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It’s a part of my paleo fantasy, it’s a part of my paleo dream

There are many fallacies that undergird alternative medicine, which evolved into “complementary and alternative medicine” (CAM), and for which the preferred term among its advocates is now “integrative medicine,” meant to imply the “best of both worlds.” If I had to pick one fallacy that rules above all among proponents of CAM/IM, it would have to be either the naturalistic fallacy (i.e., that if it’s natural—whatever that means—it must be better) or the fallacy of antiquity (i.e., that if it’s really old, it must be better). Of course, the two fallacies are not unrelated. In the minds of CAM proponents, old is more likely to have been based on nature, and the naturalistic fallacy often correlates with the fallacy of antiquity. Basically, it’s a rejection of modernity, and from it flow the interest in herbalism, various religious practices rebranded as treatments (thousands of years ago, medicine was religion and religion was medicine—the two were more or less one and physicians were often priests as well), and the all-consuming fear of “toxins,” in which it is thought that the products of modernity are poisoning us.

Yes, there is a definite belief underlying much of CAM that technology and pharmaceuticals are automatically bad and that “natural” must be better. Flowing from that belief is the belief that people were happier and much healthier in the preindustrial, preagricultural past, that cardiovascular disease was rare or nonexistent, and that cancer was seldom heard of. Of course, it’s hard not to note that cancer and heart disease are primarily diseases of aging, and life expectancy was so much lower back in the day that a much smaller percentage of the population lived to advanced ages than is the case today. Even so, an implicit assumption among many CAM advocates is that cardiovascular disease is largely a disease of modern lifestyle and diet and that, if modern humans could somehow mimic preindustrial or, according to some, even preagricultural, lifestyles, that cardiovascular disease could be avoided. Not infrequently, evolutionary and genomic arguments are invoked, claiming that the estimated 10,000 years since the dawn of human agriculture is not a sufficiently long period of time for us to have evolved to handle diets rich in grains and meats and that we are “genetically wired” to exist on a diet like those of our paleolithic hunter-gatherer ancestors. For instance, in 2004, James H. O’Keefe Jr, MD and Loren Cordain, PhD wrote an article in the Mayo Proceedings entitled Cardiovascular Disease Resulting From a Diet and Lifestyle at Odds With Our Paleolithic Genome: How to Become a 21st-Century Hunter-Gatherer that asserted in essence, just that. Over the last decade, Cordain has become the most prominent promoter of the so-called “Paleo diet,” having written The Paleo Diet: Lose Weight and Get Healthy by Eating the Foods You Were Designed to Eat and multiple other books advocating a paleolithic-mimetic diet as the cure for what ails modern humans. Meanwhile, diets thought to reflect what our hunter-gatherer ancestors ate, such as the Paleo Diet consisting largely of animal and fish that can be hunted and fruits and vegetables that can be foraged for in the wild, have been promoted as a near-panacea for the chronic diseases of aging, such as cardiovascular disease and cancer.


But how does one determine what the prevalence of cardiovascular disease was in the ancient past? Time and the decomposition it brings are brutal on the flimsy meat of which we are made, and it is uncommon to have access to anything other than bones, much less bodies intact enough to be examined for signs of atherosclerotic disease. Even so, however, there have been indications that the idea that ancient humans didn’t suffer from atherosclerosis is a comforting myth, the most recent of which is a study published a week ago online in The Lancet by Prof. Randall C. Thompson of Saint Luke’s Mid America Heart Institute and an international team of investigators entitled Atherosclerosis across 4000 years of human history: the Horus study of four ancient populations. Basically, it was a study of 137 different mummies from four different geographic locations spanning 4,000 years. The areas spanned included ancient Egypt, ancient Peru, the Ancestral Puebloans of southwest America, and the Unangan of the Aleutian Islands.

The reason for the study is described in the introduction:

Human cultures residing in environments that are either very dry, hot, or cold have independently discovered how to mummify their dead. Thus, preindustrial or preagricultural cultures created the opportunity for a natural experiment—to study these ancient human beings with modern CT scanning to assess the extent of vascular calcifications in diverse environments and cultures. A common component of a mature atherosclerotic plaque, vascular calcification in modern day human beings is pathognomonic for atherosclerosis.4 Calcification consistent with atherosclerosis has been identified by CT scanning in the naturally mummified Iceman from present day Italy who lived around 3000 BCE (before common era).5 More than a century ago, Johann Nepomuk Czermak6 and Sir Marc Armand Ruffer7 gave serious evidence for atherosclerosis in several autopsies of Egyptian mummies from around 1000 BCE. Our recent studies confirmed these findings of atherosclerosis in 20 of 44 Egyptian mummies who lived during several dynasties between 1981 BCE and 364 CE (common era).8 and 9 However, ancient Egyptian culture and lifestyles might have had unique attributes relative to atherogenesis. Moreover, mummification in Egypt during the bulk of this time was primarily performed on elite Egyptians of high socioeconomic status.

So, although there was a fair amount of evidence from studies of Egyptian mummies that atherosclerosis was not uncommon, in Egypt it was mainly the wealthy and powerful who were mummified after their deaths. Conceivably, they could have lived a very different lifestyle and consumed a very different diet than the average Egyptian living around that time.

So the authors obtained whole-body CT scans of the 137 mummies, either pre-existing scans or scans prospectively done, and analyzed them for calcifications. The mummies to be included in the study were chosen primarily based on two factors, being in a good state of preservation with identifiable vascular tissue, and being adults. The authors obtained identifying information from an extensive search of museum and other databases by a team of archeologists and experts in mummy restoration, and sex was determined by either analysis of the genitals and reproductive organs when present and by pelvic morphology when they were not present. Age was estimated by standard analysis of architectural changes in the clavicle, femur, and humerus. Finally, multiple anthropological and archeological sources were used in an attempt to estimate likely risk factors for the mummies. Obviously, this last part involved a fair amount of inference and speculation, but that is to be expected in archeological studies.

Here are the findings:

Probable or definite atherosclerosis was noted in 47 (34%) of 137 mummies and in all four geographical populations: 29 (38%) of 76 ancient Egyptians, 13 (25%) of 51 ancient Peruvians, two (40%) of five Ancestral Puebloans, and three (60%) of five Unangan hunter gatherers (p=NS). Atherosclerosis was present in the aorta in 28 (20%) mummies, iliac or femoral arteries in 25 (18%), popliteal or tibial arteries in 25 (18%), carotid arteries in 17 (12%), and coronary arteries in six (4%). Of the five vascular beds examined, atherosclerosis was present in one to two beds in 34 (25%) mummies, in three to four beds in 11 (8%), and in all five vascular beds in two (1%). Age at time of death was positively correlated with atherosclerosis (mean age at death was 43 [SD 10] years for mummies with atherosclerosis vs 32 [15] years for those without; p<0·0001) and with the number of arterial beds involved (mean age was 32 [SD 15] years for mummies with no atherosclerosis, 42 [10] years for those with atherosclerosis in one or two beds, and 44 [8] years for those with atherosclerosis in three to five beds; p<0·0001).

Figure 2 summarizes the findings nicely:

athero graph

There’s also this video featured in a Nature report on the study showing the reconstructed scan of one of the mummies with atherosclerotic plaques in the coronary arteries.

As expected, more atherosclerosis correlates with advanced age, and the amount of atherosclerosis in the young and middle-aged (although the times in which the people who became these mummies after death lived age 50 was old) was less. Although the sample number was far too small to draw definitive conclusions (as is often the case in archeological research), the prevalence of atherosclerotic disease in these mummies did not appear to correlate with the cultures in which the mummies lived. As is noted in Thompson’s article, ancient Egyptians and Peruvians were agricultural cultures with farms and domesticated animals, Ancestral Puebloans were forager-farmers, and the Unangans were hunter-gatherers without agriculture. Indeed, the Peruvians and Ancestral Puebloans predated the written word and were thus prehistoric cultures. At least, there were not large differences to suggest that studying more mummies might yield a statistically significant difference. Certainly,this doesn’t rule out the possibility that there was a difference, but also certainly atherosclerosis was common even among hunter-gatherers.

One notes that no one, including the authors of this study, is saying that lifestyle and diet are not important factors for the development of atherosclerotic heart disease. What they are saying is that atherosclerosis appears to be associated with aging and that the claims that mimicking paleolithic diets (which, one notes, were definitely not vegan) are overblown. In other words, there is a certain inherent risk of atherosclerosis that is related to aging that is likely not possible to lower further, with the study concluding:

In conclusion, atherosclerosis was common in four preindustrial populations, including a preagricultural hunter-gatherer population, and across a wide span of human history. It remains prevalent in contemporary human beings. The presence of atherosclerosis in premodern human beings suggests that the disease is an inherent component of human ageing and not characteristic of any specific diet or lifestyle.

I actually think that the authors probably went too far with that last statement in that, while they might be correct that atherosclerosis is an inherent component of human aging, it is quite well established that this inherent component of aging can at least be worsened by sedentary lifestyle and probably certain diets. Professor Thompson provided a bit more nuance in a quote in an article for TIME Magazine:

We found that heart disease is a serial killer that has been stalking mankind for thousands of years. In the last century, atherosclerotic vascular disease has replaced infectious disease as the leading cause of death across the developed world. A common assumption is that the rise in levels of atherosclerosis is predominantly lifestyle-related, and that if modern humans could emulate pre-industrial or even pre-agricultural lifestyles, that atherosclerosis, or at least its clinical manifestations, would be avoided. Our findings seem to cast doubt on that assumption, and at the very least, we think they suggest that our understanding of the causes of atherosclerosis is incomplete, and that it might be somehow inherent to the process of human aging.

One notes that, although the Paleo Diet is not, strictly speaking, always sold as CAM/IM, the ideas behind it are popular among CAM advocates, and the diet is frequently included as part of “integrative medicine,” for example, here at the University of Connecticut website, where it’s under integrative nutrition. Indeed, take a look at this video:

One wonders how some of the cavewomen in this video managed to have big hair and lipstick. several thousand years ago.

A related site is called CaveMenMeds. Although it features rather strong support for the theory of evolution, unfortunately, it also misuses evolution in much the same way that Cordain has done (as discussed in this very post) and in parallel make the same sorts of fallacious arguments about placebo effects that we’ve discussed many times before here on SBM. Basically, it couples myths about how paleolithic humans lived with a typical “integrating” of ideas that range from the sensible to the pseudoscientific to discuss disease. This is just the most direct link between CAM and paleofantasies that I came across in my web wanderings. There are many more less direct links to be found.

In particular, the appeal to ancient wisdom and ancient civilizations as yet untouched by the evil of modernity is the same sort of arguments that are made in favor of various CAM modalities ranging from herbalism to vegan diets rebranded as being somehow CAM to the appeal to “natural” cures. Indeed, the fetish for the “natural” in CAM is such that even a treatment like Stanislaw Burzynski’s antineoplaston therapy is represented as “natural” when in fact, if it were ever shown to work against cancer, it would be chemotherapy and has toxicities greater than that of some of our current chemotherapy drugs.

All of this brings us to another article from about a week ago about a book that I think I need to read that talks about “paleofantasy” and “Stone Age delusions.” The book is by Marlene Zuk and entitled Paleofantasy: What Evolution Really Tells Us About Sex, Diet, and How We Live. Zuk is an evolutionary biologist, and in particular she points out how the evolutionary arguments favored by advocates of the Paleo diet don’t stand up to scrutiny.

The interview begins with Zuk confronting Cordain at a conference on evolution and diseases of modern environments. At his lecture, Cordain pronounced several foods to be the cause of fatal conditions in people carrying certain genes. These foods included, predictably, cultivated foods such as bread (made from grain), rice, and potatoes. Zuk couldn’t resist asking a question, namely why the inability to digest so many common foods would persist in the population, observing, “Surely it would have been selected out of the population.” Cordain’s response? That humans had not had time to adapt to these foods, to which Zuk retorted, “Plenty of time.” Apparently, in her book, Zuk produces numerous examples of evolution in humans occurring in a time frame of less than 10,000 years, including:

  • Blue eyes arose 6,000 to 10,000 years ago
  • Rapid selection for the CCR5-D gene variant that makes some people immune to HIV
  • Lactase persistence (production past the age of weening of the lactase enzyme that digests lactose in milk) probably dates back only around 7,500 to 10,000 years, around the time that cattle were domesticated

Zuk also points out, as Thompson did in the Lancet study of atherosclerosis in mummies, that there is no one diet or climate that predominated among our Paleolithic ancestors:

Zuk detects an unspoken, barely formed assumption that humanity essentially stopped evolving in the Stone Age and that our bodies are “stuck” in a state that was perfectly adapted to survive in the paleolithic environment. Sometimes you hear that the intervention of “culture” has halted the process of natural selection. This, “Paleofantasy” points out, flies in the face of facts. Living things are always and continuously in the process of adapting to the changing conditions of their environment, and the emergence of lactase persistence indicates that culture (in this case, the practice of keeping livestock for meat and hides) simply becomes another one of those conditions.

