Mouthful of spirochetes

A just released study conducted by the University of Adelaide’s Centre for Ancient DNA and the University of Aberdeen reports that oral bacteria underwent a change 10,000 years ago with the incorporation of grains into the diet.

Analysis of the bacterial DNA from the teeth of non-grain consuming hunter-gatherers compared to the bacteria from early grain-adopting humans (early farmers from Central Europe and late Neolithic, Bronze Age, and medieval populations) demostrated a change in composition. Specifically, pre-grain hunter-gatherers demonstrated greater diversity in oral bacterial species, while modern humans preferentially express more spirochetes, fusobacteria, and bacteroidetes.

Study co-author Professor Keith Dobney comments: “It is clear from our study that the diversity of modern human’s oral bacteria is much reduced compared with our prehistoric hunter-gatherer and early farming ancestors who existed over 7,500 years ago. Over the past few hundred years, our mouths have clearly become a substantially less diverse ecosystem, reducing our resilience to invasions by disease-causing bacteria.”

This study rounds out what anthropologists have been telling us for years: When Anatomically Modern Humans (often called “Cro Magnon” in the earlier literature in European populations) first incorporated grains such as einkorn and emmer wheat 10,000 years ago, maize/teosinte 4000-8000 years ago in the Americas, and sorghum and millet in sub-Saharan Africa 8000 years ago, we experienced an explosion of tooth decay, tooth loss, tooth abscess, increased evidence of iron deficiency (“porotic hyperostosis”), along with reduction in height and bone diameter, as well as a reduction in brain size–the very first time hominids experienced a shrinking brain.

Another excellent description of the effects of incorporating grains and sugars into the diet of primitive non-grain, non-sugar consuming humans can be found in the record of dental health tabulated by dentist, Dr. Weston Price, during his 10-year worldwide trek during the early 20th century. (A reprint is available in paperback from Amazon.) Time and again, Dr. Price found healthy, well-formed teeth in humans eating their primitive diets, only to experience a surge in tooth decay, tooth loss, tooth abscess, and maxillary (facial) and mandibular (jaw) malformations with the adoption of “white man’s food” of wheat and sugar. Note that the observations of Dr. Price, anthropologists, and the bacterial DNA studies record effects of grains that pre-date the grains that are now changed, courtesy of agribusiness. Wheat was always bad; modern agriculture just made it much worse.

Obviously there is more to health than dental health. It is part of the fundamental dilemma of anthropology: Bony tissues such as jaw, pelvis, and teeth are preserved, while soft tissues such as intestines, liver, and brain are not. The marked downturn in oral health–shift in bacterial populations, decay, infection, and facial malformation–I take as evidence that, by allowing grains (and more recently sugar) into the human diet, we paid a big health price. We battle the shift in oral bacteria, dental decay, and facial malformation from consumption of “healthy whole grains” and sugar by brushing our teeth with fluoridated toothpaste, dental floss, fluoridated water, dentists and orthodontists. But no such “solution” exists for the destructive effects of grains on our internal organs. Those we just live with (or die with) while taking a variety of prescription drugs to subdue.

Or, of course, we could just choose to eat NONE of it. Read the comments of a dental hygienist witnessing these phenomena in our own time.

Like This Post? Sign Up For Updates — It’s FREE!

Plus receive my latest collection of recipes, Wheatbelly Hearty Entrees!

Comments & Feedback...

  1. allisonK

    So that’s why aliens have such big brains. While we were eating grains and have shrinking brains, they did not eat grains and their brains kept getting bigger! LOL.
    As for me, my teeth feel amazingly clean and don’t ache at all when I don’t eat grains and sugar.

  2. allisonK

    On my last dentist visit my dentist exclaimed how wonderfully I was flossing and brushing. I’ve had a history of forgetting to floss and the dentist catches it every time. Well… he was shocked to learn that I still hadn’t been flossing much at all. I just told him I wasn’t eating wheat and sugar anymore. He didn’t really believe me.

