Summary of “The Paleo Solution”: Our genetic heritage has not evolved over the past tens of thousands of years. Our diet, however, changed significantly 10,000 years ago. This change has accelerated since the end of the Second World War, leading to the results that we all know. Humans now suffer from a number of “civilization” diseases (diabetes, cancer, cardiovascular disease, autoimmune diseases, and osteoporosis). Our typical ancestor did not suffer from these illnesses and was built like a top-flight athlete.
Chronicle and summary of “The Paleo solution”:
Note: This is a guest chronicle written by Julien Khong of the blog Vivre Paléo, a blog about nutrition and health.
Chapter 1: My story, your story, our story
Robb Wolf tells us his story and how he came to take an interest in the Paleolithic diet. Since he was a child, his parents were often sick and the author grew up in an atmosphere of medical examinations and medical prescriptions. He wanted to understand and avoid the fate of his parents, and from an early age, he became interested in health, nutrition and fitness.
He quickly became a vegetarian. According to the recommendations of his doctors, it was the best possible diet. It was around this time that he began to suffer from health problems. He was not particularly surprised given the health legacy of his parents. Several medical opinion confirmed that he was detoxifying (when the body eliminates accumulated toxins), a common occurrence with a vegetarian diet. So he detoxified for a few years. At the age of 26, his blood pressure and cholesterol level were above normal.
His problems got worse.
His stomach pains became more intense. He was diagnosed with irritable bowel syndrome (functional colopathy) and inflammation of the colon (colitis). The doctors told him that without his “perfect” vegetarian diet, he would already be dead. He was in a sorry state by the age of 28.
Fortunately for him, a new test on his mother revealed an autoimmune illness, Celiac disease (gluten intolerance). The treatment is simple: Give up any cereal based produce (natural and industrial), as well as pulses (implicated in autoimmune diseases such as lupus and rheumatoid arthritis).
He suffered from the same symptoms as his mother, so he called his vegetarian diet into question. His new research led him to the diet of hunter-gatherers, also known as the Palaeolithic diet. Our ancestors lived for nearly 3 million years eating only meat, fish, nuts and other seasonal fruits and plants. He discovered several medical cases of people who were able to resolve their health problems: diabetes, depression, gastrointestinal problems, auto-immune issues, or lose a lot of weight.
After 6 weeks on this diet, all his health problems disappeared and he acquired unprecedented vitality. The doctors were unanimous. The reason lay somewhere other than his change of diet.
Chapter 2: Hunter gatherers are us
What should we eat? What kind of physical exercise should we do? How can we improve our health?
Health “professionals” who answer these questions base their responses on the recommendations of the Ministry of Health. Politicians are subject to the influence of lobbies in the agri-food industry, and they are not science-based. Their conventional solution is a diet that is low in fat and rich in carbohydrates. The popular belief is that eating fat makes you fat and causes cardiovascular diseases. This is despite the Mediterranean diet, otherwise known as the French Paradox. This diet is rich in good fatty acids and the people who follow this diet have fewer health problems than those who refrain from eating them.
Scientists of evolution (anthropologists) noticed a radical change of the human skeleton around the time of the agricultural revolution . At that time, humans went from being hunter-gatherer to being farmers. Palaeolithic men were bigger than farmers [2, 3], which is a sign of good nutrition. They show no decay or abnormalities, unlike the skeletons of farmers. The study of contemporary hunter-gatherers (the Hadza people of Tanzania, !Kung of Namibia, Botswana, Angola, Ache of Paraguay, Agta of the Philippines, Hiwi of Venezuela) demonstrates that they do not suffer from degenerative diseases such as cancer, diabetes and cardiovascular diseases.
Modern diet dates back barely 10,000 years, which corresponds to 0.5% on the scale representing the history of Humanity. Genes are identical to the people who lived 200,000 years ago. And our genetic heritage did not have enough time to adapt to this sudden change.
Everyone can improve their health through diet. Simply draw inspiration from the diet that humans applied since the dawn of time. Try it and see the results. They are worth all the medical recommendations in the world.
Chapter 3: Knowledge is power
Food-related health problems lie in the process of inflammation. To understand it, you must first know the elements that make up our food and the hormones that are secreted (or not) to process these nutrients. Robb Wolf gives a quick overview of the human body, but returns to the subject in more detail in later chapters.
Proteins allow skin, muscles, hair and nails to grow, as well as other cells like hormones, enzymes and neurotransmitters. Proteins are made up of molecules called amino acids. Our body uses 22 different amino acids, of which 8 are essential. The body does not manufacture them, so they must come from food.