For this reason, generalizations about the typical hunter-gatherer lifestyle are spurious; it doesn’t exist. With respect to what people ate (especially how much meat), the only safe assumption was “whatever they could get,” something that to this day varies greatly depending on where they live. Recently, researchers discovered evidence that people in Europe were grinding and cooking grain (a paleo-diet bugaboo) as far back as 30,000 years ago, even if they weren’t actually cultivating it. “A strong body of evidence,” Zuk writes, “points to many changes in our genome since humans spread across the planet and developed agriculture, making it difficult at best to point to a single way of eating to which we were, and remain, best suited.”

Some advocates of “paleo” will claim that they are not at all advocating that humans should eat what their paleolithic ancestors ate but that we should use what they ate as a template to figure out what to eat today. That’s a distinction without a real difference because the assumptions upon which the Paleo Diet are based (e.g., that atherosclerosis didn’t exist in hunter-gatherers and that hunter-gatherers were “almost always healthy, lean, fit, disease-free, strong people” and that 10,000 years is too short a time period for humans to have evolved to accommodate a grain-based diet) are more the product of wishful thinking and the “noble savage” myth than anything else. At the very least, Thompson’s study suggests that this assumption is overblown and that there has long been a certain “baseline” level of atherosclerotic disease among humans that is an inevitable part of aging. Whether or not a “Paleo”-like diet can modulate that baseline risk factor downward or at least decrease the risk of people living in modern technological societies from what our current mosaic of genetics, lifestyle, diet, and environment produce is an open question, but we’re not off to a good start when the underlying premise is so questionable.

Oh, and, as Zuk tells us, paleolithic people got cancer, too.

Ever since the rise of science and industry, there has long been a significant proportion of the population who distrust, fear, and sometimes even loathe modernity. Science changes too fast; it is thought to endanger “spiritual matters”; it tramples on “traditional values.” People fantasize about and long for a (nonexistent) time long past, when humans supposedly lived in harmony with their environment, and view science, specifically for the purposes of this discussion modern biomedicine, has having participating in destroying that “ancient wisdom.” We see strains of this tendency not just in medicine and “integrative medicine” but in literature and many other areas as well. Films such as Avatar and Dances With Wolves, among many others, portray scientists and “Western” man as rapacious and ready to destroy a race of hunter-gatherers and early agrarian people who are portrayed as living in complete harmony with nature. CAM and the Paleo diet share this fear of modernity as an underlying assumption even as their advocates use and misuse evolution to “prove” their worth. This is nothing new, and the rationale behind the Paleo diet is nothing more than, as Zuk has put it, the evolutionary search for our perfect past. Unfortunately, fantasy is not reality, and we humans have long been known to abuse and despoil our environment, even back in those “paleo” days. Indeed, when I took a prehistoric archeology course, which was largely dedicated to the period of time of the hunter-gatherers, one thing I remember my professor pointing out, and that was that what he did was largely the study of prehistoric garbage and that humans have always produced a lot of it.

We still haven’t stopped, unfortunately.

Posted in: Evolution, History, Nutrition

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160 thoughts on “It’s a part of my paleo fantasy, it’s a part of my paleo dream

  1. TonyMach says:

    I know an personal anecdote counts for nothing, but my personal experience was going from the “usual” diet to Atikins improved my health.

    And only after I went from Atkins to Paleo I got rid of most of my health problems.

    Turns out dairy causes (non-gastrointernal) health problems for me.

    And then I tried some things, and I would bet that the problem is dairy pasteurized milk. (Dairy from pasteurized milk causes acne for me, while raw milk dairy does not – tried it several times, did not want to believe it at first.)

    It was only the “Paleo” idea that enabled me to identify evolutionary novel foods, and enabled me to specifically remove those and see if it helps.

    A plausible hypothesis, some experiments and then a clear result in my case.

    So I *know* that removing evolutionary novel foods, and trying to find out if such a removal helps health-wise is a viable approach. Might not work in all cases and surely not for all health problems. But from personal experience I *know* that there are health problems out there that *are* caused by our “modern” diet. And from my case I *know* that most medical doctors are ignorant to this connection. So I have reason to believe that my case is not the only one.

    PS: After Paleo I have the impression that some/a few/many doctors are stupid. I told one that many of my health problems went away after I stopped eating dairy. That the inflammation of my skin in the form of acne died down after removing dairy. All she could think of was “But you need the calcium!” Come on, WTF????? Modern doctors are not capable to investigate a connection between health problems and nutrition if you present it on a silver platter, so ingrained is the notation what is and what isn’t healthy food. I’m sure I’m missing the reports that millions of lactose intolerant people die in the world because they don’t get enough calcium – my bad.

    PPS: I think the alt/CAM/int/whatever types are wrong in many places, but I think they are right in two things: Embracing Paleo and stopping pharma. Their herbs and some of their stuff are BS (and some are harmful), but nothing compared to the what pharma does and what current mainstream nutritional advise does. I recently read this quote on 1boringoldmen’ blog:
    “In Atlanta, there’s a big “natural foods” store in the latter-day-hippie district. We often went there for spices or other hard to locate ingredients. One day I was looking through the Indian spices which were next to the “natural remedies” section. A guy was talking to the lady behind the counter, enumerating symptoms. She had a remedy for everything he brought up. I lingered to see if he would stump her, but he left satisfied with a basket full of potions and herbs. I recall that moment sometimes when I look at all the medications people are on. I don’t know how much herbs help beyond the placebo effect, but I think it’s often safer at that latter-day-hippie district “natural remedies” counter than in some doctor’s offices.”
    http://1boringoldman.com/index.php/2013/03/16/a-lot-better-than-that/
    Medical science is in dire need of a paradigm shift, and it will not be the alternative types that can facilitate that. But the longer medical science drags it feet, the more the alt med “doctors” will gain. You don’t want that? Clean up your house. Start by considering that *every* paper touching on the subject of nutrition of the last five decades contains half-turths and wrong conclusions. If you think the alt med doctors are the main problem, you’ll fail.

  2. TonyMach says:

    And speaking of testing a hypothesis, my favorite:
    http://www.bmj.com/content/346/bmj.e8707

    And in case you want an mechanism for this:
    http://www.sciencebasedmedicine.org/index.php/anti-inflammatory-drugs-a-closer-look-at-the-risks/#comment-116329

    So you have an mechanism how you can increase inflammation, it makes sense when you ask what is evolutionary novel food (and through these points it is in my maybe not so humble opinion therefore plausible by first principles alone), and you have results of an intervention that agree with that – and everything is at odds what is generally considered to be healthy by all the good doctors.

    But who am I lecturing doctors?

  3. BillyJoe says:

    TM,

    “But who am I lecturing doctors?”

    No one.
    Your personal experience means nothing on a science and evidence based medical blog.

  4. Iris Carden says:

    I have lupus and blog about my condition, and get constant “advice” from people about how a paleo diet, or some other diet, or herbs, or standing on my head in the corner for an hour a day, or whatever would cure my condition.

    If I stuck to some “ancient” treatment for lupus instead of the modern drug cocktail my doctors have spent ages carefully balancing, my lupus probably would be cured. Death cures lupus.

  5. Janet says:

    Dr. Gorski, you have done Anthropology proud today. I have been waiting for someone to take on the paleo, et al, diets and myths about human evolution. One thing to remember, is that pre-agricultural people ate what they could find. Before modern times, this left them, for the most part, lean, which may have made them healthier (for those who lived to be older, anyway).

    The other thing I like to point out is that many old people who are in pretty good shape eat an ordinary diet, although they are inevitably lean, or at least not significantly overweight. Until very recently, the last 30 or so years, you simply never saw fat old people–but maybe that is because they didn’t have scooters to get around.:-)

  6. Great quote on the naturalistic fallacy from Sam Kean’s very charming 2012 book about genetics, The Violinist’s Thumb: And Other Lost Tales of Love, War, and Genius, as Written by Our Genetic Code:

    Remember that most of our genetic predilections for behavior were shaped by the African savanna many thousands if not millions of years ago. So while “natural” in some sense, these predilections don’t necessarily serve us well today, since we live in a radically different environment. What happens in nature is a poor guide for making decisions anyway. One of the biggest boners in ethical philosophy is the naturalistic fallacy, which equates nature with “what’s right” and uses “what’s natural” to justify or excuse prejudice. We human beings are humane in part because we can look beyond our biology.

  7. DugganSC says:

    Didn’t The Violinist’s Thumb also have a bit about how we can observe genetic adaptation to a higher-fat diet in the genes extracted from bones we’ve located? It’s been a few months since I read the book, but my memory was that they have evidence that there was a genetic shift, not shared in our simian cousins, that allowed us to eat large quantities of fat without dying as rapidly from atherosclerosis. The tradeoff is that there are other health risks associated with that gene activating, but it was one profitable for the humans of the time who were transitioning into a more agricultural society. Moreover, I remember them indicating that there was evidence that our ancestors ate such fatty foods, and suffered for it, for hundreds of years before that particular gene become pre-dominant, and now the norm.

    @TonyMach:
    Frankly, your narrative does prove something, namely that you had a food intolerance that you discovered by the same method suggested by many nutritionists, cutting that item out of your diet and seeing if your condition improves. There are people who have trouble with milk. There are people who have trouble with meat. There are people who have trouble with beans, eggplants, shrimp, peanuts… the particular choice of diet that leads to you realizing that cutting the food out of your diet has very little bearing on your discovery. But congratulations on discovering your allergy. I know that, in my case, it took me some time to realize my own developing lactose intolerance (and longer to figure out that it varied such that sometimes I could drink a reasonable quantity of milk and sometimes not).

  8. Eugenie Mielczarek says:

    Integrative Medicine at the University of Connecticut may be flourishing from nourishing by Federal Funding.
    NCCAM grants to U Con over the last ten years totaled $4.4 million for 18 awards. One includes a clinical trial on Yoga.
    Eugenie Mielczarek

  9. Angora Rabbit says:

    Ack! You beat me to it – the nutrition grad students are critiquing “Forks over Knives” this month and “Paleo Answer” next month. The book is sitting on my desk but I haven’t read it yet (task for spring break next week).

    Bottom line – “FvsK” argues that the meat-free vegan diet is best. Paleo argues that heavy meat and low grain is best. Can they both be right? Of course not!!! Because close scrutiny of both diets reveals something quite different. Both are no more than a gimmick that is wrapped around the core nutritional principles that we professionals have been promoting for years: eat less processed food, eat more whole food, listen to your satiety, eat fewer calories, and learn to cook. Learning to cook and spending time cooking as a powerful method to reduce junk calories and control what actually enters your mouth. And exercise – both diets show or promote lots of exercise but don’t explicitly mention it because of course this would undermine the “specialness” of their dietary gimmick.

    But sometimes I want to lock both groups in a room, armed with forks and knives, and see who survives. :)

    I look forward to reading Dr. Gorski’s above dissection of the Paleo nonsense.

  10. mousethatroared says:

    A couple things.

    Firstly, I’m frustrated because a while back I read an article that suggested people may well have been happier and healthier in the period of time before the development of agriculture as opposed early agricultural civilizations. As I recall, the rational was based on increases of disease due to increased population density (and living in close proximity to livestock) and the social stratification that often came along with larger population and agricultural groups. But I can not find that article…because googling gives me pages and pages* of paleo diet stuff.

    Secondly TonyMach “PPS: I think the alt/CAM/int/whatever types are wrong in many places, but I think they are right in two things: Embracing Paleo and stopping pharma. Their herbs and some of their stuff are BS (and some are harmful), but nothing compared to the what pharma does”

    What pharma does…like save people’s lives. I’m always amazed how folks are willing to discount the lives of folks with serious disease who are only alive and/or productive today because of the advances of “evil pharma”. Why? because they discovered that a dietary change helped their GI bloating, skin itchiness, runny nose, etc.

    Of course, since they are most often NOT the ones with leukemia, lupus, diabetes, thyroid disease, blood clots, bipolar disorder, arthritis, etc, and they don’t have to live (or die) with the risks and and pain of experimenting with diet or “natural” alternatives. So what’s it to them, really?

  11. mousethatroared says:

    Urgh, Apologies for the horribly incomplete sentence. Hopefully it get across my point, in spite of it’s deformity.

  12. ConspicuousCarl says:

    Very cool of Gorski to use the original version of the lyrics by Meat Riot. Most people only know their later songs.

  13. mgmcewen says:

    I’d be interested in your response to this
    http://robbwolf.com/2013/03/15/evidence-based-medicine-fraud-double-standards-ignorance/

    and in general your thoughts on evolutionary medicine as a discipline.

    Like TonyMach I have a positive “paleo” anecdote, but unlike him I grew increasingly skeptical of the movement. I think the positive results I got could have been achieved with a responsible elimination diet. It turns out I, like most people with similar problems, am sensitive to so-called “paleo” foods as well.

    I also was initially enthusiastic about people like Terry Wahls, who claims to have cured MS with a paleo diet. Then I read more and realized that MS sometimes goes into spontaneous remission even in people not on a special diet. It’s a shame because this leads dietary bullying and guilt-mongering of people with serious illness. Though I read Wahls is subjecting her diet to some actual studies now, it seems her approach relies heavily on anecdotes and testimonials.

    mousethatroared, maybe you are thinking of Jared Diamond’s The Worst Mistake?

