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Dear Dr. Cordain,
Many thanks for your kind and encouraging words about the “Paleo” diet concept, and I am happy to hear how “Paleo” has positively impacted your life. The evolutionary basis for diet/health/and well being is a powerful conceptual template that will not go away, as we better understand how natural selection shaped our genome, including our current day nutritional requirements in regards to health and wellness.
As you have correctly identified, many professional and academic disciplines (involved with diet, health and well being) have sorely failed their constituency by not recognizing the most powerful idea in all of biology – evolution via natural selection. This principle guides all of biology, including its applied human sciences – medicine, nutrition, pharmacology, physical therapy, etc. Those applied biological disciplines and people who fail to understand the far reaching magnitude and importance of this compelling idea will fall by the wayside, ala Bob Dylan’s message in “The Times They are a Changing”.
I believe that a dedicated grass roots movement from professionals and academics like yourself and others of your generation will eventually replace the dogma and poor science that now influences institutional and governmental recommendations regarding diet and health. In a decade or two, your generation will inherit the positions of institutional influence that determine national policy regarding diet and health. Hopefully, the knowledge and best science you have gleaned, not necessarily from your professional education, but from your ability to think critically will be reflected in future nutritional guidelines for the world. Good luck and stay the course, your generation will inherit the world. New information and good science will always replace incorrect information and bad science.
Loren Cordain, Ph.D., Professor
As we develop our new member forum, we need your input… Please let us know what questions and answers you can provide our online community?
As we develop our new member forum, we need your input… Please let us know what questions and answers you can provide our online community?
As we develop our new member forum, we need your input… Please let us know what questions and answers you can provide our online community?
Thank you for your work and contribution to the Perfect Human Diet video. I have spent years researching nutrition and this video validated many of my findings and beliefs. I heard Dr. Sebring state that we should consume animals that have been fed a diet as close as possible to their natural diet, but then he went to a mainstream grocery to show what foods were acceptable. I realize that the video was produced to reach a mainstream audience, so I would like some clarity or your opinion on two issues. Does the industrial feeding of animals change the fat composition and make it unhealthy for us? That question stems from grass-fed advocates that claim all meat in mainstream grocery stores is unhealthy. And, do we need to soak or cook raw nuts to decrease the enzyme inhibitors before consuming them? Any info or references to info would be greatly appreciated.
Dr. Cordain’s Response:
Many thanks for your kind words. CJ Hunt did a wonderful job in producing “The Perfect Human Diet”. Let me answer your questions:
1. Does the industrial feeding of animals change the fat composition and make it unhealthy for us? That question stems from grass-fed advocates that claim all meat in mainstream grocery stores is unhealthy.
Yes, animals confined to commercial feed lots are fed grains (corn mainly) almost exclusively to cause rapid weight gain. Unfortunately this process yields nutritionally inferior meat with an unhealthy fat composition. My scientific group has analyzed and compared the fat and fatty acid composition of wild game meat and contrasted it to grass produced meats and feed lot (grain produced) meats. You can visit my website (http://thepaleodiet.com/published-research-about-the-paleo-diet/) and download these two papers as free PDF files which report our results:
Cordain L, Eaton SB, Brand Miller J, Mann N, Hill K. The paradoxical nature of hunter-gatherer diets: Meat based, yet non-atherogenic. Eur J Clin Nutr 2002;56 (suppl 1):S42-S52
Cordain L, Watkins BA, Florant GL, Kehler M, Rogers L, Li Y. Fatty acid analysis of wild ruminant tissues: Evolutionary implications for reducing diet-related chronic disease. Eur J Clin Nutr, 2002;56:181-191.
I have also written a more extensive paper (Nutritional Differences between Grass- and Grain-Fed Beef: Health Implications) contrasting the nutritional qualities of grass versus grain produced meats, and this article is available at my website (http://thepaleodiet.com/papers/) for a nominal fee.
2. And, do we need to soak or cook raw nuts to decrease the enzyme inhibitors before consuming them? Any info or references to info would be greatly appreciated.
Compared to cereal grains and legumes, tree nuts have been poorly studied in regard to enzyme inhibitors and other antinutrients. Consequently few or no scientific studies have examined either the content or physiological effect of tree nut antinutrients in either animals or humans. Tree nuts are one of the more common food allergens, which is suggestive that contain a variety of compounds with the capacity to interact with the immune system. Most people experience no health problems with nut consumption, and many studies show nuts to produce many therapeutic effects. Peanuts are actually not nuts but legumes and should be avoided for a number of reasons that I have written about in my latest book, The Paleo Answer. Below are a few references about compounds found in nuts that may influence health and well being.
Bolling BW, Chen CY, McKay DL, Blumberg JB. Tree nut phytochemicals: composition, antioxidant capacity, bioactivity, impact factors. A systematic review of almonds, Brazils, cashews, hazelnuts, macadamias, pecans, pine nuts, pistachios and walnuts. Nutr Res Rev. 2011 Dec;24(2):244-75.
Robbins KS, Shin EC, Shewfelt RL, Eitenmiller RR, Pegg RB. Update on the healthful lipid constituents of commercially important tree nuts. J Agric Food Chem. 2011 Nov 23;59(22):12083-92.
Loren Cordain, Ph.D., Professor
I have a question, I am not all the way through your book yet and the answers to my questions just might be in the next chapter… please forgive me if they are. Why no vinegar with the Paleo Diet? Does vinegar chemically have a bad reaction in the body? I work in a winery and we make our own vinegar with no salt, is it the salt or sodium that makes vinegar a no no??