There are carbohydrates in all plants, from lettuce to potatoes. There are different carbohydrates:
- The monosaccharides, meaning 1 sugar (simple sugar). The 2 main monosaccharides are glucose (sugar that is mainly used for energy) and fructose
- The diholosides (disaccharidses, 2 sugars). Ordinary table sugar (sucrose) is an example, composed of glucose and fructose
- The polyholosides (polysaccharides, several or complex sugars)
- Non digestible: fibres (soluble and insoluble)
- Digestible: starch (rice, potato, maize, flour)
There are several types of lipids. For the moment, we will take a look at triglycerides (a glycerol molecule linked to 3 fatty acids) and we will look at the other fatty acids in more detail in Chapter 7.
Everything comes down to hormones
To make it simple, hormones are messengers that communicate information throughout the body and interact with cells. Hormones regulate feelings of hunger, ageing of cells, stores of fat, thought…
Insulin regulates the level of blood sugar, the level of fat and ageing. Most cells function using glucose, so blood must contain a consistent level to supply the cells on time. Insulin acts like a key to the cells, so that they can allow the glucose they need to enter. But eating too many carbohydrates causes the body to react by secreting more insulin (produced by the beta cells of the pancreas). This make the cells insensitive to the insulin, disrupting smooth operations. (Imagine you attend a very loud concert: when you leave, you will find that you are less sensitive to quiet sounds). Insulin is also important for storing fatty acids and amino acids (protein) and it plays a role in the ageing of cells.
Glucagon helps to standardise the level of glucose between meals by releasing from the liver. It promotes the use of fat as energy (lipolysis). Glucagon secretion is stimulated by a drop in the level of blood sugar, an increasing level of amino acids and the hormone cholecystokinine (CCK). In contrast, its secretion is inhibited if there is a high level of insulin in the blood, fatty acids or ketones.
Insulin and glucagon are complementary in their management of energy levels. The insulin facilitates the passage of nutrients to the cells and glucagon releases the stored nutrients to use them as energy.
Leptin regulates appetite and the metabolism. It interacts with the receptors in the brain which control the demand and use of energy. It is produced by fatty cells (to indicate the amount of stored fat) and the cells of the stomach wall (to indicate that the body does not need to eat any more after a meal). Disruption in the production of leptin implies a loss of control over appetite and illnesses ranging from cancer to premature ageing or neurological degeneration.
Ghrelin is a hormone that stimulates hunger and increases fat storage. It is produced by the cells of the stomach wall and by the epsilon cells of the pancreas. It is also produced in the arcuate nucleus of the hypothalamus medium, where it stimulates the secretion of the growth hormone. Insufficient sleep and stress cause high levels of ghrelin.
Adiponectin is another hormone of satiety secreted by adipose tissue: its quantity in the blood is inversely proportional to the rate of fat mass. Its effect is to reduce gluconeogenesis (conversion of proteins into glucose) and it protects the arteries from the effects of oxidation.
Peptide YY is another satiety hormone. It improves the sensitivity of the nervous system to leptin. Proteins and lipids release large amounts of it, unlike carbohydrates.
Cortisol raises the sugar levels in the blood. This hormone is secreted in particular during times of stress, lack of sleep, extended physical effort, taking caffeine and some contraceptives. Despite its anti-inflammatory effect, too much cortisol triggers gluconeogenesis, which decreases sensitivity to insulin. It also decreases the process of bone creation/repair and leads to a loss of collagen in the skin (loss of elasticity).
IGF-1 (Insulin-like Growth Factor-1) is another essential hormone that you should not have too much of. It helps us recover after physical effort. Low levels help to repair cells and withstand stress. Physical activity and stress affect levels of IGF-1. High levels stimulate cell growth and ageing.
Chapter 4: Digestion
To understand problems such as type 2 diabetes, different kinds of cancer, Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s disease, cardiovascular disease, infertility and osteoporosis, we first need to understand how the body reacts to different means of supplying nutrients that affect the way in which hormonal signals are perceived. These ways are:
- Normal feeding
In normal feeding mode
Proteins are broken down into amino acids during digestion. The liver can absorb amino acids for its own use, convert them into other amino acids or convert them into glucose through gluconeogenesis if there is not enough of it. If the liver does not use them, the amino acids circulate in the blood to create new cells, repair damaged cells (skin, hair, muscles) or manufacture hormones.
The carbohydrates are broken down into glucose. Under the effect of insulin, the liver stores glucose in the form of glycogen. The other organs use the remaining glucose (stored in the muscles in the form of glycogen). As for fructose, only the liver can convert it to glycogen. Everything is fine if your consumption of fructose and sugar in general is low. Insulin activates GLUT4 molecules, one of the many molecules that transport glucose. Under these normal conditions, they facilitate the absorption of glucose by the liver.
When it lacks all nutrients, the body will prioritise the level of blood sugar and use the amino acids (muscle) to manufacture glucose. Some parts of the brain and the red blood cells can only operate with glucose. The body stores glucose for vital functions while the other organs adapt by using the lipids as fuel, in particular with the production of ketones.
