Where Do We Come From? Where Are We Going? The Ancestral Health Symposium 2012

Discuss

117 Responses to “Where Do We Come From? Where Are We Going? The Ancestral Health Symposium 2012”

  1. Jorpho says:

    The “picture of the author with young attractive smiling woman” is alarmingly reminiscent of many a diet advertising campaign.

    • TheLazyCaveman says:

      The author of this post is on the left. The author of one of the more popular Paleo books is on the right.

      And the pictures of attractive people are the norm at these conferences because the participants are very proactive about their own health. The attendees represent what can be achieved through eating nutrient-dense foods and getting plenty of sleep, sunshine, and play.

      Here are some photo sets for proof:
      http://www.flickr.com/photos/bobby_gill/sets/72157630994545624/ 
      http://www.flickr.com/photos/bobby_gill/sets/72157631016845586/ 
      http://www.flickr.com/photos/bobby_gill/sets/72157631026254010/ 

      And beyond just looks, it was noted by several people that during the presentations, you didn’t hear anyone sneeze, or cough, or clear their throats – actions that usually are correlated with poor health.

      • Jorpho says:

        “Proof” in the form of selective photos of individuals with the means to devote inordinate amounts of time and resources to maintaining their physical appearance (and usually the genetic head start to go with it) is the most common diet-marketing-campaign staple of of all. Just sayin’.

        • TheLazyCaveman says:

          It would be a fair point if there were gratuitous pictures of people with their shirts off or doing other things that hot people do (I wouldn’t know what those are, but I do know that this lifestyle has given me and thousands of others their health back). When I look at these pictures, I instead see clear skin and little sign of metabolic damage. I definitely disagree with your assertion that we spend inordinate amounts of time and resources on appearance other than perhaps on clothing.

          As for the genetic component, almost everyone who follows a Paleo diet does so because they’ve experienced poor health in the past, and removing problematic foods helps reduce and prevent the expression of those genetically-encoded diseases. For example, the author points to her own experience with a rather debilitating autoimmune condition. The author on the right, Robb Wolf, nearly had to have a bowel resection from ulcerative colitis prior to changing how he ate. While there are some people in the community who do have amazing genes, the truth is that most of us are trying to combat the crappy genetic hand we were dealt.

          • Jorpho says:

            The other word there is “selective”.  Would you expect someone to show up to such a conference (and look good in a photo) if he or she tried a diet and found that it didn’t work?

          • Antinous / Moderator says:

            …doing other things that hot people do (I wouldn’t know what those are…

            Steroids, botox, liposuction, cocaine and spray tan figure prominently in the daily routine of the Hot tribe.

        • Spam says:

          Don’t most people “….devote ‘inordinate’ amounts of time and resources to maintaining their physical appearance…” any way?  What’s wrong with quality control of the ingredients that make up the body?  Many of the advocates of the paleo diet do not have a ‘…genetic headstart…’, but are compensating for a few misprints in their codes.  Just saying.

      • Jeremy Mesiano-Crookston says:

        I’m sorry, but did you just say that the “paleo diet” can  cure colds? You’re teetering on the border of total quackery here. Be sure you don’t tip over.

        • EggyToast says:

           Not a paleo advocate, but as someone who incorporated more exercise and became more mindful of what I ate, I found I got sick less frequently and when I did get sick, my symptoms were more mild.

          I don’t think my diet “cured” my illness, but rather that by being healthier overall, my immune system is also healthier. I think/hope that’s the point they’re getting at.

          • Jeremy Mesiano-Crookston says:

            Well, the original comment didn’t say “less coughing at our advanced new human conference than at a regular sickly human event”, it in fact said “ZERO SICKNESS”. Which is a cultish sort of thing to say.

        • Antinous / Moderator says:

          I’m sorry, but did you just say that the “paleo diet” can cure colds? You’re teetering on the border of total quackery here.

          If you discuss it with your physician, she’ll tell you that chronic irritation of the upper respiratory tract makes you more susceptible to infections. If your current diet causes irritation, then changing it will reduce the frequency and severity of URIs.

      • Jeremy Mesiano-Crookston says:

        The Paleo diet, as well as the Paleo lifestyle of constant exercise and outdoor play seems to involve a lot more factors than just food and activity. It’s a little pretentious to say “these people just care more about their health than YOU”. 

        Something nobody ever mentions is the devastating role stress plays in affecting the immune system. It’s probably the single largest factor in avoiding periodic and systemic illnesses, and the people who have the luxury of attending a conference, of buying the foods they want, of taking time away from their lives to exercise and sleep, seem to be exactly the kind of people who have the luxury of doing exactly what their bodies require them to do, and never having to lie awake at night stressing about basic providing.

        We call them “diseases of affluence”, but to be honest, most unhealthiness is a disease of poverty. Not being able to afford the right foods, the time to cook, the time to exercise… 

        • Karen Phelps says:

          Responses like this upset me. Stress is talked about constantly, and yes, most of us earn a living, have families to support, and all the stresses of modern life that everyone shares. This conference was not full of trust-fund babies. Just people who care about themselves, their families, their friends, and yes, even the world. The focus of this conference was food policy, which last I checked, really sucks in this country and affects EVERYONE. We’re all working really hard to figure this out while everyone else makes excuses and accuses us of being racist or classist or elitist or out of touch. Personally, I’m more than aware that the stakes are high and that I want to help those who suffer the worst. Until we can push all this stupid criticism aside, we’ll get nowhere against some very powerful folks making money off our sickness. The fact of the matter is none of us are eating what our great-grandparents ate, whether we’re rich or poor or white or black or whatever, and it’s killing us. So instead of throwing stones, why don’t you hop onboard to discuss actually doing something worthwhile.

          • Antinous / Moderator says:

            So instead of throwing stones, why don’t you hop onboard to discuss actually doing something worthwhile.

            Obviously somebody let him eat too many cookies and he’s on a sugar crash.

    • Robb Wolf says:

      Ha! Gotta love the interwebz

    • Jordi Posthumus says:

      I happened to be at this event and met both of these healthy vibrant people.  Your implied conspiracy theory here is a fail.

  2. Ramone says:

    Wait, who?

  3. Gavin Smith says:

    the author is the women goober

  4. colleenmorgan says:

    I like this fake conference better: http://hells-ditch.com/2012/08/archaeologists-officially-declare-collective-sigh-over-paleo-diet/

    And the author is Flux from SG. 

