The Latest in Health & Medicine

tomatoes-handsHave you kept up-to-date with the research in nutrition and ancestral health lately? If not, here’s your chance to catch up. In these semi-regular posts I include links to recently published articles, videos, and scientific papers that I find particularly interesting and that revolve around topics that are frequently discussed on this site, such as evolutionary health promotion, physical activity, and ancestral diets.

Let me know in the comment section if you have any thoughts/opinions related to the articles in today’s post or if you’ve come across any interesting new research on diet, health, and exercise that you think deserves to be mentioned.

Evolutionary nutrition and diet-induced selection pressure

Chew On This: Slicing Meat Helped Shape Modern Humans

Miss Manners and skilled prep cooks should be pleased: Our early human ancestors likely mastered the art of chopping and slicing more than 2 million years ago. Not only did this yield daintier pieces of meat and vegetables that were much easier to digest raw, with less chewing — it also helped us along the road to becoming modern humans, researchers reported Wednesday. Read more…

Are we what we eat?
Evidence of vegetarian diet permanently shaping human genome to change individual risk of cancer, heart disease

In a new evolutionary proof of the old adage, ‘we are what we eat,’ scientists have found tantalizing evidence that a vegetarian diet has led to a mutation that — if they stray from a balanced omega-6 to omega-3 diet — may make people more susceptible to inflammation, and by association, increased risk of heart disease and colon cancer. Read more…

By Land or by Sea: How Did Early Humans Access Key Brain-Building Nutrients?

Omega fatty acids, including docosahexaenoic acid, or DHA, are key to brain health and most likely helped to drive the evolution of the modern human brain. But how did early humans access these vital nutrients? The answer is a matter of some debate.

For nearly two decades archaeologist Curtis W. Marean, associate director of Arizona State University’s Institute of Human Origins, has overseen excavations at a site called Pinnacle Point on South Africa’s southern coast, near where a newly discovered early human species, Homo naledi, was recently unearthed. His work there suggests that sometime around 160,000 years ago, during a glacial period known as Marine Isotope Stage 6 (MIS6), humans made a significant shift in their eating habits, moving from foraging for terrestrial plants, animals and the occasional inland fish to relying on the rich, predictable shellfish beds in the area. Read more…

How diet shaped human evolution: The Neanderthal rib-cage and pelvis expanded to adapt to a high-protein diet in Ice-Age Europe

Homo sapiens, the ancestor of modern humans, shared the planet with Neanderthals, a close, heavy-set relative that dwelled almost exclusively in Ice-Age Europe, until some 40,000 years ago. Neanderthals were similar to Homo sapiens, with whom they sometimes mated — but they were different, too. Among these many differences, Neanderthals were shorter and stockier, with wider pelvises and rib-cages than their modern human counterparts.

But what accounted for these anatomical differences? A new Tel Aviv University study finds that the Ice-Age diet — a high-protein intake of large animals — triggered physical changes in Neanderthals, namely a larger ribcage and a wider pelvis. Read more…

A Paleolithic-type diet may help reduce future risk of diabetes and cardiovascular disease

A Paleolithic-type diet may help obese postmenopausal women lose weight, improve their circulating fatty acid profile and lower their future risk for diabetes and cardiovascular disease, new research reports. The study results will be presented in a poster Sunday, April 3, at ENDO 2016, the annual meeting of the Endocrine Society, in Boston.

“Eating a Paleolithic-type diet without calorie restriction significantly improved the fatty acid profile associated with insulin sensitivity, and it reduced abdominal adiposity and body weight in obese postmenopausal women,” said lead study author Caroline Blomquist, a doctoral student in the Department of Public Health and Clinical Medicine at Umeå University in Umeå, Sweden. “A Paleolithic-type diet, high in polyunsaturated fatty acids, may have long-term beneficial effects on obesity-related disorders, including reduced risk for diabetes and cardiovascular disease.” Read more…

Mediterranean style diet might slow down aging, reduce bone loss

Sticking to a Mediterranean style diet might slow down aging, a new study has found. Mediterranean style diet, tested in the project, significantly decreased the levels of the protein known as C-reactive protein, one of the main inflammatory marker linked with the ageing process. Another positive effect of this diet was that the rate of bone loss in people with osteoporosis was reduced. Other parameters such as insulin sensitivity, cardiovascular health, digestive health and quality of life are yet to be analyzed. Read more…

Paleolithic and Mediterranean Diet Pattern Scores Are Inversely Associated with Biomarkers of Inflammation and Oxidative Balance in Adults

These 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. Read more…

Is moderate drinking really good for you? Jury’s still out

Many people believe a glass of wine with dinner will help them live longer and healthier–but the scientific evidence is shaky at best, according to a new research analysis. The findings, published in the March 2016 issue of the Journal of Studies on Alcohol and Drugs, may sound surprising: Countless news stories have reported on research tying moderate drinking to a range of health benefits–including a lower heart disease risk and a longer life.