During fasting periods (very low intake of carbohydrates), the body begins to use the stored fat as its main source of energy. This mechanism (ketosis, not to be confused with ketoacidosis, a potentially fatal condition) produces ketones, particles of fat that are soluble in water. The human body needs a period from a few days to a few weeks to adapt its metabolism and use ketones as fuel. Organs such as the heart, the kidneys and the intestines work better with the ketones than with glucose. Changing to ketosis mode resolves 2 important problems:
- It economises the small reserves of glucose. While the liver has 1 to 2 days of reserves in glycogen, even the slimmest of people have several months of stores of fat.
- Ketosis stops gluconeogenesis. In the case of extended starvation, the muscles are preserved. What’s more, ketosis allows you to transform the glycerol that comes from the fat used into glucose (for critical organs).
The biochemical processes that we have seen show that the body requires no essential carbohydrates. When it does need carbohydrates, it converts fat or protein into glucose, or uses the fat as energy directly. Now let’s see what happens when the body gets too much glucose.
When the stores of glycogen in the liver are full, the excess carbohydrates convert to saturated fat: palmitic acid (PA). The PA binds with a glycerol molecule, amino acids and cholesterol to form a molecule called very low density lipoprotein or VLDL. This molecule produced by the liver circulates in the blood to be used as energy or stored under the skin.
VLDL interacts in particular with the brain and decreases the sensitivity of the hypothalamus (that regulates energy) to leptin (a satiety hormone). The feeling of hunger is short-circuited even though the blood already has a high level of glucose. We continue to eat even when it is not necessary. All of this causes excess carbohydrates.
The vicious circle snaps into place. We eat more (carbohydrates) because our sense of satiety is disrupted. This influx of carbohydrates releases more insulin. The liver becomes more and more insensitive to insulin and the level of blood sugar increases. Muscle sensitivity to insulin is lost even though they are already loaded with glycogen. The production of GLUT4 (that carries glucose) is reduced, which hampers the absorption of glucose even more.
Once the whole body becomes insensitive to insulin, glucose converts into fatty acids (palmitic acid) and VLDL so fast that they accumulate in the liver instead of going into blood circulation.
This is the beginning of non-alcoholic steatohepatitis (a form of hepatitis). In spite of the omnipresence of sugar, the level in the blood appears to be low. Cortisol gets involved using glucogenesis to raise the rate of sugar by cannibalising muscle (with stores are already full of glycogen).
In addition to this, the sugars react with the proteins in the body to form molecules which oxidise. These are advanced glycation end-products (AGEs). These end-products damage proteins, enzymes, DNA and hormonal receptors on the surface of the cells and accelerate ageing. Under normal circumstances, the body produces enzymes to stop glycation. Once it goes over a certain level this is no longer sufficient.
These hormonal disruptions have the following consequences:
- Increase in the risk of cancer
- Accelerated ageing
- Neurodegenerative diseases such as Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s
- Type 2 diabetes (characterised by insensitivity to insulin and elevated levels of blood sugar)
The worst that can happen is irreparable destruction of the beta cells of the pancreas (that produces insulin), leading to type 1 diabetes.
Even though glucose is a critical source of energy for some organs, it can be toxic when there is too much of it.
Chapter 5: Resistance is futile
The body is a complex machine. What would happen if the information that determines how long you are going to live, whether you are fertile or not, if you are developing cancer, was not received because of the “background noise”?
Imagine you walk into a room that smells strongly of perfume. After 15 minutes, the scent is less strong, and after an hour you cannot even smell it any more. Your nose is desensitised because of the extended contact with too much perfume. The same principle works with insulin or leptin. The facts are a little more complicated. For example, cortisol decreases sensitivity to insulin, but while physical exercise increases it, too much physical activity leads to cortisol secretion, thereby reducing the sensitivity to insulin.
Controlling the sensitivity of hormones such as insulin or leptin allows you to burn fat and improve athletic performance. It also helps to avoid cancer, prevent neurodegenerative diseases and cardiovascular diseases, slow down the ageing process and inflammation.
When we talk about cholesterol, we are talking about a mixture of amino acids, triglycerides (fatty acids and glycerol) and of the “real” cholesterol molecule. We already saw VLDL (produced by the liver because of excess glucose). We can have Low Density Lipoprotein (or LDL) and High Density Lipoprotein (HDL). VLDL and LDL transport triglycerides and cholesterol from the liver to the rest of the body to be used as energy and to repair cells. HDL has the opposite role, bringing lipids and cholesterol from the other organs to the liver.
The quantity of LDL in the blood shows a correlation with the probability of developing cardiovascular disease, but this correlation is far from perfect. Some people with low levels develop advanced arteriosclerosis (fat deposits and blood cells narrowing the blood channels), while other people with high levels have no cardiovascular disease.
