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About Episode 3
The Paleo Diet | The Benefits and the Risks
In this episode of Discover | Dr. Dan Proactive Health Dr. Dan discusses all of the scientific information around the Paleo Diet that individuals need to be aware of. He covers its history, theology, and side effects both long-term and short-term. He also discusses the impact it has on pregnant mothers and finishes the episode by answering some common health questions revolving around health myths. The information he shares is scientifically proven and sure to help individuals who are thinking about starting the Paleo Diet. Listen to the full podcast below.
The History and Theology of the Paleo Diet
The Paleo Diet theology goes back 10,000 years. Its origin lies with our Paleolithic ancestors who ate a very simple diet with meat, fish, fruits and vegetables, and plant-based fats. Dr. Dan states, “The whole premise of the paleo diet is that we should eat the same foods as our Paleolithic ancestors ate before the advent of modern agriculture, roughly 10,000 years ago. This diet is also referred to as the caveman, stone-age, carnivore, or hunter-gatherer diet.” While an interesting concept, the diet includes practices that science proves can be beneficial for us. Fruits, vegetables, and plant-based oils and fats are good for the body. However, the diet does not allow for any dairy products, grains, added sugars, or salt.
How the Paleo Diet Affects Insulin and Calcium Levels
While there are several good nutrient-dense foods in the diet, because of foods that are not allowed in the diet, there are several impacts on the insulin and calcium levels in the body. When using the paleo diet long term, studies have shown, “people … are more at risk to develop type 2 diabetes due to increased levels of a protein in the body that makes the body resistant to insulin.” Most individuals focus on cutting sugars to help prevent diabetes and maintain healthy insulin levels, but too much protein can make the body more resistant to insulin and be a risk factor for diabetes anyway. Also, because the diet excludes any dairy products, it affects the calcium levels in the body and can start causing osteoporosis. Dr. Dan also notes, “It is an essential bio signaling compound by which messages are sent that control all the systems of the body. Calcium is also critical in shuttling neurotransmitters like serotonin and dopamine through the blood-brain barrier and improving mood cognition and the ability to fall asleep.”
Problems and Challenges
In addition to some of the problems with insulin and calcium, there is an interesting flaw in the theology of the paleo diet; not all of our Paleolithic ancestors ate the same thing because they didn’t live in the same area. To elaborate on this concept, Dr. Dan notes, “The paleo diet assumes that all of our Paleolithic ancestors were eating fruit, berries, nuts, et cetera, regardless of where they lived. And this isn’t the case as the food sources and diet of our ancestors living in different parts of Pangea, from the cold poles to the tropical equator, varied significantly.” While their DNA was similar, our DNA is flexible and we are learning how to eat the same and different foods as our ancestors and still be able to maintain our health.
The Paleo Diet can be very beneficial to an individual’s health, but it depends on the individual and their circumstance. Along with any other diet, Dr. Dan emphasizes that individuals need to consult with their medical professionals before making any drastic changes to their eating habits.
To learn more about the Paleo Diet and its effects on pregnancy and other body functions, check out the Discover | Dr. Dan Proactive Health podcast episode below, and be sure to subscribe for new episodes each Tuesday.
Dr. Dan Gubler Episode Intro: (00:09)
Hello my friends. Welcome to Discover with Dr. Dan The Proactive Health Podcast. I’m excited to be with you today. Let’s talk about diets. In the human quest for discovery there is always some new diet coming out. 20 to 30 new fad diets are introduced each year with four or five gaining strong traction. Before continuing on, I must say, I absolutely hate the word diet. Diet denotes a short term, white knuckled, unsustainable way of eating rather than long-term viable eating habits that should last a lifetime. For this discussion, though, we will use the term diet. Today we’re going to find out if the paleo diet is a myth and a fad, or if there’s good science on its ability to help us lose weight, keep it off and be healthy long-term. The whole premise of the paleo diet is that we should eat the same foods as our Paleolithic ancestors ate before the advent of modern agriculture, roughly 10,000 years ago. This diet is also referred to as the caveman, stone-age, carnivore or hunter-gatherer diet.
