Can the paleo diet improve health and prevent disease?

paleo diet improve health

A recent review was conducted to assess the current scientific evidence surrounding the paleo diet and its effect on weight, BMI, and waist circumference.

A leading cause of death and a matter of priority for world public health includes chronic noncommunicable diseases. Thirty-five million people died in 2015 from chronic noncommunicable diseases, this accounted for approximately 60% of global mortality for that year. If these diseases continue to rise at the current rate, it is estimated that chronic noncommunicable diseases will be responsible for 73% of deaths by 2020.

Chronic noncommunicable diseases have been listed by the World Health Organization to include; cardiovascular disease, cancer, diabetes, and chronic respiratory disease.

These diseases have been linked to factors such as smoking, high alcohol intake, low intake of fruit and vegetables, and high intake of salt and sugar.  A good diet is therefore considered to play an essential role in preventing and treating these types of diseases, and a bad diet will, therefore, have a detrimental effect by causing and propagating these diseases.

Various diets have been proposed to try and tackle these diseases, either to prevent or control. Many food and nutrition groups exist in different countries, all of which set guidelines for healthy diets. However, in addition to these organizations multiple “fad diets” can be found across all media platforms. The question remains, how much scientific evidence exists for these diets and could they potentially cause more harm than good?

The Palaeolithic diet (the Paleo diet) is one such diet that has gained much attention and popularity within the area of “fad diets”. The Paleo diet is based upon the diet of our human ancestors approximately 2.6 million to 10,000 years ago. During this period, food varied considerably as men were hunter-gatherers and migrated frequently to search for food, which again changed geographically and with the climate. Many factors of this diet do explain why our present western diet may give rise to chronic diseases. The main difference between today’s diet in comparison to those of our ancestors is that they did not eat dairy products, salt, alcohol, sugar, cereals, or processed products.

The sudden rise in attention and popularity surrounding the paleo diet has led to many clinical trials. These clinical trials set out to determine the usefulness of the paleo diet in preventing and/or controlling disease(s). This is turn has led a group of researchers to carry out a thorough review of currently available evidence on the paleo diet.

The researchers found 1224 articles, 24 of which were selected but after careful review of these 24 articles, only 11 were left for the final review as they were the only ones that met the criteria for review.

The results from these 11 articles demonstrated that the paleo diet can lead to an additional weight loss of approximately 3.52kg in individuals compared to other recommended diets. Overall, the results revealed a positive link between the paleo diet and weight loss, BMI, and waist circumference. Thus, suggesting the paleo diet could be an effective tool for the prevention and or control of various diseases by limiting excess weight which is a known risk factor for the development of various diseases.

Despite this review of current evidence suggesting that the paleo diet has positive effects on weight, BMI, and waist circumference. The writers of this review highlight that this evidence is not conclusive. Further clinical trials are needed with larger populations and longer durations of the diet being employed in order to provide further evidence to support the use of this diet for health benefits.

Written by Jade Evans, MPharm

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Reference: Almeida de menezes, V. et al 2019. Influence of Paleolithic diet on anthropometric markers in chronic diseases: systematic review and meta-analysis. Nutrition Journal volume 18, Article number: 41

Image by free stock photos from from Pixabay

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