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Open Access Publications from the University of California


The Journal of Evolution and Health brings together academic researchers and clinical practitioners to develop evolutionary insights into the major factors affecting health, and to translate those insights into practical methods for improving human and animal health.

Issue cover


Welcome to the Journal of Evolution and Health

Welcome to the first issue of the Journal of Evolution and Health! The Journal of Evolution and Health is the peer-reviewed, open-access journal of the Ancestral Health Society, a community of scientists, healthcare professionals, and laypersons who collaborate to understand health challenges from an evolutionary perspective.

Research Articles

Modern Cavemen? Stereotypes and Reality of the Ancestral Health Movement

Both academic and popular interest in the ancestral health movement, or “paleo” lifestyle, has grown rapidly in recent years. More people than ever are joining the movement, and more books and articles are being published on the topic. Media coverage and certain societal preconceptions of the movement have also increased. More often than not, followers of a paleo lifestyle are thought to be “modern cavemen”: athletic, single, meat-eating, young, white, and male. To test whether or not these stereotypes are true, the authors of the present study created the first large, academic survey (N = 3,967) of the ancestral health community. Specifically, the online survey sought to accomplish two main goals: (1) describe the current composition and demographic makeup of the ancestral health movement and (2) identify common practices, the major obstacles, and the most important motivating factors for adopting a paleo lifestyle. Despite the common stereotypes, survey evidence suggests that the majority of participants are: white, female, middle aged (mean 38 years old), in a committed relationship, highly educated, relatively affluent, and motivated by weight loss and health concerns. Thus, while some of the common preconceptions may hold up, many others probably do not.

Decolonizing the Diet: synthesizing Native-American history, immunology, and nutritional science.

This article examines historical evidence that correlates a decline in Native American health and fertility with ruptures to indigenous food systems following European colonization. It suggests new interdisciplinary ways to study the association between breached indigenous nutritional practices and a decline in Native American health. These objectives bring together students of history and natural science and entail new ways of synthesizing hitherto separate scholarly enterprises in the classroom. In light of the most cutting-edge scientific literature on nutrition, metabolic syndrome, and immunology, they require a new consideration of the historical association between Native American health and indigenous food systems.

Use of Animal Fat as a Symbol of Health in Traditional societies Suggests Humans may be Well Adapted to its Consumption

Background and objectives: Recommendations to limit the dietary consumption of saturated fat have been adopted by public health organizations in most countries. However, recent scientific studies and reviews have questioned the alleged negative health claims regarding saturated fat.

This research aims to provide a historical, evolutionary point of view to the debate through a short review of evidence for animal fat consumption by Paleolithic and recent traditional societies, and the discernment of how recent traditional societies perceived animal fat in terms of health and other lifestyle aspects.

Methodology: Literature review of the importance of animal fat's dietary consumption in prehistoric and recent traditional societies and scanning of ethnographic records for symbolic use of animal fat in rituals, linguistics and mythology. The contexts of such cultural expressions provide us with the peoples' perception of the analogues quality that animal fat imparts in its use as a symbol.

Results: Collection of 200 cases from culturally and geographically diverse traditional societies, reveals that in all three expression forms, there appears to be a clear tendency to associate animal fat with extremely positive meanings like "fertility", "sacredness", "wealth", "health", and even " a source of creation" and life itself.

Conclusion: In line with evidence for the importance of dietary animal fat in prehistoric and traditional societies, the studied traditional societies perceived animal fat as a vital component of their diet and a profound source of health rather than an impediment to health as it is presented in many dietary recommendations today.

Going Mainstream or Just a Passing Fad? The Future of the Ancestral Health Movement

The current ancestral health (“paleo”) movement is often thought to be on the verge of going mainstream. Many within the movement believe this would lead to positive health and financial outcomes for both individuals and society as a whole. However, the transition from a small, highly-devoted group of adherents to a mass following will be far more difficult than commonly assumed. This paper argues there are three main obstacles to it becoming a mass phenomenon in the United States. First, Neolithic foods are tightly woven into the fabric of our culture (for example, bread within the Christian tradition). Second, refined carbohydrates, which make up a large portion of the typical Western diet, are physiologically addictive. Third, we see a cross-generational sense of entitlement, which commonly privileges transitory “fun” over true mental and physical “flourishing” (eudemonia). This paper also identifies the two types of individuals that typically go paleo: those who are sick (and for whom conventional medicine has failed) and those who are seeking performance. The key commonality between both groups is a very high level of intrinsic motivation, which also suggests limited penetration of the ancestral health movement in the future.

