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Paleo Health vs Paleo Reproduction

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  • Paleo Health vs Paleo Reproduction

    Was just reading an article in the Guardian about Harvard's professor of human evolutionary biology.

    He talks about the Paleo diet a little bit and while I think he does the usual thing of making the wrong assumptions about what Paleo is, he said one thing that intrigued me:
    "The old paleo diet. There's some truth to it. I think the problem with the paleo diet is that there is an optimal diet that if only we were adapted to it we'd be healthier. It's based on the following argument - we're adapted to live like hunter-gatherers - if we live like hunter-gatherers we'd be healthier. But remember, hunter-gatherers were not always healthy, their bodies went through adaptations not to be healthy but to have lots of children!"

    I've always kinda assumed that getting healthier and increasing the chance of reproductive success were basically the same. What would be an example of a hunter-gatherer adaptation that wasn't healthy but did increase the chance of reproductive success?

  • #2
    I'm going to guess something like fat consumption. Higher fat means higher fertility but a bad diet under popular assumption.


    • #3
      Originally posted by Liam View Post
      I've always kinda assumed that getting healthier and increasing the chance of reproductive success were basically the same. What would be an example of a hunter-gatherer adaptation that wasn't healthy but did increase the chance of reproductive success?
      Agriculture and the initial formation of larger communities. Worse for our health, but led to a population explosion. - Gaming, Food Reviews and Life in Singapore


      • #4
        Originally posted by AMonkey View Post
        Agriculture and the initial formation of larger communities. Worse for our health, but led to a population explosion.
        That's a good point. Sorry I wasn't clear enough in my question - he talked about a body adaptation, what would be an example of a biological adaptation (as opposed to societal)?


        • #5
          Growth hormones are necessary to grow a baby, but are potentially cancerous in adults?
          Disclaimer: I eat 'meat and vegetables' ala Primal, although I don't agree with the carb curve. I like Perfect Health Diet and WAPF Lactofermentation a lot.

          Griff's cholesterol primer
          5,000 Cal Fat <> 5,000 Cal Carbs
          Winterbike: What I eat every day is what other people eat to treat themselves.
          TQP: I find for me that nutrition is much more important than what I do in the gym.
          bloodorchid is always right


          • #6
            Most animals evolve to have their major organs fail at about the same time because it's biologically expensive to develop, say, a 200-year heart if the brain and lungs will never make it that far. When we use the word "health" today we're often referring to vitality and longevity challenges unique to people past reproductive age so it's partly true that paleolithic survival can't answer all the questions.

            My peculiar nutrition glossary and shopping list


            • #7
              I don't think an early-human's body was made for making a lot of babies. A male body maybe but definitely not a woman's body.

              It is clear that a woman's perfect fertility runs from arounmd the age of 16 till 25. That's about 10 years. Taking into account that it's true when they say. A woman is 9 months pregnant and also needs 9 months to recover from it before the body is perfectly healthy again for getting children... and the fact that while nursing one child the woman won't get pregnant again (I mean she needs to feed her baby milk until he is at least able to solid foods) so that's also almost a year (remember no milk powder back then).
              I think a woman back then was only able to have a maximum of 5 or 6 children. That is if there hadn't been anything wrong during child birth that would cause her to die, become infertile or something like that.

              Pregnancy at a later age would have been very riskfull (no modern meds to help them through it)

              I think the hunter-gatherer life-style was a necessity not some crazy food intake to stimulate health... (or like said having a lot of babies..)
              My story, My thought....

              It's all about trying to stay healthy!!!!


              • #8
                I am always a little skeptical when using the term "success" in an evolutionary context. Similarly in finance (e.g. saying a trading strategy is successful because it has made money so far). When is long enough? Our whole existence so far is a tiny tiny fraction of earth's estimated life.

                Setting it aside for a moment, as picklepete pointed out, evolutionary definition of "health" is limited to reproduction.
                Anything beyond the age of 40-45 is overkill for humans. Too taxing on the natural resources. And eventually we may see the results to judge whether the homo sapiens branch off the ancient forest dwelling ape was indeed a successful experiment.
                Few but ripe.


                • #9
                  First, yes -- reproductive health is a great indicator of overall health. Women who consume a paleo diet often report much better fertility cycles than before -- which is pretty cool.

                  Second, I'll go into the whole fertility/childbirth thing because people have lots of notions, most of which are modern. Here's a blog that talks about a few of those issues.

                  So, that blog focuses on the fact that fertility does decrease over time, but it doesn't decrease that greatly between 25 and 35. The biggest job is between 35 and 45, but even then, the largest jump is between 40 and 45. Meaning that a person can have really solid fertility up until age 35 or so (the same as the fertility of women aged 20-25), and it's after this age that it decreases, btu that it doesn't become a major decrease (statistically) until 40-45. Thus, a person actually has "near perfect fertility" from the second to third year post menarche until 35, and then a good few years beyond that up to age 45.

                  And, pregnancy after these ages aren't that big of a deal either -- there's a slightly increased risk of pre=term labor, but not much more than a younger woman -- and the same goes for genetic disorders. It's just slightly increased, really, so not that big of a deal (imo).

                  Now, to baby stuff.

                  You actually have 10 months of pregnancy, not 9 (as that would be 36 weeks), and some pregnancies are actually 11 months long (assuming the doctor/midwife "allows" a woman to go that long these days -- my friend was finally induced at 45 weeks due to low amniotic fluid, so it happens a bit more in NZ than in the US.

                  Fertility can happen pretty much any time after the pregnancy has finished, but it's common for women who breast feed to natural weaning to have lactational amenorrhea. A woman can still be fertile during this time, but it's not likely until the child is getting more nutrition from food than from breast milk. In general, this occurs somewhere between year 1 and 2 for children -- even if they have been "eating" solid foods from a young age. typically, with "natural" weaning, a child is merely experiencing food before 1 year, and gaining nutrition from breast milk, and that changes or transitions between years 1 and 2. Children will naturally nurse and wean anywhere from 2 to 7 years depending upon the dyad and the culture in which they live.

                  In general, this leads to a more "natural" spacing of 2-4 years between children. If this were the case -- and all children lived and went through these normal cycles -- then a woman would have between 7.25-14.5 children between ages 16 and 45. But, it's unlikely that most of these children would live, and that the cycles would not be "normal" -- and in addition, cultural elements may have been developed (such as forced early weaning, something that we see today with the introduction of solids-as-primary-nutrition at 6 months of age) to increase opportunities for fertility for women.