We recently received an email from a caring mom asking for ideas what she can do to help her son who has dentinogenesis imperfecti (DI). DI is a genetic issue where the teeth come in very weak and crumble easily.
This mom shared with us the challenges she faces watching her one-year old’s teeth cut through his gum only to begin crumbling soon after.
I sat for many days with this email staring me in the face.
I mean, what can I offer this mom? The frustration and grief in her email were strong, yet I also read hope in her words as she was still searching for solutions.
Her dentist suggested that she use pastes that harden enamel and ‘stop’ tooth decay (that have a bunch of junk in them too), but it seems that this is only putting a bandaid on a more fundamental breakdown and potentially further weakening an already challenged system (due to the less than optimal ingredients in the products).
What came to mind for me was a chapter out of the book Primal Body, Primal Mind from Nora Gedgaudas (which by the way is a fabulous read) titled “What Generation of Pottenger’s Cats Are You?” Truly, you could consider this title a second title for this article.
So, after writing back a lengthy email to this courageous mom, we decided to share our thinking with you all with the hope that you’ll find inspiration and benefit for your family too.
Dr. Pottenger and his famous cat studies…
Dr. Pottenger was one of these inspired (albeit a bit crazy) physicians that loved research.
His work goes down in history with the work of Dr. Weston Price, Drs. Edward and May Mellanby, Dr Melvin Page and Dr. Ralph Steinman (to name a few) as the foundation of our current understanding how nutrition plays a critical role in the creation and/or destruction of our health and vitality.
Dr. Pottenger studied the relative health of cats over several generations isolating the quality of food they received as his focus of research. Essentially, he fed one group of cats dead ‘cat food’ and the other group of cats foods that cats would more accurately represent their natural diet like raw meat, organ meats and raw milk. (I realize that cats in the wild wouldn’t find raw milk, but Dr Pottenger used raw milk with the second group since he gave pasteurized milk to the ‘dead food’ group.)
He allowed the experiment to run for many generations all the while noting the changes in physical capabilities.
As you can guess, the cats raised on real food maintained their genetic health all throughout. In the cats fed devitalized food, he found several markers emerge over the generations.
They slowly became less vital and more lethargic. Then they stopped having as many kittens. Finally, the kittens teeth weren’t fully developing or breaking down easily (sound like the young mom and toddler story from earlier?) Eventually, this group of cats became fully sterile.
It took 3 generations of eating foods that didn’t fulfill their nutritional needs, overburdened their systems with metabolic toxins, and created sufficient dysfunction in their microbiomes for the cats to reach this level of breakdown that ended in sterility.
The Silver Lining of Pottenger’s Research
The elegance of Dr. Pottenger’s work is he didn’t stop there. He asked himself, “ I wonder what would happen if I put these deficient, dysfunctional cats back on real food?”
Amazingly, it took only 4 generations to restore the weakened cats back to full functional health. They regained sexual function, their teeth strengthened, their vitality returned, all within only 4 generations!
So, what’s going on here?
We see Pottenger’s research as a great demonstration of our ability to express our genetic potential. In the field of epigenetics, it’s clearly shown that our genes turn off and on on a ‘real time’ basis as a response to environmental influences.
In other words, unlike what our culture thinks of when the word ‘genetics’ comes up (that we are dealt a deck of genes and are victim to how they unfold regardless of our choices through life), people who study epigenetics like to say, “Genetics loads the gun and our environment pulls the trigger”.
In other words, our day to day choices has a HUGE impact on how our genes express themselves as health and vitality or dysfunction and disease.
So, depending on where you are on the continuum to shoulder the full burden of responsibility for your health, this may be great news or a real bummer. 🙂 This means that our day to day choices have a profound impact on whether we experience disease or vitality.
The multi-generation marathon to optimal oral health…
It’s all about the ‘genetic momentum’ (to use a term we learned from our friend Dr. Cate Shanahan, author of Deep Nutrition). Genetic momentum is the tendency or general trend of how well our genetics are expressing themselves as vitality.
Think of a soccer or basketball game where one team is much stronger than the other. If the health giving efforts are dominating the game, genetic momentum will be working on your side. However, if you are on the receiving end of several generations of people who haven’t been making the wisest choices, your genetic momentum needs a good jump start.
It’s time we look beyond the super fast paced, flash in the pan approach that’s so addictive and pervasive in our modern culture. How about making changes in our lives for the potential increase in genetic momentum that our yet to be born grandchildren can benefit from?