    • Pat

      I had an appointment with my dental hygienist after one month of eating grain-free. I had no bleeding at all and my gums showed less deep pockets around my teeth. First time in years this happens, as they always bleed when cleaned. She also attributed it to my normal flossing, which hasn’t been any different than usual (ie. once a week). I had a suspicion it could’ve been the diet, but only a month just sounded too good to be true, so I didn’t mention it.

  3. derp

    Dear Dr. Davis,
    besides eating a grain-free, low-carb diet, with unprocessed, fresh foods – what else can I do to restore my bacterial flora?

    • Dev

      Im pretty sure Dr Davis will say get a probiotic w at least 50 billion on the label. Can’t recall, it’s 50 billion something. I get mine at our local good health mart works well too!

  4. Ellen

    During my most recent visit to a dentist, he told me my gum tissues look really good and to keep doing whatever I was doing. I don’t think a dentist ever told me that before I changed my diet. I also had no cavities for once. It all makes sense to me. I have a mouth full of fillings, I really wish I had discovered this way of eating 20 years ago instead of 2 years ago!

  5. Marzena

    Great information! I was wondering why people that live in the wild and have basic diet have such a healthy teeth and that is the answer. Just recently I’ve read “Money by the Mouthful” of an American dentist who says that our teeth decay because of the bacteria and while still eating grains he gave a solution to have 100% healthy teeth and gums.
    I followed his advice and researched on my own how to take care of my teeth in an easy and healthy way. I don’t use toothpaste anymore, instead I clean my teeth with toothbrush and powder made from 2 spoons of baking soda and 1 spoon of sea salt (such amount lasts for many days). During a day and before sleep I rinse my mouth with baking soda water and from time to time I use also sage or Hypericum rinse. It keeps my mouth far from acidic and therefore doesn’t give bacteria much playground between my teeth.
    Since then my gums are much better, my teeth are cleaner and white and I don’t need to expose myself to chemicals. For me those information have been very significant.
    With your additional information I think there is a perfect solution now. Thanks for keeping us informed about grains, I am going to reconsider my relationship with millet-rice-sugar-and other no gluten grains, which I still lovingly consume.

  6. Fiona Jesse Giffords

    Grains and sugar free diets are now becoming very much popular. But nobody takes it seriously that if you are in gluten free diet than you lose so much vitamins and proteins as you have omit whole grain , bread, rice items. It could cost you further in serious health problems.

    • James


      Not sure I get you. Are you saying that if one drops grains completely, the risk of becoming deficient in “proteins, vitamins” and say minerals is very serious ? If such is your statement, it is the latter that is NOT serious. Eat whole real foods like the ones listed in the “quick’n’dirty” list posted by Dr Davis and deficiencies should not be your concern. Personally, 4 months sugar / starch / grain free, and I feel great!! I have become slender and energy levels are really high! Not sure I would feel like that if I were deficient in said vitamins, etc.


    • Uncle Roscoe


      Have you tried going wheat free? Surely, if you are correct about wheat-free causing deficiencies, then you would be able to detect the health problems in order to start eating wheat again. Wouldn’t it seem strange that so many wheat-free people report health improvements if dropping wheat endangers them?

      The proof of the pudding is in the eating.

    • derp

      Yes, we’re all gonna get sick from grain deficiency, just as:
      – the Tuvalu natives who eat coconut, root vegetables and some sea fruit
      – the Kitavi natives who eat a plant-rich diet without grains, maize, rice
      – the Pima indians who ate a rich diet of everything available from nature itself without grains, maize or rice
      – the traditional Inuit who eat only fish, whale and occassionally, a bear
      – the Massai who only eat cow blood, goat milk and goat beef
      Thank you for your great evidence-based comment that reflects the depth of your anthropological and evolutionary reasoning. Dr. Davis is SO disproved now!

