Thursday, 16 June 2011

A quick update and some thoughts

It has been a while, so an update is due. Yes, I am still alive and still going Paleo, whatever that means these days. But I have some new experiences and thoughts to share.

Last year I was so energised that I got too involved in my work and paid less attention to my diet and lifestyle. There was quite a bit of stress with deadlines and I had to drink quite a lot of coffee (which I normally do not drink and which has a very powerful, drug-like effect on my brain). Stress and coffee also meant seeking comfort/reward in eating. While previously my Paleo diet was mostly bland and relatively lower in fat, now I started to eat processed and fried meat with salt and AGEs. I was also eating twice, rather than once (IF) and to have a tub of ice-cream was not unusual. Still low-carb though. Exercise level was also down.
I considered all that temporary measures to help me live through the busy months. As a result, I put on about 30lbs of fat over half a year. Interestingly, this time the fat was distributed more evenly making me look like I had more muscles, but it was fat and I had to get a new suit.

About 2 months ago I decided to get back to my original Paleo with less fat, more leafy vegetables, no processed meat and no dairy (save for a bit of crème fresh or butter for flavour). I also went back to 4-6/24 IF. This helped me lose the fat, but my weight remained about 20lbs higher than a year ago: more muscle mass and more strength.

So, this seems to be working fine, but I do plan on increasing starchy vegetables and keeping fat at bay. I just feel much better after a bit more carbs, low carb rather than VLC.

I still believe that genetics and epigenetics are very important and that different people have different dietary sweet spots. I did the National Genographic test and now I know that my mitochondria (mtDNA J haplogroup) are probably used to higher amounts of fat and to generating heat through decoupling (those cold nights in the Paleo steppe?). But mtDNA J folks where the ones responsible for the Neolithic Revolution, weren’t they? So, my ancestors probably never experienced Ice Age with its (seasonal) abundance of mammoth fat.

But APOE is much more interesting, and I will probably get tested, considering my relatively high cholesterol last year. It has been claimed that APOE4 are the Paleo-Paleos, the simian ones, more used to plant based diet and that the mutation to APOE3, about 200K years ago, allowed our ancestors to eat more fat. I find it hard to believe that suddenly, 200K y.a. fat became more abundant. But interestingly APOE4 was decimated in the Fertile Crescent, but was it because of high fat diet? Or more likely because of high carb and glycation? APOE4 is more susceptible to glycation and oxidation, which might be a mechanism for its role in Alzheimer’s (with high cholesterol a compensatory mechanism to get more of it to the brain). What is even more interesting, other primates have APOE4, but theirs behaves like human APOE3, possibly making them more adapted to higher carb diet? But what was the adaptive advantage in our australopithecine ancestors to change from simian APOE4 to human APOE4 millions years ago? Was it less carb in the diet with added benefit of resistance to some viral infections?

There is no way to find the truth, whatever the truth means. Humans see patters where there are none, they come up with theories just to reduce uncertainty and cognitive dissonance, they need reassurance. Paleo world was all about uncertainty and insecurity, probably much more than our modern (post-)Neolithic world. Even religion was invented before the Neolithic (see: Gobekli Tepe, June issue of National Geographic)...

Monday, 20 September 2010

Paleo suit

I did not expect this to happen. I have never had probems buying suits before, except that I always thought that I would need a smaller size . This has changed now when I was told that the store is not selling suits with trousers and jackets differing by two or more sizes! When I was trying on the suits, when the trousers were just right, the jacket was too small and when the jacket fit, the trousers were 8 inches too big. They allowed one size differences, but would not let me pick from suits two sizes apart.

Now, not only my BMI is wrong, but also by body proportions are abnormal. And what I save on the dentist, I will have to spend on bespoke tailors.

Beary good fat

This was in one of the episodes od Planet Earth with David Attenborough: grizzly bears feeding on moths. Actually, pigging out. They took the trouble to move rocks of considerable size to get at the hiding moths. What was so good about the moth? Fat. Unfortunalty I could not find this bit on YouTube, but here is some info on the phenomenon.

Which makes me think that indeed fat moths and caterpillars could have been a staple in some necks of the wood, along with molluscs. Why bother hunting lean meat when you can just gather the fat a la Mopane! And the fat would be mostly unsaturated (keeps the insect from freezing) with plenty of omega-3. No need for cod liver either.

If environmental issues were to prevent everybody from eating animal protein, farming caterpillars could be the answer. Not necessarily more disgusting than what many people consider food these days. Of course, the caterpillars should not be fed soy - that would be gross.

Wednesday, 15 September 2010

European hunters-gatherers and cardiovascular risk

I discovered this on an anthropology blog, and the link to the original release is here.

In summary, men with the I-haplogroup have a higher risk of CHD. These are people who most likely migrated to Europe about 25,000 years ago, long before the first farmers. Chances are they are also less adapted to Neolithic foods.

And there are resons to think that mtDNA also plays a role in adaptation to Neolithic food, as well as glacial cold. Perhaps those of us who have genes of ancestral H-G Europeans fare better on high fat than the later immigrant farmers?