Dr. Dan Gubler: Background: (01:12)
Imagine yourself living on this planet 20,000 years ago, what food sources would be available? What would you eat on a daily basis? How would you survive? Perhaps you would catch a rodent with a snare roasted over the fire. You might also eat that meal with some berries collected that morning on your daily hunting trip. Along with some seeds gathered from a sunflower-like plant growing near your camp you’d previously dried. Scenarios like this give us a good idea of what foods the paleo diet includes. Foods allowed to be eaten on the paleo diet are meat, fish, nuts, vegetables, fruits, eggs, and plant-based oils and fats. Foods not allowed on the paleo diet include dairy of any kind, milk, cheese, yogurt, cream, et cetera, grains, legumes, processed foods and added sugar or salt. Starchy vegetables like potatoes, sweet potatoes, beets, radishes, and carrots are a gray area in the diet. These foods are high in starch and were not available before modern agriculture. Yet a lot of people consider these to be paleo compliant. This brings up a point about these fad diets. Confusion about what foods can or cannot be eaten with a particular diet leads to people creating their own twist on the diet that fits their opinions and lifestyles, thus creating a new diet off of the variant of the old. Variance of the paleo diet include the primal diet, the pegan diet and the keto-paleo diet.
Dr. Dan Gubler: Exercise and Metabolic Syndrome : (02:32)
What does real science have to say about the paleo diet? Metabolic syndrome is a term used to describe when the human body has reached a state where it is fundamentally unhealthy. The five criteria of metabolic syndrome are one, elevator waist circumference; two, high fasting, blood glucose levels; three, low HDL levels; four, high blood pressure; and five, high triglycerides. An individual has metabolic syndrome if they have at least three of these parameters, these criteria. Rates of metabolic syndrome in the United States are 33% and rising quickly. A 2015 review article published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition studied what happened when participants ate the paleo diet over the course of three weeks. This article found that users of the paleo diet lost weight and saw reductions in blood glucose, cholesterol, triglyceride, and blood pressure levels. These results make sense as any eating regiment that significantly limits the amount of salt, added sugar, and unhealthy fats would promote a better health outcome. The paleo diet improved all parameters associated with metabolic syndrome. One concerning finding from the study was that calcium levels significantly decreased during this three week period. Calcium is not only important in bone health of post-menopausal women, but for everyone. Calcium plays many other roles and the body in addition to bone health. It is an essential bio signaling compound by which messages are sent that control all the systems of the body. Calcium is also critical in shuttling neurotransmitters like serotonin and dopamine through the blood-brain barrier and improving mood cognition and the ability to fall asleep. Most clinical studies on the paleo diet include an exercise regimen. A paper published in 2018 concluded that the health benefits of the paleo diet are due more to exercise than the diet itself. The paleo diet is a high-fat diet, which is a good thing if you’re exercising and need a lot of energy, like our Paleolithic ancestors did. High-fat diets are not the best if we’re sitting around all day in the office. If you want to try the paleo diet, make sure you have a strong exercise program to go along with it. High intensity interval training or HIIT workouts have been found to be the most effective while on the paleo diet.
Dr. Dan Gubler: The Paleo Diet and Pregnancy: (04:49)
Is it okay to eat the paleo diet when pregnant? A clinical study published in 2019 found that eating a paleo diet during pregnancy reduced blood glucose levels and increased levels of hemoglobin and ferritin. Increased levels of oxygen and iron are important during pregnancy for the health of both the baby and mother. Hemoglobin binds to nutrients vital for fetal development and carries them into the placenta. Anemia during pregnancy is a problem for many women. Red meat, eaten as part of the paleo diet, can improve iron levels. Reduced amount of added sugar in the diet can lower the risk of gestational diabetes and minimize weight gain. This study found that the birth weight of newborns from paleo dieting mothers was slightly less than the birth weight of babes on the paleo diet, but not to a degree that would be of concern. The study mentioned above showing that calcium levels decrease in those on the paleo diet is a big concern for pregnant moms. Taking a calcium supplement, if on the paleo diet, would be a very good thing. Obviously pregnant or nursing women should consult closely with their OBGYN before considering any big changes in diet or other lifestyle factors.