  7. Geoffrey

    Since I’ve been off wheat, sugar, and most, if not all, starchy foods, such as potatoes, my mouth and teeth feel so much cleaner. I don’t get that plaque build up on my teeth that you/I can feel, and my teeth stay literally squeaky clean all day long. I’m also no longer worried about bad breath.

    Cheers for being off wheat and sugar. After two months of it, I no longer have cravings for breads or sugars, they’re just not even of interest anymore. I’d be insane to put that stuff in my mouth given the negative effects I know they have on my body, especially my intestinal track/process.

  8. Jennifer

    Hi Dr. Davis,
    I have a quick question for you about your new cookbook. I am looking to becoming a vegetarian and still go wheat free of course, the inflammation I get when eating meats, especially red meat even lean, has driven me to the point I just don’t want to continue. Do you think you’ll be able to do a cookbook for vegetarians that do have to watch their sugar levels because of starches? I know to stay clear of gluten free products. My friends are vegetarians, but some of us do have pre-diabetic symptoms and basically have been told we are diabetic, but we are at the “holding it off” stage. Thank goodness you saved us in the carb area, now it’s dealing with meat. I don’t eat soy as it has become a GMO. How can I incorporate your meat dishes without using meat? I would love to have your knowledge, and then put it in a vegetarian form.
    Thank you and God Bless,

      • Jennifer

        Hi HS4,
        I get severe joint pain when I eat any animal meats. This has come about fairly recently, and I believe I suffer from leaky guy syndrome, but the problem is, eating animal fats and meat really play a rough role on my body. I have endometriosis and have found studies that indicate eating red meat especially even the leanest, can make matters worse. I usually eat white chicken breast or turkey and it doesn’t matter now. I tried the paleo diet this past summer, and felt great, then something went horribly wrong. I am really not sure what to do.

  9. Donna Anderson

    Dr. Davis, I am a big fan of yours, but I think you have done the Weston A. Price Foundation the kind of disservice that many do to you by misstating their position on grains. I am not an expert in Dr. Price’s teachings and I have been wheat free for 7 months now and will continue on that program. I find it beneficial to my health. With that said, however, I will refer you to the Weston A. Price Foundation website or to Sally Fallon’s (co-founder of WAPF) cookbook “Nourishing Traditions”, to learn more about the diet he recommended. The foundation is pro whole grains and from their page on “Principles of Healthy Diets”, I quote “seeds, grains & nuts are soaked, sprouted, fermented or naturally leavened to neutralize naturally occurring anti-nutrients such as enzyme inhibitors, tannis and phytic acid”. Ms. Fallon devotes over 20 pages in her cookbook to grains and points out that “virtually all preindustrialized peoples, soaked or fermented their grains before making them into porridge, breads, cakes and casseroles.” July 18, 2012 Sylvia Onvisic, PhD, did a review of your book for WAPF and gave it a thumbs up, with the following reservation “it fails to acknowledge the fact that many people do tolerate wheat bread without problems, if it is eaten with plenty of butter and properly prepared the WAPF way…….”

    • Marzena

      I am wondering if there are any research regarding WAPF diet? If what you say is correct there should be some people who have been on this diet for many years so they could prove it is healthy.

    • HS4

      What you say about WAPF is true but Dr Davis’ point is that even in Dr Price’s day, before modern wheat, all wheat was bad. Yes, if wheat (and other grains) are soaked, fermented, or sprouted, phytates and other anti-nutrients are neutralized (but only partially) and that is certainly better than eating them untreated. However, the paragraph preceding the one discussing Dr Price’s work, says it all “When …. Humans …..first incorporated grains …… we experienced an explosion of tooth decay, tooth loss, tooth abscess, increased evidence of iron deficiency ……. along with reduction in height and bone diameter, as well as a reduction in brain size ….”

      Thus, even though the grains consumed by pre-modern humans were very likely treated (fermented, soaked, sprouted, etc….) before consumption, it still resulted in the sharp degradation of dental and bone health, brain size, etc…. So wheat has never been healthy if consumed as a major part of a diet whether by pre-modern humans, recent hunter-gatherers, or modern humans (i.e. us, and now we have the further disadvantage of modern wheat which is harmful way beyond the anti-nutrients issues).