  5. Palomino says:

    I don’t remember the source, but I found it through a message board. I usually try to post a source. 

    We had a Chihuahua that got sick, she was also a picky eater. I followed a link from a discussion board. Like the paleo diet, the site suggested that all dogs should eat what their ancestors ate, as a scavenger. We switched her diet to her cultural fair, and she thrived. The only thing I found I won’t post a link to, it’s for a dog food. But their description contains what I remember about the site: Instinct Regional

  6. Philipp says:

    Seeing this here posted completely uncritically on BoingBoing, which I usually love, makes me sad.

    It’s obviously good when people try to live healthy and I love that people get so motivated about their health, but this paleo-movement is in some parts not based on any peer-reviewed science, and in some parts plain anti-scientific – here’s the weirdest tweet from the conference (hash-tag was #AHS2012), I wasn’t there:

    “Lieberman: Many diseases treated with medications are actually adaptations. The drugs are doing more harm than good.” https://twitter.com/livinlowcarbman/status/233601964108292099

    That is a) complete BS and b) dangerous; couple of years ago I had to bring a room-mate twice to the psychiatric hospital in 9 months because he believed similar crap and stopped taking his psych-medication.

    And noting that the paleo-diet is good because “no-one coughed at the conference”? I was at a GMO-plant-conference two months ago, I didn’t notice anyone coughing, so I can only assume that working on GMO-plants is good for your health.

    • ePapa says:

      Once you’re on psych medication it’s usually a bad idea to stop taking it. That doesn’t mean there are not alternatives to pharmaceuticals in many situations.

    • Yeah, I get frustrated with the PALEO CURES ALL THE THINGS model, because it’s not true, and it can often lead to really nasty consequences, like your roommate, or like paleo folks who become so obsessed with paleo purity that they end up giving themselves eating disorders.

      I hope folks criticize it; one of the best talks from last year’s conference was the aforementioned Lalonde screaming at all the happy bloggers to test their hypotheses.

    • Mark_Frauenfelder says:

      Lieberman is a Professor of Human Evolutionary Biology at Harvard. You should start a campaign to get him kicked out for being a fake scientist, Philipp. You’ll be a hero!

      • AttackHamster says:

        Lieberman has done some great work on human running – his Harvard site is well worth a peruse: http://barefootrunning.fas.harvard.edu/

      • Tim Nolan says:

        That’s the point of peer review, Mark, to make sure that it is true science and not argument from authority as above. 
        Anecdotes from an accomplished scientist are still anecdotes, with sample size one.
        I heard a similar level of lack of rigor when you hosted Dave Asprey on Gweek, 
        I would have commented there, but the comments were closed once I heard the podcast.  I agree with Philipp; BoingBoing, Gweek and associated are some of my favorite media sources and I follow and re-post items from them frequently, but I find the lack of skepticism when it comes to topics like this frustrating.

        • Mark_Frauenfelder says:

          Fool that I am, I am going to give Professor Lieberman’s ideas more credence than Philipp’s proof that Lieberman’s ideas are bullshit because Philipp “had to bring a room-mate twice to the psychiatric hospital in 9 months because he believed similar crap and stopped taking his psych-medication.”

          • Tim Nolan says:

            I would never suggest that you are a Fool. As I intimated, MAKE magazine adorns my shelf, and my 70 year old mother asked my what BoingBoing was since I mention it so often. You are a person I hold in high regard, and I make these comments in that vein.

            Neither would I suggest that Professor Lieberman is not a qualified scientist. I read his article on barefoot running when it came out, and found it well researched and convincing, and subsequently changed my running style to adapt. 

            It also seems that quite sufficient evidence has been produced that the Paleo diet is at least superior to the Marketing-produced Food Pyramid we are all familiar with.
            However, once claims of increased mental function, reversal of disease and elimination of allergies or congenital disorders are made, we enter the realm of “Extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence.” So, we need double blind, peer-reviewed studies of efficacy. Details on Nutritive density and the like form a rack of hypotheses, as stated by the author, that seem to still be in need of test.The very article you linked to above indicated that our historical change in diet and change in population density (and the governmental/politcal effects), are so tightly entwined as to form a Chicken and Egg problem, so historical data alone cannot give us all the information for making lifestyle changes.In that way I agree with the opening talks mentioned and summarized by Lindsay Starke that all suggested the above, but I also consider alternatives suggested by the linked authors: The diet and lifestyle suggested may not even be historically accurate; The societal structure change had more of an effect that could ever be made up in food; That this plan might not be sustainable above a given total regional population, or any other idea we may not have considered. tl;dr version. Yes I consider it a valid topic of research that has produced successes. No, I don’t think the more extreme claims that are made  even by leading scientists) and often sold are fully supported by evidence, and that frustrates me.

          • Andrew says:

            Tim, said research is being done, though not as quickly as we may like it.

            Just one recent example… a double-blind, placeb0-controlled, peer-reviewed study showing wheat sensitivity in non-celiac individuals. Symptoms were varied, and included extra-intestinal presentations.

            http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/22825366 

            And while that doesn’t validate everything, it does refute the conventional wisdom that only folks diagnosed with celiac need to avoid grain.

            I’d also direct you to the work of Emily Deans, MD., who writes about evolutionary applications to psychiatry…

            http://evolutionarypsychiatry.blogspot.com/
            http://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/evolutionary-psychiatry

            In the grander scheme of things, I might suggest that your skepticism rings hollow when it serves little more than to support the 20th century status quo and foment confusion for individuals making food choices every few hours. In lieu of solid data on many questions pertaining to diet, rather than insist on rigid scientism, utilizing evolutionary theory for all its heuristic power yields a higher than average probability of accuracy. Indeed, the more we know about the ecological pressures influencing the evolution of any species, the higher the fidelity of our (as yet) untested hypotheses becomes.

            It’s certainly your choice to ingest substances that are (relatively) evolutionarily novel to our species, and even to raise the banner of avoiding lifestyle changes that are not sanctioned by Science™ in the process. However, assuming that one’s lifestyle in its unchanged state is somehow preferable to a changed lifestyle is logically problematic at best. I’d go farther and submit that your approach is the dangerous one — resting on the decrepit back of reductionist nutrition science that coincided with the birth of industrial/petroleum agriculture.

