Christopher E. Pitt, a general practitioner in Australia, wrote an article in 2016 questioning the safety of the paleo diet and veracity of some of its more prominent advocates. Dr. Pitt reviewed most of the available scientific studies and concluded:
Overall, conclusions about the effectiveness of the Palaeolithic diet should be considered cautiously. Positive findings should be tempered by the lack of power of these studies, which were limited by their small numbers, heterogeneity and short duration. Nevertheless, there appears to be enough evidence to warrant further consideration of the Palaeolithic diet as a potential dietary option in the management of metabolic diseases. Larger independent trials with consistent methodology and longer duration are required to confirm the initial promise in these early studies. Claims that the Palaeolithic diet could treat or prevent conditions such as autism, dementia and mental illness are not supported by clinical research.
The Palaeolithic diet is currently over-hyped and under-researched. While the claims made by its celebrity proponents are not supported by current evidence, the Palaeolithic diet may be of benefit in the management of various metabolic derangements. Further research is warranted to test these early findings. GPs should caution patients on the Palaeolithic diet about adequate calcium intake, especially those at higher risk of osteoporosis.
I’ve read most of the clinical studies cited by Dr. Pitt and reviewed them here, except I don’t recall the Bligh study. [Bligh HF, Godsland IF, Frost G, et al. Plant-rich mixed meals based on Palaeolithic diet principles have a dramatic impact on incretin, peptide YY and satiety response, but show little effect on glucose and insulin homeostasis: An acute-effects randomised study. Br J Nutr 2015;113:574–84.]
I’m not going to address Dr. Pitt’s article point by point. I merely bring it to your attention for your consideration. I will say I think Dr. Pitt is being too deferential to entrenched and sclerotic “authoritative” panels (e.g., Australian dietary guidelines). I was the same until 2009. Regarding calcium, you’ll find my assessment via the search box above and to the right.
I certainly agree with Dr. Pitt that the paleo diet is no panacea, and that further research is warranted.
Steve Parker, M.D.