    • Boundless

      > … done the Weston A. Price Foundation the kind of disservice that
      > many do to you by misstating their position on grains.

      It is WAPF doing the disservice to mankind.

      Here’s a page with their position on grains:
      2. Grains, legumes and nuts: whole-grain baked goods, breakfast porridges, whole grain rice; beans and lentils; peanuts, cashews and nuts, properly prepared to improve digestibility.

      “properly prepared” is elsewhere described as “to neutralize phytic acid and other anti-nutrients.”

      The suggested diet is too high in carbs, and fails to exclude the super-villain carbs (gluten-bearing grains). The “preparation” does little to mitigate the hazards of these particular grains, and even less to reduce the net carb content.

      > … many people do tolerate wheat bread without problems, if …

      When “tolerate” and “food” appear in the same sentence, we really need to ask ourselves if what’s being discussed is “food”.

      Dr. Price did a lot of valuable work, but the diet advocated by his Foundation looks rather less than ideal to me, and since the doctor is no longer available for reconsideration, it is unlikely that the Foundation will dare tinker with it to any significant degree.

      • hybrid-t

        Sorry the “check your facts” is for Dr Davis, not Boundless. Dr Davis is free to disagree with Weston Price but not to misstate what he actually wrote- especially when it is free online for anyone to check for themselves.

  10. Miriam

    This whole discussion is eye-opening and fascinating. I went off all grains about 4 months ago after reading Good Calories, Bad Calories. I’ve only just recently heard of Wheat Belly, and it really highlights an issue that always confused me a bit after reading GCBC.

    Prior to reading the aformentioned book, I had been eating “healthy” for my whole life. My mother was very anti-sugar and did not allow anything in the house that wasn’t homemade and whole grain, or anything “from a box.” I continued to eat that way and never had a sweet tooth. Five years ago my roommate was told she had “elevated cholesterol,” with no further explanation. We were concerned because the doctor was, and I doubled down on what we had been told was healthy. No fat in anything. Nothing but boneless, skinless chicken breasts. 10 servings of fruits and vegetables a day and nothing but whole grains I made myself.

    The result of our little experiment was that we got fatter, slower, tired all the time, grumpy then down then deeply depressed and could hardly function. The day I finished GCBC I threw all that out, ordered red meat directly from a butcher and never looked back. I’ve lost 65 pounds and my roommate 40. We’re continuing to lose weight steadily, and putting on muscle without effort. We can think clearly, we have tons of energy, not one “down” day since. Our hair and nails are better, including that my roommate’s premature greying has now slowed significantly. She’s also had odd skin rashes all her life that no doctor could diagnose and nothing would fix: all gone. Arthritis I had from a severe accident earlier in life is significantly eased. All gastrointestinal discomfort is completely gone. My blood pressure dropped from borderline to ideal, and my resting heart beat went from nearly 100 bpm to 66. We’re not hungry and never obsess about food. We have stamina that we never had before, and greater strength, without exercising. And we have just been noticing dental changes: no more tooth sensitivity, no more “dirty teeth” feeling and no more sore gums.

    What really struck me in all this, though, was one little thing that GCBC didn’t really address. Don’t get me wrong: I appreciated that book very much, and learned a lot. I feel very much that I owe the author my health, and I am completely convinced of the dangers of refined sugar and HFCS, and really most sweeteners and even modern strains of over-sugared fruit. I understood that the author was no fan of grains of any sort either, but I did get the distinct impression that sugars and refined flour were the main culprits in his mind. (As they probably very well are for most people). But because of that I have thought it was a little odd these last four months that we would see such profound results when we never ate sugar or refined grains. I’ve been shocked to realize that it was whole grains, and possible starchy vegetables and fruit, that were killing us: not cupcakes, french fries and candy bars. I expected a benefit from cutting them out, but never to the extent that we have enjoyed.