It would be interesting to compare susceptability to chronic diseases in U (first wave of Paleo Europeans), H (second wave) and later Neolitic farmers (J, T).

Thursday, 9 September 2010

AGT: a marker for carnivory

It looks that there might be a marker for the adaptation to predominantly carnivourous or herbivorous diet in our ancestors. It appears that alanine-glyoxylate aminotransferase (AGT) targets two different intracellular locations. In the carnivores, AGT targets primarily mitochondria; in plant eaters, it targets the peroxisomes. Humans are omnivores and there are polymorphisms in both directions.

Interesting story about adaptation to herbivory in taxonomic Carnivora, also explaining the biochemistry. Would be interesting to see the oposite in the polar bear.

The autors cite that:
"Although in most normal humans AGT is peroxisomal, in many PH1 patients AGT is mistargeted to the mitochondria (Danpure et al. 1989). Mistargeted AGT remains catalytically active but is unable to fulfill its metabolic role of glyoxylate detoxification efficiently. As a result, oxalate synthesis increases and calcium oxalate crystallizes out, usually as stones, in the kidney and urinary tract."

Interesting, kidney stones on a vegetarian diet in people who should be eating meat instead? But it also suggests that humans might be omnivores more on the plant side...

But it is more complicated than that.

In another comparative analysis, which essentially supports the association between AGT and diet across mammals, the authors state that:
"The human, in fact, is remarkable because, after having lost the ability to target AGT to mitochondria following a single mutation to the more 5′ ancestral translation start site (Takada et al. 1990), some individuals have reacquired the ability to target a small amount of their AGT back to mitochondria. However, this is not owing to reintroduction of the ancestral MTS back into the open reading frame. Instead, it is owing to the presence of a very common polymorphism which creates a new MTS in a region downstream of the ancestral MTS (Purdue et al. 1990). Whether this reacquisition of mitochondrial AGT targeting in some humans is related to increased meat-eating is unknown."

Also here:
"Some evidence to suggest that populations with greater recent ancestry of meat eating (eg. the Saami) have higher frequencies of the allele favoring the “retargeting” of enzymatic activity to the mitochondria.
The entire article is really worth reading.

So, how do I get my AGT tested?

EDIT: Having written the above I did some more browsing and came across a highly recommended article from BeyondVeg. The autor is making a strong case against veganism, but the evidence for rapid evolution and adaptation, at least in some ethnic groups, could also support the argument for some Neolithic foods in the diet:

"A recent analysis of a major genetic database - the HapMap SNP database - has shown that human evolution has accelerated dramatically in the last 40K years BP, with adaptive evolution in the last 10K years BP occurring at a rate >100 times the rate that prevailed in most of human evolution (Hawks et al. 2007, Hawks 2007). There are two primary drivers for this phenomenon: 1) the major increase in human population caused by the agricultural revolution – a larger population base allows for a larger number of genetic mutations, 2) diversity in human cultures – diets, environments – created numerous environments with different selective pressures to filter the mutations.

The preceding suggests that more human evolution has occurred in the time since the agricultural revolution began, ~10K years BP, than in the 1 million years that preceded the date 40K BP. The conclusion here is that humans are still evolving, and very rapidly, i.e., we are very much a “work in progress” in evolutionary terms."

I like the bit about chitinase, though this is probably an old adaptation. Would chitin count as fiber? Mopane anyone? Should be high in omega-3 if leaf/grass-fed. Excellent source of protein, but I would skip the porridge in the recipe. Yummy.

Wednesday, 8 September 2010

Adaptation to Neolithic diet: C282Y and H63D

Vegatarians and vegans often use arcane methods of food preparation or supplementation to make sure their diet is complete. This is clearly an unnatuaral way to make the supposedly natural plant based diet to work. WAPF adherents can also go to extreme to make grains lose most of its toxicity.

But sometimes the meat eating Paleo crowd uses a simillar method to make sure that the unsuitable diet is tolerable: they suggest bloodletting for iron overload. Indeed, giving blood is effective for haemochormatosis and is also laudable, but I doubt it is natural on a regular basis. Perhaps the meat rich diet is just as "unnatural" for sime people as vegetarian or vegan one is in others?

I took a closer look at heamochromatosis. It appears that about a quarter of people of European heritage are carriers of C282Y or H63D mutations which markedly increase the risk of iron overload. These mutations most likely occured some 60 generations ago as a response to grain-based diet, associated in turn with risk of iron deffciency. The mutations occured in Celtic and/or Viking tribes and spread across Europe. Apparently the Southern farmers did not have this trait due to vegetarian sources of iron (or they were not "lucky" enough to mutate). The mutated genes were selected for during the Bubonic plague as low iron in macrophages (due to rapid storing in tissues) offered protection against Yersinia pestis.

All this means that about a quarter of Europeans (more in Ireland, Scotland and Scandinavia than in Southern Italy or Greece) should worry about iron overload, and perhaps stay clear from too much meat.

I suppose they can still be Paleo, eating seafood, snails and other invertebrates, but possibly they would also be more adapted to grains?