What we do know is that there are several varieties of LDL, some of which are problematic. LDL from triglycerides performs its job as a carrier of cholesterol. LDL from VLDL (which come from too many carbohydrates) tends to attach to the epithelial cells of the arteries. The immune system attacks what it considers to be an intruder and the process damages the arterial walls.
The underlying process of heart attacks involves 2 characteristics:
- Damage to the endothelium (the wall inside veins and arteries)
- Increase in potential purpura (the probability of forming a blood clot)
Endothelium helps control blood pressure and transport nutrients (fatty acids, amino acids, glucose). Inflammation of the endothelium causes lesions, leading to a reduction in the size of the blood vessel. It reduces the flow of blood to vital organs such as the brain and the heart. With this reduction in calibre, blood clots are more likely. The inflammation is compounded by high levels of insulin, a poor ratio of fatty acids, allergies, stress and a lack of sleep.
High blood pressure
Blood pressure increases in response to a high rate of insulin. When the insulin increases, the body secretes aldosterone, causing the kidneys to retain salt. The salt retains water and therefore increases blood pressure. This forces the vessels to thicken to withstand the pressure, reducing their interior volume. At this stage, all it would take is a little calcium circulating in the blood to make things worse. Luckily, it is firmly attached to the bones.
The link between osteoporosis and cardiovascular disease (CVD)
Most people with CVD also have a certain degree of osteoporosis. When the insulin levels are high, the stress hormone, cortisol, is secreted. The combination of cortisol and insulin decalcifies bones. Part of the calcium eliminates and another part is found in the plates obstructing the arteries. Unfortunately, the medical solution to CVD is a diet low in fat and rich in carbohydrates (which increases the level of insulin). The solution to osteoporosis is to take calcium supplements (part of which will block the arteries).
The Paleo diet is low in carbohydrates and naturally rich in magnesium. This relaxes the arteries, lowers blood pressure and contributes as much as the calcium to building bones.
Under normal circumstances, body tissue grows, repairs and dies. Although the mechanism of cancer differs according to its type, here are two common points:
- Damage to the DNA DNA is the plan that contains the instructions for building all the cells in our body. And DNA is located in each cell. Each time that a cell replicates, the DNA is replicated too. The greater the number of replications, the higher the likelihood that a copying error will occur and the DNA will be modified.
- Loss of control of development. The cells have a mechanism that prevents uncontrolled development of cells and causes their death (apoptosis). This mechanism can become inoperative.
Many cancers, such as breast, colon and prostate cancer and different types of brain cancer share a common mechanism due to hyperinsulinism. The insulin:
- causes the development of cells.
- increases the development power of IGF-1
- increases the levels of androgens such as testosterone and oestrogen by reducing a control protein called Sex Hormone-Binding Globulin (SHBG)
The main effect is an increase in the speed at which cells develop, which as we have seen, increases the probability of an error copying the DNA. The control mechanisms regulate these anomalies, until the abnormally high levels of insulin send them awry. All the ingredients are in place for cancer to develop.
The development of cancer is not systematic. Other problems can develop instead:
- Benign prostatic hyperplasia (BPH, more commonly known as prostatic adenoma)
- Stein-Leventhal syndrome (polycystic ovaries or PCOS)
- Fibromyome of the uterus
- Fibrocystic breast
- Alopaecia (baldness)
You now know that too much insulin can cause inflammation, a precursor to diseases. Stabilising it drastically reduces the risk of disease. You will now go on to discover:
- how some diets damage the digestive process
- how a poor ratio of fatty acids causes inflammation
- and, how cortisol causes severe damage
Chapter 6: Cereals
The chapter begins with the presentation of 3 profiles of people in poor health:
- A 5-year old child, thin, with abdominal pain,
- a woman of 60 with thyroid, osteoporosis, vesicle, depression and blood pressure problems,
- a man of 40, obese with type 2 diabetes.
A simple change in diet and these profiles were able to cure their problems. The problems are different, but their cause is the same. This thing is common to virtually any person with a modern diet. The problem is something that medicine recently discovered to be dangerous despite its pre-eminent role in the food chain. This is gluten. Gluten is a protein found in wheat, rye, oats and barley. Other cereals such as maize and rice also contain proteins, but pose fewer problems.
Anatomy of a grain
Bran is the outer part that covers a whole grain cereal. It contains vitamins, minerals, proteins and antinutrients designed to prevent predation of the cereal (being eaten).
This consists mainly of carbohydrates (polysaccharides) with a little protein. It is the energy required for the seed to grow. For example, a grain of white rice (without the sprout and the envelope).
Germ or sprout (3%)
This is the reproductive part. When the cereal is blown on the wind, and when the conditions are right, the germ begins its process of growth using the endosperm. Cereals, like all other living beings, have to survive long enough to have time to reproduce. The problem is that the reproductive part is what we eat.