Dietary Weight Loss Advice in US Health Magazines and its Relation to Ancestral Diet

As rates of overweight and obesity have risen in the US, the public has sought effective strategies for weight loss through dietary modification. A proliferation of processed foods and changing governmental nutrition guidelines have both impacted dietary intake patterns. While physicians are considered respectable sources of weight-loss information, increasingly the public has turned to the media, particularly magazines, for weight loss advice. This study investigated the dietary recommendations found in the five leading US health-related magazines and compared those recommendations to ancestral diets. With a couple notable exceptions, leading health magazines present consistent recommendations for dietary modifications to promote weight loss including reduction of caloric, sodium, carbohydrate, and fat intake. In many regards the prescriptions are aligned with an evolutionary diet. Acknowledgment and clarification of ancestral diet practices in popular magazines may promote increased compliance and sustained weight loss.

Clinical Articles

To Restore Health, “Do we Have to Go Back to the Future?” The Impact of a 4-Day Paleolithic Lifestyle Change on Human Metabolism – a Pilot Study.

On their way from the Stone Age via the Agricultural Revolution to current high-tech conditions, humans lost their primal foraging behavior. Today, energy expenditure is not necessary anymore for gathering nor hunting, and metabolic diseases are epidemically arising wherever our original Paleolithic lifestyle is turning into a modern sedentary lifestyle. In this pilot study, we followed through the concept that a radical change towards a Paleolithic hunter-gatherer lifestyle could serve as therapy against any metaflammatory disease, even in the short term. Thirteen healthy adult volunteers were transferred to the DELUX National Park (Germany and Luxembourg) for four days and three nights, where Stone Age conditions where mimicked. Thirty-eight biochemical and bioelectrical parameters were measured from participants before and after this relocation. Body weight (-3,9%), body fat (-7,5%), body mass index (-3,8%), visceral fat area (-14,4%) and metaflammation-related parameters (fasting glucose = -18,2%; fasting insulin = -50,1%; HOMA = -57,8%) decreased significantly. C-reactive protein, as the main indicator for low-grade inflammation, increased up to an average of 169,6 %. Our data show that returning to our Paleolithic roots may have positive effects on risk factors commonly associated with metabolic disorders, such as obesity and type 2 diabetes. These findings may lead the way to further research to answer the question whether the already existing metabolic conditions and/or autoimmune and neuroinflammatory diseases could be influenced by a Paleolithic lifestyle.

Back to the Future. Metabolic Effects of a 4-Day Outdoor Trip Under Simulated Paleolithic Conditions – New Insights from The Eifel Study

Background: The observation that the emergence of common Western diseases takes place with much greater prevalence as societies migrate from natural-living cultures to modernized societies, has been well documented. For approximately 84,000 generations humans lived under hunter-gatherer conditions but recently endured dramatic change from our native lifestyle with the occurrence of the agricultural, industrial, and digital revolutions. The massive technological advancement that occurred within a relatively recent timeframe enabled humans to live in manner that is remarkably different than our pre-agricultural past. Consequently, the shift from a natural to a modern lifestyle likely promotes a gene-environment mismatch which causes metabolic dysregulation which causes disease.

Methods: Using a within-participant design, we examined whether, compared to baseline, changes in lifestyle towards a more Paleolithic-style pattern, for a four-day and four-night period related to changes in a variety of metabolic parameters. Two groups of 14 volunteers were isolated for a period of four days and four nights in the natural park Südeifel on the borders between Germany and Luxembourg. Participants lived outdoors without tents. The daily hiking performance was 16.4 km (≈ 24963 steps/day) and the daily activity time 5.49 h/day by a mean caloric intake of 1747 kcal/day.