One way to find out is to do the tests for Total Iron Binding Capacity (TIBC), Serum Iron (SI) and Serum Ferritin (SF), as apparently genetic testing is unreliable - typically ony those two genes are tested while 40 mutations can lead to iron overload - and expensive.

To me it looks like those people are stuck. Going back to meat-based Paleo is risky, but grains are without doubt suboptimal, even if some adaptation occured. What if there are some other mutations responsible for other metabolic pathways which helped our ancestors adapt to Neolithic diets, but with serious side effects in chronic diseases and decreased longevity? Saturated fat can be a good example. Or gluconeogenesis. Or glucose transport?

What if those genes can be modified epigenetically and our grain eating grandmother had greater impact on expression of our metabolic enzymes than hundreds of thousands of Paleolithic evolution?

I am worried that the Paleo community is starting to become as dogmatic as the entrenched vegetarians, who know better and do not even engage in constructive discussion.

In science the only way to move ahead is to constantly question our hypothesis, try to falsify it. I failed as a vegetarian scientist, but this time I am going to be more careful.

Wednesday, 1 September 2010

Lamarck again

I keep thinking about evolution and would like to have the time to explore all things Lamarckian a bit more. This is definitely crucial in the paleo context and it seems that thinking in the paloesphere has been limited to Darwinian theory.

Here is a popular text from Newsweek. Preciusly I also cited an article on Lamarkian medicine. Recently medical relevance of Lamarck's theory has been highlighted again. I also recommend this paper, a good overview of the problem, which also gives credit to Darwin for his "Lamarckian" theory of pangenesis.

If I had the time I would also read Ross Honeywill's book, which clearly looks interesting, though it has to be shipped from Australia.

Understanding this is absolutely essential as it is conceivable that some of us are already adapted to Neolithic food/lifestyle and changing back to paleo could actually be maladaptive! Or perhaps Lamarkian mechanisms allowed adaptation but only suboptimal, relevant to reproductive success, but not optimal for, say, vitality and longevity. It would be different in different populations and even individuals and we would need to find out empirically what works best, though we have only one life for the experiment.

Apparently, some characteristics become inherited after 5-10 generations and this is known as Baldwin effect. Importantly, inheritance requires some compensatory mechanism, such as hypertrophy after exercise or activated metabolic pathway after change in diet. Simple cutting of rats' tails would not make their offspring be born without tails (same with circumcision).

I guess one place to look for would be polymorphisms in metabolic enzymes in populations with different exposure to Neolithic agents.

Can all breeds of dogs be switched to a diet suitable for a wolf? Would that affect their fertility, health, life span? [Dogs have been fed meat and bones for most of the history with grains introduced very only recently, but grains were always cheaper than meat...].

How about polar bears, can they go on a grizzly diet? Polar bears are very relevant, as they apparently switched to a completely different diet during some 10K years! But in this respect Italian wall lizard is even more impressive, whether it was Lamarck or Darwin at play.

It is pure heresy, but this is what is making it so fascinating, particularly if you have read Paul Feyerabend or Thomas Kuhn.

Think of the societal implications.

But natural selection could also work during relatively short time, as in the case of Tibetans and their adaptation to high altitude.

Michel Montignac est mort

I am not an expert on the Montignac diet, but his death prompted some of my friends to comment on my eating habits. This made me have a look at what this diet was all about.

It appears, it was (it is) a high protein, low fat and moderate carb regime. If people on this diet want to avoid being hungry without putting on weight, they are bound to overdo protein. And what kind of protein would that be? Mostly highly processed animal protein loaded with salt, nitrates, benzopyrens and other carcinogens and oxidized fats (even lean meat contains fat and aged cheese is just loaded with oxidized lipids). Montignac advocated against mixing carbs and fats, but did not see any problems with mixing carbs and proteins, hence Maillard reaction was likely quintessential, as it is in tasty French cousine in general.

And much grain fed meat plus olive oil means loads of proinflammatory omega-6.

On a video from March this year, the guy does not look healthy to me. His skin looks too aged for 66. AGE?

And the high protein itself, with mTOR. If the guy did not do any fasting, or at least skipped some meals "warrior style" (he actually recommended 3 meals a day), then perhaps his mTOR was the driver?

Saturday, 21 August 2010

Garden of Eden, Cain and Abel and paleo diet

Until recently I have not been aware of the discovery of Göbekli Tepe. It certainly is irrelevant if you are trying to figure out the proportions of micronutrients in the diet, but it helps to see the Civilisation in perspective, along with its dietary component.

In short, Göbekli Tepe is the oldest temple, built ca 12,000 years ago by hunters-gatherers in what is now south-western Turkey. Clearly agriculture was not a prerequisite for religion, architecture and complex social structure.

Here is the story of Göbekli Tepe, and here an even more thought provoking interpretation.

Interesting, that in one of the Sumerian myths one of the gods was supposed to offer Adapa (Adam) "bread of death", which was later adopted in the Genesis as fruit from the tree of life.

Wednesday, 18 August 2010

What fat you are you eating when losing weight?

