Stealth Carbs in Paleo Diet Rotted Ancients' Mouths

Acorns, pine nuts caused pus-filled gums, rotted teeth in Morocco

By Arden Dier,  Newser Staff

Posted Jan 7, 2014 6:44 AM CST

(Newser) – Ancient hunter-gatherers tended to have fine sets of teeth—at least, serious tooth decay was rare since people mainly munched on meat, tubers, and berries, and laid off the carbs, NPR reports. That's why a study from London's Natural History Museum is surprising—and pretty disgusting. Of the 50-some sets of remains analyzed from a cave in Morocco, dating between 12,000 and 15,000 years ago, 94% had severe tooth decay that could include excruciating toothaches and pus-filled, swollen gums—by far the earliest case of widespread dental decay, researchers say.

"It is unexpected to find this level of tooth decay in a hunter-gatherer population because, typically, they are not thought to consume such large quantities of carbohydrate-rich foods," Louise Humphrey tells NBC News. "They were eating on the polished roots of their teeth. I think they would have been in pain." It turns out the ancients had a thing for nuts—pine nuts and acorns in particular—that were high in carbs and led to bacteria that "essentially dissolves away the enamel," Humphrey explains. That could spell trouble for modern adherents of the paleo diet, but not necessarily. "There's not one kind of paleo diet," she says. "I think wherever people lived, they had to make best of the wild food resources available to them."

Upper teeth from between 14,000 and 15,000 years old, recovered in Morocco, show multiple cavities and other oral disease.   (Isabelle De Groote)
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