  14. FulfilledDeer says:

    @ConspicuousCarl

    Bad Company? Because that’s what I thought.

  15. WilliamLawrenceUtridge says:

    I know an personal anecdote counts for nothing

    Yep, you could stop your whole comment right there. You’re not a doctor, yet you feel adequate to criticize doctors, based on anecdote. That’s not science, but I’m guessing there’s a lot of confirmation bias involved.

    And then I tried some things, and I would bet that the problem is dairy pasteurized milk. (Dairy from pasteurized milk causes acne for me, while raw milk dairy does not – tried it several times, did not want to believe it at first.)

    Know what else comes from raw milk? E. coli. Yum!

    It was only the “Paleo” idea that enabled me to identify evolutionary novel foods, and enabled me to specifically remove those and see if it helps.

    Evolutionarily novel for who? For what time periods? Humans have covered the planet for at least 14,000 years, Europe and Asia for at least 40,000 and Africa for something close to a million. Founder populations splinter off to form early Europeans, Asians, Amerindians, and within those groups undergo selection pressure for the local diet. Is quiona “evolutionarily novel”? Is corn? Rice? Fermented breads? Cheeses? Nearly every food that humans currently eat is “evolutionarily novel” in that humans have been altering the foods themselves, in addition to experiencing their own selection pressures, rendering your whole assertion rather moot. The primordial ancestor of corn looks nothing like modern corn, a “paleobanana” would be regarded as inedible and unless you’re spending a lot of time chowing down on brains, tongue and marrow, you’re probably not eating anything close to the animal foods you think you are. Humans are diverse omnivores, easily identified as such by dentition and gut, who have used fire for tens of millennia to render food more digestible. As a species we can digest almost anything that’s not pure fibre, as individuals we are more or less unique, and you’re committing the ecological fallacy by extrapolating in either direction. Your approach might be able to identify foods that are more or less harmful to your body, but you have no idea why that is, what causes it, or how your ancestors might have been selected for or against with regards that food. Rather than ascribing cause to “evolutionarily novel foods”, why not simply note what foods do or do not affect you? Your umbrella hypothesis is unsustainable but doubtless self-confirming.

    And from my case I *know* that most medical doctors are ignorant to this connection. So I have reason to believe that my case is not the only one.

    You know most doctors? You must be a busy guy considering there are millions of them.

    PS: After Paleo I have the impression that some/a few/many doctors are stupid.

    It’s easy to proclaim yourself an expert on mild, self-limiting conditions, and use that to justify bashing doctors. You have no appreciation for the training doctors get, or the problems they actually deal with. But go ahead, pat yourself on the back for figuring out how to confirm your personal experience then extrapolating that to all of medicine.

    I told one that many of my health problems went away after I stopped eating dairy. That the inflammation of my skin in the form of acne died down after removing dairy. All she could think of was “But you need the calcium!”

    Are you sure she didn’t say something along the lines of “make sure you get enough calcium? You are concerned with acne, she’s looking ahead to your long-term bone health.

    Come on, WTF????? Modern doctors are not capable to investigate a connection between health problems and nutrition if you present it on a silver platter, so ingrained is the notation what is and what isn’t healthy food. I’m sure I’m missing the reports that millions of lactose intolerant people die in the world because they don’t get enough calcium – my bad.

    Doctors are trained to see the long-term implications of your health decisions, not the “solution” you present on a silver platter. And your “solution” may not apply to everyone (in fact, almost certainly does not), and may not even apply to you. But lack fo calcium does indeed lead to death, often in the elderly when it’s almost certainly too late to do anything. Your doctor is attempting to prevent a recognized, long-term health consequence of your dietary choice that she has doubtless seen many times in elderly patients, an implication that is a vague, hazy, far-off implication but one that your current behaviour will strongly influence.

    PPS: I think the alt/CAM/int/whatever types are wrong in many places, but I think they are right in two things: Embracing Paleo and stopping pharma.

    “CAM” is not so unitary to claim that it “embraces paleo”. Many doubtless embrace veganism, or their selective, absurd, endlessly-changing rejection of whatever bugaboo they believe is responsible for all death in all humans du jour. You and CAM both commit the sin of making strikingly widespread recommendations on the basis of poor quality, preliminary or personal data that you somehow feel must solve all health problems for all people. You’re not even sure if your solution works for you, let alone everyone. Real medicine and doctors are cautious, incorporate the best current knowledge and generally try not to make recommendations without strong evidence of benefits. Casual, unfounded recommendations can be quite dangerous – certainly yours could indeed drive up osteoporosis risks (a problem already anticipated given the diets and lifestyles of many young women today), Doc Spock’s recommendation to sleep babies on their stomachs is thought to be responsible for hundreds of thousands of infant deaths due to SIDS. Perhaps you should be a bit humbler in your lavish dispensation of advice.

    Their herbs and some of their stuff are BS (and some are harmful), but nothing compared to the what pharma does and what current mainstream nutritional advise does.

    To translate, “I want my drugs to have no side effects and I want to justify my current lifestyle choices”. Yes, everyone wants drugs to have no side effects, but most also want their drugs to have actual effects. If Big Pharma could sell drugs with only main effects, they would be quite happy to do so. Yes, it would be nice if we could find a diet that tasted good and was perfectly health, as well as easy to stay on and supported by evidence. Sadly, that’s not the case.

    “In Atlanta, there’s a big “natural foods” store in the latter-day-hippie district. We often went there for spices or other hard to locate ingredients. One day I was looking through the Indian spices which were next to the “natural remedies” section. A guy was talking to the lady behind the counter, enumerating symptoms. She had a remedy for everything he brought up. I lingered to see if he would stump her, but he left satisfied with a basket full of potions and herbs. I recall that moment sometimes when I look at all the medications people are on. I don’t know how much herbs help beyond the placebo effect, but I think it’s often safer at that latter-day-hippie district “natural remedies” counter than in some doctor’s offices.”

    The difference being, of course, there is actually evidence to support what comes out of the doctor’s office as doing something. The fact that someone behind a counter in a Whole Foods can give people facile responses doesn’t mean they’re accurate or actually helping improve symptoms. Again, you seem to be impressed by people able to provide cheap, easy solutions, with no real appreciation of how worthless and/or, harmful they might be. Yes, science is slow and imperfect, that doesn’t mean “making shit up” is an appropriate response.

    Medical science is in dire need of a paradigm shift, and it will not be the alternative types that can facilitate that. But the longer medical science drags it feet, the more the alt med “doctors” will gain. You don’t want that? Clean up your house. Start by considering that *every* paper touching on the subject of nutrition of the last five decades contains half-turths and wrong conclusions. If you think the alt med doctors are the main problem, you’ll fail.

    Heh, Ben Goldacre has a point to be made here: anybody claiming to have “the answers” when it comes to nutrition is almost certainly wrong. The data is equivocal, complicated, difficult to gather, flawed, contradictory, and above all, incomplete. Science has to deal with this uncertainty and still produce tentative recommendations that make sense, can easily be followed and don’t result in deaths due to nutrient deficiencies or excesses. These issues are studied by thousands, possibly millions of people who have read the knowledge base built up over the past century or more in great detail who still find themselves uncertain and with acknolwedged limitations.

    On the other hand, you have no trouble declaring the entire enterprise flawed, simply because you managed to cure acne by avoiding milk. You’ve no problem making sweeping recommendations, urge against “draging feet” and demand a reinterpretation of decades of scientific literature based on your belief that there is some sort of mythic past in which mythic humans ate mythic plants in some sort of unchanging utopia.

    You are frightening in your arrogance.

  16. Barry2 says:

    Has anyone done health studies on modern hunter-gatherers?

  17. WilliamLawrenceUtridge says:

    Firstly, I’m frustrated because a while back I read an article that suggested people may well have been happier and healthier in the period of time before the development of agriculture as opposed early agricultural civilizations. As I recall, the rational was based on increases of disease due to increased population density (and living in close proximity to livestock) and the social stratification that often came along with larger population and agricultural groups. But I can not find that article…because googling gives me pages and pages* of paleo diet stuff.

    I would question this. Many such groups are extraordinarily rigid. While this can be comforting (everyone knows their roles, there are virtually no ambiguities in their interactions), it can also demand things like the sacrifice of wives and servants when the fat guy at the top dies, exile, sanctioning of what we would call domestic abuse and a whole lot more. Spellbound: Inside West Africa’s Witch Camps by Karen Palmer gives you a sense of what it might have been like in this superstition-ridden era (particularly in times of scarcity). Some parts of pre-agricultural life might have been great (you were constantly surrounded by the people you grew up with, raised you or were the parent of), other parts were probably terrible (you were constantly surrounded by the people you grew up with, raised you or were the parent of). From my understanding, hunter-gatherers did tend to be taller, healthier and live longer than agricultural civilizations (note that this is civilizations though, not necessarily individuals), because of things like more varied diets, less repetitive exercise (i.e. a HG spends their day walking, throwing and running, a farmer spends their day bent over, swinging a scythe in one hand while holding a bag in the other – for 16 hours). Cities, farming and sedentarism did have a lot more potential for lethal diseases though, proximity to animals, large populations to circulate through and cycles of lethality did indeed make for much more danger from epidemics.

    Certainly modern society has tremendous potential for anomie, suicide, loneliness and impersonal, sourceless frustrations and dissatisfactions. But it also has vaccinations, varied art, food and music, travel and more.

    I wonder if you could generalize about any of this.

  18. elburto says:

    Tony – Why not wander on over to some blogs devoted to various health problems and spread your message there? I’m sure some of your friends in the “non-HIV AIDS” (that’s CFS to the rest of us) camp would be receptive to your paleo gospel.

    Stop polluting this place with your “Doctors are stupid, I know this cos the local patchouli-doused hippy sells herbs that can totes cure ANYTHING!” nonsense.

    This is Science Based Medicine, not Wow us with your Woo. Your anecdotes mean nothing. Yesterday I used an Android device running Ice Cream Sandwich when I usually use Jellybean. It’s been snowing ever since, and got heavier when I picked up my old Android 2.3. phone. Does moving down the OS release schedule actually affect the weather?

    Maybe I should apply for a grant, after all, look at global warming. The temperature’s increasing as Apple and Microsoft release ever more advanced operating systems! Maybe we could reverse climate change if we all downgraded to the previous version of the OS on our computers.

  19. lilady says:

    @ Tony Mach:

    I *love* your anecdotal stories…especially this one…

    “And only after I went from Atkins to Paleo I got rid of most of my health problems.

    Turns out dairy causes (non-gastrointernal) health problems for me.

    And then I tried some things, and I would bet that the problem is dairy pasteurized milk. (Dairy from pasteurized milk causes acne for me, while raw milk dairy does not – tried it several times, did not want to believe it at first.)”

    Really Tony?

    http://scienceblogs.com/aetiology/2012/06/18/raw-milk-raw-deal/

    “…The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) frankly states that “research shows no meaningful difference between the nutrient content of pasteurized and unpasteurized milk”. Science has also shown that most enzymes of concern by advocates are not altered by pasteurization. For those with allergy concerns, medical experts and research agrees that it is the proteins naturally present in milk (both raw and pasteurized) that are the cause of allergic reactions to milk and have no relationship to the pasteurization process. In regards to lactose intolerance, it needs to be understood that lactose intolerance is a genetic error of metabolism that some people are born with, and there is lactose present in both raw and pasteurized milk. So unfortunately for the lactose intolerant, raw milk is not the solution. As for probiotics, milk does not naturally contain probiotics; so if they are detected in the raw milk they are likely from another source such as air exposure or fecal contamination. But the good news is that we as consumers have many, safer options for experiencing the benefits of probiotics, including yogurt with active cultures and over the counter supplements…”

    And…

    “…Data collected by the CDC from 1998-2009 documented 93 disease outbreaks due to raw milk and raw milk product consumption. These outbreaks caused 1,837 illnesses, 195 hospitalizations, and 2 deaths. It is important to note that for every case that is reported and diagnosed, there are many illnesses that go unreported, which means these case numbers in reality are certain to be much higher. The most recently reported outbreak occurred in Oregon this past April. The outbreak involved 19 people, 15 of which were children, with 4 of the children ending up in the hospital undergoing treatment for kidney failure. Eleven of the cases were confirmed to have been caused by a very dangerous strain of E. coli that was traced back to a dairy farm that supplied the families with raw milk. In reflecting on outbreaks such as these, it is important to remember that these illnesses are preventable. But hopefully, these sad cases will also serve to educate us as consumers, so that we can make informed and healthy choices for ourselves and our families…”

    You would do well to check out the CDC website to find out how many cases/outbreaks of salmonella, listeriosis, E.coli and C. jujuni have been reported/associated with the consumption of raw milk and raw milk products:

    http://www.cdc.gov/features/rawmilk/

  20. ConspicuousCarl says:

    @FulfilledDeer

    nevermind

  21. jturknett says:

    The basic premise behind an ancestral approach to nutrition is to place evolutionarily novel foods under heightened scrutiny, and in particular to eliminate those with plausible pathophysiological mechanisms by which they could lead to the diseases of civilization. It has nothing to do with paleo re-enactment, even though attempts to discredit it keep employing this man of straw.

