In 2011, a fascinating paper entitled The western diet and lifestyle and diseases of civilization appeared in an open access journal issued by Dove Medical Press, a publisher of peer-reviewed content on technology, science, and medicine. The review article, which I hold in very high regard (as I see it, it’s extraordinarily important and concise) and have mentioned many times here on the site in the past, centers on Paleolithic nutrition and evolutionary mismatch – two concepts that are integral to Darwinian medicine.
Now, some eight and a half years later, a new paper no doubt inspired by this original hard-hitting Darwinian contribution to science was published by the same open access initiative. The review, which has a similar title (How Western Diet And Lifestyle Drive The Pandemic Of Obesity And Civilization Diseases), isn’t written by the same group of remarkable evolutionary thinkers, but it’s great nonetheless. In it, Wolfgang Kopp, a researcher who’s written fairly extensively on diet and health, and in particular the problems with high-insulinogenic nutrition, mechanistically links evolutionary nutritional mismatch with ill-health and disease, thereby underscoring the veracity and importance of Darwinian medicine, which revolves heavily around mismatch resolution.
How does nutritional evolutionary mismatch give rise to disease?
By now, it’s well established that the current pandemic of chronic, degenerative disease is rooted in recent changes in the human diet and lifestyle. What’s not firmly established though, is exactly how such changes have made us sick. A lot is known; however, much is yet to be fully explored and established. In this respect, the paper by Wolfgang Kopp is interesting.
The issues he brings up are by no means brand new, having never previously been recognized or discussed: however, the paper has a bit of a original flair to it nonetheless. One of the things that stands out about it is its marked focus on Reactive Oxygen Species (ROS) in relation to nutritional evolutionary mismatch. Kopp makes the case that increased ROS production resulting from western nutritional input overwhelms the body’s antioxidant defenses, subsequently triggering a cascade of problems.
The paper is fairly dense and technical, not making for a light read. Personally, I found myself occasionally pausing and thinking about certain things that I remember having once learned and understood, but would now need to brush up on in order to make sense of yet again. That said, the overall message conveyed by the paper is easily comprehensible. It’s contained within the abstract, which I’ve included below…
Abstract: Westernized populations are plagued by a plethora of chronic non-infectious degenerative diseases, termed as “civilization diseases”, like obesity, diabetes, cardiovascular diseases, cancer, autoimmune diseases, Alzheimer’s disease and many more, diseases which are rare or virtually absent in hunter-gatherers and other non-westernized populations. There is a growing awareness that the cause of this amazing discrepancy lies in the profound changes in diet and lifestyle during recent human history. This paper shows that the transition from Paleolithic nutrition to Western diets, along with lack of corresponding genetic adaptations, cause significant distortions of the fine-tuned metabolism that has evolved over millions of years of human evolution in adaptation to Paleolithic diets. With the increasing spread of Western diet and lifestyle worldwide, overweight and civilization diseases are also rapidly increasing in developing countries. It is suggested that the diet-related key changes in the developmental process include an increased production of reactive oxygen species and oxidative stress, development of hyperinsulinemia and insulin resistance, low-grade inflammation and an abnormal activation of the sympathetic nervous system and the renin-angiotensin system, all of which play pivotal roles in the development of diseases of civilization. In addition, diet-related epigenetic changes and fetal programming play an important role. The suggested pathomechanism is also able to explain the well-known but not completely understood close relationship between obesity and the wide range of comorbidities, like type 2 diabetes mellitus, cardiovascular disease, etc., as diseases of the same etiopathology. Changing our lifestyle in accordance with our genetic makeup, including diet and physical activity, may help prevent or limit the development of these diseases.
The crux of the paper
As I see it, the following two statements embody the central points of the article…
Like all species, today’s humans are genetically adapted to the environment in which their ancestors survived and in which their genetic makeup was selected.
Western diets significantly distort the fine-tuned metabolism that has evolved over a very long period of human evolution in adaptation to Paleolithic nutrition.
A growing pile of research supports and accentuates the notion that evolutionary mismatch is the principal cause of ill-health and disease in the 21st century, thereby validating and elevating the mismatch-focused nature of Darwinian medicine. A new paper by investigator Wolfgang Kopp adds to this body of information by providing mechanistic theories and evidence linking nutritional discordance with diseases of civilization like diabetes, heart disease, and cancer. It’s a great, albeit fairly technical review that highlights the importance of diet in health and disease.