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Old 10-05-2008, 04:38 PM
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Default Paleolithic Diets - Two Clinical Studies

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Saturday, October 4, 2008

Paleolithic Diet Clinical Trials

If Dr. Ancel Keys (of diet-heart hypothesis fame) had been a proponent of "paleolithic nutrition", we would have numerous large intervention trials by now either confirming or denying its ability to prevent health problems. In this alternate reality, public health would probably be a lot better than it is today. Sadly, we have to settle for our current reality where the paleolithic diet has only been evaluated in two small trials, and medical research spends its (our) money repeatedly conducting failed attempts to link saturated fat to every ill you can think of. But let's at least take a look at what we have.



Both trials were conducted in Sweden. In the first one, lead by Dr. Per Wändell, 14 healthy participants (5 men, 9 women) completed a 3-week dietary intervention in which they were counseled to eat a "paleolithic diet". Calories were not restricted, only food categories were. Participants were told to eat as much as they wanted of fruit, vegetables, fish, lean meats, nuts, flax and canola oil, coffe and tea (without dairy). They were allowed restricted quantities of dried fruit, potatoes (2 medium/day) salted meat and fish, fat meat and honey. They were told not to eat dairy, grain products, canned food, sugar and salt.

After three weeks, the participants had:
  • Decreased their caloric intake from 2,478 to 1,584 kcal
  • Increased their percentage protein and fat, while decreasing carbohydrate
  • Decreased saturated fat, increased dietary cholesterol, decreased sodium intake, increased potassium
  • Lost 2.3 kg (5 lb)
  • Decreased waist circumference, blood pressure and PAI-1
Not bad for a 3-week intervention on healthy subjects. This study suffered from some serious problems, however. #1 is the lack of a control group as a means for comparison. Ouch. #2 is the small study size and resulting lack of statistical power. I consider this one encouraging but by no means conclusive.

The second study was conducted by the author of the Kitava study, Dr. Staffan Lindeberg. The study design was very interesting. He randomly assigned 29 men with ischemic heart disease, plus type II diabetes or glucose intolerance, to either a "Mediterranean diet" or a "paleolithic diet". Neither diet was calorie-restricted. Here's the beauty of the study design: the Mediterranean diet was the control for the paleo diet. The reason that's so great is it completely eliminates the placebo effect. Both groups were told they were being assigned to a healthy diet to try to improve their health. Each group was educated on the health benefits of their diet but not the other one. It would have been nice to see a regular non-intervention control group as well, but this design was adequate to see some differences.

Participants eating the Mediterranean diet were counseled to focus on whole grains, low-fat dairy, potatoes, legumes, vegetables, fruit, fatty fish and vegetable oils rich in monounsaturated fats and alpha-linolenic acid (omega-3). I'm going to go on a little tangent here. This is truly a bizarre concept of what people eat in the Mediterranean region. It's a fantasy invented in the US. My father is French and I spent many summers with my family in southern France. They ate white bread, full-fat dairy at every meal, legumes only if they were smothered in fatty pork, sausages and lamb chops. In fact, full-fat dairy wasn't fat enough sometimes. Many of the yogurts and cheeses we ate were made from milk with extra cream added. Want to get a lecture from Grandmere? Try cutting the fat off your pork chop!

The paleolithic group was counseled to eat lean meat, fish, fruit, leafy and cruciferous vegetables, root vegetables (including moderate amounts of potatoes), eggs and nuts. They were told to avoid dairy, grain products, processed food, sugar and beer.

Both groups were bordering on obese at the beginning of the study. All participants had cardiovascular disease and moderate to severe glucose intolerance (i.e. type II diabetes). After 12 weeks, both groups improved on several parameters. That includes fat mass and waist circumference. But the paleolithic diet trumped the Mediterranean diet in many ways:
  • Greater fat loss in the the midsection and a trend toward greater weight loss
  • Greater voluntary reduction in caloric intake (total intake paleo= 1,344 kcal; Med= 1,795)
  • A remarkable improvement in glucose tolerance that did not occur significantly in the Mediterranean group
  • A decrease in fasting glucose
  • An increase in insulin sensitivity (HOMA-IR)
Overall, the paleolithic diet came out looking very good. But I haven't even gotten to the best part yet. At the beginning of the trial, 12 out of the 14 people in the paleo group had elevated fasting glucose. At the end, every single one had normal fasting glucose. In the Mediterranean group, 13 out of 15 began with elevated glucose and 8 out of 15 ended with it. This clearly shows that a paleolithic diet is an excellent way to restore glucose control to a person who still has beta cells in their pancreas.
http://wholehealthsource.blogspot.co...al-trials.html
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Old 10-06-2008, 09:19 PM
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If you're at all interested in this sort of research and commentary, please consider visiting Stephan's excellent blog. I think it's a winner.

