feeder was getting quite busy. Once I unsubscribe for about seven of these paleo-fantasy type blogs the totals should be much more manageable.

I too quote Admiral Sir Leopold McClintock to the effect that he paid no attention to the prohibitions of a dietetic theory, which happened to be in vogue among the doctors in a given year, if he knew that the food condemned by the theory had been found wholesome and in other ways desirable by large numbers of people through long periods; he said he always preferred experience to theory if the two were in conflict.

Because primal WISDOM trumps modern intelligence, all day, every day. (even the society of back patters aka MENSA)


PS Whoever raises children on the !Kung diet while living in America should factor in the negative cortisol effects of the life long flashbacks of the grammar school wedgies administered daily by bullies bullying a tiny frail !Kung-like misfit!

PPS Good luck with those baked potatoes! Insulin much?

Don said...


Not sure where you think I engaged in fantasy or condemned any traditional food or contradicted Price's findings (as opposed to the views of say Sally Fallon).

Also don't recall any paleo diet advocate commanding anyone to eat a paleo diet or do any particular type of exercise. I've not seen anyone hide reasons or refuse questions either. I just don't see the analogy fitting very well. We rely on evidence (including but not restricted to Weston Price's evidence) to guide us, not faith.

Weston Price is only one voice contributing to our investigations, not the only one.

I don't understand your comment about !Kung diet and "wedgies". I get the impression you meant to suggest that you consider the !Kung diet an unacceptable model of a successful traditional diet. Not sure why since the !Kung rarely have tooth decay and have no recorded heart disease. Do you have some reason I should consider the !Kung diet non-traditional? Do you consider the Masai or Eskimos diet more traditional than the !Kung, and if so, why?

My list of traditional foods includes meat, animal fats, vegetables, fruits, nuts and coconut products. Does something on this list seem newfangled to you? I thought I saw all of them (including potatoes) in traditional cuisines and even in Nourishing Traditions. Would be grateful if you could show me which food group on this list is not traditional, or not consumed by any tribe studied by Price.

No problems with insulin here. Price certainly did not condemn potatoes. On the contrary, he noted that the people he visited in Peru's high Sierras had a high degree of health, and "Their vegetable foods included potatoes, which were preserved in powder form by freezing and drying and pulverizing." Which processing would have increased the glycemic index. See page 239 of the hardback version of NPD.

Or maybe you think I left out something essential? Maybe something that doesn't stimulate insulin release?

My insulin levels are fine, thanks for asking. Did I miss some research indicating that the whole wheat bread recommended by Price and WAP people does not stimulate insulin release? Would like to see it.

On page 290 of his book Price reports what he fed children suffering from tooth decay:

-4 oz of tomato or orange juice
-meat and vegetables stew "which always contained finely choopped vegetables and plenty of very yellow carrots"
-"cooked fruit, with very little sweetening, and rolls made from freshly ground whole wheat."

This composed one meal. Plenty of insulinogenic carbohydrate. He seems to have thought highly of vegetables and fruits. Again, not sure where I went awry of Price, except that I don't recommend wheat. But then that stimulates insulin so it might not be what you had in mind.

Seems to me Price and I may agree on more points than you and I? Although I do disagree with misinterpretations or selective reading of Price's book.

PS: I don't even belong to what you call "the society of backpatters". (Only qualified for it.)

Shareef said...

Sorry that I cannot back your forth as I am quit of all paleo games. My wife says that I have been cross and rude so I apologize. Play with him instead:

Farewell and good health to you.

Helen said...

"I also think some traditional wheat-eating cultures had illnesses they attributed to possesion, devils, or whatever, that were actually due to gluten insensitivity: e.g. schizophrenia, migraine headaches, or other neurological disturbances."

It could also have been aflatoxins growing on the wheat, which have been theorized to have caused mass hallucinations in Europe at times. Some of the odd behavior could have resulted in some of the aflatoxin-afflicted people being suspected to be witches.

I've also heard the theory that people had more "visions" in earlier agricultural times due to vitamin deficiencies.

I haven't yet read NPD, but from what I've gathered from people who follow Price, those that eat wheat, most of them, soak, sprout, or ferment it. Sprouting and sourdoughs reduce the gluten in wheat probably as reliably as cooking destroys the solanine in potatoes. (Which is to say, mostly, but not completely.) The hardy mountain Swiss he mentioned ate sourdough rye.

I like your blog! Thanks for your work.

rob said...

Intelligent post - thanks! The main reason i would lean more heavily on Prices' work (and NOT dogmatically...!) would be the consideration of how greatly lessened our resources would be without his work - how much richer he made the body of knowledge - even the shortcomings having a great lesson to tell.

I do advocate a balance - i am too frustrated with the WPF especially with their blase attitude towards grains and sugar. I find the Price-Pottenger site at least more in touch with Prices original documentation.

Our little community runs a blog too, listed below and i would like to subscribe to yours - is it possible to do so without the donation?

please advise and thanks again-
Discoveries for a Full Life

Don said...


Above the Donation buttons in the right hand column there is a "Subscribe To" box where you can subscribe without any donation.

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