Saturday, 8 December 2012

What is Common Today is not Normal

Many believe that it is normal for our health to decline as we age.  Most people will have a few cavities by the time they are 20, and are missing a few teeth by the time they are 60.  30% of deaths in Canada are from Cancer and 28% are from Heart Disease and Stroke.(1)  9 million Canadians are suffering from diabetes or prediabetes. (2)  Alzeimers rates are expected to more than double in the next 25 years.(3)  Arthritis, sore muscles and decreasing energy are seen as a normal part of aging.  

I would argue that although these ailments are common today, they are not a normal part of human aging.  Weston Price was a dentist who travelled the world in the 1930’s studying tooth decay.  His book, “Nutrition and Physical Degeneration”, was the result of his travels.   He studied native people who were still eating their traditional diets in the same area as native people who have adopted modern foods.  He found that people eating their traditional diets were almost immune to tooth decay, while people eating modern foods like flour, sugar and canned fruit experienced high rates of tooth decay.  0.09-0.38% of teeth in people eating a traditional hunter gatherer diet had been attacked by dental caries.  13-40% of teeth in people eating a modern diet had dental caries. (4)  These primitive people didn’t have access to dentists and had never even seen a toothbrush, yet they had almost no tooth decay.  Dr. Price found that even the 70 year old elders eating traditional diets still had all their teeth and did not have tooth decay.  How many 70 year old's in our society can say the same thing?  Dr. Price brought a camera with him and was able to take pictures of the people he studied.  You
don’t even have to read his book, all you have to do is look at the photos.   The four photos on the left and one on the top right below are of people eating their traditional diets, while the other three are consuming modern foods. 

Other frontier doctors also recorded their findings on disease in primitive populations.  In 1913 Albert Schweitzer established a missionary hospital in Western Africa.  He wrote:

 “On my arrival in Gabon I was astonished to encounter no cases of cancer....I cannot, of course, say positively that there was not cancer at all, but, like other frontier doctors, I can only say that if any cases existed they must have been quite rare”(5)

Another quote from the early 1900’s in the Western United States.  

“Chas M. Buchannan .... practiced fifteen years among two thousand Indians with an average life expectancy of fifty-five to sixty years and saw only one case of cancer” (6)  

Similar findings were reported for other diseases.

“Most of these historical observations came from colonial and missionary physicians like Schweitzer and Hutton, administering to populations prior to and coincidental with their first substantial exposure to Western foods.  The new diet inevitably included...sugar, molasses, white flour and white rice.  Then diseases of civilization, or Western Diseases, would appear: obesity, diabetes mellitus, cardiovascular disease, hypertension and stroke, various forms of cancer, cavities, periodontal disease, appendicitis, peptic ulcers, diverticulitis, gallstones, hemorrhoids, varicose veins, and constipation”(7)

Some have argued that people just didn’t live long enough in these populations to get cancer, but the low life expectancy was due to infant death, infectious disease and trauma.  If you made it into adult hood you had a good chance to live into your 60’s and 70’s. (8)  Rates of childhood disease are increasing as well, which has nothing to do with low life expectancy.  We used to classify diabetes as either juvenile or adult onset diabetes.  We had to change the names to type 1 and type 2 diabetes because too many kids are getting adult onset diabetes!  

The latest research is pointing toward oxidation and systematic inflammation as being a major contributor to common ailments of aging.(9)  This constant inflammation impairs the ability of our immune system to function properly.  Our dietary and lifestyle choices play a role in this process.  Quality of food, sleep and exercise, as well as stress, can all impact the amount of inflammation and oxidation we have.  Make the wrong choices and you will suffer the “common” ailments of aging, make the right choices and you can live a “normal” long, healthy and active life.  

(5)    Schweitzer 1998:136-39
(6)    Isaac Levin: Cancer Among the North American Indians and Its Bearing upon the Ethnological     Distritution of the Disease
(7)    Gary Taubes, Good Calories Bad Calories:91

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