            I know, I know… recommending that people see how they feel after avoiding grains for a while is faaarrrrr too radical to try without a permission slip from the Mayo Clinic, Johns Hopkins, Kellogg’s and Merck. Livin’ on the edge!

        • Spam says:

          The problem with this blog is that the cavemen are positive about their lifestyle, whereas the ‘skeptics’ are more negators than they are intellectually inquisitive.  TV and the political sound bite has downgraded most Americans ability to think and speak critically.  Either your for it or you an ‘aginer.  

    • Andrew says:

      Seeing  Philipp’s comment posted completely uncritically, which is the bread and butter of the internet, makes me sad.

      It is absolutely true that ‘diseases’ from Tay-Sachs to diabetes to social anxiety disorder are, and/or are likely to be, evolved adaptations.

      http://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/sex-murder-and-the-meaning-life/201208/survival-the-sickest 

      Evolutionary hypotheses have for decades been predicting elements of our modern world that are likely to be maladaptive for humans. Millions (probably billions) of individuals, including the medical establishment, have ignored insights available from a Darwinian perspective at great cost. Even recently, we’ve all been advised that anyone who hasn’t been diagnosed with celiac disease should go on chomping away on wheat. We now know that gluten is problematic for non-celiacs as well.  

      http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/22825366 

      From a “do no harm” perspective, the authorities have failed miserably — talk about BS. Learn from Darwin and make good choices now, or toss yourself in front of the buzzsaw of evolutionary pressure.

      • Xyzzy says:

        I’d agree with the quotes around the term ‘disease’ simply because it’s commonly misused to refer to non-disease disorders like the cases you mentioned.  However, “adaptations” in the sense you’re using the term are actually random mutations that either were recessive, neutral, or harmful but not fatal before the point that a human could reproduce.  They aren’t deliberate improvements or reactions to an environmental/other problem; most of the time, they were passed on because they didn’t have a negative impact or only caused suffering/fatality to individuals that inherited a copy of the genes from each parent.

        I’m strongly in favor of not automatically interpreting “differences” as pathological/problematic the way that society now tends to do.  That said, it’s extremely important that we not make the equally inaccurate assumption that all genetic mutations are good.  Tay-Sachs, for example, is a horrifying disorder that strikes in infancy, causes a great deal of suffering and is invariably terminal; there would have to be Earth-shattering benefits in order to justify not finding a cure if at all possible. 

        • Andrew says:

          I certainly didn’t say all genetic mutations are good. 

          You are wrong in saying diseases such as Tay-Sachs are not adaptations. You touched on the topic of zygosity, but you fail to account for differential zygosity yielding the strong positive or negative selection of both variants when one variant significantly outcompetes the other. Your last few sentences regarding Tay-Sachs highlight the miscalculation in that they are true, but only for the homozygous allele, while the heterozgous allele provides significant benefit. Tay-Sachs provides protection against tuberculosis.Sickle cell disease provides protection against malaria.Cystic fibrosis provides protection against cholera. http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/evolution/educators/course/session7/explain_b_pop1.html Whether these are seen as diseases or beneficial adaptations is relative to the ecological context. They do undergo strong positive selection in particular contexts, and strong negative selection in others. The zygosity plays a huge role as well.Though part of a larger topic, Robert Sapolsky discusses these concepts in his Stanford course, Human Behavioral Biology http://youtu.be/NNnIGh9g6fA  

  7. MollyMaguire says:

    “but this paleo-movement is in some parts not based on any peer-reviewed science,”

    Whereas most conventional nutritional advice is just based on terrible science, political policy, and corporate economics.

    • Snig says:

      Your triad of terrible science, political policy and corporate economics is a great description, I’d also add in historical inertia.  We’ve always eaten this way (or have for a while now), and there’s not really a point in changing it.  I will say conventional nutritional advice is getting much better than it was 10 or 20 years ago. 

  8. jaytkay says:

    My Flickr photo set includes lots of smiling white people and folks staring at their phones.

    Ergo your anti-paleo-diet arguments are invalid.

    Case closed!!

  9. Sigh… and back in caveman days the average life expectancy was in the low 30s. 

    If you’re intolerant to something, fine. Cutting it out of your diet will obviously help. As will cutting back on the ridiculous amounts of sugar in our Western diet.

    But otherwise, it’s yet another food fad with bugger all to back it up. And as for ‘naturopaths’… nuff said. One step away from the magic water fairies.

    • Mark_Frauenfelder says:

      And then the agricultural revolution came along and lifespans plummeted. http://www.ditext.com/diamond/mistake.html

    • Andrew says:

      Maybe seek out some data before channeling Hobbes’ ghost and getting all smug on us?

      “Modal ages of adult death… under traditional conditions seems to be just after age 70 years”

      Longevity Among Hunter- Gatherers: A Cross-Cultural Examination 
      http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1111/j.1728-4457.2007.00171.x/abstract

      • wysinwyg says:

        Amazing how many people mix up science with stuff that at some point in their lives they heard was science, isn’t it?

      • perfy says:

        In Internet terms, Mark just got PWNED.

      • Xyzzy says:

        That was one paper offering a theory, not the standard consensus within the field.

        Wikipedia points to a life expectancy of only 54 even if somebody managed to reach age 15:
        http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Average_life_span#Human_life_expectancy_patterns

        A page on the advent of agriculture points to an important increase in diseases (with resulting shortening of lifespan due to kids being more vulnerable) was linked to inadequate sanitary practices and living in close quarters with domestic species carrying illnesses that people could catch if exposed:
        http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Neolithic_Revolution#Disease

        Tellingly, when Europeans (whose sanitary practices left much to be desired) encountered nations that lived in ways far more similar to the Paleolithic era, the population loss resembled that of the Neolithic revolution despite the more Paleolithic diet/lifestyle.  If the primary cause had been the agriculturally-supported diet, then the Europeans would’ve been severely reduced in numbers by the locals’ diseases instead.

        • wysinwyg says:

          Andrew cited a peer-reviewed scientific publication and you cited wikipedia.  Not saying you’re wrong, just saying there’s a bit of a source mismatch here.  Wikipedia, as useful as it is, isn’t the same as the scientific consensus and citing peer-reviewed publications would bolster your case better.

