First they ignore you, then they laugh at you, then they fight you, then you win.
All truth passes through three stages. First, it is ridiculed. Second, it is violently opposed. Third, it is accepted as being self-evident.
One might think the paleo concept has been taking a bit of a beating form the scientific world and by extension, the larger media scene. There is certainly no shortage of articles and blogs largely regurgitating material like that found in Dr. Christina Warinner’s Ted talk but things are getting really….interesting. People, particularly folks in the academic scene, seem to really have their britches bunched over biochemists, MD’s and others using this evolutionary biology concept to look at nutrition and health. Scientific American ran a recent piece explaining how folks like myself, Loren Cordain etc have it all wrong, or at best our thinking is “half-baked.” This is based in large part on recent research published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Science. What is intriguing, is both PNAS and Scientific American appear to have gotten the story wrong. Quite wrong. To the tune of completely mis-quoting primary researchers, and creating their own “Paleo Fantasy.” So misguided were these pieces that Prof. Cordain, myself and a number of other folks felt it necessary to write a rebuttal which will be run in a subsequent PNAS. Interesting backstory on that: That chap who agreed to run this piece did so as HIS research was recently taken completely out of context by the media and he’s a bit fed-up with this type of thing. So, here is a link the the rebuttal on Prof. Cordains site, and here is the Rebuttal to PNAS 2013.
Please read that rebuttal carefully, and heck, why don’t you do something nearly everyone in the media and research community is not doing, read the original research:
1-Matt Sponheimer, Zeresenay Alemseged, Thure E. Cerling, Frederick E. Grine, William H. Kimbel, Meave G. Leakey, Julia A. Lee-Thorp, Fredrick Kyalo Manthi, Kaye E. Reed, Bernard A. Wood, and Jonathan G. Wynn. Isotopic evidence of early hominin diets. PNAS 2013 : 1222579110v1-201222579.
2-Jonathan G. Wynn, Matt Sponheimer, William H. Kimbel, Zeresenay Alemseged, Kaye Reed, Zelalem K. Bedaso, and Jessica N. Wilson. Diet of Australopithecus afarensis from the Pliocene Hadar Formation, Ethiopia. PNAS 2013 : 1222559110v1-201222559.
3-Thure E. Cerling, Fredrick Kyalo Manthi, Emma N. Mbua, Louise N. Leakey, Meave G. Leakey, Richard E. Leakey, Francis H. Brown, Frederick E. Grine, John A. Hart, Prince Kaleme, Hélène Roche, Kevin T. Uno, and Bernard A. Wood. Stable isotope-based diet reconstructions of Turkana Basin hominins. PNAS 2013 : 1222568110v1-201222568
If you are not familiar with the trophic implications of various nitrogen and carbon isotopes, don’t dispair. Let’s look at a comment from Kim Hill, Professor of Anthropology from ASU, who’s work on the Hiwi was so misrepresented in the Scientifica American article he took the time to write the following comment, which is #126 of the comments associated with the SA article. I’ll provide that comment below, and I’m going to bold certain sections that I think are particularly important:
A few quick observations since the work of my wife and I on the Hiwi is extensively cited here (as is our demographic documentation of hunter-gatherer lifespans). First, the Hiwi, like the other hunter-gatherers that we have worked with and visited, are much healthier in general than are Americans, but with the caveat that they suffer from maladies that we can cure with modern medicine (infections, parasites). They are lean and fit. Ache hunter-gatherers of Paraguay are even more fit than the Hiwi, they eat more and have extremely high exercise loads. High mortality of hunter-gatherers (mainly in infancy) is not relevant to the argument here because it mainly comes from violence and trauma. Warfare was a major cause of death among the Hiwi, nobody is suggesting we emulate that part of the paleo lifestyle. Parasites are unpleasant, and yes luckily we now have ways to eliminate them that our ancestors never achieved. But the point is that if Hunter-gatherers are lean, and fit (they look much more like serious athletes than do modern people), why? If not their diet and exercise regime, then what does make them lean and fit compared to modern people? Logic suggests that diet is part of the solution (excercise seems downplayed by everyone). So the discussion here should be focused on what we can learn from hunter-gatherers to improve our own health. How do “paleofantasy” critiques contribute to that discussion? Im not sure, I havent read the book. Yes there is significant genetic evolution in recent times, yes dietary variation in human foragers around the world suggest no single optimal diet, but still, what can be extracted by acknowledging that they are lean and fit? The paleodiet discussion has been very important for advancing our understanding of human nutrition — a field which has been dominated by the search for “minimal requirements” rather than “optimality”. But the bottom line is that the paleodiet critics need to contribute rather than just critique. And for the record, my wife Ana Hurtado and I have been eating a paleodiet (by accident because of fieldwork) for more than 30 years, because we grew accustomed to that diet (long before the fad). Meats, and unprocessed plant foods are a simple generalized ancestral diet and appear to produce better health than the current standard modern diet. As anyone who knows us can affirm, Hurtado and I are a lot leaner and fitter than most Americans in our age cohort (near 60). Why?
Before I make a few more points here is a link to Prof. Ana Hurtado’s site, also at ASU.
One observation I have is that Prof’s Hill and Hurtado are not simply institution based academics, they have spent YEARS living amongst hunter gatherers. They have seen first hand not only the health differences between these HG’s groups and westernized populations, but also the change in health amongst these HG’s as their ancestral life-way is eroded. This is reminiscent of Staffan Lindeberg’s work amongst the Kitavans. Yes, we need robust lab and biometric data for research, but that research happens because these people observe something interesting: a remarkable lack of disease in these HG populations. Evidence Based Medicine happens AFTER observing something TOO research, not the other way around.
Another observation: The bolded points above should be the first chapters/concepts of every person studying health and medicine. The fact that this is not the case is very much the cause of our current predicament.
Another: Why are none of these “balanced” journalistic pieces interviewing Loren Cordain, Boyd Eaton, Staffan Lindeberg, or ANY of the other people who PUBLISH in this genre?
Another: The point about nutritional science being focussed on the minimum vs optimization is too god-damned profound to even wrap my head around.
I’ll ask you folks to read all this, contemplate, and if it resonates, SHARE IT. Again, and again and again. If you have a blog make a page about this and put your own spin on this material. Media pieces like this are annoying, but they are also indicative of something: Success. The Paleo Diet/evolutionary medicine concept is on the radars of a lot of people. Some of those people stand to lose either money or ego if we win this campaign. I say, buggar those people. Because what we get out of this is better health for ourselves, our children and our world. In the past few weeks I’ve had reach-outs from some media and business entities that are, “huge.” They are interested not only the paleo/EvoMed concepts, but also the sustainability angles ala Allan Savory. I’ll share more about those stories as they develop, but it is damn exciting. Game changing stuff.
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Paleo Fantasy: Next time, try reading the research.
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