Losing weight by losing fat has been compared to eating that very fat. Indeed mobilising adipose tissue storage releases quite a lot of saturated fat into the bloodstream. If nature invented this mechanism to allow seasonal fat storage and mobilisation, then this fat should not be bad. Or at least should not be bad seasonally, in moderation.

Neither palmitic acid does has to be bad, even if it produces transient glucose resistance. On the contrary, it may be precisely why it is good to facilitate glucose supply to the brain, as was argued by Peter @Hypelipid.

I am not assuming that palmitic acid is bad, but would like to know how much palmitic acid was eaten by H-Gs. This applies in particular to trigycerides with PA in sn-2 position.

It is quite possible that the amount of PA in human adipose tissue in HGs was more or less the same as the amount of PA in the animals they ate.

Human fat composition depends on diet. Here in Fig 2B you can see that the percentage of PA varies considerably between 15 and 22, though only sat fat in the diet was vairied. It can be expected that HGs consuming less carbohydates would have even less palmitic acid in their adipose tissue. Releasing that fat during the lean winter months would be more or less like eating fat from wild game.

Perhaps a little more palmitic acid is not harmful, or may even be more adaptive, but still it would be good to know the composition of adipose tissue in HGs.

Tuesday, 17 August 2010

Neolitic revolution to get a fix?

An interesting, if very controversial view on the origin of agriculture:

"Climatic change at the end of the last glacial period led to an increase in the size and concentration of patches of wild cereals in certain areas (Wright 1977). The large quantities of cereals newly available provided an incentive to try to make a meal of them. People who succeeded in eating sizeable amounts of cereal seeds discovered the rewarding properties of the exorphins contained in them. Processing methods such as grinding and cooking were developed to make cereals more edible. The more palatable they could be made, the more they were consumed, and the more important the exorphin reward became for more people.

At first, patches of wild cereals were protected and harvested. Later, land was cleared and seeds were planted and tended, to increase quantity and reliability of supply. Exorphins attracted people to settle around cereal patches, abandoning their nomadic lifestyle, and allowed them to display tolerance instead of aggression as population densities rose in these new conditions.

Though it was, we suggest, the presence of exorphins that caused cereals (and not an alternative already prevalent in the diet) to be the major early cultigens, this does not mean that cereals are 'just drugs'. They have been staples for thousands of years, and clearly have nutritional value. However, treating cereals as 'just food' leads to difficulties in explaining why anyone bothered to cultivate them. The fact that overall health declined when they were incorporated into the diet suggests that their rapid, almost total replacement of other foods was due more to chemical reward than to nutritional reasons."

A while ago I touched on exorphins as well.

But what if the fix from exophins helped us develop abstract thinking and mathematics? Did the !Kung know mathematics?

Which fat is fatter?

I have decided to pay more attention to fat, this time guilt-free. But I am still a bit biased against palmitic acid (16:0) and would rather go for other options.

There are three fatty acids in a triglyceride and I remember reading that position sn-2 is the most important, as fatty acids at sn-2 are most readily absorbed by humans. It appears that beef fat has the least 16:0 at sn-2: 11.6%, compared to 20.8% in lamb and 54.8% in pork. Here are the details in Table 3.

I also remember a study showing that different fatty acids abound in different cuts and that brisket was supposed to have the healthiest fatty acid profile. It was not clear if the analysis was done on a grass or grain fed animal. (BTW, grass is not natural feed for cows; their ancestors, aourochses, fed mostly on bushes and trees).

Fortunately the local organic farm sells brisket, which is otherwise had to get organic.

But the real good stuff is bone marrow and I am now searching for a source. Last time the butcher offered me a hip bone, rather than a marrow bone - the dog will enjoy this one as well. Problem is, I have no dog. Too embarassing to rectify.

Interestingly, the fatty acid composition depends not only on what animals eat, but on the temeperature. Studies showed that the Eskimos prefered the marrow from reindeer's smaller bones closer to the cold arctic ground (more unsaturated) to the more abundant marrow from large femur or humerus (more saturated).

Whoever comes up with a patent for cheap synthetic pure oleic acid production might hit the jackpot. The Chinese have already made some progress:

Monday, 16 August 2010

No turning back

It's been 9 months since I went Paleo and it seems to have been the right choice. I am symptom-free and full of energy. The only worry was cholesterol, which now looks as follows:

TC 252mg/dL
HDL 67mg/dL
LDL 172mg/dL (Friedwald, the Iranian formula would give 149mg/dL)
TG 68mg/dL

In addition, inflammation is close to zero:
CRP 3.73mg/L

And the only marker which may need attention is slightly elevated urea: 48.66mg/dL (uric acid close to upper limit: 6.4mg/dL, but higher level might be good for the brain :)

Did I cut down on saturated fat? No. In fact, I have been eating more animal fat and less olive oil and nuts. It seems that plant oils may be better for women. Men need testosterone and not plant sterols and 5-alpha reductase inhibitors which lower the level of dihydrotestosterone. Indeed, it is the latter which is responsible for masculinisation, while testosterone only helps the muscles grow. I have not seen the studies showing that olive oil or hazelnuts lower DHT, but have a gut feeling that it does in me. Plant oils should be ok in moderation, but if we are talking 200-250g of fat a day, you have to make a choice. Besides, even olive oil is loaded with omega-6.