Yes, we can make changes to better support our own genetic expression while we support future generations as well. Thankfully, many of these actions are complimentary and align with one another very well.
Actions we can take to create lasting positive changes in our kid’s oral health
1. Reflect on what generation of Pottenger’s Cats you are.
How is your oral health? What was your diet like as a child? How many boxes of packaged cereal were you raised on? 🙂
What was the diet of your parent’s like?
Did your grandma cook like our culture talks about ‘grandmas cooking’ or had she already fallen prey to the modern kitchen? This will give you some clues as to how vital your genetic momentum is.
On a personal note, I recall reading lots and lots of cereal boxes as a kid. To take it a generation further, my mom has shared with me that it was her job as a child to stir in the coloring for the margarine she was raised on!
(Apparently, in the 1940s margarine was sold as a putrid white/grey color product like Crisco of today and to make it more appealing aka look like butter, a color packet came with the margarine that you would stir in once you took it home.)
So, it’s clear to me that genetic momentum is not on my side, which explains my passion for both my own selfish health as well as the health of our future generations.
2. What small step can you take today and make habit in your home to begin to turn around the loss of genetic momentum in your family?
Remember, every step you take is a step along the marathon.
Look around your kitchen. What one food can you remove like the kitchen ninja you can be and never allow to come back? Some of your biggest bang for the buck options would be: replace margarine with real butter (the yellower the better), remove candy from the home (and offer a healthy substitute as a once a week treat if needed to avoid mutiny), or make sure that all kids have some form of quality protein in their first meal of the day.
Just making small steps along this multigeneration marathon to optimal genetic expression is a huge step. The game is to consciously choose to make the change (as the leader of the family that you are) and hold the line.
How to destroy the progress…
You can’t just do it in front of the kids. There’s no point in removing candy from the house but having your own secret stash of chocolate. There’s no hiding the truth.
So, better to wait until you are really ready to lead your family with a step that you know you can hold to than to try to fake it till you make it.
Integrity has so much power and the damage caused by undermining trust in the family (when the kids find your stash) is tough to recover from.
3. How do you know when you’re making progress?
Look for signs of overall improvement.
Sure, you may be thrilled with your child’s dental check up with no cavities. But even if there are cavities, remember the marathon. It can take time to get enough genetic momentum back toward the health giving genetic expression to get a great dental check up.
The worst thing you could do is assume that because there were cavities at the most recent dental visit that ‘this stuff doesn’t work’ and give up. Depending on where you find yourself (and your kids) along Pottenger’s genetic decline, it make take several steps like above to reach a cavity free dental visit.
Remember the marathon…
Look for calmer moods around the house (signs of a more stable blood sugar balance), more vitality and vigor (not to be confused with hyperactivity), a stronger, fuller facial structure, healthy physical development, improvement in attention, etc.
On a personal level, perhaps the biggest ‘feather in our caps’ as parents is that by the time she was 11 years old, our daughter had a wider dental arch than both Susan and I have as adults!
If you are familiar with Weston Price’s work, you’ll realize the wonderful sign of progress this is for us. This is a HUGE sign to us that the actions we’ve been taking for the past many years are expressing themselves in the form of a more completely formed dental arch. (Needless to say, we won’t be rushing off to have her wisdom teeth removed at 18 given the more fully developed dental arch.)
4. Teach your children how to cook real food (and enjoy the flavors of eating it too!)
It’s one thing to increase the amount of fat soluble vitamins in our children’s diet or decreasing the amount of sugar they consume. But if they never learn how to cook real food, we are ultimately not arming them with the tools ‘how to fish’ on their own.
Everyone in our family knows how to prepare quality real food. Whether it’s preparing another pot of bone broth or making home made cheese, these foundational aspects to each of us knowing how to nourish our health and vitality are critical components to making sure future generations are raised on real food.
The combination of providing the very best nutrition for current generations along with raising your family in the kitchen cooking real food will hopefully reap grandchildren with even stronger genetic momentum. In this way, we are beginning to reestablish the idea of helping yet unborn generations to live healthier, happier, more vital lives.
So, what generation of Pottenger’s cats are you? What do you do to provide your children with a little better start toward improving the genetic momentum in your family?
We’d love to hear from you as we all have so much to learn from one another!
Helpful, Related Resources:
5 Steps to a Healthy Mouth [free video tutorial series]
What TO eat to Support Greater Oral Health [article]
What Foods Undermine Our Oral Health and Why [article]
What Causes Tooth Decay (and How We Can Stop it) [article]