          • NatWu says:

            The Wikipedia articles that Xyzzy cites are pretty well sourced. All you have to do is look at the bibliography. In this case it makes more sense to quote the collated information which does actually represent the consensus viewpoint than to quote fifty different papers to make the same point. 

        • Andrew says:

          Xyzzy, 

          Thank you for pointing that out. The paper I referenced cites and addresses both of the studies the Wikipedia article cites, and is several years newer. I’m considering submitting an edit to Wikipedia so they’re not working from outdated data either.

    • knappa says:

      To be fair, once your remove infant mortality and war/murder that life expectancy jumps back up to the levels where you could meet your grandchildren.

  10. xiagang says:

    Is there an equivalent of Godwin’s Law for the first snarky comment following any post on the theme of  “I eat differently than you do”. 

  11. wysinwyg says:

    I like people trying to solve health problems and live healthily by experimenting with diet, especially as an alternative to expensive medications with terrible side effects.  But I think the “cave man diet” stuff is based on a lot of faulty premises concerning evolution and the incredibly diverse diets of paleolithic humans.

    I suspect the vast majority of paleolithic human beings were malnourished anyway — evolution only happens under conditions of scarcity. 

    • ashypete says:

      wysinwyg, I think you touch on something that I’ve always been confused about in regard to the so-called Paleo diet. Why hitch this diet to the construct of what a “cave man” might have eaten? I assume it is to simplify or illustrate in a concrete way how wrong some people’s diets might be but personally it strikes me as a oversimplification and presumptuous. While I’ll agree that there seems to be something to this diet and other low or no carb diets, at least based on my limited reading (like this article from Taubes or this one which suggests that the paleolithic diet was mostly animal protein). Anecdotal evidence of people I know with chronic illnesses on the diet also confirms that it is healthful in their cases. However, I think selling a diet on what someone perceives our paleolithic ancestors might have eaten is problematic. I think it confuses and frankly is not entirely convincing (at least to me but YMMV).

      How about forget the “caveman” & the evolutionary “rightness” schtick and focus on whatever science there is for this diet? Don’t get me wrong, I’m glad it works for some people and I’m all for people trying to be healthy and feeling good. The caveman gimmick makes it seem less about making us healthy and more about grabbing public attention. How about less of these media driven “fad diets” (or least the ones perceived as such) on BB and perhaps look at say the connections between sexual abuse and obesity and the difficulties inherent in that? Or perhaps the need for better food systems and food education in areas without them? Or, and this is pretty fanciful on my part, how about pushing for a Kickstarter for someone to design a home test which scans our gut flora to help us determine the optimal diet for a particular gut?

      • wysinwyg says:

         Yeah, exactly.  Drop the bullshit evolutionary pseudoscience (evolution isn’t pseudoscience, but there’s a lot of pseudoscience that calls itself “evolutionary”) and focus on the nutritional and medical science. 

        We’re evolved from fish but that doesn’t mean we should be trying to breathe under water.

        • ashypete says:

          I don’t know if the problem is necessarily pseudoscience in regards to the Paleo diet (though I’ve certainly seen claims which I think that are difficult to back up). The problem, to my mind, seems to be arrogance and wrong-headedness.What our ancestors may have ate isn’t necessarily relevant as it was geographically, culturally and environmentally specific for a small population. Moreover it doesn’t necessarily mean it was the most optimal, efficient or healthful of diets. Can we maybe learn something from studying those habits? Sure. Our agriculturally based love of carbs is the root of all health problems? If you say so…

          Frankly, I think we tend towards obfuscation when the path is clearer then we want to acknowledge. If it works for you great, it just may not for others as there are as many roads to health as there are people. Ultimately, it is our health which matters most (and I use health in a broadly descriptive way: for an individual, for a society, and a species). The marketing, the dogma & the proselytizing just confuses the issue.

      • Renee Clark says:

        I, too, wish there was another one-word descriptor than “paleo” since it seems to shift the focus from high nutrient, get-the-processed food/refined sugar crap out of your diet to what people ate a zillion years ago.   What got me interested in trying this way of eating was stumbling on the Whole30 website.  The focus on the benefits modern men and women are seeing resonated with me a lot more than what people ate in the Paleolithic era – especially since I imagine that varied widely from one geographical area to another.  I have been following a “paleo” diet since January and have experienced several health benefits including less knee pain, more energy, eliminated heartburn, weight loss, all without feeling deprived or like I’m on a “diet”.  I can’t quite figure out why it doesn’t feel like a diet when I’ve clearly eliminated several foods from my repertoire. I think it has something to do with focusing on fueling my body with foods high in nutrients and eliminating the sugars and low-nutrient carbs that, for me,  seem to have an addictive effect.  Once they were out of my diet, the good stuff was more exciting and satisfying.  It’s also brought a greater awareness of where my food comes from and how it’s grown/raised and caused me to focus on buying local, organic produce and meat raised humanely without additives.  I guess I’ll let someone else argue whether the science makes sense or not, this is enough for me.

        • ashypete says:

           Sure, I think what you’re saying makes sense. I just find the gimmicks make it difficult to clearly decide what works for you.  And end up being an obstacle for health. Which I think is something we all agree should be our end goal with any kind of shift in diet and lifestyle.

          As an aside, I often wonder if the health problems one has from a certain kind of diet is from various food intolerances or allergies as well as things simply being unhealthy to you. Earlier above I fancifully mention a desire for a Kickstarter to have a home population survey for gut flora which could help guide someone towards a more clear understanding of how your diet effects your health and what works better.  Anyone know if this is feasible or fantasy?

    • NatWu says:

      “evolution only happens under conditions of scarcity”

      That’s not how you should think of it. Selective pressure may only operate in conditions where reproductive success is influenced by the environment, but mutation, gene flow, and genetic drift occur at all times. 

  12. RJ says:

    I’ve been thinking of going paleo for awhile. It’s one of those things I just haven’t made the move on yet. But yeah, as others pointed out, she does look very healthy there. I don’t think I’ve seen any paleo folks who didn’t look healthy. I’m healthy too, but I’m also as fat as an old hound dog.

    • OgilvyTheAstronomer says:

      There’s a lot of selection bias in action there: if you search for images of people on any given diet you are going to find mostly fit people, as failed cases disassociate themselves from the movement.

