Alex Hutchinson on the Paleo Lifestyle

Fleas from rats spread Yersinia pestis to humans

Alex Hutchinson has a recent article in Canada’s The Globe and Mail on the potential health benefits of the paleo lifestyle.  His conclusion:

So will going paleo really pay off with better health? As a big-picture guide to how to organize your life, definitely. But don’t get carried away with trying to recreate the exact details of a long-lost diet. Humans have changed and diversified even over the past few thousand years, so the only way to know what works best for your genes is to experiment. Go wild.

The article mentions the “increasing pace of human evolution,” an idea I’m still not convinced is valid.  Sure, a large population of critters should produce more genetic variation and mutation.  But it could take longer for a successful variation to spread through that population, compared to a smaller population.  It depends on selection pressure, to some extent.  The Black Plague in 14th century Europe changed that population quicker than any single genetic mutation I know of.  It wiped out 40% of the population.  Were those who survived genetically different from those who died?

I have much respect for Alex’s thoughts on exercise.  He usually puts more research and thought into his writing.  Check out his Sweat Science blog.

Steve Parker, M.D.

5 responses to “Alex Hutchinson on the Paleo Lifestyle

  1. Dr Parker, there is always a great deal of speculation when it comes to discussing how evolution actually works and how it doesn’t. But you are talking about two different things. There is more genetic information mixing, and medicine is keeping people alive who wouldn’t have bred in the past. The Black Plague was a bottle neck, which is a different way genes are chosen and deleted from the population. There was significant social and political change which occurred as a result of the Black Plague. Did our genes change? Who knows? Some unregulated gene expression? It become poetry at this point, but very interesting poetry. I wouldn’t discount ant possibilty at any point myself–as the speculation on the science makes it fun! Great blog!

    • Hi, Dr. O.
      Regarding speculation….
      I read a Paleolithic lifestyle article somewhere recently that claimed Paleo humans were highly promiscuous. Like it was a fact. I see no way we could know that at this point. You can’t necessarily extrapolate, for example, from modern hunter-gatherers, or from Bonobo monkeys.

  2. There is a crucial difference between fact & opinion.

    “Humans have changed and diversified even over the past few thousand years” in regard to human metabolism is an opinion.

    With that said, I agree with the author’s recommendation – “the only way to know what works best for your genes is to experiment”

    That’s what I do with all my clients. I recommend my version of Paleo that I think will suit their lifestyle best and ask them to treat it like a science experiment.

    We add foods, we remove foods & we look at how their body responds

    And every one of them has found that not only do they feel & look better on Paleo, their blood tests agree.

  3. Hi Steve – yep…the book is still there…and it’s still free