Results: After four days of simulated Paleolithic conditions, body weight (-2.9%), body mass index (-2.7%), body fat (-10.4%), visceral fat (-13.6%) and waist-hip-ratio (-2.2%) significantly decreased, while muscle mass significantly increased (+2,3%). Additionally, fasting glucose (-6.5%), basal insulin (-44.4%), homeostasis model assessment-index (-49.3%) and fatty liver index (-41%) significantly dropped. In contrast, C-reactive protein, significantly increased (+67.1%).

Conclusion: Our study indicates that a short nature trip, where modern humans adjust their behavioral patterns to simulate a more Paleolithic-like condition, could serve as an effective strategy to help prevent or improve modern metabolic disease. Particularly, the major findings of an expeditious reduction of homeostasis model assessment-index and fatty liver index scores in only four days reveal the potential for meaningful benefits with such an intervention, even when compared to the effects of longer-term, single-intervention studies such as dietary or fitness programs on similar metabolic parameters.

Popular Articles

Proceedings of the 1st annual symposium of the German Society for Paleo Nutrition held in 2013

Evolutionary Medicine is an emerging medical field that mainly addresses the causes of diseases under the consideration of evolutionary principles [1]. Viewing diseases through the evolutionary perspective also opens up new and innovative treatment strategies. In particular, the understanding that most of the so-called “diseases of civilization” emerge from a discrepancy between our modern, civilized lifestyle and that towards which our human species (as hunters and gatherers) has evolved, challenges the concept of these diseases being chronic and provides new treatment approaches. Examples of such approaches were provided in the first annual symposium of the recently founded German Society for Paleo Nutrition (Deutsche Gesellschaft für Paläoernährung e.V., DGPE). The meeting entitled ”Modern Lifestyle – Modern Diseases” took place on October 5th 2013 in Schweinfurt, Germany, and focussed specifically on nutrition in health and disease from an evolutionary perspective. This paper is a collection of abstracts of the scientific talks given at the sympoisum.

Proceedings of the 2nd annual symposium of the German Society for Paleo Nutrition held in 2014

We present the scientific abstracts of the 2nd Annual Symposium of the German Society for Paleo Nutrition (Deutsche Gesellschaft für Paläoernährung e.V.) which was held on November 8th 2014 in Schweinfurt, Germany. The topics presented had a great variety that included (i) a discussion of specific foods (one talk addressed the potential problems associated with cow’s milk consumption and one talk dealt with the staple foods of the Hadzda hunter-gatherers); (ii) the emerging role of ketogenic diets in the treatment of neurodegenerative diseases and cancer; (iii) an overview of intermittend fasting and its effects on health and performance; (iv) an extension of evolutionary principles beyond nutrition and their incorporation into everyday life in a way we term the paleo concept.

Proceedings of the 3rd annual symposium of the German Society for Paleo Nutrition held in 2015

We present the scientific abstracts of the 3rd Annual Symposium of the German Society for Paleo Nutrition (Deutsche Gesellschaft für Paläoernährung e.V.) which was held on July 26th 2015 in Berlin, Germany. The focus of this year's symposium was on the future challenges of human society including topics such as nutritional sustainability, the paleo-deficit syndrome or frailty of the elderly due to body composition changes


Play as the Foundation of Human Intelligence: The Illuminating Role of Human Brain Evolution and Development and Implications for Education and Child Development.

Children love to play. Why do they find such a frivolous activity so pleasurable and desirable? Perhaps it is not frivolous, but instead is an adaptation designed to guide proper cognitive development in human children. To understand why, I marshal evidence from different fields to build a case for play as a central behavioral mechanism of human brain and cognitive development. I start with a discussion of human evolution, focusing on the evolution of human physiology, tool-use, the human brain, and life-history strategy, and development, and how these are all connected as an adaptive suite. The anthropological and developmental evidence suggests the existence of an extended childhood adapted to establish the skills, knowledge, and understanding necessary to become a successful hunter-gatherer. I also compare human and chimpanzee brain development, and how brain-specific genes evolved uniquely in humans to foster human brain development. I conclude with the evidence from developmental psychology that even contemporary, first-world children are born with the drive to learn and develop intellectually through play. In this framework, human play can be viewed as an adaptation that guides human brain development to produce curious, intelligent and well-adjusted adults. I close by speculating on the possibility that barriers to or constraints on play may hamper intellectual and cognitive development. I focus on the important concept of developmental decanlization as a mechanism of evolutionary mismatch. I argue that more empirical study is needed to better understand the importance of play compared to other forms of education for optimal intellectual and cognitive development.


