A study from 2009 shows that even a short-term change from a typical American diet to a paleo diet can improve a range of important health markers.
People just living in the moment. Not a mobile phone in sight.
Here at Herculean Strength, we like it when life imitates art, especially if by ‘art’ you mean ‘memes’. Over the past couple of months we’ve reported on a number of cases where the ‘return to tradition’ meme has apparently been vindicated by proper scientific studies.
Consider this example, for instance. A study from 2021 suggests that mimicking Stone Age conditions by spending time in the wild without the benefits of modern conveniences and technology, can seriously reduce chronic stress and lead to rapid fat loss.
As we reported in our article on the study,
‘the study aimed to mimic ancient stress conditions by taking 15 volunteers on a four-day hike in a National Park, with a routine designed to simulate a hunter-gatherer lifestyle outdoors. The specific interventions included the following requirements:
1. During the intervention, subjects should remain exclusively in the wild.
2. In order to simulate hunting and gathering behavior, subjects should travel a distance of at least 20 km per day.
3. The first meal was not to be consumed before 12 am to simulate a period of hunting and gathering.
4. The diet should be based on the principles of a “Paleolithic diet” as defined by Cordain, including lean meats, fish, fruits, vegetables, nuts, oils (coconut oil, olive oil) and sweet potatoes.
5. The sleep-wake cycle should be adapted to the natural circadian rhythm according to sunrise and sunset.’
The results of the experiment were striking, with mean body weight and fat mass decreasing by 2.3kg and 2.2kg respectively.
Another study, which we also reported on here, showed that living in ‘primitive rural areas’ may be the key to maintaining healthy testosterone levels as men age. In rural Bolivia, healthy older men have exactly the same testosterone levels as younger men, and the key appears to be the extreme seasonal climactic variation they have to endure.
Aboriginal men from Bathurst Island. Gramps in the middle would put most lifters half his age to shame.
Now we’ve dug up another study, this time from 2009, which shows that even a short-term change to a paleo diet can have serious health benefits.
The study begins with the sensible proposition that current diets, largely as a result of the agricultural revolution but especially because of the Industrial Revolution, are seriously different from those humans and their near ancestors have consumed for the vast majority the last two million years.
As the study authors put it, until about 10,000 years ago:
‘our ancestors, including Homo sapiens, lived as hunter-gatherers, eating wild animal-source foods (lean meats, internal organs, bone marrow, but no dairy) and uncultivated plant-source foods (mostly fruits, nongrain, vegetables, nuts, but no legumes).’
As a result of this more or less indisputable fact about the rapid changes that have taken place in human diets, the paleo diet movement argues that most of the problems modern humans face as concern diet result from this mismatch between the foods we have evolved to eat and the foods we actually do eat. The researchers wanted to see if even a brief paleo intervention could have a positive effect on a set of normal test subjects.
Watch this video for a very glossy primer on popular paleo diets.
Nine non-obese but sedentary volunteers were selected for the study. The participants consumed their usual diet for 3 days, three ramp-up diets of increasing potassium and fiber for 7 days, then a paleo-type diet made up of lean meat, fruits, vegetables and nuts, and excluding ‘non-paleo’ foods, such as cereal grains, dairy or legumes, for 10 days. The diets were calorie-controlled to ensure no weight loss by daily weight.
The results were striking, across the board. In particular, there were significant reductions in blood pressure, significant increases in insulin-sensitivity markers and improvements to blood lipid profiles, especially triglycerides.
Of course, the study was of a limited size, and there was also no control group, but the evidence provided by this study is substantiated by other studies, such as this more recent one.
Whether or not you choose to follow the craze and adopt a paleo diet – and the historical evidence suggests that paleo diets could actually vary quite significantly over time and space – the general principle that we should try and live in a manner more like our ancestors did for the vast span of human history, seems very obviously to be a sound one.
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