But the new analysis took a deeper look at those studies, 87 in all. And it found that many were flawed, with designs suggesting benefits where there were likely none. Read more…

Move Over, Organic And Natural Foods. We Live In A Grassfed Era Now.

Grass-fed is the new organic.

That is, just as the organic food industry took off, so, too have grass-fed-raised foods. It’s apparently at least a $2.5 billion industry, and growing, according to, well, the grassfed industry. Read more…

Hominin evolution and natural selection

Female pelvis adjusts for childbearing years

Mother Nature has the answer: With the onset of puberty, the female pelvis expands; with the onset of menopause, it contracts again. In contrast, the male pelvis remains on the same developmental trajectory throughout a lifetime. The striking results of this study suggest that the morphology of the female pelvis is influenced by hormonal changes in puberty and during menopause. Read more…

Human brawn may be an evolutionary fluke — courtesy of our big brains

The traditional thinking is that the growth of both was spurred by the process of natural selection. The evolutionary advantages of a big body and a big brain are plentiful, so it seems reasonable to think that each developed independent of the other in response to the demands of survival in a hostile world.

But a new study in the journal Current Anthropology suggests that, while our brains are certainly an advantageous adaptation, our imposing physiques (such as they are) are more of an evolutionary fluke. That’s because the genes that determine brain and body size are the same, argues Mark Grabowski, a fellow at the American Museum of Natural History. So as humans evolved bigger and bigger brains, our bodies “just got pulled along.” Read more…

Neanderthal genomics suggests a pleistocene time frame for the first epidemiologic transition

The transfer of pathogens between hominin populations, including the expansion of pathogens from Africa, may also have played a role in the extinction of the Neanderthals and offers an important mechanism to understand hominin–hominin interactions well back beyond the current limits for aDNA extraction from fossils alone. Read more…

Genetics reveals the impact of lifestyle on evolution

Scientists have long thought that the rate with which mutations occur in the genome does not depend on cultural factors. The results of a current study suggest this may not be the case. A team of researchers from France and Germany analysed more than 500 sequences of the male Y-chromosome in southern African ethnic groups living as farmers and in population groups engaged in traditional hunter-gatherer activities. The study found that the agriculturalists had a comparatively higher rate of change than the hunter-gatherers did. The researchers explain this by the significantly older average age of paternity among the agriculturalists. Furthermore, the study finds a much older age for the most recent common ancestor of the human Y-chromosome than was previously assumed. Read more…

Neanderthals may have died of diseases carried by humans from Africa

Diseases and infections passed on by the ancestors of modern humans when they moved out of Africa and into Europe may have helped wipe out the Neanderthals who previously dominated the continent.

The unfortunate Neanderthals, who would only have developed resistance to the diseases of their European environment, are most likely to have been infected with a bacterium that causes stomach ulcers, the virus that causes genital herpes, tapeworms and tuberculosis. Read more..

Modern times: Diet-genome misfit

Rat Study Shows Junk Food Diet Can Make You Lazy

A new rat study shows that being overweight makes people tired and sedentary — and not the other way around. Read more…

‘Ultra-processed’ foods make up more than half of all calories in US diet

‘Ultra-processed’ foods make up more than half of all calories consumed in the US diet, and contribute nearly 90 percent of all added sugar intake, finds new research. Read more…

You are what your parents ate!

Scientists have shown that diet-induced obesity and diabetes can be epigenetically inherited by the offspring via both the oocytes and the sperm.