  13. Hey Lindsay, I’m just going through my own AS 
    immunosuppressants-for-the-rest-of-my-life dealy and I was wondering if you’d written anything about your experience with the paleo diet with regards to AS? I’m always sceptical of these “this diet solved all of my problems and gave me a free car!” things, but you seem to have a scientific head on your shoulders.

    • Hey there Ferdinand – I haven’t really gotten into the down and dirty on my own experience anywhere (yet!) If you do some Googling, you’ll get a lot of testimonials (which I take with a large grain of salt); what I’ve gathered is that if the disease has progressed pretty far, you may only get symptom management, whereas if you start an intervention early, you may be able to reverse your symptoms.

      I know that early on I read a preliminary intervention done in France on patients with the spondyloarthropathies which I cannot seem to find right now, but it suggested that spondy may be linked with a non-celiac gluten sensitivity. All I have right now is my own n=1.

      Sorry I’m not more help. I’m really, really sorry to hear from somebody else with AS. It sucks; I’m watching my baby brother go through it right now.

  14. Xny559 says:

    I’m always worried about “ancient” and “the way it was” diets. Makes me wonder if people forget that less than two hundred years ago, average life expectancy was less than 40 years… I’m not saying that the current “developed” (enveloped?) world diet is any good, but eating a basic healthy diet without going overboard generally makes more sense. Doesn’t it?

    • Antinous / Moderator says:

      Makes me wonder if people forget that less than two hundred years ago, average life expectancy was less than 40 years…

      Infectious disease in general – not diet related, mostly cured by hygiene. Infant mortality – not diet related, mostly cured by hygiene. Puerperal fever – not diet related, mostly cured by hygiene.

      Most people weren’t dying of diet-related issues, except starvation which remains common. And scurvy, which in some cases was made worse by scienciness and its miracle cures. And beriberi, which was a result of rice processing.

      • Xny559 says:

        I totally agree that hygiene and better knowledge of the causes of mortality are the main drives for current longevity of modern (current?) humans. But what can we then infer from the diet of people who lived for less than 40 years? Western civilizations aside, current humans are mostly very healthy (WHITH hygiene’s influence) under 40, and they eat very non-ideal diets (polar tribes, eating 95% protein, come to mind. Hardly the paleo ideal).

        • Mark_Frauenfelder says:

          I thought polar tribes had more fat in their diet than that. Inuit tribes traditionally had 50-75% fat in the diet. Where did you get that 95% figure – I’d love to read up on it.

          • Xny559 says:

            Not 95% fat. Protein. Actually, the next commenter is more accurate. 95 % meat. Inuits don’t have access to plant food (or very little). Their liver can process meat differently and can even extract the necessary vitamins and micro-nutrients from the meat (including fish) that they consume. Wikipedia is one source: even the article on paleo-diet mentions the 95%. My fault for not quoting the meat-protein versus protein correctly.

        • Rachael Hoffman-Dachelet says:

          95% protein?  Or 95% animal products?  I have never heard of any humans eating 95% protein, who are you referring to?

        • Andrew says:

          “less than two hundred years ago, average life expectancy was less than 40 years [...] what can we then infer from the diet of people who lived for less than 40 years?”

          Nobody is suggesting such an inference.

          The underlying assumption here is that humans are adapted to pressures imposed by diet over evolutionary time. 200 years isn’t much in terms of evolutionary time. On the other hand, we all share 1+ million years of evolutionary history as hunter-gatherers. As I referenced above, hunter-gatherer lifespans tend to be 70+ years.

          The period of shorter lifespans (shorter stature, etc.) you speak of is a result of the nutritional deficiencies brought about by the agricultural revolution, which is relevant for the period roughly 7,000-100 years ago — only a blip in evolutionary terms.

        • Mark_Frauenfelder says:

          What I want to know if where you came up with the 95% protein figure. I thought having that much protein would “rabbit starve” a person.

      • Rachael Hoffman-Dachelet says:

        Oooh, ooh, don’t forget Pellagra!  What happens when you import corn but don’t learn to make masa.

  15. Vaughn Marlowe says:

    I’m not going to investigate it, but I wonder which paleo diet they adopt ? The paleo Australian diet of 30K years ago was no doubt a lot different from the paleo European. I get by just fine on vodka and candy bars, thank you very much, considering that I’m 82 years old. I’ll leave the dieting up to you young whipper-snappers.

    • Ann G says:

      Who’s “they”?  Clearly this post is a joke, but I’ll respond, as an answer here also address some of the previous:  

      The Ancestral Health Symposium touched on the multitude of factors that go into deciding a healthful diet (nutrient density, human physiology, clinically proven results, etc).  Many talks addressed exercise, policy, food advertising, psychology, and so on.  Where did Starke ever say the symposium was a great big promotional effort for one uniform paleo diet?  Such a thing has no basis in history or science, and the symposium made that clear.

    • Antinous / Moderator says:

      Julius Shulman apparently lived on scotch and tuna sandwiches, and he lived to 98.

  16. I enjoy Boing Boing and also stories related to nutrition and health.  I applaud Lindsay and her passion and desire to share this information.  There is actually lots of scientific evidence 
    http://www.awlr.org/related-science.html supporting the consumption of less refined and processed foods containing carbohydrates and to eat real foods containing more proteins, natural fats and less carbs from animal and plant sources.  Ancestral health is inline with this evidence.  I do admit, eating like a caveman can sound a bit hokey  

    • Spam says:

      Where can I find data on eating whole grains (not ground up into bread or mush) as part of a diet.  Even the glycemic folks assume that ‘whole’ means ground up. 

      I believe in the old adage that if you don’t want it, done’t eat it, and if you are not hungry do not eat.   I am attracted to grains as well as the meats. Dairy products keep my appetite in control. I prefer my veggies raw or as juice.  If I eat a four-square breakfast, then I am hungry all day and overeat before bedtime.  Whereas, if do not eat at all until the afternoon, my appetite is much less voracious and I do not need to time out for rest. I also do not remove all the fat from the foods they come with because a lot of nutrients are bound up in the fat.  Skim milk seems to be useless as a calcium source and probably contributes to calcium kidney stones.  If I followed the USDA recommended diet, I would weigh much more than my 70 pounds over that I am now.  I am 72 and very healthy.  As long as I only eat during the afternoon and not after sunset or several hours before sleep time, I seem to be fine and am losing a small amount of weight each weigh-in depending on my physical activity.  Eating like a caveman seems presumptuous of knowledge of how they ate what.  Considering their  technology, grains were probably roasted rather than boiled, but were most likely eaten, as any one who has chewed on a grain stalk with unripe seeds can tell you,  they are tasteful.  The same with the edible roots – Irish potatoes are delicious eaten raw.  When cooked the minerals change into a less usable form.  When I was a child, adults believed that raw Irish potatoes would give you a belly ache, like green apples.  None of that is true for a healthy digestive system.    Green leaves are very palatable and I could eat a salad with meat and oil added as my main protein and micro-nutrient  source every day.    

