Popular Paleo Diet still has its skeptics

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Just about everybody, including daytime talk show hosts and fitness bloggers, are touting The Paleo Diet as a way to address health issues, including digestive problems and asthma.

But some in the science and medical fields aren’t convinced.

A recent U.S. News and World Report ranking of 29 diets that are popular in the U.S. today placed The Paleo Diet at No. 28.

A renewed interest in the diet of cavemen resulted when gastroenterologist Walter Voegtlin wrote the Stone Age Diet in 1975. He based his book on his work with patients suffering colitis, Crohn’s disease, irritable bowel syndrome and indigestion.

In the early 2000s, Loren Cordain, a professor in the Department of Health and Exercise Science at Colorado State University, also was studying the human diet during the Stone Age. He discovered that the chronic diseases, which he says afflict 50 to 65 percent of the Westernized adult population, were rare or nonexistent in hunter-gatherer societies.

And he hypothesized that “when hunter/gatherer societies transitioned to an agricultural grain-based diet, their general health deteriorated.”

In 2001, he authored The Paleo Diet (John Wiley & Sons) that claims we can turn back the clock on disease and become more healthy by eating and exercising as they did 2 ½ million to 10,000 years ago; the time before crops and animals were domesticated.

Written By: Deborah S. Hartz-Seeley
continue to source article at miamiherald.com

30 COMMENTS

    • In reply to #1 by Skeptic:

      Right, so we should go back to the diet we had when our average life expectancy was less that 30 years. Makes a lot of sense.

      I tend to agree. A paleo-diet only had to be sufficient to get the organism to reproductive age. Longevity is a puzzle and diet is just one piece of that puzzle and hell, I don’t know if anyone can even put a higher value on that piece than others.

      Mike

    • In reply to #1 by Skeptic:

      Right, so we should go back to the diet we had when our average life expectancy was less that 30 years. Makes a lot of sense.

      Yeah because high child mortality, infections, and other diseases have no affect on average life span. Makes sense.

  1. How does Cordain know colitis, Crohn’s disease, irritable bowel syndrome and indigestion were rare 10,000 years ago? Is there evidence for that? If our health deteriorated after learning to farm, why did our population explode? I’m very confused by this article.

    • I suspect that people didn’t live long enough to develop some of these conditions!

      Of course my new diet “Drinking out of Puddles” also guarantees weight loss. Here’s how it works. You can eat anything you want but can only drink out of small, dirty puddles.

      My MAGIC ingredient??? The giant Amoeba, Chaos chaos (greatest organism name ever!). The dysentery that you develop will give you that awesome emaciated look we are all striving for. Also, the explosive bloody diarrhea will virtually guarantee that you spend all of your time in the bathroom. Since the bathroom has been determined to be the safest room in the house, my diet makes you skinny AND keeps you safe.

      In reply to #3 by A3Kr0n:

      How does Cordain know colitis, Crohn’s disease, irritable bowel syndrome and indigestion were rare 10,000 years ago? Is there evidence for that? If our health deteriorated after learning to farm, why did our population explode? I’m very confused by this article.

    • In reply to #3 by A3Kr0n:

      How does Cordain know colitis, Crohn’s disease, irritable bowel syndrome and indigestion were rare 10,000 years ago? Is there evidence for that? If our health deteriorated after learning to farm, why did our population explode? I’m very confused by this article.

      I would suspect that at times when life was harsh, brutish and short, any infant with these sorts of complaints would join the mortality figures, with natural selection maintaining only the fittest in the live reproductive population that reached adulthood!

    • In reply to #3 by A3Kr0n:

      How does Cordain know colitis, Crohn’s disease, irritable bowel syndrome and indigestion were rare 10,000 years ago? Is there evidence for that? If our health deteriorated after learning to farm, why did our population explode? I’m very confused by this article.

      While it may be difficult to study digestive problems in ancient people, we do know that these problems are rare in modern people who live primitive lifestyles.

    • In reply to #3 by A3Kr0n:

      How does Cordain know colitis, Crohn’s disease, irritable bowel syndrome and indigestion were rare 10,000 years ago? Is there evidence for that?

      There are tribes that live like our ancestors. There were research done on them.

      If our health deteriorated after learning to farm, why did our population explode? I’m very confused by this article.