Cereals also contain proteins: we have already mentioned the most famous one – gluten. There is also a variety of proteins called lectins. Wheat germ agglutinin is one of the most harmful and most studied [31, 32, 33, 34].
Lectins are not broken down during the normal process of digestion (because they contain a lot of amino acid proline: prolamins). Cereals also contain protease inhibitors (dairy products also contain these). This further hampers the digestion of proteins. The lectins bind to intestinal receptors and succeed in entering the system intact. The intestines are a place filled with viruses and bacteria and the immune defences are particularly active. The lectins are detected as intruders and antibodies manufactured.
To understand auto-immune problems, it is vital to understand how the defences recognise an intruder. In the human body, exchanges between cells are by contact, which depends on the shape of the molecules (a bit like a key fitting into a lock).
The antibodies are created to recognise a certain shape of molecule.
The problem is that the lectins are very similar to other proteins already present in the body, in particular in the pancreas. The antibodies created then consider our own cells to be intruders and attack them (autoimmune disease). The cells of the pancreas are damaged or destroyed, and can no longer produce insulin: this is type 1 diabetes. In other cases, the myelin sheath (which protects the nerve fibres) is targeted, leading to myelitis (multiple sclerosis).
Undigested proteins are larger particles and they damage the intestinal wall. This offers other bodies that are not completely digested the possibility to penetrate the system, to be detected as intruders, etc. This is how we develop allergies to harmless products such as meat, fruit…
This is an auto immune disease caused by lectins. Studies have proven that other autoimmune diseases such as lupus, rheumatoid arthritis, Sjögren’s syndrome and paralysis appear more frequently in patients with celiac disease.
Antinutrients such as phytic acid are important for seeds and cereals, because they bind to minerals such as magnesium, zinc, iron, calcium and copper. This is crucial for the development of the cereal. The problem is that when you eat cereals: phytic acid binds with the minerals that you are supposed to absorb, and they cannot be absorbed. Phytic acid is so “efficient” at binding with minerals that chemists use it to analyse the mineral content of their samples.
Because of anti-nutrients and lectins, our Neolithic ancestor farmers lost an average of 15 cm compared to their Paleolithic predecessors. If you are concerned by osteoporosis, anaemia (iron deficiency), fatigue or heart problems (magnesium deficiency), think twice before eating cereal (whole grain or not).
The nutritional “benefits” of cereals damage the intestines and open the door to auto immune diseases (such as thyroiditis of Hashimoto) and cancer (non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma, cancer of the pancreas).
Dairy products and pulses
Pulse vegetables (peas, beans, lentils) and dairy products are two classes of foods that pose similar problems to cereals: proteins that inflame the intestines, anti-nutrients and protease inhibitors. Rheumatologists identified the involvement of bean sprouts in autoimmune diseases long ago [4, 5].
OK ! But I’m not sick. You have been eating these products your entire life and you have become insensitive to their effects. How long will it take for you to develop one of these diseases? Do you believe that this does not affect you? There is one simple way to find out. Avoid all of these diets for one month and make your body sensitive again. After one month, reintroduce these foods and feel the effects.
Chapter 7: Fats
Why is eating fat considered bad for your health? It seems simple – the more fat you eat, the more fat you store. And lipids have twice as many calories as proteins and carbohydrates.
However, you now know that carbohydrates release a lot of insulin and lead to fat storage and quickly to feelings of hunger. In contrast, protein and fatty acids reduce overall calorie intake by increasing satiety through the peptide YY, adiponectin, and other similar mechanisms that control appetite.
When we talk about fat, we immediately think of our love handles. We saw that fatty acids are important to provide energy and repair or manufacture cells and hormones. The brain is almost entirely made of fat, as is the nervous system and reproductive hormones. Fatty acids are essential There are 3 kinds:
Saturated fatty acids and their functions
Saturated fatty acids have the reputation of being one of the causes of cardiovascular disease [6, 7, 8]. No recent research proves that they are responsible for any disease.
Lauric acid exists in coconut, palm oil and breast milk. It has proven antiviral properties against varicella and cytomegalovirus. It also has properties that heal inflammation of the intestines (improving intestinal impermeability and auto-immune problems) [9, 10, 13]. And, it increases LDL and therefore cholesterol. We saw before that this is of no consequence if the inflammation and insulin levels are low.
Scientists have studied several populations such as the Kitavans of Papua New Guinea: despite their high consumption of lauric acid and their high level of cholesterol, cases of CVD are rare .
Palmitic acid exists in palm oil and animal sources such as beef, eggs, milk, poultry and seafood. Like lauric acid, it has long been implicated in CVD because it raises LDL. Recent studies show its involvement in the process of memory (access to old memories, building new ones) . As a reminder, when the stores of the liver are full, excess carbohydrates turn into PA. This creates VLDL, which affects leptin sensitivity (control of satiety).