The reason I started the Paleo Diet is because you answered all my questions about food and what the body does with it. After having twenty six uric acid kidney stones and watching my dad die of renal failure, I needed to change my life style. Not once did my doctor tell me to stop eating grains in fact he told me to drink more water and lay off protein. Why do doctor’s do that? They know the affects grains have on body; I don’t get it… Money I guess (if you heal them they don’t come back).
After a shocking diagnosis of Metabolic Syndrome Disease ( High blood pressure, high cholesterol, and a large tummy) Paleo is my last hope to remove this diagnosis from my health record (not going to be easy). Every woman on my mother’s side of the family no matter how big or small she is has high cholesterol, please tell me that with this diet I can break this family flaw. My doctor is not going to reverse the MSD diagnosis unless my cholesterol comes down. This is not something I was born with and will never fix is it?? I don’t trust local doctors anymore after my kidney stones.
I have been following The Paleo Diet now for about 3 weeks and I am training for a 5K run in May of this year, I have lost 20 pounds thus far in a 4 month period (was doing low calorie diet before Paleo).
Looking for Hope!
Dr. Cordain’s Response:
Good luck with the Paleo Diet. Vinegar is typically made with 5 % acetic acid and may contribute to the net acid load. If you are consuming plenty of fruits and veggies in your diet (about 30-35 % total calories), a little vinegar occasionally should be no problem. You should avoid fruits with a high fructose content (see my website fruit sugar table http://thepaleodiet.com/fruits-and-sugars/) until your blood lipids and cholesterol normalize. Most people with abnormal blood lipids typically see great improvements after about 2-4 weeks on the Paleo Diet.
Loren Cordain, Ph.D., Professor
I recently started the paleo diet for a few reasons: health, weight loss, and an answer as to whether or not I have celiac disease.
Question: Is it okay to take vitamins and supplements, especially if they contain gluten, some form of sugar, etc? I realize that my sleeping habits may improve, but right now I am taking easy to dissolve melatonin and ZMA to help me sleep. I have had leg cramps for 51 years and have found that C Q-10 has given me relief.
Thanks for your book and suggestions.
Dr. Cordain’s Response:
Good to hear from you and thanks for your interest in The Paleo Diet. Indeed, this lifetime way of eating will improve your overall health and help to promote weight loss. Elimination of glutien containing grains (wheat, rye, and barley) will cause an end to symptoms you may have experienced relating to celiac disease. Further a dairy free, grain free, legume free and processed food free diet will also improve overall GI tract function, and you may also experience freedom from a variety of health issues that formerly may have afflicted you. Definitely, read all labels in supplements and try to avoid any supplements containing wheat, soy, corn, yeast or any other grain, legume or food additive.
In regards to sleep, melatonin supplements may be helpful at first, but again make sure they are free of wheat, soy and other additives that are non-Paleo. A long term strategy to improve sleep will not require melatinin supplements, as you body will naturally manufacture sufficient melatonin to elicit peaceful, long and uninterrupted sleep. Key dietary factors to promote restful sleep are theses: 1) eliminate/reduce salt from your diet in all forms 2) eliminate/reduce alcohol from your diet– particularly 3 hrs before you sleep, 3) eliminate milk/dairy/cheese from your diet, and 4) eliminate proceessed foods (refined grains, refined sugars, refined oils or cobinations of these foods from your diet. Finally, hard exercise (aerobic, weight lifting or otherwise) a few hours before you retire will defnitely promote peaceful sleep.
Loren Cordain, Ph.D., Professor
Below is a recent success story we received from a Paleo Diet follower:
I have been following your Paleo diet for 6 weeks, and have been off of Asacol, the medication I take for ulcerative colitis for 4 weeks! It’s amazing that my colitis symptoms are gone.
I do a lot of long distance cycling, and am currently training for Ride The Rockies, and the MS150. I have a lot of questions about nutrition during and after training and on my long rides. I have your book Paleo Diet for Athletes, but have a lot of questions and could use some clarity.
Thank you so much. I’m a believer!
All the best
Today’s edition of Paleo Diet Q & A focuses on consumption of milk during pregnancy.
Q: Hi Dr. Cordain,
My sister is a few weeks pregnant and has been following the Paleo Diet for a couple months now. Her doctor just told her to consume lots of milk during her pregnancy. My assumption is that they want to make sure she’s getting plenty of vitamin D and calcium. I have her on a 2000 IU/day vitamin D supplement as well as a calcium/vitamin D supplement. What are your thoughts/suggestions?
A: Dear Drew,
There is good evidence that up until 9,000 years ago in the Middle East1 and 7,000 years ago in Northern Europe2, no human being on the planet consumed non-human milk or dairy products.
So, on an evolutionary time scale non-human milk is a relative newcomer to the human diet.
By using the evolutionary template, and knowing that milk is species-specific, we would expect this new habit to have unintended consequences, which go much beyond lactose intolerance, which is, actually very common, since only a minor percentage of the world’s population continues to produce lactase into adulthood3.
Indeed there are several lines of evidence raising concerns with milk and dairy intake, such as:
1) Milk and fermented milk (yoghurt, for instance), despite having a low Glycemic Index and Load, elicit a very high insulin response and this has been shown repeatedly in intervention studies4-9.