And indeed, I have decided to eat less protein and more fat for a while. Grass-fed meat is almost impossible to get in the UK (may be grass-fed but grain finished), but lamb is probably the closest. There is a lot of organic meat, but mostly lean cuts. Besides, organic means fed organic grains. Good that the season for deer is starting.

I have experimented a bit more with cream (and ice cream), and I really like that stuff, but they do lead to muscus production and there is no way to get unpasteurised milk products here, so this will have to go. Besides, heat processed milk products mean oxidised cholesterol and lipids as well as AGE.

One more obervation: no tooth decay. Previously I had 1-3 fillings a year, now zero and no trace of tooth decay. BTW, I had stopped using toothpaste as well and have only been using thoothbrush and floss.

On the other hand, there was more calculus, so the dentist still made the money. Based on what I have read, more ammonia from dietary protein leads to more basic saliva which protects against dental caries, but facilitates mineral deposits. This has been reported by many Atkins followers. I suppose, cutting back on protein a bit should help me acheive the right balance between decay and calculus. Otherwise I will need to start chewing on raw bones to control calculus :)

Regarding weight, it is up by 2kg from 6 mothns ago, but the waist circumference is still the same. More muscle with moderate exercise 20min 4-5 days a week.

But I am still not 100% sure that I am doing everything right. I had been wrong with vegetarianism for so many years and I also thought I had read all the evidence (the China Study, he, he). But then again, at that time I could not read evidence critically, which now I can do. This is what I do for a living after all.

Tuesday, 13 April 2010

Nothing new, really

I have been silent for a while and here is why. The neo -> paleo transformation has given me so much energy and new motivation that I came up with innovative ideas and embarked on new projects, which has been keeping be busy and positively stressed.

Also, I applied the 80/20 rule. I could keep searchng and discussing nutrition, exercise, sleep, stress and other health issues to get more insights and more benefits, but I think the 20% extra benefit would not warrant to 80% time effort. I might still be getting the olive oil, nuts or chin-ups wrong, but I have never felt better in my life, so might as well enjoy life, rather than search for the holy grail.

In sumary, I have lost 24kg and 8in of waistline bringing fat percentage down to about 12%. I am probably 3kg away from being ripped and the muscles have been growing with little effort. I simply can't believe it.

Regarding cholesterol, I have not retested it yet. According to decision analysis retesting would only be justified if the result would influence my choices. In this case - it would not. Even if LDL has not come down, I would still be eating what I have been eating for another three months to allow plenty of time for my metabolism to adjust to more sat fat in diet.

Here is what I have been eating in a nutshell (and that includes nuts :)

1. Every day: about 300-400g of raw green leafy vegetables: lettuce, spring cabbage, broccoli, leeks. Often with added peppers and avaocado and/or EVOO. No salt, sometimes chilli. I make my own EVOO mayonaise and use that sometines to make it less monotonous.

2. Every day: about 500g of organic free-range meat, wild fish or seafood. TYpically it would be deer meet (once a week), chicken (once a week), chicken livers (once a week, not every week), wild salmon (once a week), prawns/shrimp (once a week), other oily fish - sardines, sprats, mackerel or herring (once a week), lamb or beef or pork (once a week). Sometimes lamb's or deer kidneys or deer heart.

3. Every day with fish/meat: cooked/steamed/baked vegatables: leeks, broccoli, cauliflower, mushrooms.

4. About once a week: 3-4 eggs.

5. About twice a week: hazelnut butter (home made) or macadamia nuts about 200g.

6. About twice a week: 90% dark chocolate about 50-70g.

I do not eat fruit, though will eat then in season. Meat is mostly boiled (chcken) or braised in low temeperatures, fish in even lower temperatures. It has to be fresh, though wild salmon is frozen.

Exercise: about 15-20 min a day of pull-ups, chin-ups, dips, press-ups, planks, sprints or bench press.

I might have missed something, but this is pretty much the routine every day and week. By the way, I do the "warrior" appraoch as well: I only eat my salad about 4pm and then meat with veg about 7-8pm. Nuts or chocolate about 9-10pm if I am still hungry.

Monday, 1 March 2010

My culinary contribution: primitive sprats a la Grok

There are many wonderful paleo cuisine resources on the net, some simple, some for the more refined palate. There is no way I can measure up with Stone Age chefs, such as Richard Nikoley. For me, there are two problems with cooking: time (opportunity cost) and laziness.

For those two reasons, I value simplicity. My ideal paleo foods, if I am to cook myself, are minimalist, yet tasty. Bought unprocessed and minimally processed in the kitchen. Having been vegetarian for 15 years, I had plenty to (re)discover. One discovery was venison: deer hunch braised in the oven with no spices at all. Just put the meat in the casserole dish with a little water and voila, after 90 minutes it was served. And tasty it was. The same could be said about leg of lamb, though here slivers of garlic were added. Wild mallard duck was great with water alone.