      Because less land could feed more people. I don’t see any contradiction there. Nobody is saying that you will drop dead after eating wheat, degenerate disease that happen later in life, it doesn’t stop you from reproducing.

      @Red Dog

      Also, as others have said, you have to factor in that people born with disabilities or a serious incurable chronic disease weren’t likely to make it out of childhood anyway. Is there some actual science behind his claim and if so what is the reasoning?

      You can test for diseases that kill you later in life, people aren’t born with them.

  2. Why should diet be the one place we are inferior to people who lived before the agricultural revolution? I can just about understand how it could be worse now than it was a few decades ago… oh wait, now we don’t get food poisoning. Also, for all the claims this is the first ever generation that won’t live as long as its parents (which implies our parents had it better than theirs, so the “problem” is very recent), other “everyone knows that” figures say there will be a lot of centenarians as well.

    • This claim was successfully debunked on Bullshit!, I believe in the Organic Foods episode (but could be wrong on which episode as I’ve watched a lot of them recently).

      In reply to #4 by Jos Gibbons:

      for all the claims this is the first ever generation that won’t live as long as its parents

  3. It seems logical. We spent most of our evolutionary time learning to cope with this diet.

    On the other paw, paleolithic people lived to about 25. A am already 65, probably good for another ten.
    So humans can subsist on this diet, but perhaps it is far from optimal.

    In general I notice skulls from 500+ years ago have better teeth than hours, though sometimes front ones are missing, presumably through accident.

    The diet would be low fat and low sugar. Seems to me that is in-line with the usual recommendations in diet change.

    • In reply to #6 by Stafford Gordon:

      I suspect that this is like almost everything that seems to be too good to be true.

      Again, not advocating paleo (I don’t eat paleo), but how is giving up sugar, alcohol and Cheerios too good be true?

  4. Urgh, the author made the mistake of jumping on the gluten intolerance bandwagon. There is still no solid evidence to back up gluten intolerance outside of celiac’s disease. Why do people still believe this?

  5. Still no takers on my “drink from a puddle diet”?

    I think you all are being myopic. After all, I recently heard of people intentionally ingesting tapeworms, getting emaciated, then getting drugs to “fix” the tapeworm (ask me about the “ovum and parasite” course I took (when i was a lab technician) where the teacher was called in to a 911 call that a woman made when she passed what she thought was a piece of her intestines and was actually 30 feet or so of a tape worm)….

    You might be missing “the next big thing”

    • In reply to #14 by crookedshoes:

      MAKES YOU SKINNY and KEEPS YOU SAFE!!!!! Really? No one? Crickets? Yawns? Dammit. Finally, my wife thinks one of my posts is funny and…. well…..

      Your post was hilarious crookedshoes. Your diet plan however… well no offense but I think I’ll pass 😉 I’m not especially fond of my “Wallace” belly but I’m too addicted to cheese to give THAT up.

      On a more relevant note, I think this paleo diet is just another one of those fads (and another blaring example of bad science). In a few months nobody will be talking about it anyway. IMHO, it belongs in the same category as those “miracle hollywood actor weight-loss cures” like giving oneself an enema with coffee or drinking magic “fat burning” purgative tea.

  6. The notion that the shorter average life expectancy of primitive humans compared with modern humans is attributable to their consumption of more wild foods rather than agricultural products or modern, processed foods is fallacious. First, the human lifespan has not changed much for millenia; the reason our average lifespans are longer now than they were during primitive times is that more of us reach our full lifespan rather than dying in infancy or as the result of what are now minor injuries or illnesses. Second, there is no evidence to suggest that consumption of wild or unprocessed foods is in any way linked to health problems that are likely to reduce one’s lifespan in a modern setting, while there is considerable evidence that modern diets to do contribute to such conditions. Grains and other processed foods (e.g. cheeses) undoubtedly contributed to the life expectancies of primitive humans because they kept longer and were easier to store than the wild foods eaten by hunter-gatherers, which meant agricultural societies were better able to survive a drought or a long winter. That doesn’t mean that our digestive and metabolic systems have adapted to the point that we wouldn’t be better off eating more wild foods than we do currently. I am not a strict paleo eater by any means, but it would surprise me if the evolution of our bodies weren’t many millenia behind the development of the agricultural technology required to create a Cheeto.

    • In reply to #15 by zonotrichia:

      I am not a strict paleo eater by any means, but it would surprise me if the evolution of our bodies weren’t many millenia behind the development of the agricultural technology required to create a Cheeto.