In their theories on heredity and evolution, both Jean-Baptiste Lamarck and Charles Darwin explicitly stated that characteristics and traits that parents acquire during their lifetime through interaction with the environment could be passed on to their offspring. It was not until the neo-Darwinist “Synthetic Theory of Evolution,” which combines the theories of natural selection by Darwin and of genetics by Gregor Mendel, that the inheritance of acquired traits was rejected. “From the perspective of basic research, this study is so important because it proves for the first time that an acquired metabolic disorder can be passed on epigenetically to the offspring via oocytes and sperm- similar to the ideas of Lamarck and Darwin,” said Professor Johannes Beckers. Read more…

Artificial flavors are making you hate healthy food

Flavor and nutrition are linked. For millions of years, the different flavor components of foods told our bodies about the nutrients in them, and we craved those foods when we needed their associated nutrients. “Now we’ve created foods that taste delicious, but unlike foods in nature, these foods aren’t backed up by nutrients,” Schatzker says.

This change in our cravings isn’t because of a change in our tastebuds. It’s because we have fooled our brains and bodies into thinking that the fake stuff is giving us what the real stuff does. Schatzker says, “Now that we’ve broken that connection between flavor and nutrition by creating synthetic flavors, we have created foods that tell a thrilling but deceptive nutritional lie.” Read more…

Wheat gluten intake increases weight gain and adiposity associated with reduced thermogenesis and energy expenditure in an animal model of obesity.

Wheat gluten promotes weight gain in animals on both HFD [High-Fat Diet] and CD [control-standard diet], partly by reducing the thermogenic capacity of adipose tissues. Read more…

Pollutants in fish inhibit human’s natural defense system

In a new study, environmental pollutants found in fish were shown to obstruct the human body’s natural defense system to expel harmful toxins. The research team suggests that this information should be used to better assess the human health risks from eating contaminated seafood. Read more…

Bread and Other Edible Agents of Mental Disease

Perhaps because gastroenterology, immunology, toxicology, and the nutrition and agricultural sciences are outside of their competence and responsibility, psychologists and psychiatrists typically fail to appreciate the impact that food can have on their patients’ condition. Here we attempt to help correct this situation by reviewing, in non-technical, plain English, how cereal grains—the world’s most abundant food source—can affect human behavior and mental health. We present the implications for the psychological sciences of the findings that, in all of us, bread (1) makes the gut more permeable and can thus encourage the migration of food particles to sites where they are not expected, prompting the immune system to attack both these particles and brain-relevant substances that resemble them, and (2) releases opioid-like compounds, capable of causing mental derangement if they make it to the brain. A grain-free diet, although difficult to maintain (especially for those that need it the most), could improve the mental health of many and be a complete cure for others. Read more…

Global health trends

DECLINING LIFE EXPECTANCY ACCORDING TO NEW CDC DATA

In 2005, colleagues and I predicted in the New England Journal of Medicine that life-expectancy would decline in the US by mid-century due to the obesity epidemic. But I was stunned to see evidence for this prediction so soon in preliminary data just released by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Age-adjusted deaths rates for the first 9 months of 2015 increased significantly compared to the same time period in 2014, most notably involving obesity-related conditions like heart disease, diabetes, stroke and Alzheimer’s. Although these data are preliminary, the downward trend in longevity will almost certainly accelerate as this generation of children — heavier from earlier in life than ever before — reaches adulthood. Read more…

We now live in a world in which more people are obese than underweight, major global analysis reveals

In the past 40 years, there has been a startling increase in the number of obese people worldwide — rising from 105 million in 1975 to 641 million in 2014, according to the most comprehensive analysis of trends in body mass index to date. Read more…

Other health and lifestyle topics

Chronic Stress: A Case of Mind Over Matter?

I talk about that in relation to stress, certainly, because you can’t rewire your brain overnight. In terms of chronic stress, we know that it changes people’s brains over time. Parts of the brain, such as the amygdala, [which is] involved in an emotional response to fear and threats, will grow larger and better connected if you’re chronically stressed, and parts of the brain like the prefrontal cortex, which is involved in high order thinking, [such as] rational planning, motivation, decision making, will shrink and become less well connected. There are various techniques — mindfulness meditation is one that’s quite well studied — showing that you can reverse those brain changes caused by stress and actually make the amygdala become smaller again over time, and the prefrontal cortex, the gray matter there to become larger. We can do things that will change how our brains respond to threats, and therefore, the physiological [changes] follow from that. But it’s not a quick fix just like diet or exercise. You can’t just decide one day that you’re going to do it, and everything will be different. You have to put in the hours and really work at it over time…. Read more…

Some sunscreen ingredients may disrupt sperm cell function

Many ultraviolet (UV)-filtering chemicals commonly used in sunscreens interfere with the function of human sperm cells, and some mimic the effect of the female hormone progesterone, a new study finds. Read more…

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