Activator X

Activator X, the almost-mythical vitamin discovered and characterized by Weston Price, has been identified! For those of you who are familiar with Weston Price’s book ‘Nutrition and Physical Degeneration’, you know what I’m talking about. For the rest of you, allow me to explain.

Weston Price was a dentist and scientist in the early part of the 20th century. Practicing dentistry in Cleveland, he was amazed at the poor state of his patients’ teeth and the suffering it inflicted. At the time, dental health was even worse than it is today, with some children in their teens already being fitted for dentures. Being a religious man, he could not bring himself to believe that ‘physical degeneration’ was what God intended for mankind. He traveled throughout the world looking for cultures that did not have crooked teeth or dental decay, and that also exhibited general health and well-being. And he found them. A lot of them.

These cultures were all considered ‘primitive’ at the time, and were not subject to the lifestyles or food choices of the Western world. He documented, numerically and with photographs, the near-absence of dental cavities and crooked teeth in a number of different cultures throughout the world. He showed that like all animals, humans are healthy and robust when occupying the right ecological niche. Price had a deep respect for the nutritional knowledge these cultures curated.

He also documented the result when these same cultures were exposed to Western diets of white flour, sugar and other industrially processed foods: they developed rampant cavities, their children grew with crooked teeth due to narrow dental arches, as well as a number of other strikingly familiar health problems. I think it’s worth mentioning that Price’s findings were universally corroborated by doctors in contact with the same cultures at the time. They are also corroborated by the archaeological record. Many of his findings were published in respected peer-reviewed journals. ‘Nutrition and Physical Degeneration’ is required reading for anyone interested in the relationship between nutrition and health.

Naturally, Price wanted to understand what healthy diets had in common besides the absence of white flour and sugar. Having studied cultures as diverse as the carnivorous Inuit, the dairy-eating Masai and agricultural groups in the Andes, he realized that humans are capable of thriving on very diverse foods. However, he did find one thing in common: they all had a high intake of fat-soluble, animal-derived vitamins. Even the near-vegetarian groups ate insects or small animals that were rich in these vitamins. He looked for, but did not find, a single group that was entirely vegetarian and had the teeth and health of the groups he described in ‘Nutrition and Physical Degeneration’.

There were three vitamins he found abundantly in the diets of healthy non-industrialized people: A, D, and an unknown substance he called ‘activator X’. He considered them all to be synergistic and critical for proper mineral metabolism (tooth and bone formation and maintenance) and general health. He had a chemical test for activator X, but he didn’t know its chemical structure and so it remained unidentified. He found activator X most abundantly in grass-fed butter (but not grain fed!), organ meats, shellfish, insects, and fish eggs. Many of these foods were fed preferentially to pregnant or reproductive-age women in the groups he studied.

Price used extracts from grass-fed butter (activator X), in combination with high-vitamin cod liver oil (A and D), to prevent and reverse dental cavities in many of his patients. ‘Nutrition and Physical Degeneration’ contains X-rays of case studies showing re-calcification of severe cavities using this combination.

After reading his book, I wasn’t sure what to make of activator X. If it’s so important, why hasn’t it been identified in the 60+ years since he described it? I’m happy to say, it finally has. In the summer of 2007, Chris Masterjohn wrote an article for the Weston Price foundation website, in which he identified Weston Price’s mystery vitamin: it’s vitamin K2, specifically the MK-4 isoform (menatetrenone).

It occurs exactly where Weston Price described it, and research is beginning to find that it’s also critical for mineral metabolism, bone and tooth formation and maintenance. Its function is synergistic with vitamins A and D. To illustrate the point, where do A, D and K2 MK-4 all occur together in nature? Eggs and milk, the very foods that are designed to feed a growing animal. This is true from sea urchins to humans, confirming the ubiquitous and critical role of these nutrients. K2 has not yet been recognized as such by the mainstream, but it is every bit as important to health as A and D. The scientific cutting edge is beginning to catch on, however, due to some very tantalizing studies.

In the next post, I’ll go into more detail about K2, what the science is telling us and where to get it.