    The fact that genetic adaptations have occurred within the past 10,000 years is also neither here nor there. One million years is the typical time frame that evolutionary biologists give for a species to fully adapt to a novel environmental selection pressure. There will, of course, will be outliers. So what? Furthermore, the time frame for adaptation to occur from a de novo mutation will, on average, be many orders of magnitude different than the time frame for selecting for a gene that already exists (i.e. lactase, ccr5-d variant, etc.). This point has been conveniently left out of these critiques.

    Also, the presence of atherosclerosis in the vascular beds is a necessary but insufficient condition for a vascular event. The critical factor, of course, is the presence of an unstable atheroma, which many times occurs in folks with only modest atherosclerotic disease. On the flip side, it is not uncommon to see widespread atherosclerosis on post-mortems in folks who never had a vascular event. And what we’re concerned about here is preventing vascular events, not atherosclerosis. Atherosclerosis may may well be an invariable part of the “aging” process, but if it doesn’t lead to vascular events, then who cares? And if we’re trying to test the hypothesis that evolutionarily novel foods protect against unstable atheromas, then looking at atherosclerosis in ancient humans isn’t how you’d do it.

    It seems that the authors on this site reflexively dismiss anything that exists outside the mainstream, and then try to marshal an argument to defend that position. This, of course, is no different than a large chunk of the CAM community, who likewise reflexively dismiss anything that comes from the mainstream health community. As a physician and a skeptic, I would like to see you guys hold yourselves to the same standards you’d like the CAM proponents to adopt.

    If you do not believe that a species will be best adapted to environmental conditions under which it has been exposed to the longest, then you disagree with the premise behind ancestral nutrition. This is the argument you must make if you wish to discredit it, though it would fly in the face of our mainstream scientific understanding of evolutionary and molecular biology (which I gather is why people keep erecting straw men to critique the paleo movement, as the only other alternative is to defend creationism…).

  22. TQuigs says:

    It’s not really fair that this article is lumping together the paleo diet with people who deny modern pharmaceuticals or push “traditional” medicine. I don’t think there’s anything fad-ish or wrong about making an effort to eat a cleaner diet. I’m still skeptical about eliminating grains entirely for anyone who isn’t gluten-intolerant, but the basic idea of “eat lots of fresh fruits and vegetables, meat that hasn’t been factory farmed/pumped full of antibiotics, and avoid highly processed foods like kraft dinner/mcdonalds/margarine/refined sugars, and consume dairy and grains in moderation” isn’t really novel or controversial. That’s pretty much the theory behind primal eating in a nutshell. If you want to go for something controversial, try the ketosis diets, which eliminates almost all carbohydrates. Paleo doesn’t eliminate carbs, it’s not the same as Atkins.

    Paleo isn’t the fix all solution for everything, though I’m sure there are many who do view it religiously, just like some people follow a vegan diet religiously or a raw diet religiously. But if it helps a person learn more about how their body processes food, make better decisions, improve their health by losing weight, and makes them healthier, then what’s the problem? I don’t really care about what hunter/gatherer societies ate or what our ideal evolutionary diet is, I care about what modern science says about nutrition and what works for me.

    There may not be a one size fits all solution to diet and nutrition, and it’s certainly possible that the science today will be debunked in 30 years, just like today we’re debunking the science from 30 years ago. But accusing paleo eaters of rejecting modern science and medicine is asinine, if anything much of the paleo diet itself is based on modern science (for example the more recent nutritional science suggesting that fats aren’t the antichrist after all). If you want to look at obesity as a problem, rates have continued to rise exponentially despite the nutritional guidelines and increase in carbohydrate consumption and reduced fat products etc in the last few decades – why? Is it so controversial to suggest that maybe the way we’ve been approaching this has been wrong?

  23. oscarpicazo says:

    WilliamLaurenceUttridge please check the clinical trials regarding acne and milk, and the biochemical mechanisms related to mTOR activation by Leucine.

    Aldo do please check the literature or USDA data for calcium content and bioavailability in food by type of calcium (quelate vs inorganic). Elimination or reduction of milk does not imply calcium deficiency.

    And a lot of calcium in the diet does not mean healthy bones. There is more to bone health than calcium.

    Too much calcium in the diet may even be detrimental regarding atherosclerosis and calcium deposits.

    Maybe it is true atherosclerosis is a natural degenerative process, and something else is needed to develop heart disease; pro inflammatory diet maybe? Some populations as the Massai are known from autopsies to develop plaques, but not heart disease.

    I agree the paleo movement has contaminated an initially good hypothesis to check on trials, but this does not mean the evolutionary framework is bs; nutrigenomics and nutrigenetics will prove that.

  24. Chris says:

    Barry2:

    Has anyone done health studies on modern hunter-gatherers?

    I recently read Mutants : on genetic variety and the human body by Armand Marie Leroi. In the chapter that discusses small people there are mentions of some hunter-gatherer tribes that have been found, and sometimes lost. Among them were some in Burma, which apparently were short due to malnutrition, and others in various countries that suffered from lack of iodine in their diet. So they have been studied, except after being “found” they sometimes stop being pure “hunter-gatherer” societies.

  25. MLewis says:

    As an evolutionary biologist/vertebrate paleontologist who studies the circumstances surrounding the increase in our hominin ancestors’ intake of meat, I have often viewed the paleo diet fad with (gentle) amusement….particularly the vegan versions. Granted, the recipes are often quite delicious, regardless of how “authentic” they are. If nothing else, the paleo diet is getting people to think about what is going into their food and eventually into their bodies. Unfortunately, most people lack the scientific literacy to see whether what they are replacing it with is any better.

    I have not read all of the studies cited in the essay above. However, I have looked at some of the studies on the Egyptian mummies. You have to keep in mind that Egyptian mummies are not necessarily representative of the entire population and may belong to a class (or classes) that had a diet that was different than other members of Egyptian society. They also differed in activity level. Just something to think about. The hunter-gatherer data mentioned above, is, therefore, quite interesting to me as activity level and diet are not as stratified (if at all) in hunter-gatherer cultures. They also had something more (presumably) similar to the pre-agricultural paleodiets that I have seen put forth on various websites.

    Finally, to respond to some of the comments above, the idea that there is a specific “time frame” such as a million years to respond to selection pressures misunderstands how evolution works. Species that reproduce more quickly evolve more quickly as they have more generation times in a given period. The tempo of evolution also is dependent on the amount of selective pressure occurring. Finally, it also depends somewhat on the complexity of genetic control of a trait. Many studies (as pointed out above) have shown fairly rapid evolution (few thousand years) occurred within human populations long after we split from other hominins as a species despite our slow reproductive interval. And, of course our species as a whole is much younger than a million years old as shown by both paleontological and genetic studies.

  26. mousethatroared says:

    WLU- I would question it too…if I could find out what I read in passing that suggested it. Maybe it was an article or interview about the Jared Diamond book that mgmcewen suggested*. Anyway, it was an interesting idea, although I don’t know how well supported. I guess the thing that intrigued me is that it questions the opposite side of skepticism of modernity, which is the assumption that modernity always improves things. (an assumption which I refute everytime I talk on the phone to someone with a Blackberry).

    *thanks mgmcewen! I’ll check that out.

  27. mousethatroared says:

    @WLU – Although to be clear, I’m pretty sure there was no comparison of Paleo lifestyle to modern lifestyle. It was just Paleo to early agricultural. Damn selective memory.

  28. mousethatroared says:

    jturknett “The basic premise behind an ancestral approach to nutrition is to place evolutionarily novel foods under heightened scrutiny, and in particular to eliminate those with plausible pathophysiological mechanisms by which they could lead to the diseases of civilization.”

    Be nice if this “heightened scrutiny” included scientific studies, rather than conjuncture and anecdotes, is all.

  29. DugganSC says:

    *sigh* Guys, I know there are a lot of trolls out here, but if we jump feet-first on every person who says “Hey, this diet works for me. Can you explain why I’m wrong?”, we’re just going to come off as hostile.

  30. tuck says:

    Dr. Gorski didn’t have enough information to write this post. It’s a bit of an embarrassment… Hardly science-based. Most of the arguments here are straw-man arguments, combined with a nice slather of the Association Fallacy.

    There’s some excellent scientific rationale for the Paleo diet. The fact that Dr. Gorski and Prof. Zuk are ignorant of it doesn’t really reflect on the diet badly.

    “Zuk couldn’t resist asking a question, namely why the inability to digest so many common foods would persist in the population, observing, “Surely it would have been selected out of the population.” Cordain’s response? That humans had not had time to adapt to these foods, to which Zuk retorted, “Plenty of time.” ”

    As a matter of fact, she’s flat wrong and Cordain is right. The fact that Dr. Gorski includes this as a “telling incident” is telling, but mainly about how little he knows about the topic.

    Incidence of Celiac disease is highest in countries where consumption has been going on for the longest.

    “The domestication and cultivation of wheat first occurred in the Middle East, in the “fertile crescent” region stretching from modern-day Turkey to Iran.2 The literature has increasingly noted celiac disease in this region, with reports of high prevalence coming from average-risk populations in Turkey, Egypt, Iran, Tunisia, Israel, Jordan, Lebanon, and Kuwait.3–15″

    “Celiac Disease”

    http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3264942/

  31. elburto says:

    @Duggan – Tony is a repeat offender, both here and on scienceblogs. He’s not saying “Paleo helped me, why is that?”. He’s saying that doctors are idiots who know nothing about diet/nutrition, and that magick leaves and seeds can cure anything, based on overhearing a conversation in a shop. How scientific!

  32. David Gorski says:

    @tuck: Quite frankly, if we’re going to have a duel between sources about evolution, I’m going to tend to trust the assessment of an evolutionary biologist like Zuk before that of an exercise physiologist like Cordain. That doesn’t mean that Zuk couldn’t be wrong, but taking her arguments and weighing them against what I know about evolutionary biology myself from my studies in biochemistry, molecular biology, and evolution, combined with my more recent forays into genomics and epigenetics, my assessment is that Zuk makes a far more compelling case than Cordain does.

    Oh, here’s another hint. Your article does not necessarily support your point. Certainly the rapid increase in celiac disease since 1950 would tend to suggest that something new has happened in the last 100 years, which, unlike 10,000 years, is almost certainly too short for evolutionary pressure to produce significant changes in the frequency of alleles related to celiac disease, particularly when the reproductive fitness hit a person with celiac disease takes is probably not that bad. It’s also a case where whatever is going on does appear to be more than just increased awareness leading to more screening and leading to the diagnosis of more subclinical disease or disease diagnosed as something else.

    http://www.webmd.com/digestive-disorders/celiac-disease/news/20090701/celiac-disease-cases-are-on-the-rise

  33. pharmavixen says:

    It’s rather a more fringe movement than the Paleo diet, but a similar expose of the Raw Food diet would be consistent with the mandate of this blog. Proponents of raw food insist that cooking kills enzymes important to digestion. So people go to great lengths to eat foods that have not been heated above 115-118F. Strangely, though, the diet doesn’t include raw fish or unpasteurized milk; instead, it’s an extreme version of vegan.

    I’ve tried a few of the recipes, and they’re quite tasty, given that you’re using fresh ingredients. But pancreatic enzymes would break down any proteins we consume to constituent amino acids, correct?

  34. elburto says:

    Also – if he feels the need to evangelise about the wonders of cave cuisine, and the health benefits thereof, why not do it among people who could benefit? Why not on his own blog?

    n=1 means nothing. I’m sure every single person here can think of a weird physical quirk, medical mystery, or odd allergy that is specific to them. Generalising anything based on those singular instances is foolish.

    Stimulants put me to sleep and sedatives make me hyperactive. If I can’t sleep then I chug down some coffee. It would be ridiculous of me to tell insomniacs to indulge in some espresso because it really, really works for me.

    Science is cold hard facts. Numbers, statistics, observation and analysis. That’s what’s being discussed here.

    Woo is like a woolly blanket knitted by a kindly aunt. Warm, cosy, personal. It insulates, blocks out cold, can block out light if you wrap yourself up in it. It’s comforting, but that’s all. It can’t stop cold from existing, or provide protection against being cold in the future.

    Woo preys on people who want to feel special, who want a personal approach that tells them “This approach knows everyone is unique, and we base our approach on that”. They feel that science is impersonal and treats everyone as just another person or set of results.

    That’s the approach that’s brought transplants, immunotherapy, chemo, neurosurgery, ARVs, etc. that save millions of lives. What results has warmth and fuzziness brought? Give me cold hard data any day. Warm and fuzzy is for the worried well, and the science denialists.

  35. David Gorski says:

    We’ve discussed raw vegan diets on this blog before, actually.

  36. egstra says:

    “n=1 means nothing. I’m sure every single person here can think of a weird physical quirk, medical mystery, or odd allergy that is specific to them. Generalising anything based on those singular instances is foolish.”

    What?! You mean the fact that my mother smoked 4 packs of cigarettes a day for 60 years and lived to be almost 96 doesn’t prove that smoking is good for you?

