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Before Agriculture, Humans Had Stronger Bones and Teeth


Studies show that human bones and teeth became weaker when we switched to cultivating vegetation and domesticating livestock instead of hunting and gathering food. Such studies provide important information for preventing osteoporosis, tooth decay, and jaw and mouth complications like tooth over-crowding.

Two studies state that humans lost bone density due to decreased movement when they switched to farming.  One study states that low bone density “evolved late in our evolutionary history, potentially resulting from increased sedentism and reliance on technological and cultural innovations.” A different study states the mobility of hunter-gatherers gave them a “bone structure similar to what would be expected for wild nonhuman primates of the same body mass.”

A study on jaw structure found that the jaw bones of hunter-gatherers went through a series of structural changes that caused teeth to become compacted and crooked upon the introduction of farming. Before farming and a more sedentary lifestyle, hunter-gatherers had straight and properly spaced teeth. A previous study linked the over-crowding of teeth and changed jaw structure to the reduction in the chewing motion needed to chew tougher foods. The study suggests that cultivated and domesticated foods were easier to chew because of food selection and preparation.

Tooth decay was another problem believed to start upon humanity’s switch to farming. A study found that when humans switched to a carbohydrate-rich diet, they changed the microbial communities in their mouths. Diets higher in sugar promoted microbes that are associated with disease and tooth decay, and things got worse with the introduction of processed foods.

“Hunter-gatherers had really good teeth,” a scientist who worked on the study told npr, “[But] as soon as you get to farming populations, you see this massive change. Huge amounts of gum disease. And cavities start cropping up.”

Just because hunter-gatherers moved more doesn’t mean that they worked all day and didn’t have a life. According to Discover Magazine, “It turns out that these people have plenty of leisure time, sleep a good deal, and work less hard than their farming neighbors. Food naturally available, they don’t have to work to grow and cultivate it.” The author goes on to state that their caloric intake was high and their nutritional content was better.

Modern society keeps getting sicker as people think we are “advancing.” How can we say that we are advanced when things like osteoporosis, tooth decay, nearsightedness, and tooth-overcrowding are not found in “primitive” cultures? Isn’t it time to accept that the thing that made hunter-gatherers so healthy was an overall lifestyle of living off of the earth instead of living against it?