Dr. Dan Gubler: Paleo Diet Problems: (05:59)
Paleo diet advocates believe that the rise of chronic disease is due to the Western diet and that we need to go back to the way our Paleolithic ancestors ate in order to be healthy as that is what matches our DNA. There are a couple of holes in this theory. The paleo diet assumes that all of our Paleolithic ancestors were eating fruit, berries, nuts, et cetera, regardless of where they lived. And this isn’t the case as the food sources and diet of our ancestors living in different parts of Pangea, from the cold poles to the tropical equator, varied significantly. From this observation alone, we see that our Paleolithic ancestors, despite having the same DNA, were able to eat different foods based on geographical location and still maintain their health. Strong supporters of the paleo diet argue that the genome of modern day humans hasn’t evolved to handle the change in diet of modern agricultural foods eaten today, meaning that the human race are inflexible eaters. From the observation above, it is clear that even our Paleolithic ancestors living in different parts of the world didn’t eat the exact same foods mentioned in the current paleo diet and had flexibility in their diets. One of the basic principles of health is that the human body is highly adaptable and will do whatever it takes to maintain balance or homeostasis. The DNA sequence itself is static and has been from the beginning, but the way the DNA is expressed is dynamic and will change to accommodate different diets. If the paleo diet is the diet of our ancestors, then it should improve health of the good bacteria living in our gut. The collection of good bacteria, known as a microbiome, play a critical role in all aspects of human health.
Dr. Dan Gubler: Microbiome : (07:41)
The microbiome is also referred to as a second brain. And we’ll talk about the microbiome in a future episode. A study conducted earlier this year evaluated the effects of the paleo diet on gut health and other general health metrics. Over the course of one year, it was found that concentrations of bad bacteria in the gut increased in paleo dieters. They also found increased levels of trimethylamine N-oxide in these individuals. Increased levels of trimethylamine N-oxide are associated with a higher risk for cardiovascular disease and other cardiac disorders. High levels of bad bacteria in the gut are associated with obesity, diabetes, and cognitive decline to name a few. A paper published in 2019 found that people eating the paleo diet long-term are more at risk to develop type 2 diabetes due to increased levels of a protein in the body that makes the body resistant to insulin. This effect was not seen in participants eating a low carb diet. Let’s look at how the paleo diet stacks up to other diets. An article published in 2016 found that the paleo diet and a conventional low fat diet had the same effect on weight loss and insulin sensitivity. The paleo diet, however, was found to increase fat content in the liver, which can eventually lead to non-alcoholic fatty liver disease and an increased risk of obesity, high cholesterol levels, gastric bypass and type 2 diabetes.
Dr. Dan Gubler: Paleo v Mediterranean: (09:07)
In comparing the paleo diet versus a Mediterranean diet, a recent paper found that following either diet reduced levels of systemic inflammation in the body. A 2019 study found that there was little difference between weight loss, glucose levels, cholesterol levels and triglyceride levels when following either the paleo diet, the Mediterranean diet or intermittent fasting. Researchers in the Netherlands just published the results of a study, where they compared the health benefits of the paleo diet versus a Mediterranean diet, the diabetes diet, and a diet recommended by the Dutch health council. They found that the short-term health benefits of the paleo diet were not greater than any other diets perceived as healthy. French scientists study the potential role of the paleo diet in managing rising levels of inflammatory bowel disease in developing countries due to increased consumption of the Western diet. No difference between the paleo diet and other healthy diets was found to be better in improving bowel health. It’s interesting that the paleo diet and other diets were equally effective, even though these diets all have different foods, you should and shouldn’t eat. Grain and dairy are okay in the Mediterranean diet, but not in the paleo diet. A conventional low fat diet eliminates oils while the paleo diet includes plant-based oils and saturated fats in large abundance. Why would all these diets decrease inflammation and help with weight loss even though the foods eaten are different and contradicting? Common foods to avoid in the paleo, Mediterranean and conventional low fat diets are added sugars and processed meats. We know the added sugars caused blood glucose levels to spike immediately and when that happens, insulin levels rise to meet it. When insulin levels are high, the body cannot burn fat and fat storage actually increases, which leads to obesity, high cholesterol, and high triglycerides. Naturally occurring sugar in fruits and vegetables are complex with fiber and other molecules that bind to sugar and cause a time-release effect of sugar into the bloodstream rather than one huge hit that happens when we eat foods with added sugars. Processed meats contain a compound called nitrate, which can react with functional groups called amines in the meat and produce cancer causing compounds called nitrosamines. Several studies have shown that large amounts of nitrosamines in the body can also cause insulin resistance and type 2 diabetes. So when we put all the research together, we see that the paleo diet can be helpful for losing weight short-term, but can have adverse health effects when used long-term. These studies and many others we don’t have time to site, show the increased insulin levels are the biggest risk factor of eating the paleo diet long-term. Insulin is one of the master regulators in the body and is at the root of almost every aspect of poor human health.