  37. lizz says:

    @ elburto – Thanks, I thought it was just me who drank coffee to go to sleep :)

  38. WilliamLawrenceUtridge says:

    @MTR:

    Diamond’s Worst Mistake does indeed sound like an approximation of what you were thinking, though it’s from 1984 and doesn’t exactly paint a rosy picture of hunter-gatherers either (life expectancy of 26 anyone?). I’d have just as withering a reply to anyone who suggested modernism is unproblematic as well. Chronic stress, anomie, tremendous disparities in wealth, obesity, almost no unambiguously good roles to fall into, bleah. I’d still rather live now than any other time though.

    @jturknetton

    The basic premise behind an ancestral approach to nutrition is to place evolutionarily novel foods under heightened scrutiny, and in particular to eliminate those with plausible pathophysiological mechanisms by which they could lead to the diseases of civilization. It has nothing to do with paleo re-enactment, even though attempts to discredit it keep employing this man of straw.

    “Evolutionarily novel” is an absurd statement though – nearly every thing we consume regularly bears almost no resemblance to their ancestor foods from 14,000 years ago when agriculture started. Agriculture involved intensive breeding to increase size, caloric content and nutritional value, resulting in bananas with no seeds, white flesh potatoes and stubby wheat. Further, most of our staple foods don’t come from Africa, the only part of the planet you can really claim to have any sort of evolutionary meaning for all humans. The diseases of civilization are the diseases of our ancestors, who died of infection and horn through the belly before they died of heart attacks. Unless you restrict your diet to teff and kola, you’re eating “evolutionarily novel” food. There’s no reason to believe all the diseases humans die of are somehow caused by diet rather than simple decay over time of the slop-pile of sausage that is the human body.

    The fact that genetic adaptations have occurred within the past 10,000 years is also neither here nor there. One million years is the typical time frame that evolutionary biologists give for a species to fully adapt to a novel environmental selection pressure. There will, of course, will be outliers. So what?

    Yeah, it’s not scientists that are claiming human evolution stopped in some sort of magical Eden. If you’re going to claim science, you don’t get to pick and choose which science. Humans have been evolving since we separated from chimps, and it has continued since. In fact, it almost positively has accelerated over time due to larger numbers of people, selection pressures due to living in cities, modifications to diet and the impacts of trade.

    Furthermore, the time frame for adaptation to occur from a de novo mutation will, on average, be many orders of magnitude different than the time frame for selecting for a gene that already exists

    Depends on the selection pressure and population size.

    It seems that the authors on this site reflexively dismiss anything that exists outside the mainstream, and then try to marshal an argument to defend that position.

    But Paleodieters are known for their adherence to science and complete lack of cherry-picking of the literature? Much of what this done on this site is a criticisms of the lack of evidence for claims.

    This, of course, is no different than a large chunk of the CAM community,

    Fixed it for you, CAM is inherently based on a lack of research base.

    who likewise reflexively dismiss anything that comes from the mainstream health community. As a physician and a skeptic, I would like to see you guys hold yourselves to the same standards you’d like the CAM proponents to adopt.

    What, like asking for evidence of claims?

    If you do not believe that a species will be best adapted to environmental conditions under which it has been exposed to the longest, then you disagree with the premise behind ancestral nutrition.

    Again, selection pressure can exert tremendous influences over extraordinarily short periods of time, and is far more relevant than the amount of time an environment has been stable. Punctuated equilibrium.

  39. WilliamLawrenceUtridge says:

    I don’t think there’s anything fad-ish or wrong about making an effort to eat a cleaner diet.

    Assuming a “cleaner” diet means a less processed diet, there’s nothing wrong with it. The criticism is the exaggerated claims made certain foods or diets can maintain perfect health, preventing all morbidity and mortality.

    I’m still skeptical about eliminating grains entirely for anyone who isn’t gluten-intolerant, but the basic idea of “eat lots of fresh fruits and vegetables, meat that hasn’t been factory farmed/pumped full of antibiotics, and avoid highly processed foods like kraft dinner/mcdonalds/margarine/refined sugars, and consume dairy and grains in moderation” isn’t really novel or controversial. That’s pretty much the theory behind primal eating in a nutshell.

    Exactly, but eating that way isn’t the “paleo” diet – or more accurately one of the many choices of paleodiets people claim will solve all human suffering. Conventional advice is that these foods are acceptable in moderation (and I doubt there is evidence for human harms based on factory farming or the levels of antibiotics found in meat since their recommendations would be evidence-based).

    I don’t really care about what hunter/gatherer societies ate or what our ideal evolutionary diet is, I care about what modern science says about nutrition and what works for me.

    So why claim you’re following a paleodiet?

    If you want to look at obesity as a problem, rates have continued to rise exponentially despite the nutritional guidelines and increase in carbohydrate consumption and reduced fat products etc in the last few decades – why? Is it so controversial to suggest that maybe the way we’ve been approaching this has been wrong?

    The problem almost certainly isn’t that the wrong recommendations are being made, it’s that the recommendations are not being followed.

  40. Narad says:

    Thanks, I thought it was just me who drank coffee to go to sleep

    Make it N = 3.

  41. mousethatroared says:

    WLU – That’s it. the Jared Diamond article – Discover Magazine. I used to get a subscription. Wow, I could have sworn I read that just in the last year or two…or well 26 years ago. Thanks alot, now I can read it again and see what I think.

  42. tuck says:

    @Dr. Gorski: “Your article does not necessarily support your point.”

    It clearly supports my point. Prof. Zuk claims that we had enough time to adapt to grains. A disease caused by maladaptation to grains is prevalent in the area where grains were first cultivated by humans. Ispo facto, Prof. Zuk is wrong. Going by the old Roman principle, falsus in uno, falsus in omnibus (false in one, false in all) she probably doesn’t know what she’s talking about in the rest of her critique.

    The same holds true for you.

    “Oops, I’m wrong” would have been a more appropriate response to my comment than your arrogant attempt to hide the fact that you don’t know what you’re talking about.

    But to educate you further, we have clear evidence of maladaptation to grains, including accounts of celiac disease, going back far beyond the last 1950, or the last 100 years.

    “Coeliac disease may have an ancient history dating back to the 1st and 2nd centuries AD. The first clear description was given by Samuel Gee in 1888. He suggested that dietary treatment might be of benefit. In the early 20th century various diets were tried, with some success, but without clear recognition of the toxic components.”

    http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/18431060

    I suggest you do your homework before you opine on this particular topic.

    There are a lot of other problems with your post, but this one is so glaring…

  43. WilliamLawrenceUtridge says:

    WilliamLaurenceUttridge please check the clinical trials regarding acne and milk, and the biochemical mechanisms related to mTOR activation by Leucine.

    Yup, there is evidence, and if TonyMach had lead with “these studies support it” rather than “in my experience”, I would have been a lot more interested. It’s easy to Gish-gallop through claims, I don’t bother to check all of them. Thanks for suggesting the review. Raw milk, another key claim made, doesn’t turn up much related to acne (one German article from 1987 that seems negative, PMID 3327260).

    Aldo do please check the literature or USDA data for calcium content and bioavailability in food by type of calcium (quelate vs inorganic). Elimination or reduction of milk does not imply calcium deficiency.

    Never claimed it did. My point was that it’s not unusual for a doctor to hear “I’m giving up milk” and immediately ask about calcium. While not the sole source of calcium, milk is a major one in the West. Certainly, if a friend, relative or even stranger said they were giving up milk, calcium would be one of the first things I brought up. If they had a plan for acquiring it from other sources, bully. My point was “but what about calcium” is not evidence of “stupid doctors who don’t understand science”, it’s a very obvious and important question.

    And a lot of calcium in the diet does not mean healthy bones. There is more to bone health than calcium.

    Oh yes, I quite agree. However, bone health in part (possibly large part – Angora Rabbit knows more than I) is predicated on having enough calcium among other factors.

    Too much calcium in the diet may even be detrimental regarding atherosclerosis and calcium deposits.

    Have there been studies comparing diet-sourced calcium versus supplement? I’ve an inkling that the high spikes in nutrient intakes found in vitamins and supplements is part of the reason they are often associated with negative outcomes, and (like so many things in life) the best advice is that found in mainstream medicine – if at all possible, get your calcium from food, as part of a balanced diet that continues throughout the lifespan.

    I agree the paleo movement has contaminated an initially good hypothesis to check on trials, but this does not mean the evolutionary framework is bs; nutrigenomics and nutrigenetics will prove that.

    I question whether it’s even an initially good hypothesis. Specific gene mutations and large scale clinical trials are a far better starting point than an ill-thought-out set of preconceptions and assumptions. What point of human history is “paleo”? Does our food in any way bear any resemblance to that eaten by our ancestors? Does it really matter, or is the human gut sufficiently flexible to meet most of our needs through basically any well-balanced diet? We’re flexible omnivores, humans have thrived on anything from Jainist veganism to almost pure carnivorism among the Inuit. Why adopt some extremity, why deprive yourself foods that are delicious and nutritious in moderation (or at least delicious and not harmful once in a while)? Why stop eating chocolate, chips, cakes, bread and rice on some ill-founded diet that doesn’t make sense historically and of necessity can’t be achieved by even a tiny portion of the world now?

  44. nscout says:

    Emerging from deep lurk to observe that a number of the above comments seem to assume that intolerance for certain long-consumed foods (e.g., wheat, the intolerance perhaps showing up as celiac disease) should have been bred out of humans over the past 10,000 years.

    Why assume this? Unless a trait–e.g., p53 gene mutation, obesity, a major component of the diet leading to disease–unless something like this interferes with reproduction,why would the given trait will disappear in the population? My admittedly limited understanding suggests that as long as you can reproduce, natural selection doesn’t really care whether you’re miserable or well. It cares only whether you leave progeny.

  45. WilliamLawrenceUtridge says:

    @MLewis

    As an evolutionary biologist/vertebrate paleontologist who studies the circumstances surrounding the increase in our hominin ancestors’ intake of meat, I have often viewed the paleo diet fad with (gentle) amusement….particularly the vegan versions. Granted, the recipes are often quite delicious, regardless of how “authentic” they are. If nothing else, the paleo diet is getting people to think about what is going into their food and eventually into their bodies. Unfortunately, most people lack the scientific literacy to see whether what they are replacing it with is any better.

    Any good books to recommend? I like popular but I’m willing to try technical!

    I have not read all of the studies cited in the essay above. However, I have looked at some of the studies on the Egyptian mummies. You have to keep in mind that Egyptian mummies are not necessarily representative of the entire population and may belong to a class (or classes) that had a diet that was different than other members of Egyptian society.

    My reading indicated that mummification was in part derived from natural mummification caused by the intense heat and dryness of the Egyptian desert. I’d love to see scans of those bodies (if any exist, now 5,000+ years gone, not to mention the millions that were ground up for paint, used as fuel and unwrapped at Victorian parties). You’d have mummies that were far closer to actual hunter-gatherers and not those wealthy enough (and far enough removed from hunting and gathering) to be mummified in linen.

    They also differed in activity level. Just something to think about. The hunter-gatherer data mentioned above, is, therefore, quite interesting to me as activity level and diet are not as stratified (if at all) in hunter-gatherer cultures.

    Such an enormous confound, particularly compared to modern societies, that it almost renders all other comparisons moot!

    @DugganSC

    *sigh* Guys, I know there are a lot of trolls out here, but if we jump feet-first on every person who says “Hey, this diet works for me. Can you explain why I’m wrong?”, we’re just going to come off as hostile.

    I refuse to give up my hobby :)

    @Tuck

    As a matter of fact, she’s flat wrong and Cordain is right. The fact that Dr. Gorski includes this as a “telling incident” is telling, but mainly about how little he knows about the topic.

    I’m going to go with the paleontologist on this one. Considering they can show effective speciation in as little as five generations (even a single generation for plants), the roughly 700 generations since the development of agriculture (10,000 years/15 years per generation) is genuinely “plenty of time”, particularly given sexual reassortment of genes.

  46. WilliamLawrenceUtridge says:

    Going by the old Roman principle, falsus in uno, falsus in omnibus (false in one, false in all) she probably doesn’t know what she’s talking about in the rest of her critique.

    If we’re trading aphorisms, “a stopped clock is right twice per day”. The only way you can know which of her facts are true and which are false is to investigate each one individually. Tuck’s point about celiac disease, while interesting, is also not yet substantiated. Changes in humans is one issue, changes in wheat types is another. Foods and environments were not static during human evolution. Wheat underwent a revolution not too long ago with the development of short wheat stalks, hard wheats, winter wheats, bread wheats, cake and pastry wheats, etc. Again, each hypothesis must be examined separately and exhaustively. That is science.

    Truly interesting will be the impact of genomics and proteomics in the coming years, the ability to do a quick and simple blood test and have it profoundly inform your individual health.

    What a fun time to live!

  47. David Gorski says:

    Indeed, I’d go with the paleontologist and the evolutionary biologist on this one. Even if we estimate 25 years per generation, it’s still been 400 generations since the advent of agriculture. Either way, Tuck seems rather confused. According to the research I cited, the prevalence of celiac disease in 1950 as estimated in the serum samples tested was around 0.2%. In a mere 60 years, the prevalence of biochemically diagnosed celiac disease quadrupled or more. That’s a mere 2-3 generations. Here’s another hint: 0.2% (or even 1%) is not that high an incidence.