As you may be aware, constantly increasing insulinemia may down-regulate the insulin receptor and hence lead to insulin resistance10-12. Thisin turn is the primary metabolic defect underlying The Metabolic Syndrome13, and may be a driving force in Obesity14, 15. It should also be mentioned that a chronic state of Hyperinsulinemia may initiate a hormonal cascade that ultimately results in Cancer, Acne and Juvenile Myopia, among other diseases13 (as thoroughly documented in Dr.Cordain’s scientific paper Hyperinsulinemic diseases of civilization: more than just syndrome X which you can download here.
Indeed, a high bovine milk diet has been shown to cause insulin resistance in boys9. Moreover, dairy intake is strongly associated with a higher incidence of Acne16-18 and moderately associated with Prostate Cancer19-23.
2) Cow’s milk appears to be involved in certain Autoimmune diseases (AD):
- Various epidemiological studies have associated it with Type 1 Diabetes24-31, especially when the initial exposure begins in the first months of life.
- Epidemiological studies have repeatedly shown a strong correlation between Multiple Sclerosis and cow’s milk consumption32-36.
- There is molecular mimicry between Bovine Serum Albumin and Human Collagen Type 1, which has implications for Rheumatoid Arthritis37. Indeed, case studies have shown that elimination of milk and dairy products from the diets of patients with RA improved symptoms, and the disease was markedly exacerbated on re-challenge37.
- Bovine Milk is also implicated (or appears to have adverse effects) in other auto-immune diseases, such as Crohn’s disease38, Sjögren’s syndrome39, IgA nephropathy40-42, Behçet’s disease43, and even Celiac Disease40.
3) Hormones in Milk:
In addition to proteins, fats, lactose, vitamins and minerals, Milk contains various growth-stimulating steroid and peptide hormone and also catalysts, transporters and stabilizers that ensure their maximum bioactivity45.
Here’s a short list of some hormones present in cow’s milk that could be problematic for humans:
- Betacellulin (BTC)
- Estrogens (particularly Estrone Sulfate)
- Precursors of Dihydrotestosterone (DHT)
Cow’s milk, as well as human milk (and presumably milk from all mammals) contains insulin46-49, and we know that bovine insulin – BI (which differs from human insulin by three amino acids50) survives pasteurization, because immunity to this hormone is common in children who consume cow’s milk or who have been exposed to infant formulas containing cow’s milk51-54.
This not only confirms that BI is present in commercial pasteurized milk, but also in infant formulas and perhaps other dairy products (although direct evidence is lacking). Moreover, these studies provide evidence that BI survives the human digestive processes and crosses the gut barrier intact, although this could be related to the fact that infants have higher intestinal permeability than older children and adults50. Nevertheless, various factors may cause the so called “leaky gut” in virtually everyone, so we shouldn’t dismiss bovine insulin altogether.
Cow’s milk contains active IGF-155, but this has been largely dismissed as irrelevant, since pasteurization (time and temperature are crucial factors) and fermentation appears to reduce its content56, 57. Yet cow’s milk consumption, compared to various foods, is associated with higher plasma IGF-1 concentrations in humans (both children58-61 and adults62-66, which could be due to calcium in milk (which has been shown to increase IGF-1 in boys and girls67), the effect of milk upon insulinemia (the high elevation of plasma insulin caused by milk drinking4-9 could lead to a higher plasma IGF-113) or indeed residual IGF-1 in casein68 (the major protein in milk).
Betacellulin (BTC) belongs to the Epidermal Growth Factor family of hormones69, and it is found not only in cow’s milk70 and whey70, but also in cheese70, so it survives pasteurization and processing. Although no direct evidence exists yet, bovine milk contains peptidase inhibitors which prevent human gut enzymes from degrading EGF5 (and most likely BTC) and a low ph, such as may be found in the gut, does not impair or prevent BTC from binding its receptor71. Finally, there is a luminally expressed EGF receptor in the gut, through which BTC may enter circulation69.
The major sources of animal-derived estrogens in the human diet are believed to be milk and dairy products, which presumably account for 70–80% of the total estrogens consumed72-73. Furthermore, it has been pointed out that most milk for human consumption is obtained from cows in the latter half of pregnancy, when estrogen metabolite levels are greatly elevated72-74. Confirming this, US researchers have measured estrogen metabolites in various milks and found that buttermilk contains the highest total amount of estrogen metabolites, followed by skim milk, 2% milk and whole milk72. So, estrogen metabolites appear to survive pasteurization, and Estrone sulphate, which comprises 45% of the conjugated estrogens in Premarin and Prempro, the most frequently prescribed hormone replacement therapy for menopausal women73 has high oral bioactivity73 and is the most prevalent form of estrogen in cow’s milk72, 73.
There are also other steroid hormones in commercial pasteurized cow’s milk, such as progesterone, 5α-androstanedione and 5α-pregnanedione that are dihydrotestosterone (DHT) precursors75.
As expected from the evidence presented, dairy intake is strongly associated with a higher incidence of Acne16-18, moderately associated with Prostate Cancer19-23, and mildly associated with ovarian cancer76, 77.
Dairy consumption was also associated with an increased incidence of testicular78-79, kidney80 and head and neck cancer81, but very few studies looking at this have been conducted to draw more significant conclusions.
Although epidemiological evidence can’t show cause and effect and clearly many more studies need to be conducted, the current evidence strongly suggests that cow’s milk may be implicated in a variety of autoimmune diseases, certain cancers, as well as Acne.
4) Milk has a very high calcium/magnesium ratio and may contribute to some micronutrient imbalances.