      I think you have the analysis backward. It’s not that Cheetos are ahead of where evolution is going. They are in fact designed to exploit the desires we have from our past when sugar, fat, lots of calories, were actually good things for animals who had a lot more to fear from starvation than from over eating.

      As for the Paleo diet, I think all diets are mostly placebos. Cutting down empty calories, getting more exercise, eating food that is nutritious, those are the things you need to do to lose weight. Any diet that claims some magic food combination is going to make you lose weight is just pseudoscience. To the extent that the diet works it works because it does the things I mentioned above and because just being more aware of how many calories you take in can help with over eating.

    • In reply to #15 by zonotrichia:

      The notion that the shorter average life expectancy of primitive humans compared with modern humans is attributable to their consumption of more wild foods rather than agricultural products or modern, processed foods is fallacious.

      That wasn’t the point. If humans rarely lived past their 30’s it’s unlikely their diet, other than obtaining enough calories to survive, had much relevance to longevity which we so cherish now. In fact, that’s why we crave fats and refined sugars now and that hasn’t done us much good. The diet is all speculation and doesn’t makes much sense when looked at closely.

      • In reply to #21 by Skeptic:

        In reply to #15 by zonotrichia:

        The notion that the shorter average life expectancy of primitive humans compared with modern humans is attributable to their consumption of more wild foods rather than agricultural products or modern, processed foods is fallacious.

        That wasn’t the point. If humans…

        Primitive humans rarely made it to 30, but that doesn’t mean the average 30-year-old had gray hair and lots of wrinkles. It simply means that most people died young, which brought the average down significantly. If you look at genealogical records of even a century or two ago, the average lifespan was considerably shorter than it is today, but people who managed to avoid dying of an infectious disease or injury experienced about the same lifespan as a modern human.

  7. In the early 2000s, Loren Cordain, a professor in the Department of Health and Exercise Science at Colorado State University, also was studying the human diet during the Stone Age. He discovered that the chronic diseases, which he says afflict 50 to 65 percent of the Westernized adult population, were rare or nonexistent in hunter-gatherer societies.

    Does anyone know, how can they claim this? I don’t see how you could tell from fossils and artifacts that people didn’t have chronic diseases. Unless he is talking about hunter gatherer tribes that still exist in the modern world?

    Also, as others have said, you have to factor in that people born with disabilities or a serious incurable chronic disease weren’t likely to make it out of childhood anyway. Is there some actual science behind his claim and if so what is the reasoning?

    • In reply to #19 by Red Dog:
      I don’t see how you could tell from fossils and artifacts that people didn’t have chronic diseases. Unless he is talking about hunter gatherer tribes that still exist in the modern world?

      There’s not really any dispute or controversy about this.

      Regardless of estimates of average life expectancy in ancient times, people who weren’t murdered or killed in accidents were capable of living at least as long as any modern elderly person. Though with a much better state of vigour and health, despite the absence of modern medicine. (Though probably not the complete absence of medicine – there would have been considerable accumulated knowledge of available traditional remedies. Plus the paleo diet was highly fashionable in the stone age.)

      Many chronic non-infectious diseases leave an impact on bone structure, probably because metabolic diseases affect the entire body even if they are only acutely manifest in particular symptoms. Every tissue will be affected to some extent, often detectable in skeletal remains. There can be a direct impact. E.g. decayed teeth, arthritis, back problems, poor healing of bone injuries, evidence of tumours in bone structure – mostly linked to the chronic exposure to dietary glucose via near exclusively grain-based diets. Plus indirect effects by the way people might be compelled to adapt to poor nutrition. E.g. physical stature, osteoporosis.

      There’s not that many modern hunter gather tribes left to study these days. But there were plenty in the missionary times 100 or 200 years ago. And prior to the age of political correctness there were native gravesites from back then to explore. Plus reports of clinicians from colonial times. Letter writing and commonplace books were very popular and often what colonial physicians didn’t write can be as important as what they do say about native populations in far flung newly discovered territories in the process of assimilating with colonial communities.

      There is no doubt that the paleo diet is incredibly effective. The debate is more about why it is effective, not that if it is effective. (The reasoning about humans not being adapted to modern agricultural products isn’t really a sufficient explanation.)