But one can not live off meat alone. Fish is essential as well. And there is one kind of fish that is probably ideal for this approach: sprat. It can be eaten whole, with some bones as well as with brains. Not easy to get hold of deer brain. But sprat brains - no problem. And you also eat the gonads with countless nutrients cheaper than caviar. Their tiny stomach contents can add some greens as well.

Here is the minimalist recipe:

* Buy 1lb of fresh sprats
* Stick them in the oven at 100C (212F) - not higher to keep those omega-3s (for this reason sprats from the can don't measure up); no oil necessary, just plain baking sheet (stone?)
* bake for about 30-40 min
* eat them ad libitum (there is an internal set point for them, you can't eat more than 1lb at one go); backbone is not for the uninitiated
* Enjoy the time saved on preparation

Spices are optional: turmeric, chili, allspice, ginger.

Bon appetit!

The photo is of the raw material from Google. I was too lazy to take one of the finished product, and besides, it was too late. Will try next time.

Wednesday, 24 February 2010

Is eating mammlian meat a risky business?

This is an old story, but new to me, now that I started to dig a little deeper. And the story is very simple: humans can't synthesise Neu5Gc, a kind of sialic acid found on a surface of all mammalian cells. Humans don't make Neu5Gc, but they do have Neu5Gc from eating meat from other mammals. Sialic acids do get transported and incorporated into human cells!

As a consequence, Neu5Gc is seen by human immune system as a foreign antigen and response is mounted. This can lead to autoimmune diseases. Whether it does, there is no evidence, but Neu5Gc is being closely looked at now. Another possible implication of presence of Neu5Gc on human cells could be increased risk of infection, e.g. E. coli. This might have contributed to survival advantage in our ancestors who lost the Neu5Gc gene for the human race.

The reason it worries me it that instead of a typical winter cold, this year I have been having a strange kind of infection/inflammation in my chest. CRP is slightly increased, but no symptoms of infection other than occasional mild cough and abundant mucus in the morning. It does not look allergic either.

Also, I remember reading somewhere that higher vitamin D can lead to exaggerated immune response. It is supposed to be anti-inflammatory, but also strengthens immunity, which can be not so good if my immune system is fighting Neu5Gc in my chest.

But the whole Neu5Gc story is not very convincing. Neu5Gc has been found in foetal tissues. If Neu5Gc is present when natural tolerance is being developed, then the antigen should be seen as own, not foreign, regardless of whether if came from dietary meat/milk, or synthesised from scratch. It makes perfect sense though, that antibodies against Neu5Gc can form when children of vegetarian (or nearly vegetarian) mothers start eating meat or drink cow milk. This can be quite common on some ethnic groups. Also, vegetarians who decide to eat meat after many years may have lost natural tolerance and can react to the mammalian meat/milk antigen vigorously. On the other hand, it makes sense to recommend to expectant mothers to eat more red meat, so that more Neu5Gc gets transported to the foetus, thus helping induce natural tolerance.

One might try to use the "leaky gut" argument in addressing the fact that Neu5Gc gets into human cells in the first place, but it appears that pinocytosis is used as transport mechanism. Actually, this is the first example of such transfer of complex compounds from gut to nearly all cells.

LDL cholesterol goes sky high on fatty diet

I am reporting my blood lipids for your perusal:
Total cholesterol = 369 mg/dL
HDL cholesterol = 79 mg/dL
Trojglycerides = 90 mg/dL
LDL cholesterol (direct) = 271 mg/dL
LDL cholesterol (Fried) = 272 mg/dL
LDL cholesterol (Iranian)= 248 mg/dL

I have been on Paleo diet for about three months now, but about a month ago I started to enjoy more animal fat. In addition to chicken skin, fattier cuts of beef (brisket) and even some deer fat collected from stock bones, I gorged on cream and coconuts (whole and oil). And they do have 60% clotted cream in the UK! The LDL results were slightly lower six weeks ago.

Before going Paleo I was vegetarian with low total cholesterol (about 160), high TG (120-150), though not so low HDL (about 50). There are many factors involved, but it is very likely that my LDL went up mostly on extra sat fat.

Is it bad? I don't know. LDL can be dense or fluffy, I did not check Apo(B), but even it is mostly fluffy, I am concerned. I starting to think that diet very rich in saturated fat is not really Paleo, much like dairy, grains and legumes. Some people can indeed thrive on some or all of these foods; others may not, depending on your ancestors, perhaps even the not-so-distant ancestors.

By the way, when I was vegetarian, I had slightly elevated liver enzymes. Only slightly, so I did not bother to check further. Now the enzymes are perfect. This made me wonder if the liver was not getting fatty. Better late than never.

My plan is as follows: even more leafy greens, more EVOO (try making mayonnaise with it!) and avocado, more fish/seafood, more organ meats (ideally bone marrow as well), less fatty meat. (FYI, I have been supplementing 5,000IU vitD3 and fish oil daily for about three months).

Apparently, modern hunters-gatherers have very low total cholesterol. There is no reason to have high LDL and rationalise.

