Monday, August 25, 2014

Does the Paleo diet cure X?

The link above is one of many anecdotal pieces of evidence that has shown significant health improvements from a Paleo diet.  The health conditions that are purportedly improved by a Paleo diet range from inflammatory conditions such as Rheumatoid Arthritis, digestive problems such as Irritable Bowel Syndrome, neurological problems such as Multiple Sclerosis, and the number one killer in the United States: heart disease.  Are these pieces of evidence enough to state that the Paleo diet cures any of these conditions?  Absolutely not, we are eons away from a scientific consensus on what causes these problems, let alone what we can do to fix them.  Does this mean that the Paleo diet isn't the answer?  Nope.

Science is a wonderful thing, but not a necessity for something to be true.  Science is the process we use to come to a consensus on a topic such as this because it eliminates all alternative explanations.  Truths aren't made by science, they are identified with it.  It very well could be the case that many of our modern ills are directly attributable to the lifestyle we live.  Many of the problems that have plagued human civilization throughout history can be directly attributed to things we have determined to be "progress".  The formation of cities and towns is certainly progress, but that doesn't mean that communicable disease and the rapid spread of infection isn't a product of that progress.  As Lord Helmet told us many years ago, there is an up side and a down side to every Schwartz.

This is where the evolutionary approach to health enters the picture.  You've got X, will the Paleo diet help?  help maybe, but cure?  No.  Why?  The evolutionary approach to medicine isn't a diet.  There are many aspects of today's life that are quite novel to modern humans.  Never having to go hungry, never having to experience extremes in temperature, being able to sit on your butt all day long and still procure ample food, not having to succumb to bacterial infections due to antibiotics, and the onslaught of chronic stress we experience today.  The current food environment is certainly a drastic shift to our species, but it is one of many issues that may not jibe with our genetic code.

When you look at the epidemiological research, it is universally accepted that things like poor sleep, a diet high in processed food and calories, high levels of stress, long periods of inactivity, and infrequent intense physical activity are all aspects of modern life that are problematic to health.  When you look at modern day hunter gatherers who live a lifestyle that completely eliminates these traits, we see insignificant levels of the diseases that plague us such as Cardiovascular disease, Type 2 diabetes, Cancer, and even Depression.  Multiple studies are coming out showing what many of these poor lifestyle traits do to us at a genetic level, strengthening support that many of our issues are caused by our current lifestyle.  From a scientific perspective, this doesn't prove anything. Besides, let's say being born by C-section or having to take a dose of antibiotics to kill a bacterial infection do have some ramifications, is the alternative, aka death, a better prognosis than later obesity or IBS?  Probably not, but knowing how to take steps to prevent or reduce the potential symptoms from those potential outcomes likely lies within the evolutionary approach to health.

Many people can benefit from this information, and waiting for a scientific consensus is not going to benefit most people in this lifetime because it won't likely come in that time period.  Even if the scientific consensus comes, it won't show that the Paleo diet or an evolutionary approach to health cures these problems.  What it will show is that many of our current health problems may be caused by a modern lifestyle, but that doesn't mean doing some diet for 3 months will allow you to go back to business as usual.