  48. Lytrigian says:

    And then there’s the evident Big Myth here: that Paleolithic humans were hunter-gatherers. In fact, hunting seems to have been a relatively late innovation. As far as anyone can tell, early humans were primarily scavengers when it came to sources of meat. Unless you’re prepared to go out and scrape up some tasty roadkill for yourself, beating off the crows and other carrion beasts and doing your best to get to the meat before it starts to rot, you’re not really paleo.

    There’s at least some evidence for humans scavenging megafauna. We even can trace technological or societal advances at the time by identifying when the scavenging occurred. Earlier scavenging leaves signs of tool marks left on top of tooth marks, which tell us that the humans got to the carcass after other scavengers or predators were done with it. Later scavenging shows the tool marks below the tooth marks, showing that humans had advanced to the point where they were able to get to the carcass before others, or perhaps even managed to drive them off.

    I haven’t read this anywhere, but it seems to me that the natural consequence for a paleo diet is that you’re supposed to occasionally GORGE yourself on meat, perhaps monthly, and live on foraged fruits and grains the rest of the time. After all, if you’re butchering megafauna but have no technology for preserving meat long-term — and you’re on a nice, warm savannah where meat will start to rot pretty quickly — you had better eat it fast.

  49. mgmcewen says:

    The funny thing is that celiac disease might not at all because we aren’t “evolved to deal with agriculture” but because we are.
    http://johnhawks.net/weblog/topics/presentations/sams-celiac-2012.html
    A trade-off between HLA’s adapted to deal with pathogen-rich agrarian environments that some contexts causes the body’s immune system to go postal on itself. It’s populations from the Fertile Crescent origins that seem to suffer from it, plenty of foraging cultures consume traded wheat without a problem

  50. Dave S says:

    I’ve been a longtime lurker of this site but have never posted. It seems that there are so many confounding factors when discussing diets that it makes almost any dogmatic conclusion hard to support, especially when we are talking about the health of ancestors for which we don’t have much data. My impression of paleolithic life is that it was fraught with hazard, starvation was fairly common at certain times of the year, people died fairly young and infant and childbirth mortality was probably quite high. I suspect coronary disease was probably not a major cause of death because people died early of something else. Is there very good evidence that paleolithic people were so healthy? I know some Cro-Magnon skeletons have been on robust and tall people but do we have enough of a population size of fossils to generalize from this? I also suspect that the diet of a paleolithic person in the Rift Valley was quite unlike that of one in Siberia.

    The highly touted Tarahumara people have an average lifespan of less than 50, admittedly skewed by high infant mortality, a fact somehow missing from the book “Born to Run”. It is also interesting to me that Kennebec man had a spearpoint in his hip and the Ice Man died of an arrow wound. The fossil record of Neaderthal people suggests much trauma with a fracture profile that coincides with that of rodeo riders. Some Neanderthal and homo erectus remains from China show evidence of butchery, although the meat might have been scavenged after the owner died of a hyena or some other predator. Tough lives.

    In my youth I was enamored of trying to get meals off the land and ate a considerable amount of cattail roots and shoots, spring beauty culms, wild onions, bullfrogs, fish and snails and almost anything that was semi-edible and not poisonous according to the wild edible plant guides I had, although I drew the line at eating stinging nettle, even boiled. I even made the mistake of trying to eat a snapping turtle once, and am convinced that the energy spent in getting the meat out of the shell exceeded the caloric content. I’ve felt guilty for eating that poor turtle ever since. Milk, even raw milk, was of course not on the list. It took a lot of work to get a meal even in the summer when edible plants were plentiful and I got a real appreciation for grocery stores from that particular hobby. Even the ancient native peoples where I grew up learned to augment their diet with beans, corn, squash and pumpkin. Now I realize my ancestors were a lot better than I at foraging and hunting but I still bet they weren’t very fat just because of the work involved in getting the day’s dinner.
    A few points about the modern era: One, the socioeconomic status of an individual is very closely correlated with their longevity. It probably was ni the past, too. Two, associated with the rise in obesity is the increase in portion sizes. When I grew up 60 some years ago a soft drink was 6 ounces. A serving of meat truly was the size of a deck of cards and a serving of mashed potatoes was the size of an egg. Not any more. Third, some recent evidence has come out suggesting that having a few extra pounds isn’t necessarily bad for longevity (disclaimer, my BMI is about 20). Finally, most doctors advise a varied diet with a strong emphasis on a lot of different fruits and vegetables, easy on the processed grains and sugar, easy on the animal fat and constraint on the portion size. Pretty much what your mother tells you when you’re four years old. This advice doesn’t sound “stupid” to me.
    What people actually eat is a different matter.
    Anyway, thanks for all the discussion.

  51. elburto says:

    Welcome lurker Dave S. You would have got on well with my granddad. He was an escapee from Auschwitz, and spent months travelling stealthily on foot and eating off the land.

    As a kid I really was shown the value of food shops, and the resilience of the human digestive system. Stones, twigs, berries, leaves, rats, bark, hay and even earth.

    Some gave a feeling of fullness, others a tiny amount of nourishment. Even until his death he’d eat any food prepared for him, and didn’t care if food had passed it’s use by date, because “Anything is better than nothing at all”

    @the coffee cohort – n=3 is now clinically significant. Doctors – please start prescribing amphetamines to insomniacs, on the basis that stimulants=sleeps for at least 3 SBMers.

  52. wxrocks says:

    I wrote about the paleo diet a couple years ago at Skeptoid

    http://skeptoid.com/blog/2011/09/05/using-skeptoid-as-a-reference-is-not-so-easy/

    I tried to explain how avoiding gluten and eating a paleo diet is probably overall more healthy because you are being more conscious of what you eat, and I would venture to guess eating less calories. Apparently, those who vehemently support the paleo diet felt my conclusion didn’t go far enough to explain how “wonderful” the diet really is. I couldn’t really find any harm in the paleo diet, and in fact I see it as one possibility for helping people to eat better. Why they try to use pseudoscience to sell it baffles me, when the actual science would say it is a pretty good diet overall.

    I do get a kick out of the name “paleo.” When I see someone posing about their “paleo” brownies – I wonder how the cavemen were able to aquire square baking pans and Dutch-processed cocoa powder.

  53. BillyJoe says:

    “n=3″

    I wish I could make it n=4 but alas no. I drink one caffeinated coffee by mistake at night and I’m still looking at the ceiling at 4 o’clock in the morning. If I drink two in the morning, I feel like running a mile at full speed. Three cups and I’m hallucinating.
    I love coffee, but it’s so hard to get a good decaffeinated bean for my coffee machine.

  54. WilliamLawrenceUtridge says:

    @Lytrigian
    I’m just finishing Dragon Bone Hill by Russell Ciochon and Noel Boaz, and they confirm your point exactly (albeit for H. erectus). Humans were initially scavengers.

    @Dave S
    I also just finished The First North Americans by Brian Fagan, that along with some other background reading suggests that starvation was sometimes common – it depended on the population density. Moving into a new environment, given some time to adapt, starvation was quite uncommon. However, as people learned the land, foods and animals, their populations would climb and some form of domestication would appear. Calorie intakes would drop, numbers would continue to expand, deficiencies start appearing and the overall health of populations would decrease (often accompanied by some fascinating evidence of increasing social complexity like massive dirt mounds, human sacrifice and elaborate grave goods). Low-density hunter-gatherers normally starve infrequently, from what I can tell, and end up becoming victims of their own success. Unless they want to perform regular infanticide, they eventually end up doing rather poorly. The key factor seems to be the diminishing returns of foods – some food you can acquire more of by putting in more labour (i.e. farming is one, hunting isn’t because there’s a limit to how far you can walk in a day). Elaborations of cultivation (again, farming), collection (weirs to capture fish, developing processing technology to turn acorns into food), storage (lined pits and pottery for when you’ve had a good year) and fishing (larger boats, more sophisticated harpoons, floats and trips further out into the ocean to capture whales as one example) appear – considerably more work but generally, over the short term (i.e. a century or so) quite successful at meeting nutritional needs. But again, eventually you reach saturation, then deprivation. Hunter-gatherers apparently can not, for the most part, make comparable changes, at best they can move to a new location. If your surroundings are already populated, you’re boned. Farming seems to be a highly successful strategy both in terms of feeding a more concentrated population, and in terms of trapping people once you reach the land’s carrying capacity.

    In an interesting aside, in the 80s when Ethiopia was the focus of much attention because of famine, some intrepid camera crew investigated how the local hunter-gatherers were doing. Their response was “what famine?” because apparently they had merely switched from one source of calories (probably a tastier one) to another (less tasty, but readily available). They lived in the Ethiopian outback, with no competition from outside groups, making it relatively easy to move to new locations and switch to new foods. A similar response wasn’t available to the farming-dependent cities.

  55. mousethatroared says:

    @WLU – ^^ Two thumbs up on those observations, very insightful.

    as an aside…is it bad netiquette to read a comment addressed to someone else, or respond to it? Is it like eavesdropping, then butting in on the conversation? I never know, but I hope it’s not, cause then I would have had to pretend I didn’t read that excellent comment.

  56. WilliamLawrenceUtridge says:

    Given my complete lack of manners and obvious penchant for criticism of others, I’m probably the wrong person to ask. Given the venue, my feeling would be pretty much anything is fair game and reasonable comment cannot help but add to the conversation.

  57. David Gorski says:

    @mousethatroared: It’s a public forum. Anything and everything posted by anyone and everyone is fair game. If a person wants private discussion, I’d suggest that he use e-mail or instant messaging of some sort.

  58. the bug guy says:

    @wxrocks

    Your brownie comment reminds me of my amusement at ‘paleo bread’.

  59. mousethatroared says:

    WLU and DG- Oh, what a relief.

  60. DugganSC says:

    Ah. I had not realized that guy was a recurring example. As it was, it seemed like we were falling into the same trap of arrogance as the CAM crowd, loudly proclaiming how wrongheaded everyone else was and putting up a front of not listening in the slightest.

  61. BrewandFerment says:

    @Billy Joe:

    In Dec I bought 25 lbs of dark roast decaf from Coffee Bean Direct for just under $200 US including shipping. I think I have enough to hold me till the middle of April or so. They usually ship within 24 hours and it arrives fast (NJ to NY is quick! ;-> ) They sell many other varieties, including some that are nearly decaf by nature, but I am cheap and like strong tasting coffee so that’s what I get… even if it’s ersatz stuffing kicked out poison as my dad used to say (even the word decaf usually got a hiss from him)

  62. stanmrak says:

    “Certainly the rapid increase in celiac disease since 1950 would tend to suggest that something new has happened in the last 100 years”

    Well, yes, something new has happened. 50 years ago, wheat had a gluten content of about 5%; today, it’s more like 50%. That’s just one component. I’m sure there are numerous other differences due to things like hybridization and gene manipulation, which are assumed to be harmless but we don’t really know. The wheat you’re eating today isn’t the same as it was back then.

  63. jonah says:

    Paleo deserves credit for people getting started with omega 3s/ fish oils, which I thought was scientifically proven at this point?

    Looking at paleo culture and marketing as whole and giving supporting evidence that it appeals to people’s emotional side is easy. Dismissing all dietary aspects of it looks too much like faith based arguing on the other end. Unless the assumption is that the current information about best practices, that people actually follow is, is complete.

    And how do studies deal with things like infant mortality rates and starvation? I mean, I’d be dead if not for an incubator and science is now showing that has lasting implications. The data seems entirely too befuddled to draw any conclusions from.

    Atherosclerosis is a response to stress and repairing damage. I say, let’s expand beyond food (and cigarettes!). I suspect it’s really missing the forest for the trees.

    My minor “trolls”: you can find scientific “evidence” that white sugar doesn’t lead to heath problems and there are examples of synthetic vitamins, minerals and nutrients that at first were thought to be equivalent to the natural counter part, but were then found to be inferior or dangerous.

    I prefer to be skeptical overall instead of “this vs that”.

  64. WilliamLawrenceUtridge says:

    Well, yes, something new has happened. 50 years ago, wheat had a gluten content of about 5%; today, it’s more like 50%. That’s just one component. I’m sure there are numerous other differences due to things like hybridization and gene manipulation, which are assumed to be harmless but we don’t really know. The wheat you’re eating today isn’t the same as it was back then.

    I’ll agree with this to a certain extent, but will repeat my earlier statements about the human gut – for the most part it’s pretty good about breaking down macronutrients into individual molecules.

    There’s also not a whole lot of reason to assume that changes to the food we eat is somehow making it more harmful. In addition to an extremely flexible gut capable of digesting nearly anything but raw cellulose, the intensive breeding undertaken by humans over thousands of years have for the most part resulted in more nutritious, less harmful products. The fact that we’re now using manipulation of individual genes instead of crossbreeding is in many ways very useful and allows greater control over the changes made. The assumption that these changes are harmless ignores much of the safety testing that goes into crop modification (particularly for GMO crops), safety testing that arguably would be much better used on crops produced by hybridization.

    Paleo deserves credit for people getting started with omega 3s/ fish oils, which I thought was scientifically proven at this point?

