The Paleolithic Era (also referred to as the Old Stone Age) is generally believed to have begun about 2.5 million years and ended 10,000 years ago.
That was the time when our ancient ancestors are thought to have begun using rudimentary stone tools to hunt and work.
Some argue that the typical diet pattern consumed by hunter- gatherers during this period and emphasizing lean meats, fish, fruits, vegetables, nuts, and seeds (currently called the “paleo diet“) represents the “best fit” for human physiology.
More specifically, supporters of the paleo diet argue that foods such as dairy products, legumes, and grains which weren’t regularly consumed as part of the human diet until the advent of agriculture, are a mismatch to what our bodies really need.
In addition, their consumption at least in part explains today’s most common causes of death such as cardiovascular disease, cancer, and type 2 diabetes – all of which are related to increased chronic inflammation and oxidative stress.
However, very little rigorous scientific effort has been made to study the relationship between consumption of the paleo diet and overall health.
In one of the first studies to do so, a research team led by Dr. Roberd Bostick (Emory University) investigated whether following two of today’s most popular dietary patterns, the paleo diet and the Mediterranean diet (which is similar to the paleo diet except it also includes dairy, grains, and moderate alcohol) is related to inflammation and oxidative stress.
Their results are published in The Journal of Nutrition.
To investigate the relationships of interest, Bostick and colleagues studied 646 adults (30-74 years of age) who agreed to complete a food-frequency questionnaire that included 85 questions characterizing typical food intake during the previous year.
These records were then scored from 1 to 5 in such a way that their similarity to paleo and Mediterranean diets could be quantified.
Blood samples were collected and analyzed for C-reactive protein (CRP), an indicator of chronic inflammation, and F2- isoprostanes which reflect oxidative stress.
Data indicated that people consuming food patterns most similar to either the paleo or Mediterranean diet had lower circulating CRP and F2-isoprostanes than those whose food choices were the least similar to these types of diets.
The researchers concluded that their findings “suggest that diets that are more Paleolithic- or Mediterranean-like may be associated with lower levels of systemic inflammation and oxidative stress in humans.”
Whether these findings can be replicated in other populations, and if these associations are causative in nature will require additional research.
Citation: Whalen KA, et al. (2012). Paleolithic and Mediterranean diet pattern scores are inversely associated with biomarkers of inflammation and oxidative balance in adults. Journal of Nutrition, 146:1217-1226.
Figure legend: This Knowridge.com image is for illustrative purposes only.