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Monday, October 6, 2008

Paleolithic Diet Clinical Trials Part II

There were a number of remarkable changes in both trials. I'll focus mostly on Dr. Lindeberg's trial because it was longer and better designed. The first thing I noticed is that caloric intake dropped dramatically in both trials, -36% in the first trial and a large but undetermined amount in Dr Lindeberg's. The Mediterranean diet group ended up eating 1,795 calories per day, while the paleolithic dieters ate 1,344. In both studies, participants were allowed to eat as much as they wanted, so those reductions were purely voluntary.

This again agrees with the theory that certain grains (wheat) promote hyperphagia, or excessive eating. It's the same thing you see in low-carbohydrate diet trials, such as
this one, which also reduce grain intake. The participants in Lindeberg's study were borderline obese. When you're overweight and your body resets its fat mass set-point due to an improved diet, fatty acids come pouring out of fat tissue and you don't need as many calories to feel satisfied. Your diet is supplemented by generous quantities of lard. Your brain decreases your calorie intake until you approach your new set-point.

That's what I believe happened here. The paleolithic group supplemented their diet with 3.9 kg of rump fat over the course of 12 weeks, coming out to 30,000 additional calories, or 357 calories a day. Not quite so spartan when you think about it like that.

The most remarkable thing about Lindeberg's trial was the fact that
the 14 people in the paleolithic group, 2 of which had moderately elevated fasting blood glucose and 10 of which had diabetic fasting glucose, all ended up with normal fasting glucose after 12 weeks. That is truly amazing. The mediterranean diet worked also, but only in half as many participants.

If you look at their glucose tolerance by an oral glocose tolerance test (OGTT), the paleolithic diet group improved dramatically. Their rise in blood sugar after the OGTT (fasting BG subtracted out) was 76% less at 2 hours. If you look at the graph, they were basically back to fasting glucose levels at 2 hours, whereas before the trial they had only dropped slightly from the peak at that timepoint. The mediterranean diet group saw no significant improvement in fasting blood glucose or the OGTT. Lindeberg is pretty modest about this finding, but he essentially cured type II diabetes and glucose intolerance in everyone in the paleolithic group.

Fasting insulin, the insulin response to the OGTT and insulin sensitivity improved in the paleolithic diet whereas only insulin sensitivity improved significantly in the Mediterranean diet.
Fasting insulin didn't decrease as much as I would have thought, only 16% in the paleolithic group.

Another interesting thing is that the paleolithic group lost more belly fat than the Mediterranean group, as judged by waist circumference. This is the
most dangerous type of fat, which is associated with, and contributes to, insulin resistance and the metabolic syndrome. Guess what food belly fat was associated with when they analyzed the data? The strongest association was with grain consumption (probably mostly wheat), and the association remained even after adjusting for carbohydrate intake. In other words, the carbohydrate content of grains does not explain their association with belly fat because "paleo carbs" didn't associate with it. The effect of the paleolithic diet on glucose tolerance was also not related to carbohydrate intake.

So in summary, the "Mediterranean diet" may be healthier than a typical Swedish diet, while a diet loosely modeled after a paleolithic diet kicks both of their butts around the block. My opinion is that it's probably due to eliminating wheat, substantially reducing refined vegetable oils and dumping the processed junk in favor of real, whole foods.
Here's zinger from the end of the paper that sums it up nicely (emphasis mine):
The larger improvement of glucose tolerance in the Paleolithic group was independent of energy intake and macronutrient composition, which suggests that avoiding Western foods is more important than counting calories, fat, carbohydrate or protein. The study adds to the notion that healthy diets based on whole-grain cereals and low-fat dairy products are only the second best choice in the prevention and treatment of type 2 diabetes.

http://wholehealthsource.blogspot.co...ials-part.html

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