      • The Weston Price foundation http://www.westonaprice.org/ has a lot of information regarding grains and potatoes.  In general sprouting and or fermentation changes the properties of these foods for the better

  17. Garrett Eaton says:

    It’s so hard to get a level-headed read on this topic because everyone is so passionate on either side. Seems like a select group of zelots making unreasonable claims poison the otherwise sound advice of moving away from an overly carb-heavy diet. The “caveman” nomenclature is rather unfortunate since it seems to really throw everyone off the heart of the debate.. I’m sure it is a pretty effective tool to motivate practitioners though… It creates an interesting narrative to diet by.

    While it does seem that carbs are one factor in the plainly evident health problem in the US, I’m sure their reduction is no panacea either. We can’t ignore the importance of exercise (the prevalence of which im sure strongly correlates with paleo dieters). Also, can we just drop the idea that agriculture is humanity’s great mistake? Please? It’s a red herring and doesn’t help the discussion.

  18. taghag says:

    i don’t know much about this diet, but i’ve met a few fans lately.  i just read the wikipedia page and it sounds like a reasonable diet.  rather like atkins sans dairy..?

    i guess i feel uneasy about all the meat/fish.  i’m not sure the diet is *designed* to be meat/fish heavy, but it seems to me that a lot of people take it as carte blanche to eat as much meat/fish as possible.  this seems really unsustainable to me.

    i’d love someone who knows a bit more about this diet to comment on this – am i completely off base about the meat thing…???

    • Eric Rutledge says:

      Happy to comment on this, taghag.  Off the top of my head there are four reasons why paleo is a meat-centered way of eating:

      1. Meat was very likely responsible for making us human, in terms of the size of our brains.
      2. Meat (or animal products) are generally the most sought after and valued food items among traditional cultures.
      3. Far and away, animal products are the most nutritionally dense foods you can eat.  Period. Fuck kale, and broccoli, and spinach and all that shit.  Animal products cannot be touched in terms of nutritional density — that is, micronutrients per calorie.  
      4.  By and large, people look, feel and perform better when they base their diet around animal products.

      Add in the fact that the science is pretty clear these days that we DO NOT need to fear saturated fat and… viola.  

      A couple other things to consider:

      -Paleo is mostly concerned with the eating of real foods that your body knows what to do with.  From there, you can tinker with meat content, etc. until you are looking, feeling, and performing your best.  Start by simply ditching grains, legumes, dairy, sugar, and vegetable oils.

      -Paleo is, by and large, NOT a low-carb thing.  It often gets lumped in with LC, and some paleo followers find they do better on lower carbs, but there is nothing wrong with starchy tubers, fruit, etc.  I’d say that personally I eat a moderate amount of carbs mostly from sweet potatoes, etc.

  19. tombrook says:

    Can I point out, in relation to the final paragraph, that hunter gatherer societies didn’t really have gender oppression. We only really saw that with the rise of the agricultural and urban revolutions

    • OgilvyTheAstronomer says:

      Sounds like a bit of a sweeping statement, that, and I would like to see some references before I take it at face value.

      • tombrook says:

        Eleanor Leacock’s Myths of Male Dominance. Marshall Sahlins’ Stone Age Economics, or V Gordon Childe’s What Happened in History.
        I think its a fairly accepted anthropological idea.
        Also look at what I’m reading at the moment Chris Harman’s People’s History of the World, which I can’t recommend enough

        • OgilvyTheAstronomer says:

          Fair enough – it just seemed counter-intuitive.

        • I really wanted to believe this because it is such an appealing narrative, but ethnographies of some contemporary hunter-gatherers show that it seems to vary by group (e.g. Melanesian taboo culture). Institutional misogyny as par-for-the-course seems to be a more recent innovation, but we can’t *really* know how individual tribes treated gender in the Paleolithic.

          Regardless, I am firmly in the “birth control liberates women” camp, and so I’d still rather be in the 21st century, where I have a modicum of control over my own fertility.

          • tombrook says:

            oh of course, no one wants to return to paleo reproductive science. and it’s not going to be straight forward in each society back then. but i think the idea is that pre agriculture, women had an equal role in the running of the society because they were not excluded from its economic life: the main source of food coming from foraging which could be done whilst pregnant or carrying young children. thus their role was of equal status to the men hunting etc which was unreliable as a food source. with agriculture came heavier duty work and also accumulation of a surplus leading to wars etc. it’s more useful for pointing out that misogyny and patriarchy didn’t exist for 90% of human existence and therefore isn’t human nature and it is possible to envisage a society without it.

          • NatWu says:

            This is actually in reply to tombrook, but it’s too many levels down to reply directly:

            I’m not sure how it was around the world, but there are plenty of places in Asia and the Americas where women participated every bit as much in agriculture as they did in gathering. The difference is not in how much food women produced, it’s how much food men produced, as hunting is known to provide very few calories compared to gathering. If it was about how important women’s participation was food production, then every hunter-gatherer society should have been a matriarchy! We know this wasn’t the case though, and there were documented patriarchal hunter-gatherers. We can’t say for sure that “misogyny and patriarchy didn’t exist for 90% of human existence”. It’s a lot more complex than that. I think some of these ideas come from examining Western society too closely and looking to apply those ideas everywhere. There are places in the Americas where women were not in second place in either type of society. To a degree, there must be agency involved in the construction of a culture. 

            As a matter of fact, the impact of the environment on culture is a hotly debated topic. That’s one of the main criticisms of “Guns, Germs, and Steel”. Diamond may be right about disease, but his argument has no force when it comes to the question of why the Chinese didn’t sail east to the west cost of the Americas. 