Dr. Dan Gubler: Short-Term v Long-Term Diets: (12:01)
Using consecutive short-term diets lead to what is called yo-yo dieting, where your weight goes up and down like a yo-yo and as a result of switching from one fad diet to another. This is not only frustrating, but can be dangerous as a result of continuously modifying our eating habits, such as the body doesn’t have time to catch up and bring balance. A long-term eating regimen rather than a short-term diet solution is needed. Scientific research clearly shows that it is not the paleo diet that is causing the observed short-term health benefits, but rather it is the basic principles of healthy eating, like avoiding added sugars, excess amounts of processed meats and salty foods. Staying away from these foods as part of a long-term regimen is what will bring health. Additionally, one of the most important principles in weight loss and long-term health is this: simply eat less. The scientific term for this is chloric restriction. Over 2000 scientific papers have been published, showing that eating less improves health in all species on the planet, including humans. When one simply eats less, weight is reduced and all other health parameters in the body are improved. Healthy eating combined with exercise leads to the following simplified maxim; eat less, move more. Now that we have information about the short-term benefits and long-term health dangers of the paleo diet we will have something interesting to talk about with our friend over dinner when they have told us they just started paleo as they order a 32 ounce sirloin steak.
Dr. Dan Gubler: Q&A: (13:52)
Let’s now answer some questions we’ve received from our listeners related to paleo and otherwise. Can I take supplements while on the paleo diet? Well, when you look at supplements and the different ingredients, protein shakes and immune health products with colostrum or lactoferrin or other dairy-based ingredients, aren’t compliant. Fiber supplements containing fiber from grain sources, won’t be allowed and supplements with added sugars aren’t allowed either. So these are some of the key principles to look for when choosing a supplement while on paleo. Another question, can I do the paleo diet while on medications? Consult with your medical doctor before making any big changes to your diet. Many medical conditions are sensitive to drastic changes in macronutrient levels. Another question not related to paleo, but pretty interesting, and I get this all the time, is CBD the same as marijuana? Well, the answer is no. CBD is one of about 150 different cannabinoids in the cannabis sativa plant. So cannabis sativa contains strains that contain high amounts of psychoactive THC and these cannabis sativa strains with high amounts of THC are called marijuana. CBD is obtained from industrial hemp. That’s defined as containing less than 0.3% THC. What does science say about drinking celery juice is the last question for the day. This is popular, popular fad, popular trend. When you look in the scientific literature, there are no papers showing the benefit of celery juice. Actually, one of the dangers of celery juice is putting celery into the blender with water and blending it up you’re actually shearing the good fiber that’s in celery. The good fiber and celery is essential for absorbing glucose levels and maintaining both glucose and cholesterol levels in the body and doing other things like feeding the microbiome. So when we shear fiber, we’re changing the fiber composition of celery and we are diminishing its potential for human health. So the additional thing is some of the good organic compounds in celery aren’t water soluble. So when we put water in with celery and we’re just drinking the water solution with it ground up, we’re really not getting all of the great phytonutrients that we need. I hope you found this interesting my friends. Sure appreciate you being with us. This is Dr. Dan signing off.