Stearic acid exists in meat, eggs and chocolate. It does not affect the LDL levels but increases HDL.
Mono-unsaturated fatty acids
There are lots of these. Oleic acid exists mainly in plants such as olives, nuts and avocados. This fatty acid improves sensitivity to insulin, improves the response of glucagon and decreases cholesterol. Most plants that contain it also have antioxidants that attach to the membrane of cells to prevent ageing and degenerative diseases. The Paleo diet prefers these kinds of fatty acids.
Polyunsaturated fatty acids
There are 2 types:
Omega 3 (n-3)
Alpha-linolenic acid (ALA), found in fish, flax seeds and rapeseed. It reduces the risk of cardiovascular disease and has beneficial effects on the immune system.
Eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA), found in fish (and breast milk). It slows the aggregation of platelets (which thicken the blood) and angiogenesis (the process of growth of new blood vessels involved in malignant tumours and the development of metastases).
Docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) is only found in animal sources (red meat, poultry, eggs). It is critical for foetal development of the brain and the nervous system, and for normal functioning throughout life.
The body has the capacity to transform ALA into EPA and DHA, but this process does not provide sufficient quantities. That is why it is essential to include quality meat [14, 15] in our diet.
Omega 6 (n-6)
Linoleic acid (LA), found in corn, sunflowers and soybeans. It can block the anti-inflammatory effect of EPA and DHA.
Gamma-linolenic acid (GLA), found in borage, primrose or hemp. The body can convert LA into GLA, but this process weakens in the case of hyperinsulinism or viral infection. Although Omega 6 have a tendency to be pro-inflammatory, the GLA can act as an anti-inflammatory by blocking the production of prostaglandins.
Breast milk is the only product that contains dihomo-gamma-linolenic acid. The body produces it from linoleic acid and gamma-linolenic acid.
Omega 6 are essential for the body to function properly. They contribute to the manufacturing of cells and immunity. Our physiology is designed for a ratio n-3/n-6 somewhere between 1/1 and 1/2. Too much of one of the 2 families of fatty acids has adverse effects. The modern diet includes too much omega 6. The ratio is on average 1/10, which encourages inflammation and therefore health problems.
Trans fatty acids
Trans fatty acids occur when polyunsaturated fatty acids in corn oil, soya or other cereals are exposed to heat, hydrogen and catalysis. The main industrial consideration is that the resulting molecule looks and acts like a saturated fatty acid. It is more stable (it takes longer to go rancid, it is solid or virtually solid at ambient temperature). Although of practical interest, trans fatty acids destroy the workings of the liver and sensitivity to insulin.
The amount of fatty acids
The amount has little impact on health and illnesses. Populations with a fat intake of 10 per cent have rates of CVD that are similar to those with intake of 50%. The proportion of fatty acids in the diet of the current populations of hunter-gatherers varies between 15% and 40% (some groups consume a lot of coconut, rich in lauric acid) .
Types of fatty acids
There is a strong correlation between the types of fatty acids and disease. Although saturated fatty acids are historically implicated as one of the causes of cancer and of CVD, recent analyses show that this is not the case. The key to the Paleo diet is low consumption of palmitic acid, which increases LFD. Other factors are also at play in CVD [6, 7, 8].
The omega3-omega6 ratio appears to be the most important factor in the development of cancer, diabetes, autoimmune diseases and neurodegenerative disorders.
Saturated fatty acids
The predominant saturated fatty acids in the diet are stearic acid and lauric acid. The animals that provide our meat eat mainly grains. Their fat is much richer in palmitic acid (favouring LDL) than in stearic acid. Prefer animals fed on grass to animals fed on cereals.
Omega-3 vs. Omega-6
The ratio is very important in terms of inflammation and therefore controlling diseases such as cancer, Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s, along with fertility. Omega-3 come under the category of anti-inflammatories and omega-6 are pro-inflammatory. It is not a question of having as much omega-3 as possible, but about balancing the intake to have a ratio between 1:1 and 1:2.
Our current diet has a ratio between 1:10 and 1:20 [16, 17, 18].
Fatty acids are the keys to controlling pro-inflammatory substances such as cytokines and eicosanoids (prostaglandins, thromboxanes, leukotrienes). These substances are the object of billions of dollars per year in pharmaceutical research, because they control the process of intercellular inflammation. The resulting pharmaceutical products regulate pain and inflammation.
Instead of filling yourself with drugs, you can naturally control inflammation with your n-3/n-6 ratio and your level of insulin, sleep and stress.
Chapter 8: Stress and cortisol
The stress of a Paleo environment is different to our modern stress in 2 ways:
Paleo stress is occasional, infrequent and short-lived, corresponding to immediate danger (predation, accident, enemy attack). Modern stress is constant and recurring.