    Reading this blog has been very eye-opening to the dangers of wheat, and naturally I now realize that of all the things we were doing (not eating enough fat or meat, eating too much sugar in the form of fruit and too many starchy vegetables, substituting chemically-extracted vegetable oils for all animal fats) probably the most damaging of all: “healthy” whole grains three times a day.

    Thank you, Dr. Davis, for all the information you’ve made available here. It’s a great resource and I’ve benefited from understanding better what wheat does, what it has always done and the changes in modern wheat that have exacerbated the problem.

    • Dr. Davis

      Welcome, Miriam!

      Too many millions of people have had to travel the same path you have traveled–including me–to finally discover that the path back to health is the OPPOSITE of what conventional advice repeatedly tells us.

      Boos like Gary Taubes’ excellent GCBC and Wheat Belly would not be necessary if the government and nutritionists got it right in the first place!

    • Geoffrey

      That’s a great story Miriam. I have been strictly doing this diet now for almost 3 months and my energy levels are more stable throughout the day, no longer do I get that horrendous afternoon dip, and I find that I’m able to do more of the work that I do without the feeling run down like I used to be. My vision and skin are clearer, my teeth are cleaner, my digestive and elimination processes function so much better (I had undiagnosed and relatively chronic IBS-type symptoms). I love eating a cheese burger for breakfast (of course it’s bunless). That’s the best of the day for me to eat that type of food, it completely sets me up for the day. We feed our dog a raw diet and in the morning he gets raw chicken backs or turkey necks,with the bones, because that’s when his digestive processes are most powerful. At night, he gets ground raw food (with 10% veggies mixed in) because his digestion then isn’t as strong.

      And I also know that one very important piece for me has been not eating potatoes (especially potato chips!) or steel cut oatmeal or granola. I also have to be careful with my nut intake, nuts become like candy to me and that can mess up my digestion.

      Someone said to me recently about how the Irish survived on potatoes, which must then mean that they’re healthy, nutritious, and good for us. And I said, yes, potatoes kept them alive but that doesn’t mean they were physically healthy people during that time period.

      Thanks again for posting.

  11. I am a woman in my 40’s and had braces fitted last April. I attend the dentist every 6 weeks for a deep cleaning in order to keep teeth and gums super clean ! I had slight gum diesease in the past and needed to watch it. One month ago I started my wheat free, gluten free, dairy free diet, and went to my dentist on Monday for the usual clean ! Her first words were ” well done you have been working hard” ( I had done nothing different since the last visit). She repeated 3 times how good my teeth were and said it was “like looking into a new mouth” and that there was “no trace of plaque”. I told me about my new diet and recommened she read ” Wheat Belly” . I will never ever go back to wheat or gluten as as well as that my stomach is practically gone !

  12. Rowana

    I went grain-free and sugar-free three weeks ago (Feb. 1) after reading “Wheat Belly” and “Good Calories, Bad Calories.” And I have never felt better! I haven’t weighed myself and I just got a blood test the other day, so I’ll be going to my doctor next week for the results. We’ll compare it to what my bloodwork was this past November. I NEVER feel hungry, and my chronic heartburn is GONE. After reading this post, it will be interesting to see what my dentist says on my next visit, as I’ve been noticing that my teeth “feel” cleaner. I’m not expecting miracles in the blood test after only 3 weeks, but who knows? I had “borderline” high cholesterol when I was tested last summer, so my doctor started me on Pravastatin, which gave me Achilles tendon pain, so I immediately stopped it (alas, the pain has lingered…). I hope the Achilles pain will eventually go away (statins are not our friends, I fear….), and I’m hoping my cholesterol levels show some improvement. I don’t miss the grains, starches and sugars at all — there are such a wide variety of proteins and vegetables and (the occasional) good fruits available. I find that if I even nibble on a grainy or sugary thing now, I feel icky within minutes — really interesting. I wonder if i felt that way ALL THE TIME before, and I’m only just now realizing the contrast? – Rowana