Finally, there is evidence of higher fracture incidence rates in countries with higher milk and calcium intake82, some long term prospective studies have failed to show a benefit from drinking milk or taking calcium supplements83-85, and a recent meta-analysis, which analyzed 7 prospective cohort studies (170 991 women), 5 prospective cohort studies (68 606 men), 5 clinical trials, (5666 women, and 1074 men), and 4 clinical trials with separate results for hip fracture (6504 subjects), concluded that calcium intake doesn’t decrease the risk for fractures86. And calcium intake is only part of the story – we need to consider the GI absorption and the renal excretion, and in these regards, vegetables from the brassica family have a clear advantage over milk.
I know this may sound overly alarming and exaggerated, but given what I know about milk, I have a hard time recommending it, even though it has some positive effects, such as being a cheap source of high quality protein and various micronutrients.
For those who are fortunate and have access to good (real) food and supplements (such as Vitamin D, which, by the way, may be needed in much higher doses than the ones provided by 3 or 4 servings of dairy a day) and adopt a diet more in line with the Paleo Diet, I believe milk is not necessary.
I hope this helps.
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- Norat T, Dossus L, Rinaldi S, et al. Diet, serum insulin-like growth factor-I and IGF-binding protein-3 in European women. Eur J Clin Nutr 2007; 61: 91-98.
- Morimoto LM, Newcomb PA, White E, et al. Variation in plasma insulin-like growth factor-1 and insulin-like growth factor binding protein-3: personal and lifestyle factors (United States). Câncer Causes Control 2005; 16: 917-927.
- Holmes MD, Pollak MN, Willett WC, et al. Dietary correlates of plasma insulin-like growth factor-I and insulin-like growth factor binding protein-3 concentrations. Cancer Epidemiol Biomarkers Prev 2002; 11: 852-861
- Ginty F, et al. calcium carbonate supplementation is associated with higher plasma IGF-1 in 16-to 18-year old boys and girls. In Burckhardt P, Heaney R, Dawson-Hughes B. Nutritional Aspects of Osteoporosis. Elsevier, 2004, pp 45-57
- Hoppe C, Mølgaard C, Dalum C, Vaag A, Michaelsen KF. Differential effects of casein versus whey on fasting plasma levels of insulin, IGF-1 and IGF-1/IGFBP-3: results from a randomized 7-day supplementation study in prepubertal boys. Eur J Clin Nutr. 2009 Sep;63(9):1076-83
- Cordain L. Dietary implications for the development of acne: a shifting paradigm. In: U.S. Dermatology Review II 2006, (Ed.,Bedlow, J). Touch Briefings Publications, London, 2006.
- Bastian SE, et al. Measurement of betacellulin levels in bovine serum, colostrum and milk. J Endocrinol. 2001 Jan;168(1):203-12
- Rao RK, Baker RD, Baker SS. Bovine milk inhibits proteolytic degradation of epidermal growth factor in human gastric and duodenal lumen. Peptides. 1998; 19(3):495-504
- Farlow DW, Xu X, Veenstra TD. Quantitative measurement of endogenous estrogen metabolites, risk-factors for development of breast cancer, in commercial milk products by LC-MS/MS. J Chromatogr B Analyt Technol Biomed Life Sci. 2009 Jan 31. [Epub ahead of print]
- Ganmaa D, Sato A. The possible role of female sex hormones in milk from pregnant cows in the development of breast, ovarian and corpus uteri cancers. Med Hypotheses 2005; 65: 1028-37
- Qin LQ, Wang PY, Kaneko T, et al. Estrogen: one of the risk factors in milk for prostate cancer. Med Hypotheses. 2004;62(1):133-42.
- Danby FW. Acne, dairy and cancer. Dermato-Endocrinology 1:1, 9-13; January/February 2009.
- Genkinger JM, Hunter DJ, Spiegelman D, et al. Dairy products and ovarian cancer: a pooled analysis of 12 cohort studies. Cancer Epidemiol Biomarkers Prev. 2006 Feb;15(2):364-72.
- Larsson SC, Orsini N, Wolk A. Milk, milk products and lactose intake and ovarian cancer risk: a meta-analysis of epidemiological studies. Int J Cancer. 2006 Jan 15;118(2):431-41.
- Stang, A.; Ahrens, W.; Baumgardt-Elms, C. et al. Adolescent milk fat and galactose consumption and testicular germ cell cancer. Cancer Epidemiol Biomarkers Prev; 15(11):2189-95, 2006.
- Ganmaa D, Li XM, Qin LQ, et al. The experience of Japan as a clue to the etiology of testicular and prostatic cancers. Med Hypotheses. 2003 May;60(5):724-30.
- Bravi F, Bosetti C, Scotti L, et al. Food groups and renal cell carcinoma: a case-control study from Italy. Int J Cancer. 2007 Feb 1;120(3):681-5.
- Peters ES, Luckett BG, Applebaum KM, Marsit CJ, McClean MD, Kelsey KT. Dairy products, leanness, and head and neck squamous cell carcinoma. Head Neck. 2008 Sep;30(9):1193-205.
- Klompmaker TR. Lifetime high calcium intake increases osteoporotic fracture risk in old age. Med Hypotheses. 2005;65(3):552-8
- Owusu W, Willett WC, Feskanich D, Ascherio A, Spiegelman D, Colditz GA. Calcium intake and the incidence of forearm and hip fractures among men. J Nutr 1997; 127:1782-7.