      But keep in mind that the paleo diet is more of a non-diet. It’s what you don’t eat that matters. Another way of describing it is to take away everything from ‘normal’ food except basic meat and vege. There’s nil chance of inadequate nutrition. Allow several months to adapt, then slowly add things back in. Grain-based foods don’t really have very much in the way of significant or unique nutrient content – despite what’s said. If anything the idea of whole grains is essentially a mechanism for minimise the opportunity for the gut to actually digest these foods. A similar concept to coating cornflakes in plastic to impede digestion. Things like fruit and potatoes are normally included, as long as the individual is physically active.

      Also keep in mind that the recently emerging awareness that most published scientific research in peer reviewed journals is probably wrong is mostly applicable to areas of science, particularly nutrition and health, where statistical significance tests (of extremely marginal significance) are where all the action is claimed to be.

      Paleo diet is something of an antidote to the prevailing diet bullshit and the obviously flawed mainstream nutrition and dietary recommendations of medical authorities because it gives individuals a safe and sensible strategy to self-experiment. It turns out that individuals vary enormously and dynamically in their individual tolerance to different kinds of foods. Especially grain or dairy based foods. Most people obviously don’t have a problem and aren’t chronically afflicted with lifestyle associated medical problems, or overweight. It’s everyone else who needs to take this stuff seriously.

      The other obvious aspect of paleo diet approach is avoiding processed foods, which are prepared with ‘bliss point’ blends of sugars, fats, and salt. These are incredibly addictive (deliberately to spur repeat sales) but most people aren’t even aware of their addiction because they have been trained since birth and are now well accustomed to eating 3 square meals a day.

      A diet more typical of ancient humans might resemble a feast or famine situation. Possibly this sporadic nature of eating and exercising is something equally worth experimenting with. But it can seem to be very difficult to go without food for a few days normally, but very easy after a few weeks adapting to a paleo style baseline diet of not very much ‘more-ish’ food. This isn’t because paleo style food isn’t sufficiently tasty, it’s because people just don’t crave or stuff themselves full of food like eggs, meat, or even plain boiled carrots or potatoes.

      The only foods that people normally overeat are those deliberately designed to hit the bliss point. Without those kinds of foods, especially grains, then the hormonal environment shifts dramatically and hunger no longer dictates the patterns of one’s life. Going without food for a day or so is not the same thing as starving – especially for the many people who often carry around a fully equipped waistline wherever they go, sufficient to last for 6 months or so. The trick for managing surplus body fat is in allowing the body to progressively consume its accumulated internal energy reserves, but without stimulating hunger or cravings for blissful foods. It’s this aspect that may be why the paleo diet has come to prominence for weight loss. Same kind of thing with the Atkins diet, Ornish diet, Mediterranean diet, and low carb diets. Basically they change the dysfunctional hormonal patterns so that people lose the cravings and simply stop overeating.

  8. Before we make too much of life expectancy, realize that those figures take into account infant mortality and at least in the last 100 years, most all of the gains in expectancy have come from improvements in that area. And the agricultural revolution was bad for our health in a number of ways including but not limited to vitamin deficiencies, spread of disease helped by concentrations of people in close quarters and poor sanitation and even war- hunter gatherers were nomadic owned nothing worth conquering.

    Arm hunter-gatherers with Handi-Wipes, tooth paste, soap, amoxicillin, insect repellent and a cookbook- they might have become immortal.

  9. One thing (among many) that irks me about this diet, and the reasoning behind it, is the complete lack of dairy products.
    Lactose tolerance is such a VERY recent development in our evolution, that homo sapiens 2.5 million years ago were simply incapable of processing and taking advantage of the nutrition from dairy products that most of us can today.
    What sense does it make to cut that advance in our dietary armory out completely?

  10. I’ve gravitated to these types of foods naturally….I never was very keen on bread n cereal or milk……..but wasn’t allergic…just instinctively responded to my bodies preferences…my mum used to call it being fussy…but I just thought I was wisely choosy – Know yourself… right ? …….There were several kids in my family who had prolonged allergic reactions to gluten and lactose……..Diabetes is a possible plague for the majority of us that worries me – there’s sugar and salt in everything processed….

  11. The best thing you can do for your health, other animals and the planet is to stop consuming meat, dairy, eggs and fish!
    We can get all of our dietary needs from plant products and no you don’t need soy.
    Soy is overrated!

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