        • NatWu says:

          Examples of female-centric agricultural societies do exist such as the Hopi and Mosuo people (I hesitate to use the term “matriarchal” as it seems so narrow and controversial). The Cherokee were an egalitarian and matrilineal society until we began conforming to Euro-American ideals (deliberately, and in order to gain favor with the Americans who only recognized men in positions of power), and we practiced agriculture until adopting a hunting lifestyle to participate in the deer-skin trade. There are other examples, of course, such as the other Iriquoisans, where women were treated equally (or at least more equally than European women). Among the Aymara, women own their own land. 

          I can’t remember which tribe it was in Claude Levi-Strauss’ “Tristes Tropiques”, but the men were pretty much lazy layabouts who spent about 5 or 10% of their time hunting monkeys or whatnot and the rest putting together fancy headdresses and other decorations, while the women did all the work of gathering food and raising children. While politically the society is defined as “egalitarian”, in practice the men make the decisions. 

          In other words, it’s not all that simple. One of the classes I took for my anthropology degree did discuss the scarcity of matriarchal or even strongly egalitarian societies. It’s definitely not as simple as hunter-gatherers vs. agriculturalists.

  20. OgilvyTheAstronomer says:

    I guess the only things we know as incontrovertible facts about the paleo diet and the hunter-gatherer lifestyle is that the overwhelming majority of mankind rejected them and moved on as soon as agriculture became a viable alternative. It’s possible that current practitioners of such diet will be at the forefront of finding out why.

    • Antinous / Moderator says:

      the overwhelming majority of mankind rejected them and moved on as soon as agriculture became a viable alternative.

      Not true. Settlement and agriculture are a boon to the development of a wealthy upper class. Have you noticed that the upper class has tended to restrict free movement of people? And that hunting by the lower classes was renamed ‘poaching’? Agriculture flourished, at least partly, because it’s very easy to fit slavery into an agricultural economy.

      • OgilvyTheAstronomer says:

        If agriculture was developed to accommodate slavery, then it follows that slavery was developed during the hunter-gatherer period. If it was not, then obviously it must have been for other reasons unrelated to slavery.

  21. bdjohnso says:

    I started Paleo a couple of weeks ago after hearing Mark F.’s Gweek on it, (Thanks you Mark!) and Dr. Attias talk on the “Limits of Scientific Evidence and the Ethics of Dietary Guidelines” – At least that video got me looking and reading. I found that the word “Paleo” is just an easy short-hand label for a wide range of dietary ideas that seem to have a lot of variety, but a few core ideas in common. At the core of it all are some very very Non-radical ideas:

    Getting almost all of our fuel from grass seed (grains) is a recent and growing development that may have some downsides. & Humans are able to use lipids (fats) as a fuel and nutrient given a chance.

    I know it’s fun to be a sceptic. I am one. I think though that some people forget that scepticism is a tool, and think that perpetual scepticism is an end in itself. They think themselves clever always finding the way to be a little more intellectual than the next guy. They never actually accomplish anything with their scepticism, but they do feel smart.

    All of our good stuff… computers, germ theory, the round earth, evolution, were “extraordinary claims requiring extraordinary proof” – not because they were wrong, but because people are hard to convince once everyone settles on a worldview.

    The idea that Paleo can cure everything is nuts. I’ve never heard anyone claim that it does. And just as our ancestors ate all kinds of stuff depending on where they lived and what season it was, people who go Paleo often find that they need to modify their diets to their own unique needs and lifestyles.

    Paleo, or at least my version of it (Mostly meat and lots of vegetables) has cleared my skin, lost me a few pounds, helped my sleep, made a few aches and pains diminish, improved my stools, and got rid of my afternoon lazy’s in a remarkably short time.

    You can go on arguing about how silly it all is, but I wake up each morning now with a sense of gratitude, finally having figured out what was making my stomach hurt all these years.

    • How did you eat before, when you had those few extra pounds and bad skin? The problems may have been caused by poor diet choices in the first place. To have a set o rules identified as a specific diet seems less effective then having a nutricionist evaluating your habits and telling you what’s been doing good and what’s been doing bad for you. You don’t need a group of people saying that they know better then others,  so you feel accepted in their group, in order to start eating in a healthier manner. I guess I’m trying to make a distinction between healthier habits and sheer vanity. 
      I’ve met people who are very poor, and have no Idea what a paleo diet is. In fact, they can’t even speak english, or barely read portuguese at all. These people are very simple, and still, they have a more healthy diet then the people who can afford pizzas, fast-food junk and soda pops. They eat simple, honest, home-cooked, basic rice-and-beans meals every day because they need the energy and health to go to work, they can’t afford to get sick.  Not because they want to look slim and hot. On the other hand, I know people who keep eating crap, and then pay to go to a gym trying to sweat it all off. How stupid is that? That’s even more harmful to their bodyes. And still, in their arrogance, they feel smarter and prettier. Well, in the end is all about status quo, isn’t it? For beauty is a relative values, depending on midia-enforced values. The elite determines the beauty standards. Trying to chase that is just as effective as chaising a rainbow.

      • bdjohnso says:

        How did I eat before… great question. As a fairly intellectual well read 95% vegan. Very concerned about getting vegetables, avoiding the “unhealthy” fats, plenty of whole grains, with the occasional serving of meat maybe Thanksgiving, Christmas… fairly rare occasions. That was actually a huge improvement over the years ago diet of typical american food… even then I tried to be fairly healthy, not too much sweets. I went Paleo, because according to conventional wisdom I was doing things “right” according to most healthy conscious people, but I still came to problems with energy, weight, allergies, etc. – For me, not trying to be argumentative… I think for me grains were the problem.  I have plenty of friends having no trouble with grains. I have friends who probably are. Paleo isn’t for everyone. For some people it’s a great solution.

  22. yoshua says:

    My Swiss-German ancestors possessed a mutation allowing them to drink milk. It gave them a competitive advantage, leading to me. I’m gonna keep drinking milk.

  23. The thing I find most frustrating about the paleo diet is not whether or not it work for some, but the implications it would have if it was really widespread!   I can barely afford regular meat at the grocery store, let alone grass fed meat.  If I couldn’t eat grains or legumes, I would probably not get enough protein.  Not to mention the damage this much meat consumption (say if all 8 billion people worldwide could afford to indulge in the paleo diet) would have on the environment!  Maybe the diet fixes the diseases of the affluent, but it seems to me that it is a diet that only the affluent (and the environmentally insensitive) can afford.