- Feskanich D, Willett W et al. Milk, Dietary Calcium, and Bone Fractures in Women: A 12-Year Prospective Study. Am J Public Health. 1997 Jun;87(6):992-7.
- Feskanich D, Willett WC, Colditz GA. Calcium, vitamin D, milk consumption, and hip fractures: a prospective study among postmenopausal women. Am J Clin Nutr. 2003 Feb;77(2):504-11.
- Bischoff-Ferrari HA, Dawson-Hughes B, Baron JA, Burckhardt P, Li R, Spiegelman D, Specker B, Orav JE, Wong JB, Staehelin HB, O’Reilly E, Kiel DP, Willett WC. Calcium intake and hip fracture risk in men and women: a meta-analysis of prospective cohort studies and randomized controlled trials. Am J Clin Nutr. 2007 Dec;86(6):1780-90.
Today’s edition of Paleo Diet Q & A on rheumatoid arthritis.
Q: The article, “Modulation of immune function by dietary lectins in rheumatoid arthritis” is of interest to me, but is 10 years old. Can you suggest any more recent scientifically valid articles on the same topic?
A: Hi Allena,
To my knowledge, there are no reviews or studies addressing the role of a paleolithic diet and it’s implications in rheumatoid arthritis, except from that of Dr. Cordain. In his MS (Multiple Sclerosis) DVD Dr. Cordain thoroughly explains the dietary mechanisms of autoimmunity in MS, which are almost the same for all autoimmune diseases–including RA. Those are: increased intestinal permeability, increased passage of luminal antigens into peripheral circulation, molecular mimicry and genetic susceptibility (genes encoding for the HLA system), among other factors.
In recent years, new substances have been discovered which might be responsible for increased intestinal permeability, namely saponins (found in legumes), potatoes, soya, quinoa, amaranth, alfalfa sprouts or tomatoes. If you’ve seen Dr. Cordain’s scientific paper entitled “Modulation of immune function by dietary lectins in rheumatoid arthritis”, I am sure you are aware of the role lectins play in autoimmunity.
Adjuvants are used by immunologists in order to boost the immune system and induce immunization. It turns out that certain foods have bioactive compounds that have adjuvant-like activity, this is the case for tomatoes or quillaja (a foaming agent used in beers and soft drinks).
Gliadin is a prolamine found in wheat which has been shown to increase intestinal permeability and hence the risk of suffering an autoimmune disease.
On the other hand, several clinical trials have been conducted with promising results. However, they have used a gluten-free diet or vegan diet instead of a whole paleolithic diet, which we think is the superior diet.
In vegan diets, authors often claim that the effects might be due to the lack of meat, but we think the positive effect relies on the lack of diary proteins and gluten. Meat has historically been seen as the “bad guy” in inflammation, but the data to support that notion is not sufficient to support this view.
Below are some references that could be useful.
Gluten-free vegan diet induces decreased LDL and oxidized LDL levels and raised atheroprotective natural antibodies against phosphorylcholine in patients with rheumatoid arthritis: a randomized study. Elkan AC, Sjöberg B, Kolsrud B, Ringertz B, Hafström I, Frostegård J. Arthritis Res Ther. 2008;10(2):R34. Epub 2008 Mar 18.
A vegan diet free of gluten improves the signs and symptoms of rheumatoid arthritis: the effects on arthritis correlate with a reduction in antibodies to food antigens. Hafström I, Ringertz B, Spångberg A, von Zweigbergk L, Brannemark S, Nylander I, Rönnelid J, Laasonen L, Klareskog L. Rheumatology (Oxford). 2001 Oct;40(10):1175-9.
I hope this helps.
Today’s edition of Paleo Diet Q & A discussing flax seed and flax seed oil consumption.
Q: Dear Dr. Cordain,
I recently visited family over the holidays and my brother is a new advocate of the Paleo Diet. For breakfast he made us “fakecakes” which had about 1-2 tablespoons of flax seed in them that he ground in a coffee grinder. I had few a questions regarding the use of flax seed in the Paleo Diet.
Firstly why are flax seeds ok in the Paleo Diet but other grains (seeds) are not? My understanding for eliminating grains from the diet is the toxins that they contain but flax seed contains large amounts of cyanogenic glycosides producing up to 139 mg/kg of hydrogen cyanide in raw human-grade flax seed. I am sure flax seeds are processed somehow before selling them but I don’t know what process that is or what effect it has on the HCN concentration.
So, secondly…do you know of any studies on the amount of HCN in meals containing ground flax seed and the chronic oral exposure of those amounts on humans? My understanding here is the HCN that isn’t hydrolysed to formic acid in the stomach and doesn’t bind to hemoglobin is converted to thiocyanate which hinders thyroid function.
Thank you for your time and any information you can supply.
A: Hi Tim,
We think your thoughts are on the right track.
When Dr. Cordain wrote The Paleo Diet, the advice to consume flax seed oil was an attempt to balance the increased omega-6/omega-3 fatty acid ratio due to the exaggerated intake of omega-6 vegetable oils, especially linoleic acid, in the typical western diet.
Nevertheless, animal foods (fish, muscle meat and organs from wild animals) are good sources of w3 fatty acids. As so, when people eat these foods regularly along with vegetables and nuts, and avoid vegetable oils (especially oils rich in Linoleic Acid – Omega 6), they get a balanced intake of omega 3, omega 6, monounsaturated and saturated fatty acids. In this context, there is no need for flax seeds to provide Omega 3 fatty acids and balance the Omega 3/Omega 6 ratio.
