Friday, 30 September 2016

Could the Paleo Diet Help Heart Health?

One of the media's favourite diets to criticise is the Paleo Diet. If you follow this diet, regardless of how much your health has improved, it sounds like you might as well wear a bucket on your head and call yourself Ned Kelly, because it's sometimes talked about as if it were a crime. However, there is (ignored) research out there validating those who promote the diet, including this small but interesting recent study.
You won't actually turn into a caveman.

The researchers asked eight healthy people (ie no diagnosed illness) who normally ate a typical Western diet, high in processed foods, to switch to the non-processed Paleo diet for eight weeks. They all received a sample menu and recipe guide, as well as dietary advice. They were able to eat as much food as they wanted, as long as they stuck to the Paleo diet's rules. After the eight weeks, the researchers found that the participants experienced, on average, a 35% increase in levels of interleukin-10 (IL-10). IL-10 is an anti-inflammatory molecule produced by immune cells. In fact, low levels of IL-10 are associated with an increased risk of heart attack, which is the main finding here that suggests a protective effect of the Paleo diet. There were also other changes to inflammatory markers, but their effects were uncertain. Participants also lost weight during the trial, and reported a 44% reduction in carbohydrate consumption, and a 22% reduction in overall energy consumption. This validates those out in the real world who report losing weight after starting the diet, where there are also no restrictions on energy intake. Although the trial did not have a control group, it could still be said that their baseline results served as a control, as only you are a biochemical match for yourself (unless you have an identical twin).

This new study was not the only time that the Paleo diet had been found to improve markers of cardiovascular health. In another, 20 volunteers with high cholesterol were first instructed to eat a diet following standard "heart healthy" guidelines for four months, and then a Paleo diet for another four months. After four months on the Paleo diet, triglycerides, total cholesterol and LDL levels were lower, while HDL levels were higher, than when the volunteers were on the "heart healthy" diet. This is despite the higher fat content of your typical Paleo diet. It may also reduce blood glucose levels, as well as waist circumference. In a third study, 29 volunteers with ischaemic heart disease were assigned to one of two groups: one on a Paleo diet (defined as: based on lean meat, fish, fruit, vegetables, root vegetables, eggs and nuts), and one on a Mediterranean-like diet (defined as: based on wholegrains, low-fat dairy, vegetables, fish, fruit, oils and margarines). All had either glucose intolerance or type II diabetes. Over the 12 week study period, there was a 26% decrease in area-under-the-curve (AUC) glucose levels and a reduction of 5.6cm in waist circumference in the Paleo group. However, there was only a 7% decrease in AUC glucose and a waist circumference reduction of 2.9 cm in the Mediterranean group. Blood glucose and waist circumference are also related to heart disease risk because of inflammation. Overall, if the Paleo diet is working for you, you don't need to give it up because of a "witty" news report or article.

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