Is cancer a modern-day disease? Recent discoveries as to the health status of ancient peoples may give us a clue as to the answer to this question, and also how oral health could have played a role.
Oral Health, Stress and Disease in Prehistoric Times
The best-preserved examples of the health of people who lived thousands of years ago was discovered recently in the Middle East. The 13th-11th century Nile Valley settlement called Amara West was unearthed in the 1930’s in what is now Sudan (back then the area was called Nubia). Archeologists at the time found what used to be a diverse population living under loose Egyptian rule. In 2008, the British Museum instigated renewed research at the site which has brought forth even more information about disease and ancient peoples.
Today’s archaeologists assess the health of people in eras past by determining the “physiological stress” of the overall population. They do this by looking through the lens of the “systemic stress perspective,” which evaluates a population’s overall health by determining how well they were able to maintain resilience in the face of environmental and social challenges.
British Museum researchers found some very interesting factors in the roughly 180 skeletons unearthed in the cemeteries of Amara West which could pinpoint the historical connection between stress and disease as well as between oral health and cancer.
Researchers at the Amara West site concluded that during the time under investigation, the region was going through both environmental and social upheaval, with changes in colonial rules as well as drought effecting the overall population and possibly limiting opportunities for agriculture.
For the first time ever, archaeologists along the Nile also found significant numbers of individuals with atherosclerosis (heart disease). In addition, a third of the population had lung disease and almost all of them had serious oral complications, including cavities, abscesses and missing teeth. Every one of these conditions is still considered by most health professionals as results of modern life, certainly not associated with prehistoric peoples!
Oldest Cancer Case Discovered
The most interesting find at Amara West was a skeleton that displayed signs of cancer. When this was confirmed, it became the oldest case ever discovered. The skeleton was founder by Michaela Binder, a PhD student at Durham University in Britain working under chief researcher Dr. Neal Spencer of the British Museum’s Department of Ancient Egypt and Sudan.
The skeleton belonged to a young man aged 25 to 35 who had metastatic cancer. Chronic disease can show up on ancient bones and the researchers found evidence for the presence of small tumors in several locations on the skeleton. This ancient case of cancer, whatever its origin, eventually spread to the entire body and most likely led to the man’s demise.
And like nearly every one of the skeletons unearthed at Amara West, this prehistoric cancer patient also showed signed of severe tooth decay as well as chronic sinusitis, a condition where cavities around nasal passages cause the sinuses to become inflamed and swollen.
Cancer’s Connection to Oral Health
What is the point of all this discovery for modern health? For me, it simply confirms not only the connection between stress, poor nutrition and cancer but also solidifies that direct connection between oral ill health and disease. Although heavy metal toxicity caused by mercury amalgams obviously didn’t exist in 12th century Sudan, cavities, dental cavitation and gum disease caused by poor nutrition and inadequate dental hygiene apparently did.
If I could go back in time and talk to this prehistoric cancer patient about the best ways to prevent cancer, I would tell him about the link between dental health and the health of the entire body. In fact, in many ways, it would be the same advice I tell those learning about oral health and breast cancer now:
#1 Stop periodontal disease before complication arise;
#2 Get rid of cavitations;
#3 Practice solid oral care using natural substances like clove oil and peppermint as well as regular flossing and brushing;
And two bits of guidance for those who live in the modern world:
#4 Remove root canals and amalgam fillings with the help of qualified holistic dentist who can take care of them safely, and
#5 Live a healthy, toxin-free and low stress lifestyle that prevents cancer naturally!