The Science behind the Paleo Diet

The results of being on the Paleo (caveman) diet is exciting — but knowing the basic science for its effectiveness is reassuring. Living Paleo means weight loss, lower blood sugar, and less inflammation in your body. Here's a look at some solid research on the value of living Paleo.

Here are some facts from leading Paleolithic researchers S. Boyd Eaton, MD, and M. Konner, PhD, cited in the New England Journal of Medicine ("Paleolithic nutrition: a consideration of its nature and current implications." 1985: N. Eng. J. Med. 321, 283–289):

  • "The human genetic constitution has changed relatively little in the past 40,000 years."

  • "The development of agriculture 10,000 years ago has had a minimal influence on our genes."

  • "The Industrial Revolution, agribusiness, and modern food processing techniques have occurred too recently to have any evolutionary effect at all."

  • "Physicians and nutritionists are increasingly convinced that the dietary habits adopted by Western society over the past 100 years make an important etiologic contribution to coronary heart disease, hypertension, diabetes, and some types of cancer."

    "These conditions have emerged as dominant health problems only in the past century and are virtually unknown among the few surviving hunter-gatherer populations whose way of life and eating habits most closely resemble pre-agricultural human beings."

Here's some compelling research from Dr. Loren Cordain (The Paleo Diet [Wiley]), professor in the Health and Exercise Science Department at Colorado State University and one of the top global researchers in the area of evolutionary medicine:

  • "DNA evidence shows genetically humans have hardly changed at all (to be specific, the human genome has changed less than 0.02% in 40,000 years)."

  • "Nature determined what our bodies needed thousands of years before civilization developed, before people started farming and raising livestock."

    "In other words, built into our genes is a blueprint for optimal nutrition — a plan that spells out the foods that make us healthy, lean and fit." (The blueprint is Paleo foods.)

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Finally, Rainer J Klement and Ulrike KŠmmerer discuss the striking benefits and prevention of cancer with a Paleo diet in Nutrition & Metabolism ("Is there a role for carbohydrate restriction in the treatment and prevention of cancer." October 2011. 8[75]):

  • "Cancer is very rare among uncivilized hunter-gatherer societies."

  • "The switch from the 'caveman's diet' consisting of fat, meat, occasionally roots, berries and other sources of carbohydrates to a nutrition dominated by easily digested carbohydrates derived mainly from grains as a staple food, would have occurred too recently to induce major adoptions in our gene encoding and metabolic pathways." (In other words, our bodies don't have the genetic wiring for adapting to grains.)

  • "[In a cave man–like diet,] carbohydrate restriction is not only limited to avoiding sugar and other high glucose foods, but also to a reduced intake of grains. Grains can induce inflammation in susceptible individuals due to their content of omega-6 fatty acids, lectins, and gluten."

  • "Paleolithic-type diets, that by definition exclude grain products, have been shown to improve glycemic control and cardiovascular risk factors more effectively than typically recommended low-fat diets rich in whole grains. These diets are not necessarily low carbohydrate diets, but focus on replacing high glycemic index modern foods with fruits, vegetables, in this way reducing the total glycemic [sugar] load. This brings us back to our initial perception of cancer as a disease of civilization that has been rare among hunter-gatherer societies until they adopted our western lifestyle."

Many anthropologists and healthcare providers recognize that the hunter-gatherers represent a reference standard for modern-day nutrition and a model way of eating to get well and stay well. When you see the results and the research, you begin to understand why.

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