    I’d give credit to the scientists on this one, not the paleos. Confirmation bias is rife in situations like these – the fact that one hypothesis was tested and found to be (to a certain extent) accurate doesn’t justify the entire approach. Generally it’s the other way ’round – pseudoscientists and sCAMsters will take an isolated bit of data like bench research and turn it into an exagerrated benefit that is universally beneficial and supports all of their contentions. No, credit goes towards those who undertake repeated testing that slowly but steadily accumulates into recommendations, not those who combine Gish-galloping with cold reading (making a lot of claims, ignoring the wrong ones and trumpeting the right ones).

    Looking at paleo culture and marketing as whole and giving supporting evidence that it appeals to people’s emotional side is easy. Dismissing all dietary aspects of it looks too much like faith based arguing on the other end. Unless the assumption is that the current information about best practices, that people actually follow is, is complete.

    What I do is point out that paleo is either redundant to conventional dietary advice (don’t eat a lot of processed things, do eat lots of fruits and vegetables) or unproven (eat lots of meat). No dietician or doctor thinks that current advice is complete, merely that there reasonable is evidence to support its lack of harms in humans. The expectation is that advice will change over time as more evidence accumulates.

    My minor “trolls”: you can find scientific “evidence” that white sugar doesn’t lead to heath problems and there are examples of synthetic vitamins, minerals and nutrients that at first were thought to be equivalent to the natural counter part, but were then found to be inferior or dangerous.

    Um…white sugar in moderation doesn’t lead to health problems. No mainstream advice consists of “drink a lot of pop and the occasional tablespoonful of sugar”.

    I’d be interested in seeing the whole “natural” versus “artificial” micronutrients discussion, but I’ll also point out that most doctors recommend most people get their vitamins from food, not pills.

  65. stanmrak says:

    “The assumption that these changes are harmless ignores much of the safety testing that goes into crop modification (particularly for GMO crops)”

    The safety testing for GMO crops is a joke. The “research” is completely controlled by Monsanto, to the extent that it’s ILLEGAL for any independent lab to obtain and use Monsanto seeds for the purpose of independent testing. So there is virtually no independent testing. Monsanto – these are the people who gave us Agent Orange, an ingredient of which they now want to put in the herbicides for GM crops to kill the superweeds that are running rampant over the land due to GM farming.

    http://www.theatlantic.com/health/archive/2012/06/debunking-the-health-claims-of-genetically-modified-foods/258665/

  66. DugganSC says:

    @WLU:
    “… the intensive breeding undertaken by humans over thousands of years have for the most part resulted in more nutritious, less harmful products”

    While I do not believe that our crops are actively harmful, whether modified through agriculture or gene manipulation, there’s a niggling part of me that’s whispering of stories of people who’ve gotten ahold of “the pure stuff” when using drugs. More efficacious is not always good, and I think it’s possible that some people may have issues with today’s food due to higher levels. Let’s say that we engineer cashews to have higher iron levels. That’s good for most of us, but someone with hemochromatosis starts running a higher risk, probably not from cashew nuts themselves, but possibly because they don’t realize that their multivitamin is also boosting their iron levels and they go on a nut binge. Odds are, the gradual improvement of nutrition isn’t going to cause issues in the majority of the population, but a Devil’s Advocate position is that it may be affecting some rare cases.

    Unfortunately, CAM is all about Special Snowflake Syndrome, so the majority of people are easily convinced that they’re among that minority, kind of a bizarre Lake Woebegone effect.

  67. mousethatroared says:

    DugganSC – “As it was, it seemed like we were falling into the same trap of arrogance as the CAM crowd, loudly proclaiming how wrongheaded everyone else was and putting up a front of not listening in the slightest.”

    I generally have no problem with folks who like to talk about whatever diet did good stuff for them. It’s those who actively sow distrust of doctors and prescription drugs with little or no evidence that get me riled.

    Many people depend upon medications and the medical field to keep them alive or functional. (Like the commentor above with Lupus) There is NO safe alternative, yet they constantly have to deal with people who try to talk them out of taking their medications and try an “alternative” approach. The implication is always ‘If your not willing to try an alternative, then you don’t REALLY want to get rid of your condition.’

    Not only are these recommendations unsafe, it is an undue social burden and isolating for folks who already have enough to cope with.

  68. Calli Arcale says:

    Does anyone have a reference on stanmrak’s claim that gluten content in wheat has increased from 5% to 50% in the last half decade? It seems peculiar to me, but I’ve seen it claimed often by somewhat questionable sources and am wondering if the claim has any basis. I was under the impression that breeding and gene modification has been mostly focused on getting them to grow faster, produce more, tolerate pesticides, tolerate drought, and tolerate mechanical harvesting better. I could see breeders working to increase the level of starch in their product, but why the gluten part, and why so dramatically? Wouldn’t it screw up bread recipes if the gluten content changed that dramatically? And really, if it’s half gluten, wouldn’t it have dramatically lower caloric content? While we’re at it, does anybody know what part of the grain is being measured here? 50% of what — the entire grain, the endosperm, the germ, what?

  69. mousethatroared says:

    “Wouldn’t it screw up bread recipes if the gluten content changed that dramatically?” Seems like it would mess with recipes. I was told by a artisan bread hobbiest that bread flour is supposed to be higher in gluten (don’t know how much) that it gives bread that chewy and crusty texture.

  70. Scott says:

    Wouldn’t it screw up bread recipes if the gluten content changed that dramatically?

    Not just bread. Virtually anything made with flour would be affected to varying extents.

    Talking about “the gluten content” is to some extent a misnomer since wheat doesn’t really contain gluten to begin with. It contains gliadin and glutenin. These combine to form gluten when the flour is worked in the presence of water. Flours are more precisely classified according to their protein content, which indicates how much gluten will be formed when the dough is worked.

    A 2% difference in protein content makes a major difference to the outcome; tenfold would completely wreck any recipe.

  71. Scott says:

    Oh, and just to be clear… century-old bread recipes work acceptably with modern flours, which they would not if the gluten production varied by a fraction of that amount. It is flat-out false that the gluten produced by modern flours is 10x that produced by flours fifty years ago. I suppose there might be some weasel-wording which might allow one to slip out of this, but only by completely abandoning the supposed implication.

  72. jturknett says:

    I would urge folks to read Paul Jaminet’s critique of paleofantasy here:

    http://perfecthealthdiet.com/2013/03/paleofantasy-and-the-state-of-ancestral-science/

    There seem to be some pretty fundamental misconceptions about the “paleo”, or ancestral health, movement evidenced in the original blog post and in the comments here. Part of this may stem from the fact that, because it still exists outside the health mainstream, it attracts some of the woo contingency. Another may be because folks equate it with Loren Cordain’s original incarnation of The Paleo Diet, which was flawed in many ways — current thinking in the community differs a great deal from Cordain’s initial views. Good science evolves, which is what has happened (and will continue to happen) in the ancestral health community. It is at its core a community of scientists, after all (which is why its so puzzling to see folks equate it with other anti-scientific endeavors…).

  73. Calli Arcale says:

    Thanks, folks; that’s what I was thinking that “50% gluten” was a ridiculous claim. I’d love to hear stanmrak say where he heard it, though, because I’ve seen it claimed so often as some sort of received truth but without any citation.

    mousethatroared — I make my own bread, but wouldn’t describe myself as an artisan. ;-) Just somebody who enjoys kneading! (Great stress relief!) Bread flour is indeed more glutinous, with a definite affect on what you make with it. But I make pies and cakes more often, and increasing gluten would be devastating on those. The technique for making flaking pie crust revolves heavily around preventing too much gluten from forming. Do not overwork the flour; there will be no going back.

    Scott — “Talking about “the gluten content” is to some extent a misnomer since wheat doesn’t really contain gluten to begin with. It contains gliadin and glutenin.” True, though from a celiac perspective (which is usually where this claim is made), this isn’t important as gliadin is actually the main offender. Wheat eaten whole versus kneaded bread, it’ll have the same effect on the gut of a celiac sufferer.

  74. WilliamLawrenceUtridge says:

    The safety testing for GMO crops is a joke. The “research” is completely controlled by Monsanto, to the extent that it’s ILLEGAL for any independent lab to obtain and use Monsanto seeds for the purpose of independent testing. So there is virtually no independent testing. Monsanto – these are the people who gave us Agent Orange, an ingredient of which they now want to put in the herbicides for GM crops to kill the superweeds that are running rampant over the land due to GM farming.

    Nope, most objections to GMO are the joke. There’s no real reason to think that the crops aren’t safe, there’s no good evidence the crops are unsafe, and people already consume large amounts of GMO corn, soy and papaya. The benefits are tremendous (more nutritious food, lower viral loads in papayas, fewer fertilizers and pesticides needed, better drought and flood tolerance, and perhaps eventually taste!), and most of the objections aren’t scientific or technical – they’re knee-jerk reactions to Big Business controlling the technology. GM farming would generally require fewer chemical pesticides by the way. You should read some real science.

    Agent Orange is an incredibly effective defoliant. The fact that it was used in Vietnam is a fact to blame the government at the time for, Monsanto was meeting a demand. They don’t want to cause birth defects or permanent damage to any rain forests. Corporations are greedy, not evil. If you’re so strongly opposed to all this, don’t blame the company – blame the regulators. Write a letter to your congressperson, not an uninformed comment in a blog.

  75. DugganSC says:

    I don’t know about stanmarak, but http://www.thenaturalrecoveryplan.com/articles/What-Happened-to-Wheat.html claims a 500-fold increase, which is even more ridiculous. Maybe people are confusing “500% increase” (i.e. six time the original level) with “500 times the original level”?

  76. RUN says:

    I find it amusing when I am on pinterest and certain recipes come up,

    Paleo friendly: Peanut butter patties, girl scout cookie thin mint recipe, raw honey strawberry scones, chocolate cupcakes (I had no idea people of the past ate like this!?!)

    or gluten free: triple chocolate chip cookies, chocolate almond joys, coconut cupcakes with key lime frosting

    I understand that there are people that have been diagnosed with celiac disease or diagnosed with an allergy and truly need to avoid gluten, but I have several friends that believe the ‘gluten’ is causing their weight and health problems that have no such diagnosis. According to some of these recipes….yes, I can see why the ‘gluten’ is so problematic!

  77. mousethatroared says:

    Calli Arcale – In my mind anyone who has the patience to deal with growing sourdough starter is an artisan. But this is coming from someone who handed the handling of guppies tank over to my husband because I couldn’t deal with the chemistry. I am an uncomplicated* person. My favorite bread is the no knead kind, not because I don’t like kneading, but because I like the idea that you can mix it, let it sit, bake it and it’s yummy. I do make a damn awesome pie crust, though, and I agree – minimum handling, cold tools, ice water are the keys to success.

    WLU – While I completely agree that the health concerns of GMO are unfounded, I would not be so quick to dismiss the business concerns. In my mind, corporate interests in monopolizing any market (in this case seed) are inherently at odds with what I have heard are good food security practices (diversity of species and the like). It seems to me this aspect of GMO’s should be monitored with care. Of course, what I know about farming would fit inside my (now empty) fish tank.

    *otherwise know as simple

  78. David Gorski says:

    The problem, of course, is that the reflexive, woo-tending anti-GMO types conflate health concerns with business and ecological concerns.

  79. mousethatroared says:

    I suppose if one had a massive crop failure due to a GMO monopoly (speculation) that could result in health concerns, such as starvation, in vulnerable areas.

    But those don’t seem to be the kind of health concerns that most of the anti-GMO folks I’ve heard are talking about…it’s all cancer, allergies and the like for unspecified reasons.

  80. Narad says:

    Does anyone have a reference on stanmrak’s claim that gluten content in wheat has increased from 5% to 50% in the last half decade?

    No, but will you settle for a reference that tanks it?

  81. WilliamLawrenceUtridge says:

    While I do not believe that our crops are actively harmful, whether modified through agriculture or gene manipulation, there’s a niggling part of me that’s whispering of stories of people who’ve gotten ahold of “the pure stuff” when using drugs. More efficacious is not always good, and I think it’s possible that some people may have issues with today’s food due to higher levels. Let’s say that we engineer cashews to have higher iron levels. That’s good for most of us, but someone with hemochromatosis starts running a higher risk, probably not from cashew nuts themselves, but possibly because they don’t realize that their multivitamin is also boosting their iron levels and they go on a nut binge. Odds are, the gradual improvement of nutrition isn’t going to cause issues in the majority of the population, but a Devil’s Advocate position is that it may be affecting some rare cases.

    I would counter with two points:
    - your statements above can be assessed and monitored empirically, so in the rare cases of increased dose plus increased vulnerability, you can inform and monitor intelligently (plus, my inkling is that even very high dose foods are unlikely to approach the dosage level, concentration and metabolism of vitamins – though there is precedence in the form of carnivore liver and vitamin A)
    - those possible, potential harms are worth noting, but there are genuine, real harms that can unquestionably be offset through the use of GMO and cross-bred crops (golden rice can genuinely and unquestionably prevent the most common form of childhood blindness; short-stalk wheat prevents famine; GMO papaya prevented the extinction of the papaya); in this case it is the precautionary principles possible harms versus science’s proven ability to meet genuine needs

    Unfortunately, CAM is all about Special Snowflake Syndrome, so the majority of people are easily convinced that they’re among that minority, kind of a bizarre Lake Woebegone effect.