The book “Why zebras don’t get ulcers” by Professor Robert M. Sapolsky observed that animals that live in the wild show no stress-related illnesses. This is in contrast to what we observe in animals in captivity or in humans. Conditions of life count for part of this, human nature for the other part. We tend to worry about the future and rehash the past.
Psycho-neuro-immunology (how thoughts affect the immune system and vice versa) has shown that our thoughts decide about our reality, for better or worse.
Let’s review some examples of sources of modern stress that occur throughout the day:
- sudden wake-up call with an alarm and insufficient sleep
- public transport (delays, confined space), traffic jams
- a job that you do not necessarily like, but it pays the bills
- a stressful job
- a lack of emotional links (family, friends)
- a lack of daily physical activity
- too much physical activity
You now know that insulin and glucagon are responsible for energy management in the body. Cortisol also plays a role in energy storage and in the following functions:
- Regulating the immune response. An inappropriate immune response can lead to autoimmune diseases.
- Regulating the quantity of sodium the body needs. More cortisol leads to more sodium and therefore to a higher blood volume which increases blood pressure. The heart, the blood vessels and kidneys need to work harder.
- Too much cortisol weakens connective tissue (of the skin, cells), weakening the cells and leading to the appearance of wrinkles.
- Releasing glucose through gluconeogenesis leads to resistance to insulin.
Cortisol is essential for life. It releases glucose and fatty acids from the liver. It is the energy we need to start the day on the right foot and it is normal for the level to be high in the morning. But a lack of cortisol or an overload can lead to serious health problems.
Occasional stress vs chronic stress
It is very important to differentiate between occasional stress and chronic stress. We are genetically programmed to manage occasional stress, because it represents a response to an immediate danger. When we are subject to recurring stress, cortisol occurs in large quantities, and the levels remain high throughout the day. A high level at the end of the day begins to disrupt sleep. Poor sleep or a lack of sleep increases the stress of the next day. A vicious circle begins.
The consequences of too much cortisol are a weakening of the immune defences, a high level of blood sugar, a decrease in sensitivity to insulin, long-term memory problems and a decline in sexual desire.
Just one night of insufficient sleep is enough to make us resistant to insulin. Chronic lack of sleep is equivalent to adopting a carbohydrate rich diet [19, 20, 21]. We put on weight, accelerating the ageing of cells (skin, organs) through glycation. Too much cortisol destabilises the collagen protein that gives the skin its elasticity and its youthful appearance.
There is no point in eating well and exercising if you sleep poorly and experience stress.
To improve the quality of your sleep, one simple thing is to remove any source of light (outside light, alarm clock, pilot light on the TV…). This will prevent disruption in the production of melatonin (the sleep hormone).
Chapter 9: Ancestral sport
There are very few living species that can afford not to spend a significant amount of energy on finding food, avoiding danger and protecting themselves from the cold. We count among those species.
Although this offers a certain amount of comfort, the consequence is deteriorating health. In the USA, the Center for Disease Control has listed a sedentary lifestyle as the 3rd major factor that can lead to death after an inappropriate diet and smoking.
The flip side of technology and abundant diet is that the necessary physical activity that kept our ancestors robust and in good health is absent from our sedentary lives.
Our genes express themselves differently depending on how we live. We have already seen the effects of food and sleep. Let’s look at the effects of physical activity.
We can learn a lot from looking at a skeleton. Although the bones of the dead are hard and static, the bones of the living are alive and reflect the environment in which they develop. If an arm is under plaster, there is a decline in muscle volume after a few weeks of disuse. There is also a decrease in the bone density. A few weeks of normal activity fixes this physical weakness. The physical stress that the arm undergoes increases both muscle and bone density. The genes express it like this – the arm adapts to its environment.
The shape and thickness of the bones are very dependent on the quantity and type of activity that a person performs. They are characteristics of the environment in which a person lives.
The bones of Palaeolithic skeletons are similar to those of the greatest athletes.
A bone is not just solid because of its material, but also because of its shape and the way in which it grows. The skeletons of the first men show a level of activity and muscular development that even the most elite athletes might envy. The men who came after show the same degree of development up to about 40,000 years ago. At that time, several technological innovations in hunting allowed them to use less physical effort. Despite this, they were very strong in comparison to today’s standards.
The tests of the capacities of contemporary hunter-gatherers strengthen the findings of the study of the skeletons. Their performance equals that of athletes trained to the highest level of competition. The only difference is that they do not train; they live a Paleo life.
Whether the Kungs of sub-Saharan Africa or the Ache of Peru, their “ancient” lifestyle requires the equivalent of walking 25 to 30 km per day. They dedicate their days to hunting, fishing, gathering, collecting wood and water. Some days are very intense, while others are calmer, when they stay at the camp. Although the lack of medical technology causes death due to injuries or accidents, the oldest people have the same life expectancy as in Western countries. However, they do not suffer from muscle loss, weight gain and, as already noted, they are free from cancer and degenerative diseases.