Here are some facts that support the notion that animal foods, vegetables and nuts provide the necessary Omega 6 and Omega 3 fatty acids in the right proportion:
- Hunter-gatherers do not eat ALA from seeds or vegetable oils.
- Nuts, green leafy vegetables and animal foods contain ALA.
- The conversion of ALA to EPA+DHA is limited, due to low delta-6 and delta-5 activity, although ALA is highly oxidized (twice as much as LA) (Freemantle et al.). Therefore, this means that at some pointing history we included preformed sources of EPA and DHA and still need to do so. Animal foods (especially brain from wild ruminants and fish) are very good sources of these fatty acids.
- The essentiality of LA & ALA in human metabolism has been questioned (Le et al.), as we relied almost on LCPUFA (Arachidonic Acid, EPA and DHA) during the Paleolithic era (see Dr. Cordain’s papers on that here and here). Moreover, there is already some evidence showing that human metabolism could re-convert AA and DHA into LA and ALA respectively, hence AA and DHA would be the true essential fatty acids.
- The possible toxicity from seeds and vegetable oils (HCN, saponins, lectins).
- They are not used by current HG societies, and these populations show no signs of western disease, so this means that flax seeds are not necessary.
- The well known positive health effects of fish oil supplementation (among other factors to improve omega-6/omega-3 ratio) in contrasts with some possible adverse effects of flax seed oil (like the epidemiological evidence that points towards increased risk of prostate cancer with flax oil consumption – see paper by Brouwer et al).
The bottom line from an evolutionary perspective is that flax seeds and/or flax seed oil would not have been consumed by pre-agricultural humans. However, having said that, hunter gatherers always would have preferentially sought high oil plant foods as per optimal foraging theory. But, most high fat plant foods contain high MUFA (with the exception of coconut and palm).
In addition, we will continue to explore the broader impact to health of modern vegetable oils, including flax.
Hope this helps.
Today’s edition of Paleo Diet Q & A on salt.
Q: Hi there! I bought my book and started my diet a couple of days ago. My husband told me that sea salt as opposed to table salt is okay to use. – Is this correct? Can I use sea salt while on the Paleo Diet? Please let me know. Thanks! Sincerely, Lani
A: Hi Lani,
Salt was not part of the hunter-gatherers’ diet, hence, our metabolism can not handle salt very well, specially in a context of high fructose intake and high blood pressure sufferers. Nevertheless, a small amount of salt probably won’t be an issue for you. But use it in moderation.
On the other hand, conditions such as insomnia or exercise induced asthma may improve on a low-salt diet.
Dr. Cordain’s hard cover edition of The Paleo Diet for Athletes (available exclusively from our web store) may now be purchased as an autographed edition signed by Dr. Cordain! Please visit our web store to obtain your copy.
Here’s today’s edition of Paleo Diet Q & A. On behalf of the Paleo Diet Team we wish you a happy, healthy, prosperous new year.
Q: Dear Dr. Cordain,
I’ve been researching diet and its role in male pattern baldness for about a year and a half now. There is a website www.hairloss-research.org that lists studies showing positive hair loss benefits from various phytochemicals in different foods. Essentially, a Mediterranean diet with some aspects drawn from other diets seems to be the most optimal bet. I put to you that it’s no coincidence the Japanese population traditionally has no male pattern baldness. Anyhow, one such study involves the legume soy. There is an isoflavone, a specific term for the more general term phytoestrogen in soy that is known to metabolize in the gut to a compound called equol which is a potent male pattern baldness fighter. Studies show only 30-50% of humans produce equol, and other components of the diet play the part in determining who is a strong equol producer. Seaweed or sea vegetables, for example, has a strong correlation with equol producers, and consumption of dairy has a strong negative correlation to being a strong equol producer.
The reason I came across your website is simple: I’ve been on a diet for the last year and a half that is aimed at fighting male pattern baldness. When I switched from dairy milk to soy milk, 99% of the acne on my back went away. However, I still get some acne, and I’ve had a dandruff problem for a few months now. Now some Google searches have indicated that dandruff is potentially caused by not shampooing enough — especially with relatively long hair like myself, not getting enough sunlight or Vitamin D, or showering with too hot water. However, I feel like my problem may be inflammation, since dandruff’s real name is seborrheic dermatitis. A video by a guy who in my opinion is very knowledgeable about health on YouTube named lorax2013 brought the Paleo Diet to my attention. He gives studies where subjects were put on the Paleo Diet and their respective ailment–whether multiple sclerosis, lupus, or acne–were remedied almost all the time, if not all the time. However, I don’t see any mention of the Paleo Diet’s role in male pattern baldness. Were any hunter gatherers of the past or present bald? I’ve read that chronic inflammation plays a negative role in male pattern baldness, and studies from that site indicate that inflammation is the reason that the hair follicle eventually shrinks and dies.
My question: I don’t want to start the Paleo Diet and give up soy only to realize a year or three later that my hair is starting to thin. What are your thoughts on this?
Thanks so much for your time!