    That’s why I think we should be ruled by councils of scientific technocrats who control our lives with an iron fist :)

    Re:gluten and bread, there is already the option to buy high, moderate and low-gluten flours. The first is best for bread (known as bread flour in fact), the last produces tender cakes and pastries and the middle is good for most things and can often be substituted for the other two generally without modification. High gluten flour would even have an advantage in providing a scarcer and more nutritionally valuable protein versus the high-calorie but less useful carbohydrate. Cooks Illustrated makes a point of specifying and testing baking recipes on the basis of flour type, one of the reasons it is the BEST RECIPE SOURCE EVAR, FHTAGN!!!!

    MTR, have you seen the CI almost no-knead bread, made with beer? I’ve made it dozens of times, it’s excellent bread, I get a lot of compliments. Modifies Lahey’s bread slightly to boost the flavour.

  82. WilliamLawrenceUtridge says:

    While I completely agree that the health concerns of GMO are unfounded, I would not be so quick to dismiss the business concerns. In my mind, corporate interests in monopolizing any market (in this case seed) are inherently at odds with what I have heard are good food security practices (diversity of species and the like). It seems to me this aspect of GMO’s should be monitored with care. Of course, what I know about farming would fit inside my (now empty) fish tank.

    I’m not quick to dismiss business concerns, merely pointing out that they mostly aren’t scientific issues. Scientifically, there’s no real reason to reject GMO, both on an aggregate level as an approach to growing food, or on any specific level I’ve ever seen. GMO can also help with food security and genetic diversity by reducing the amount of land needed to grow crops, thus expanding uncultivated land that can revert to wild scrub, forest or grasslands. China grows massive amounts of GMO cotton, and has reduced its use of artificial fertilizers and pesticides as a result – a tremendous boon in many, many ways. And the reduction isn’t minor, IIRC it’s something like two orders of magnitude, a 100-fold decrease. Tomorrow’s Table by Pamela Ronald and Raoul Adamchak (the former a GMO rice researcher, the latter an organic farmer, and married to each other) was an excellent starting point. For the science of GMO, the organic section was pretty terrible and they show the distressing Californian tendency towards woo, giving birth in a bathtub in their backyard. Which illustrates how compartmentalized people’s thinking can be. The book goes into some of the real issues with GMO, the cost associated with developing them, patents, freedom of information and the like. It’s a good book, very readable, I think you would find it interesting and well-within the complexity understandable by a layperson. I’ve relatively minimal understanding of GMO and farming and grasped it without having to re-read more than a couple pages.

    You can skip the organic farming chapters in my opinion, poorly justified, old, inadequate research base, long on rhetoric.

  83. Chris says:

    Calli Arcale:

    The technique for making flaking pie crust revolves heavily around preventing too much gluten from forming. Do not overwork the flour; there will be no going back.

    Oh, great just as I get to bottom I see WLU saying:

    Re:gluten and bread, there is already the option to buy high, moderate and low-gluten flours. The first is best for bread (known as bread flour in fact), the last produces tender cakes and pastries and the middle is good for most things and can often be substituted for the other two generally without modification.

    For puff pastry which has to be folded several times to get the layers, there is low gluten pastry flour. I do have a box of cake flour, which is a low gluten flour, for cakes. Though I do use regular flour for pie crust and biscuits. I am just careful about how they are handled.

    For pizza dough I also use regular flour, and really work up the gluten. It makes it so I can roll it out very thin, and get a nice crust on the pizza stone.

  84. mousethatroared says:

    WLU “I’m not quick to dismiss business concerns, merely pointing out that they mostly aren’t scientific issues.”

    ehhhh? Not quite sure that I’m completely willing to put market pressures on agriculture outside scientific issues…so perhaps we will agree to disagree on that part while agreeing on the majority of issues. Sounds like an interesting book. Although, I admit the commentors on SBM give me far more reading material than I will ever get too.

    Thanks for the bread recipe, I was just thinking of mixing up some bread tonight.

    Christ commented on gluten in pizza dough – My pizza dough recipe bread flour with some semolina – http://www.fabulousfoods.com/recipes/cheri-s-favorite-pizza-dough. It’s not a thin crispy pizza. It’s rather yeasty, bubbly, thick with a nice chewiness to it.

  85. the bug guy says:

    The business issues with companies like Monsanto have not so much to do with biotechnology as they do with old-fashioned business practices of buying out competitors to gain market share.

  86. Chris says:

    There are many pizzas in this world. We all get to find the one we like. As it goes, daughter likes the “cheese bread” that is a thin pizza dough sprinkled with olive oil, mozzarella, garlic and Parmesan. And the newest version with has olive oil, mozzarella, Parmesan, goat cheese, fresh sage and speck (smoked prosciutto), which is a variation of the sage butter pasta in The Herbfarm Cookbook).

    Perhaps a paleo version would be a thin slab of meat with veggies and herbs on top. Hold the crust and the cheese.

  87. mgmcewen says:

    I have worked with both modern and “ancient” flours. The latter do sometimes not work very well in modern recipes, but they are not impossible, they just require more skill to work with, which is a huge annoyance if you own a restaurant or bakery.

    Thinking celiac disease means we didn’t evolve to eat gluten is like thinking tick-bite induced meat allergy means we didn’t evolve to eat meat. It’s an autoimmune disorder that some people are vulnerable too, but the major HLA associated with it is mainly associated with agricultural populations so it seems it is some kind of trade-off evolutionarily. It might have only become an issue recently, since the vast majority of people with the vulnerable HLAs don’t have it, and it seems to need something beyond wheat to activate it. It reminds me a bit of hemochromatosis in that way…which I’ve seen vegans use to argue we aren’t mean to eat meat, which is equally ridiculous.

  88. Afronaut says:

    Great points about the naturalistic and other fallacies. It’s tempting to re-imagine any past to confirm one’s own current biases.

    In part of your post, you rightly acknowledge that the Horus study is a small sample (especially for hunter-gatherers), but then write “…certainly atherosclerosis was common even among hunter-gatherers” based on only 3 out of 5 hunter-gatherer mummies. I’m curious if you had others studies in mind that corroborated that this was really common among such a sub-population?

    There’s a detailed reference to a study that used a larger sample size of skeletons of hunter-gatherers (n=285) and agriculturalist (n=296) that lived in roughly the same geographic area but were separated by about 4,000 years. In this sample, the non-HG group was noticeably unhealthier compared to the HG skeletons. (See http://www.proteinpower.com/drmike/low-carb-diets/nutrition-and-health-in-agriculturalists-and-hunter-gatherers/) Although it’s still just a relatively small sample size (though larger than 5 or even 137), it lends some support to the paleo fantasy that perhaps what we suffer from are “diseases of civilization”?

    I’m still reading Zuk’s book on my e-reader, but so far I’m not finding any references that contradict the notion that hunter-gatherers suffered such “diseases of civilization” approximating the magnitude (i.e. not to say our ancestors suffered from NO diseases at all) we suffer from them today–though of course, absence of evidence is not evidence of absence, especially with these kinds of studies.

  89. BrewandFerment says:

    @ Calli and any other bakers on here:

    If you substitute vodka (the cheap rotgut stuff) for some of the water in a pie dough recipe, you get a dough that rolls out like play-do and is very forgiving–as in make a mistake, you can wad it all up and roll out again with no impact on flakiness or tenderness. The alcohol content of the vodka inhibits some of the gluten formation and since vodka is not all water, you can have more liquid without the bad effects of water on the dough.

    Also, different brands of flour have different protein contents within types of bread. King Arthur all purpose flour has a higher protein content than some of the other main brand all purpose flours, for example.

  90. evopsygirl says:

    While I agree it’s undesirable to recommend ultra-detailed regimens like the Paleo diet based on unsubstantiated theories, it’s possible to err in the direction of overly dismissing potentially viable concepts as you have in this article.

    First, by definition the Paleolithic period ended 10,000 years ago. Therefore your evidence of artherosclerosis in more recent populations is irrelevant. If you want to dismiss Cordain’s argument in the way you have here, you’ll have to find evidence of this disease process happening readily before 10,000 years ago, in populations that didn’t eat grains or dairy. Your more recent examples are all of people who ate grains. Also, evidence of artherosclerosis in older individuals is irrelevant, as few people lived to be 35 let alone 50 in the Paleolithic era. Really nothing about the Paleolithic diet or way of life can be extrapolated to apply to the health of individuals over 50.

    The problem here is not so much the naturalistic fallacy, though that is a problem. It’s that concepts like the Paleolithic diet encompass many ideas, some of which are valid and some of which are not. There are ideas worth investigating, such as the potential negative impact of certain factors associated with modern life on the body (e.g., refined sugar, sedentary, diets low in fiber and high in fat or protein). It’s entirely possible that, while we are capable of eating grains (only some humans can eat dairy), they provide less than optimal nutrition because they come packaged by nature with chemicals that are designed to make them inedible. That doesn’t mean grains are slowly killing everyone, but it could mean for some sensitive people that replacing grains foods from slightly further back in our evolutionary history (like tubers or green vegetables) will have a positive impact on their health. I would be interested to know what you think of the physical anthropology data presented in Weston Price’s book which compares the results of indigenous diets to those of a modern diet that includes processed and refined carbohydrates.

    The fact remains, our bodies spent a lot more of their evolutionary past in an environment that offered high-fiber plants, nuts, seeds, and wild animals with a nutritional profile (especially where fats and amino acids are concerned) that is utterly different from domesticated animals. This is especially true when you considering we ate more organ meat in the past. Research supports we should be eating a plant-based diet with plenty of fiber and avoiding refined grains and excess sugar. It’s not far-fetched that evolutionarily novel foods can pose a risk to our health. You can find as many examples as you want of evolution moving quickly–our eating of cooked food is one of them–that doesn’t mean every member of the human race is adequately prepared for eating grains or dairy.

    Furthermore all this talk of one example being meaningless is irrelevant as well. When it comes to health, we are not yet far enough along in our knowledge of the human body to apply the answer of statistical significance to every problem. If someone makes a behaviorally sustainable dietary change that lowers his cholesterol or his weight, or helps him manage his blood sugar or pressure–if it has some measurable, positive impact on his health, who are we to dismiss that? I accomplished all of those things by eating a whole food diet consisting mainly of fruits, vegetables, nuts, seeds, meat, and seafood. That doesn’t mean the diet I ate in any way approximated what people in the Paleolithic era ate–they often starved, or over-ate, or found food with meager nutritional value as compared to the produce we have today. But it does mean we can achieve positive results by combining some of these concepts with a common sense approach that’s supported by research.

  91. Narad says:

    There’s a detailed reference to a study that used a larger sample size of skeletons of hunter-gatherers (n=285) and agriculturalist (n=296) that lived in roughly the same geographic area but were separated by about 4,000 years.

    The item in question appears to be a repackaging of Cassidy’s Ph.D. thesis. Somebody has uploaded it here, if you can tolerate Scribd (m.m. Docstoc). It looks like Indian Knoll (the hunter-gatherers) had substantially worse infant mortality but did somewhat better past that point. The question is how generalizable this is, unless somebody is advocating a version of the “paleo” diet that is largely based on river mussels and snails. Given the choice, I’d take Hardin’s beans, squash, and corn purely on culinary grounds.

  92. Narad says:

    Cassidy is also briefly summarized here.

  93. lilady says:

    Have the foodies come out to play?

    How about taking a trip to Thailand for some good paleo coffee?

    http://www.usatoday.com/story/travel/destinations/2012/12/28/elephant-dung-coffee-intrepid-foodies-thailand/1797347/

    Apparently this coffee is better that coffee “brewed” and flavored by the civit cat…because of the slow passage of coffee beans through an elephant’s digestive tract.

    For all of you who love hot brewed tasty coffee sans caffeine, I’m plugging the taste and dark roasted “Kirkland” brand from Costco. I brew it with Dunkin’ Donuts decaf…because Kirkland is even too strong for me.

  94. kathy says:

    @WLU – “MTR, have you seen the CI almost no-knead bread, made with beer? ”

    Beer bread is great, especially when camping. Very practical. I’m planning on making some when I go on a camping trip later this year … that is, if I can to the beers before my Canadian friend drinks them all.

  95. kathy says:

    Bother, I pressed enter without finishing. I wanted to ask if any of you have a personally tried and trusted recipe for beer bread I can use under what you might call “basic” conditions, i.e. miles from anywhere, with only a pot to cook it in and a gas bottle to cook on.

    And it’s “if I can get to the beers …”

  96. mousethatroared says:

    the bug guy
    “The business issues with companies like Monsanto have not so much to do with biotechnology as they do with old-fashioned business practices of buying out competitors to gain market share.”

    But doesn’t the biotech give Monsanto additional market resouces through patent law?

  97. mousethatroared says:

    Kathy, I would never even contemplate baking bread while camping. How do you prevent the raccoons (bears, deer, skunks, chipmunks) from getting it while it rises?

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