There is one more reason while I plan on cutting down on meat from mammals: Neu5Gc. I will elaborate in my next post.

Tuesday, 16 February 2010

The key Paleo factor: Food scarcity

Sometimes you just have to create a bit of a virtual reality, a Paleo re-enactment. Even if our food is no longer strictly Paleo, and even if there is no reason we should be very strict about every ingredient (see my post on epigenetic inheritance) food scarcity was more common than food abundance, even in the Neolithic. This might have to be seasonal, to allow for regeneration and repair, but should be considered critical. If CR and longevity is the only goal, food scarcity would be even more important.

When food is everywhere we are tempted and temptation is bad. When we see food and conceptualise eating eat, even if we forgo the opportunity, the brain still registers food, with all biochemical consequences to follow. Just looking at food elicits conditioned responses, which can confuse out metabolism.

But what can we do not to be led into temptation? I think there is a solution: you have to reprogramme you brain, so that is does not perceive most available foods as edible. You simply have to visualise the unhealthfulness of those foods, even possible toxicity, to develop avoidance reaction. Obviously you already have the right reflexes when subjected to the risk of eating a cake or pasta, but some Paleo-like foods are still tempting.

Here are some suggestions to make these associations:
Nut butter from the jar: roasted (AGE compounds - bad), processed fats, possibly in high temperature (possibly trans-fats). Of course you could make your own healthier version, but have no time, don't want to bother, are not that hungry after all. Result: you wait till you have your salad and steak.

Processed meats: nitrates, oxidised cholesterol, contact with plastic packaging; this is clearly not edible food. It surely might be tasty, but it is not food. Making your own would be too much trouble and you go for the leg of lamb instead.

Honey: find an obscure kind of raw honey which you can buy only at a far away farmers market and only twice a year. Any other honey would be just not good enough or contaminated with toxic pesticides. When you buy this honey, eat the while jar to make your head spin, so that you condition yourself to avid for a while. Visualise glycation and its contribution to wrinkles and infertility.

Chocolate: It may be 91% cocoa solids, or even 100% when you mix cocoa liqueur with cocoa butter, but this is not Paleo and should not be in your kitchen in the first place (it is in mine though). If you can't resist, at least don't add Stevia to it; Stevia is a highly processed extract, which will mess with your insulin and digestive juices through conditioned reflexes. Want a treat: eat some raw coconut, if you can find it at home.

Which brings us to another strategy: not to store food. Fresh food is always better, even freezing increases oxidation of fats. Don't cook too much, fried leftovers can be tasty, but are less healthy and should be avoided. Visualise toxicity.

If cheese or cream is your weakness, there is no remedy. If you consider it "approved", then it would be hard to condition your brain to see it as toxic.

After a bit of training you will be able to walk into a supermarket and see no food there. That restaurants do not offer any food you have already discovered a while ago...

Grow, reproduce and lean or meditate and regenerate?

The types of food consumed during the Paleolithic varied with time and geography. In that sense there might have been infinite number of diets and nutrient compositions. But I am starting to conceptualise two distinct dietary modalities: one when food was aplenty, the other during times of food shortage.

It all started when I looked at mTOR signalling, which is nutrient dependent. In a nutshell, more protein (particularly rich in leucin) and carbohydrates, as well as more calories (where abundant fat would also enter the picture), activate mTOR. mTOR is responsible for growth, reproduction and learning. But it is also responsible for increased oxidative stress, ageing and cancer. When mTOR is upregulated, you grow, reproduce, learn, you conquer the world. When mTOR is depressed, you slow down, regenerate, repair your DNA, and prepare for better times.

This corresponds to seasonality with abundance occurring in late summer/early autumn, and lean times in winter/early spring. Probably higher metabolism during the summer would benefit from more sunshine and vitamin D, while dark cave would not be problem in the winter (you would have stored a few-months supply of vitamin D from the summer). Most children would be conceived in late summer, to be born just before the next summer begins. When nutritious food was easy to find your brain was working at high speed, with maximum synaptic plasticity for future survival advantage.

Now we have a choice, but we can't have a cake and eat it too. If you want to grow, reproduce and learn, you go higher protein, more occasional fruit/honey, more calories, more exercise. If you want to survive hoping to extend your life, you go caloric restriction, lower protein, higher fat (during the winter months your own stored fat would have been burnt). The optimal strategy: cycle with the seasons?

Possibly, you can beat the system a little bit towards the end of long winter. When food is scarce and little fat storage remains, one option is to intensify hunting or gathering, meaning: more exercise. This would stimulate mTOR and can possibly sharpen your brains again.

By the way, there can be other important reasons for reproducing during the summer or winter months, one having to do with epigenetic inheritance discussed in my previous post.

All this makes be think again about vegetarians. Those who stick to low starch and mild caloric restriction, being in most cases on a relatively low protein diet, can possibly live longer than the summer season Paleo eaters. Vegetarians would not be optimally fit, might suffer from gluten related conditions, but if they don't gorge on soy, their mTOR would be downregulated. Possible nutrient deficiencies can possibly augment the effect. They could probably do better on a diet based on meat and leafy vegetables with mild caloric restriction, but are still better off than well fed summer hunters. At least in terms of longevity. When it comes to growth and reproduction, vegetarianism is probably the worst option.