Muscles and hormones
Why is muscle so important? Remember those products of glycation (from the reaction between the proteins and the glucose) that interact with cells? They accelerate ageing in particular. Muscles are an excellent store of glucose. However, you need to have enough physical activity to:
- build muscle
- keep muscle sensitive to insulin
Physical exercise allows you to intensify the use of GLUT4, the molecules that allow glucose to cross the cell membrane without the help of insulin. This mechanism uses less insulin, maintains optimal sensitivity and lowers the probability of contracting a disease related to insulinevels.
The growth hormone is critical for maintaining muscle mass, burning fat and even repairing DNA. Short bursts of intensive exercise dramatically improve its secretion, as does a diet low in carbohydrates, intermittent fasting and adequate sleep.
IGF-1 has an effect similar to insulin, but its main role is an anablic. It increases muscle mass and strength, and it is necessary for the heart at a different level.
Brain Derived Neurotrophic Factors (BDNF). Recent studies have shown that the brain is able to repair its cells under the action of BDNF. Physical exercise particularly stimulates BDNF production.
Interval training consists of carrying out a certain amount of intensive effort in a short space of time. This is in contrast to traditional cardio, which is about less intensive activity over a fixed, longer period.
Studies have compared a protocol of 20 seconds of intensive exercises with 10 seconds of rest repeated 8 times. Only 4 minutes of work compared to a 30-minute session at a moderate pace. The interval group lost more fat and developed more respiratory power and capacity while working on endurance for less time.
In contrast, the endurance exercises accelerate the process of muscle loss already engaged by normal ageing. A large volume of exercise depletes the body’s store of antioxidants [22, 23, 24, 25, 26, 27].
The author goes on to gives examples of interval training, both to build muscle and improve respiratory capacity.
Chapter 10: The Paleo Solution
Over the course of the previous chapters, you saw that the hormones are essential for your health. The hormonal profile decides if you will be in good health or sick, in full physical form or weak. The solution to your health problems therefore lies in controlling your hormones through food supply, sleep and physical activity. After more than 200 pages of scientific content, Robb Wolf now presents the Paleo solution. All of the scientific background is important to really become aware of the adverse effects of sugar and cereals, and the benefits of a diet rich in vegetables and meat.
The Paleo solution is nothing new. You already know that you need to eat a balanced diet, sleep 8 hours a night and exercise. Schematically, the same principles apply.
However, the Paleo solution offers nuance and details so that your body can work optimally.
In terms of food, the author reviews permitted foods and warns against certain Paleo produce that can cause allergies in some people (eggs, nuts, tomatoes, potatoes, aubergine, pepper). He recommends red meat, including beef, from animals fed on grass (and not grain) to ensure that the meat is richer in omega3 (and to improve the ratio of Omega3/Omega6) and good saturated fatty acids [28, 29, 30]. Beware of “organic” meat as the animals are fed with organic grain.
The share of protein is important, but not preponderant. Protein from animal sources (including seafood) provides the essential elements to build muscle, hormones and neurotransmitters. Animal sources are also rich in oligo-elements. Proteins provide glucagon secretion (the antagonist hormone to insulin); and therefore improve sensitivity to the latter. The author provides a 30-day programme of Paleo meals for the test phase.
For people with health problems who need to take blood tests, the author proposes simple solutions to establish a Paleo diet and follow biological improvements.
In terms of sport, the author presents appropriate exercises in strength and intensity to sustainably gain muscle; and strengthen the skeleton. He insists on the importance of measuring progress by taking your initial measurements (waist size, thigh circumference, etc); and weight, and to take photos. He recommends monitoring so that you can see the improvements and stay motivated.
In terms of sleep, the author offers tips for better sleep (do not go to bed just after watching television; have no source of light that can disturb sleep; do not set an alarm clock). He also offers specific advice for people who work at night.
Book critique of “The Paleo solution”
This is genuinely the book that changed my life. I now live according to its principles. Now, I lost fat, I have unprecedented energy; I no longer have digestive problems or tiredness (especially at the weekend when the tension drops after the working week). And, I no longer have oily skin, and I built myself a weekly strength training programme (3×30 minutes); that increased my strength and size.
I think that many people should try the experience. People who are “fine”, like I was fine before, will gain energy and general well-being.
Several movements based on the Paleo diet advocate a more significant return to nature, that can make their followers look odd. This is not the case with this book.
Robb Wolf communicates his enthusiasm for a quality of life that overcomes many health problems. All he asks is that you try it for yourself. Stop eating cereals for one month and give your body time to “re-educate”. Then judge for yourself.
- Very good description of the biochemical processes that govern the body
- Many scientific references
- Humorous style
- The experience reinforces the theory
- Quite heavy reading
- It could be better organised to make it more educational
My rating :
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