From heart beats to health recipes: The role of fractal physiology in the Ancestral Health movement

The human body—an amazing biological system that scales up fractally from its cellular building blocks—exhibits an incredible ability to self heal. Why then, are chronic diseases and degeneration on the rise in the population? Why are we sicker, more obese, and more depressed and stressed than ever before in human history? Why can’t we heal? The answers to these questions may lie in our ancestry, and modern departure from the human ecological niche. The ability to heal requires proper spatio-temporal inputs—nutrition, sleep, stress, activity, and socialization—in order for cellular signaling to occur properly across semi-permeable cell membranes. We first review key steps in the evolutionary history of multicellular life, focusing on the fundamental role of cell-cell interactions. Next, we present this as an important framework by which to understand how the entrainment of physiological signals in homeostatic mechanisms reveals new insights into the processes of disease. Examples are drawn from the evolution of metabolism, nutrition, and respiration in multicellular life. We argue that disease processes result from a mismatch between the physiological inputs an individual receives and their optimal amount and fractal distribution as determined by an individual’s ancestry. A comparative analysis is a useful tool by which to illuminate deep homologies that reveal a mechanistic account for disease processes. This cell-molecular approach provides a useful contrast to the traditional reductionist approach to disease exemplified by the human genome project. As an example, we describe how cell-cell communication drives the ontogeny and phylogeny of physiology, producing the tissues, organs, and organ systems that hierarchically serve human physiology on various levels. Modern society, with its disconnected and stress-riddled lifestyle, is increasingly failing to provide the proper inputs for healthy gene expression and physiological function. Thus, the answers to our modern health woes—physical, mental, and social—may lie in acknowledging the powerful roles that our past has played in shaping our bodies. Finding ways to provide the proper inputs of the human ecological niche in the modern day may lead to significant, perhaps staggering improvements in our health and wellness. The fractal mathematics underpinning these dynamics also serves as a metaphor for the Ancestral Health Movement, which is currently arising as a multi-cultural, multi-national grass-roots pluralistic phenomenon.

Vitamin C and Disease: Insights from the Evolutionary Perspective

The role of vitamin C at the physiological and cellular levels is indisputable. In line with this, blood level of vitamin C is inversely related to disease parameters such as risk of cancer, cardiovascular disease and mortality in prospective cohort and correlational studies. At the same time, adequately powered clinical intervention studies consistently provide no evidence for a beneficial effect of supplementing vitamin C. Here we provide a framework to resolve this apparent conflict. Besides providing an overview of the widely-known facts regarding vitamin C, we review evidence that are of potential relevance but are seldomly mentioned in the context of vitamin C. We invoke the glucose-ascorbate antagonism (GAA) theory which predicts that as a consequence of their molecular similarity glucose hinders the entry of vitamin C into cells. Integrating data coming from research at the cellular level, those from clinical, anthropological and dietary studies, in the present hypothesis paper we propose an evolutionary framework which may synthesize currently available data in the relation of vitamin C and disease. We put forward that instead of taking vitamin C as a supplement, an evolutionary adapted human diet based on meat, fat and offal would provide enough vitamin C to cover physiological needs and to ward off diseases associated with vitamin C deficiency.

An Evolutionary and Mechanistic Perspective on Dietary Carbohydrate Restriction in Cancer Prevention

The confluence of basic cell biochemistry, epidemiological and anthropologic evidence points to high dietary carbohydrate and the associated disruption of the glucose-insulin axis as causes of the current increase in metabolic disorders, metabolic syndrome, hypertension and cardiovascular disease. This hyperinsulinemic state likely contributes, as well, to an increased mutagenic microenvironment, with increased risk for cancer. This critical review discusses these risks in their historical and evolutionary context. The evidence supports the benefits of lowering the glycemic load of the diet as a preventive measure against the development of cancer.