    • bdjohnso says:

      I think it is interesting to think of the environmental impact that grain agriculture has had on the planet. – According to that source of sources, wikipedia, the world human population would have stabilized at about 15 million people total without agriculture. Thanks to wheat fields, the Roman Empire alone had three times as many people, and World populations was about 300 million 2000 years ago. By 1800 the planet had a Billion people, and ever increasing agricultural efficiency has allowed the world to balloon to many billions.

      I think its hard to blame the hunter-gatherer diet for environmental problems that grain heavy post agricultural diets gave us. Now we’re in a catch 22 where the only way to feed the billions is with an agricultural system that will make more billions. By dumping increasingly rare amounts of nutrients on already depleted soil so we can keep making enough starch to keep people alive long enough to procreate we’re not doing the planet any favors.

      I honestly don’t know the answer to the worlds problems, but me eating unhealthy isn’t somehow the “ethical” path. – by the way, paleo doesn’t have to be the extremes of eating expensive grass fed meat. Just eating more vegetables less grain and the consciousness of the importance of lipids is a huge step in the right direction. More complex starches with lower glycemic indexes, (root vegetables as a significant portion of carbs instead of just grains can improve health for anyone without breaking the bank. There are even low carb vegans out there.

    • taghag says:

      thanks, laura – this is what i was trying to point out in my previous comment but you said it much more concisely than i managed to.

    • Stacy Garvey says:

      I’m late responding to your post but wanted to take a stab at it regardless.  A paleo diet isn’t necessarily a high protein diet.  It is a high fat diet, though.  Most paleos get something like 30% or less of their calories from protein.  Also, paleos and low-carb (lchf as we are called) eaters consume fewer total calories.  High levels of insulin (produced when eating carbs) simulate the appetite.  Protein and fat stimulates leptin the appetite suppressing hormone.  We eat less and stay lean without starving ourselves or denying our appetite. 

      If you love the planet, eat either lchf or paleo.

  24. I suppose it’s not very hard to come up with a healthier diet then the average north-american diet. The thing is that western diet sucks, not that paleo diet is good. It’s just better then slurping down cheeseburguers, milkshakes and french-fries (wich are belgian by the way). 

  25. mark kornick says:

    One frustrating thing about peer review and rigorous scientific scrutiny is that the process is laborous, expensive and if of exceptional value, narrowly focused.  I find that reports from such conferences/movements have value in that the anecdotal blurbs incite interest in such topics.

    I think the flaming of blog entries from conference attendees because of apparent lack of scientific scrutiny is as pointless as any 140 character “essay”.  And giving “Boing Boing” smack for inclusion of this blurb is a sure sign of a quality-control, well uh, troll.  Such critique is easy and therefore lazy.

    Holes can be found in any sound bite format such as this.  You’re missing the point if sadness is invoked from disappointment in a blog entry.  There is no silver bullet road-map to health, wealth and happiness from a couple of sentences Jorpho/Phillip and your ilk.

  26. I’m not a paleo dieter, but nonetheless I appreciate this thoughtful article about what’s going on in the, ahem, paleosphere. Cool stuff! Thanks, Lindsay. You rule.

  27. haig says:

    Arguments about food are right up there with arguments about religion and politics, maybe more so, since they affect us in the most intimate ways on a daily basis.  So it is no wonder there is controversy discussing this topic.  

    I do want to say that, from personal experience (yes, an n=1 anecdote, throw it out if you want), after taking a 30-day strict paleo challenge my chronic anxiety and mood issues normalized completely (after years of struggling), my energy levels increased (I effortlessly wake up at dawn where before it was like pulling teeth), I fall asleep quickly at night and get a good quality rest, have lost almost 20lbs., my skin has cleared up, my fasting bg level has normalized, and my blood pressure dropped from slightly high to normal.  I eat lots of vegetables, some sweet potatoes, and meat & seafood and that’s about it.  You can be vegetarian paleo as well (if you tolerate or don’t mind eggs/shellfish it’ll help a lot more) which I may try for ethical reasons if I can’t get humane and sustainable meat.

    If you actually read a lot of the blogs and papers within the paleosphere, you will see that they all care about health first and foremost, for their families, children, themselves, and society.  They analyze the latest peer-reviewed papers, make sure that they are skeptical and free of fallacies and biases, and really just want to improve.  Why would you be cynical of that?

  28. Mazoola says:

    I, for one, am not ashamed [ok, maybe a bit embarrassed, but not ashamed, exactly] to admit I read this post not because of any real interest in the paleo diet, but because of a life-long interest in bright, attractive, engaging women. Serious, I was/am totally smitten (smote? smut?).

  29. Rosiemoto says:

    I did an experiment on myself last year. Combining biphasic sleep (the way we used to sleep) with high levels of Ultra Violet A (the sun we used to get before we migrated out of Africa).  This treated alcohol cravings and mimics Naltrexone.  Its possible that sleep (type of) and sun (exposure to) are environmental switches in drug and alcohol dependence.

    I used a high pressure quartz light tanning booth for the UVA. I boosted pigment with afelmelanotide, a melanocyte production drug (non FDA approved). I was very light skinned growing up with platinum blonde hair, hazel eyes, and white skin. I grew up in Hawaii two blocks from the beach but never tanned. I agree that the past is a very interesting way to look at health. What have we lost when we put on clothing and stop sleeping biphasically?

  30. Terry Wahls, made it clear in her presentation that SHE HAS NOT REVERSED her MS.  She has gotten out of her wheel chair but stated that her disease is still progressing.  Let’s not get ahead of ourselves or spread misinformation. 

  31. Stacy Garvey says:

    I just wanted to point out to folks commenting here that “Paleo” is just one branch of a rather large tree.   It falls within the low carb family; it also includes many lifestyle choices that go beyond just diet.

    LCHF (low carb, high fat) diets are commen in Europe and, infact, the traditional French diet (with its lower levels of heart disease and obesity) is the original LCHF diet.  All those butter sauces?  not a problem.

    Eat all kinds of proteins and fats; get your carbs from vegetables, fruits, and nuts; skip the sugars and grains.  Live longer and be healthy.

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