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Can Paleo Reduce Stress

By Loren Cordain, Ph.D., Professor Emeritus, Founder of The Paleo Diet
November 24, 2009
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I enjoy your newsletters and eat an occasional Paleo Diet (I get lazy and eat like the norm and then get back to the Paleo way). Anyway it is my husband I am concerned with. Approx. 2 months ago he suffered from the H1N1 flu which moved into his lungs to bronchitis, then stress from work created heart palpation, shortness of breathe, dizziness, weight loss...the list goes on. I know the Paleo diet helps with a lot of aliments...what about stress

Dr. Cordain's Response:

We believe that The Paleo Diet® can prevent, or even reverse, many chronic degenerative diseases, included psychiatric diseases. We published a newsletter covering this topic, which you can purchase, The Insiders.

Currently there aren't clinical trials showing the effects of The Paleo Diet on mood disorders, however a recent wide body of research shows that some pathways may link The Paleo Diet to mood improvement. A Belgian scientist has demonstrated the effects of a "leaky gut diet" (free of dairy and gluten) on mood and chronic fatigue syndrome. But this is not strictly a Paleo Diet, so we believe The Paleo Diet could even improve more, as briefly explained below.

Recent research has demonstrated that the mechanisms underlying depression and anxiety are:

a) Impaired neurotransmitter metabolism
b) Impaired neuroendocrine function
c) Impaired neural plasticity

Chronic low-grade inflammation is a the root of all of these pathophysiologic pathways. The Paleo Diet fights against inflammation because it emphasizes a proper omega6/omega3 ratio and avoids immunostimulants substances such as lectins and saponins (found in cereal grains and legumes).

Hyperinsulinemia is also related to disrupted brain glucose metabolism and The Paleo Diet helps with hyperinsulinemia.

Furthermore, a critical point in low-grade inflammation is leaky gut syndrome or increased intestinal permeability. Increased gut permeability may allow increased passage of bacterial and/or dietary antigens into circulation inducing an immune activation and inflammation. The Paleo Diet is free of the foods that induce leaky gut syndrome and therefore low grade inflammation may decrease.

The case of your husband could be explained because a viral infection activates the immune system and high amounts of cytokines (immune cells messengers) are produced. Cytokines are at the root of the above mentioned pathways leading to depression and anxiety. A well known model of cytokine induced anxiety/depression is treatment with Interferon Alpha in Hepatitis C patients which often leads to depression or anxiety.

Cordially,

Loren Cordain, Ph.D., Professor Emeritus

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