Saturday, 13 February 2010

The paleo/primal paradigm can be all wrong

The Paleolithic diet/lifestyle paradigm draws from evolutionary theory. In fact, it is based on the validity of Darwinism. While I am hardly a creationist, I maintain that established truths are not necessarily the only truths, attempting to falsify, rather than confirm, in line with scientific method. The first take on the issue was here, below are some more thoughts.

Switch from vegetarianism to Paleo has done me good and there are other testimonials and blogs. For me there is no way back. But is may be premature to draw generalised conclusions. After all, healthy non-Paleo (and high carb) eaters might have never been considered in the equation as a comparison group. While people with metabolic syndrome or other chronic conditions might indeed benefit tremendously from Paleo-like regimen, it does not follow that all people would. There might indeed be some people who thrive on a modern "balanced" and "healthy" diet, and some might be even doing well on SAD. There is no doubt such people exist, the question is: how many and how they can be identified if prevention is to be considered.

Proponents of the Paleo paradigm base their arguments on two critical propositions:
1. Our Paleolithic ancestors ate the diet and had lifestyles which were optimal for their health.
2. Time from the beginning of agriculture (3-10 thousand years) was not long enough for humans to adapt to the new diet/lifestyle.

The problem with the first proposition is that it does not make clear what is meant by health. What was healthy for reproductive success and contributed to physical and mental prowess (more protein, perhaps seasonal abundance of carbohydrates) might not have been optimal for long term health and longevity, where low protein and, perhaps, caloric restriction could be a better choice.

It is the second proposition, however, which is more problematic. True, if natural selection were the sole factor responsible for inheritance, the time was too short. But what if inheritance is not limited to mutation and recombination of DNA? In "Evolution in Four Dimensions" Eva Jablonka argues that there is more to heredity than DNA and genes. In fact, recent publications on epigenetic inheritance appear to be reviving some of the Lamarckian concepts of evolution. Root Gorelick in his "Neo-Lamarkian medicine" speculates that meiotically-heritable epigenetic signals could be transmitted to future generations. Also Arthur Janov makes very interesting observations on the mental health aspects of epigenetic inheritance. A very insightful review of inheritance of acquired characteristics was published in Nature by Yongsheng Liu. Here is another one.

In essence, if indeed Lamarck was, at least partially, right, then perhaps several generations might be sufficient for a simple adaptation, such as lactose tolerance. But lactose tolerance is still not perfect health, we also need time to create adaptations to handle casein digestion, glycation (from galactose), maybe also insulin response. For all this several centuries could have been enough, let alone 3-10 thousand years.

This would fit the observations that different people have different level of tolerance to agricultural diets. In one of my previous posts, I argued that this might have to do with geographic origin of our ancestors. But if epigenetic inheritance were to be responsible for our adaptation to agricultural diet(s), then even few generations can make a difference. If so, then not only geography should play a role, but also the details of out forefathers' menus in the past centuries. We can only infer that indirectly. Were they peasants, artisans, knights, noblemen? Were they rich or poor? After all, it might be the case that they ate hardly any carbohydrates until the 20th century and even then not on a regular basis.

But it gets more complicated than that. Even if environmental signals can indeed translate into inheritance bypassing natural selection (something Darwin believed to be the domain of the future of evolutionary theory) then there are two possibilities:
1. The environmental (dietary) impact is nocuous and induces permanent pathological change, which becomes inherited.
2. The environmental (dietary) impact is challenging and induces adaptation. This can be achieved by activation or amplification of genes (e.g. responsible for free radical scavenging in response to oxidative stress from intensive exercise), which can then be passes by epigenetically. This adaptive response is sometimes described as hormesis, and it applies to low level exposure to normally very harmful factors, such as ionising radiation.

If the impact of agricultural diet was not overwhelmingly harmful (after Darwinian selection took care of the infertile high-carbohydrate early farmers' children), but could be considered a low level stressor instead, then hormesis and epigenetic inheritance could be responsible for adaptation. This might have been the case with knights and nobles, who hunted and/or had more meat on their tables. This could have also applies to fishermen or the poor who nevertheless had ample access to cheap herring. Now, metabolism of peasants who had to subsist on gruel, bread and later potatoes, may have been devastated by excess carbohydrates. Metabolic defects (such as hyperinsulinemia) might have been perpetuated in offspring. But then again some of them managed to poach some small game, gather snails, eggs, and supplemented with plenty of green leafy vegetables to keep metabolism in balance, which would in effect simulate hormesis.

Indeed, if one's ancestors were predominantly grain eaters or vegetarians and their metabolism adjusted with no clinical manifestations, then it is possible than going Paleo with large amounts of meat constitute a new environmental stress! Small amounts of meat would lead to hormesis, but large amount would be overwhelming leading to cancer and early death.

Now, how to we fit Pottenger's cats into the picture?