Turns out that for 7,000 years, snacking on nutsedge may have helped people avoid tooth decay. But at some point, the root it lost its charm. By the 1970s, it was branded “the world’s worst weed.”
Plaque that gets stuck below your gum line can calcify in a matter of weeks, leading to an extremely hard substance that can last for thousands of years, especially among prehistoric people who had no access to a dentist.
Interestingly, plaque isolated from skeletons located at a 2,000- to 9,000-year-old burial site in Central Sudan can actually give clues to what the people ate.
People who lived in Sudan about 2,000 years ago kept their teeth clean by eating purple nutsedge, which helped impede the growth of bacteria, according to a study published in PLoS ONE. While studying the teeth of people buried in an ancient Sudan cemetery, researchers found that less than 1% had tooth decay problems and that each person had eaten the bitter tasting tubers, which could have been taken as food or medicine.
Nutsedge, it turns out, produces antibacterial compounds that might help prevent tooth decay. According to the study, although nutsedge is widely regarded as a pervasive weed, it actually has some serious medicinal value:
“This plant is a good source of carbohydrates and has many useful medicinal and aromatic qualities, though today it is considered to be the world's most costly weed.
Its ability to inhibit Streptococcus mutans may have contributed to the unexpectedly low level of caries found in the agricultural population.”
‘Hunter-Gatherers Had Really Good Teeth'
So said Alan Cooper, director of the Australian Center for Ancient DNA. His team also looked at calcified plaque on teeth from prehistoric skeletons and revealed that changing diets lead to detrimental shifts in oral bacteria. While hunter-gatherers tended to have really good teeth, that changed among farming populations.
“…as soon as you get to farming populations, you see this massive change. Huge amounts of gum disease. And cavities start cropping up,” Cooper said.
Is Diet Alone Enough to Guarantee Perfect Teeth?
In the 1900s, Dr. Weston A. Price did extensive research on the link between oral health and physical diseases. He discovered that the most successful primitive groups health-wise were those who paid attention to and integrated beneficial ancient knowledge and dietary wisdom into their lives.
One of the things I was most excited about in my switch to real foods and healthier living was the big difference it made in my oral health. My tooth sensitivity went away, my teeth whitened naturally, cavities started healing and my gums didn’t bleed anymore
Chewing Sticks: As A ‘Natural Toothbrush'
It is generally accepted that oral hygiene maintenance through regular removal of dental plaque and food deposits is an essential factor in the prevention of dental caries and periodontal disease. Methods for oral hygiene vary from country to country and from culture to culture. Despite the widespread use of toothbrushes and toothpastes, natural methods of tooth cleaning using chewing sticks selected and prepared from the twigs, stems or roots from a variety of plant species have been practised for thousands of years in Asia, Africa, the Middle East and the Americas.
Researchers writing in the Journal of Periodontal Research referred to chewing sticks as “timeless natural toothbrushes for oral cleansing” due to their active antimicrobial properties, low cost and simplicity:
“…natural methods of tooth cleaning using chewingsticks selected and prepared from the twigs, stems or roots from a variety of plant species have been practiced for thousands of years in Asia, Africa, the Middle East and the Americas.
Iodine is a chemical element essential for the production of thyroid hormones that regulate growth and metabolism. Diets deficient in iodine increase risk of retarded brain development in children, mental slowness, high cholesterol, lethargy, fatigue, depression, weight gain, and goiter: a swelling of the thyroid gland in the neck. Please note that both too much and too little iodine can cause hypothyroidism, for more information, see the section on hypothyroidism.
The plant is most commonly grown in tropical areas and though it is not typically eaten as a snack, today, it is still used in some herbal medicines found in the Far East, the Middle East and India.
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