A: Hi Tony,
Thanks for your question. A scientific paper our group has written (Hyperinsulinemic Diseases of Civilization: More than Syndrome X) in part addresses male pattern baldness and how a number of studies indicate that high glycemic load diets may set off a hormonal cascade that is characteristic of men with male pattern baldness. To date, no randomized controlled interventions of low glycemic load diets (basically Paleo Diets) have yet been conducted, so we have no human on whether or not a Paleo Diet may be effective in combating male pattern baldness. However, having said this, numerous historical photographs of hunter gatherers rarely if ever depict young or middle age men with male pattern baldness. I have read anecdotal accounts of hunter gatherers who were described in 19th century writings suggesting that premature graying also rarely occurred. I had not heard about the equol story — thanks for bringing it to my attention.
Loren Cordain, Ph.D., Professor
Q: Dr. Cordain,
I am an undergraduate student that’s dabbled with both the Paleo Diet and vegetarianism for several months now. I hope you can answer a question that’s troubled me greatly.
I’m having trouble coming to terms with what I see as contradictory data on diet. I read the Paleo Diet almost a year ago as it came recommended to me from a fitness website I was browsing. The site raved about how healthy the Paleo Diet was, and how it could work well for an athletic lifestyle. That winter I began to eat much more in the way you described. I came into conflict last summer, working at an environmental nonprofit. My employer has been vegan for a while now and recommended I read another diet/health book called The China Study. Touted as the largest epidemiological study ever performed by man, the study reported that across the board vegan diets proved to be the healthiest among living human populations. My initial reaction that my protein intake would be too low if I pursued such a diet was alleviated by the research provided by the book.
I’m having trouble reconciling these views. Both you and the author of The China Study (Dr. Colin Campbell) provide compelling research to back up your points, and I can’t see where to draw the line. The logic behind the Paleo Diet makes more sense to me than the logic of a vegan diet, but I can’t argue with the enormous amount of data Dr. Campbell has on current living populations and the health they enjoy. Can you shed some light on this for me?
Thank you for your time,
A: Hi Ryan,
We have a PDF that’s available for download on our web site that includes two papers: Dr. Cordain’s The Evolutionary Basis for the Therapeutic Effects of High Protein Diets and Dr. T. Colin Campbell’s paper entitled How Much Protein Is Needed? Dr. Cordain’s online “debate” with Dr. Campbell was originally commissioned by Robb Wolf, a strength & conditioning coach, formerly a research biochemist, who hosts a blog discussing intermittent fasting, fitness, and paleolithic nutrition (robbwolf.com).
We hope you find this information useful.
I attended a lecture you gave at CrossfitRoots in Boulder and have also read your book The Paleo Diet.
My wife and I have been trying to purchase a quarter cow and have been researching farms in the area. I know ’100% Grass Fed’ is better, but they are not as easy to find so I have a few questions:
1. Do you have any recommended resources for 100% Grass Fed beef in Colorado?
2. Have you done any studies on the fat profile difference between 100% grass fed beef and Grass Fed Beef that is Corn Finished? I’m curious on whether its 20% worse, 50% worse, etc.. It must be better than most grocery store beef, but if its not that much better, then I’ll continue trying to find a 100% grass fed cow.
3. I know you are updating your books, but it would be great if the sources of natural ‘paleo’ food you have listed were on your web-site and more up to date. I think it could drive a lot of business to vetted paleo approved providers. It would certainly make it easier for us to find them.
Thanks for your time,
My friend Jo Robinson operates this website: http://www.eatwild.com/ which lists grass fed beef producers, not only in Colorado, but also all over the U.S. I have written an extensive paper contrasting grass vs. grain produced beef and their potential effects upon human health and well being. This previously unpublished paper has recently been made available for $19.95 as a PDF file at our website. The paper is 39 pages long contains over 7,700 words, 92 references, 7 tables and 10 figures. My manuscript represents the single most comprehensive review to date comparing the potential health effects of grass and grain produced beef. We plan to update all of our recommended sources for Paleo “friendly” food and include them in a new page at our website.
Loren Cordain, Ph.D., Professor
We hope you’re continuing to experience the health benefits of eating Paleo. Here is today’s edition of Paleo Diet Q & A. If you find that reading our Q & A raises new questions for you about the Paleo Diet please post a comment and our team will respond.
Q: I have just started the diet. For years I have been using pan sprays without alcohol for cooking. With soy and soy oil being detrimental, how bad is soy lecithin? It’s not only in pan sprays, but 9 out of 10 fish oil supplements.
I am the chef/owner of a Mediterranean restaurant. Eating a Mediterranean diet (and exercise) has made me healthier, but my triglycerides are way high–but then it appears to be genetic. Hoping the Paleo Diet will reverse this.
A: Yes, this diet should definitely lower your triglycerides. I do not know if soy lecithin contains lectins and saponins or not (two of the main problematic components of soy) – it is something we will have to look into, and perhaps cover in a future newsletter.
Q: I first want to thank you and your research group immensely for doing the work you do. I have read The Paleo Diet and The Dietary Cure for Acne, which have made a great impact in my life (and some of my friends’ as well!). I have suffered intense acne for years and have tried basically every acne medication out there without success; except for Accutane because of the possible side effects. After two months of being on the diet, I can see incredible progress in my complexion and continuously see improvements. I cannot express the astounding changes with words; my family and friends are amazed. Again, for this I thank you deeply. I have also cherished the changes the Paleo Diet has brought to different aspects of my life, one of these has been better racquetball performance (I’m a racquetball aficionado).
I do have a quick question. In The Dietary Cure for Acne you explain how teens are most susceptible to acne because the body normally increase the amount of insulin in the blood in order to facilitate the adolescent growth spurt. Since the Paleo Diet decrease this insulin, does it also put the body in a less favorable state to grow (height-wise) than the normal American diet? (Assuming that all other variables as nutrients, vitamins, etc are the same.) I have noticed that the hunter-gatherers living today have a lower average height than Americans/Europeans. Is this the reason?
Although I am past my growth spurt, I have not recommended this diet to young teens because I would like to let them know about this information as well, if my conclusions are true. If they are not, please explain to me why not.
A: Thanks for the feedback and congratulations on your success. Yes, because insulin is a pro-growth hormone, it is possible that the increasing height seen in many people today is the result of a high-glycemic diet. It is also possible that the same diet may increase their risk for certain cancers as they age. Epidemiological studies also support this notion.
Q: I have read The Paleo Diet for Athletes and have put it into effect with excellent results. While obviously ground nuts should be a good substitute for flour, you don’t mention chestnuts in your book. Are chestnuts and chestnut flour in the same category as almonds, walnuts, etc., or should they be avoided?
A: Yes, chestnut and chestnut flour are allowed in The Paleo Diet. Chesnuts belong to the nut family.
More Q & A from the Paleo Diet community. We hope you’re gaining insight into others’ experiences with the Paleo Diet and the helpful responses from our team.
Thank you for your continued interest in the Paleo Diet.
Q: I recently purchased the Paleo Diet book and I was wondering about eating bacon. I’m assuming regular bacon is out of the question because it’s high in fat. I was curious about Turkey or Chicken Bacon. Are these allowed?
A: Yes you’re right. Bacon is approximately 77% fat and only 21% protein, so it shouldn’t be part of a regular diet. Moreover, the kind of fat in bacon is higher in saturated fats (they increase the risk of cardiovascular disease) compared to game meat. Chicken or turkey bacon is also high in fat.
Q: My friend and I are both on the diet. We are arguing about ground turkey. Is ground turkey allowed?
A: Yes, ground turkey is a Paleo-friendly food, especially if you eat the lean cuts, such as turkey breast.
Q: I’m reading The Paleo Diet for Athletes am an athlete, and I’m concerned about losing weight on the diet. How can I avoid losing weight and still eat Paleo?
A:If you are prone to losing weight there are a few things you should do:
- Increase your caloric intake using fat-dense foods such as olive oil, coconut oil, avocado or nuts. All of them sources of good fats.
- The Paleo Diet is high in Branched-chain Amino Acids (BCAA)-valine, leucine and iso-leucine. BCAA, are crucial for muscle recovery and muscle growth. BCAA are found in lean meats and fish, however you can use them as a supplement, especially in the 30 minute post-exercise period. Cereal grains are poor sources of BCAA compared to lean meats and fish. Egg whites are also a good BCAA source. The recommended dose is 6 grams/day as a supplement.
- The Paleo Diet is high in net base carbohydrates. This means that the post-exercise metabolic acidity is halted by vegetables and fruits. This prevents muscle wasting as a result of metabolic acidity.
- Use high-glycemic load fruits (bananas and grapes) and vegetables (sweet potatoes and yams) in the 30 minute post-exercise period to restore muscle glycogen levels.
Q: I am not a fan of the taste of shellfish or seafood. Can I still obtain the same benefits of this diet if I only eat the meat and not any of the suggested fish or seafood?
A: There are a lot of crucial substances for optimal health in fish and seafood, such as omega-3 fatty acids, zinc, selenium, vitamin E, etc. So, if you can’t eat seafood we suggest you to take some supplements, such as:
- Omega-3 fatty acids: EPA+DHA 3-4 grams a day.
- Zinc: 25mg per day.
- Multivitamin/multimineral supplements
Eat lean meat to ensure an adequate protein balance.
Eaton SB, Cordain L, Sebastian A. The Ancestral Biomedical Environment In: Endothelial Biomedicine. W.C. Aird (Ed), Cambridge University Press, 2007, pp. 129-134.
O’Keefe JH Jr, Cordain L, Jones PG, Abuissa H. Coronary artery disease prognosis and C-reactive protein levels improve in proportion to percent lowering of low-density lipoprotein. Am J Cardiol. 2006 Jul 1;98(1):135-9.
This editorial outlines the data supporting aggressive lipid goals and options for treating low-density lipoprotein (LDL) cholesterol to a range of approximately 30 to 70 mg/dl. The physiologically normal cholesterol range is approximately 30 to 70 mg/dl for native hunter-gatherers, healthy human neonates, free-living primates, and virtually all wild mammals. Randomized statin trials in patients with recent acute coronary syndromes and stable coronary artery disease have demonstrated that cardiovascular events are reduced and cardiovascular survival optimized when LDL cholesterol is reduced to <70 mg/dl. Secondary prevention trials have shown a decrease in all-cause mortality in proportion to the magnitude of LDL cholesterol reduction. An original analysis of available data shows that the ability of a lipid-lowering therapy to reduce the C-reactive protein level is closely correlated with its efficacy in LDL cholesterol reduction. Randomized trial data have shown no relation between either percentage LDL cholesterol decrease or final LDL cholesterol level achieved and the risk for myopathy or hepatic transaminase elevations associated with statins. Therefore, intensive LDL cholesterol reduction to levels of 30 to 70 mg/dl should be pursued in subjects with or at high risk for coronary artery disease.
Cordain, L., Brand Miller, J., Eaton, S.B. & Mann, N. (2000). Macronutrient estimations in hunter-gatherer diets (letter). Am J Clin Nutr 2000; 72:1589-90.