Monday, October 6, 2008

Paleolithic Diet Clinical Trials Part II

There were a number of remarkable changes in both trials. I'll focus mostly on Dr. Lindeberg's trial because it was longer and better designed. The first thing I noticed is that caloric intake dropped dramatically in both trials, -36% in the first trial and a large but undetermined amount in Dr Lindeberg's. The Mediterranean diet group ended up eating 1,795 calories per day, while the paleolithic dieters ate 1,344. In both studies, participants were allowed to eat as much as they wanted, so those reductions were purely voluntary.

This again agrees with the theory that certain neolithic or industrial foods promote hyperphagia, or excessive eating. It's the same thing you see in low-carbohydrate diet trials, such as
this one, which also reduce grain intake. The participants in Lindeberg's study were borderline obese. When you're overweight and your body resets its fat mass set-point due to an improved diet, fatty acids come pouring out of fat tissue and you don't need as many calories to feel satisfied. Your diet is supplemented by generous quantities of lard. Your brain decreases your calorie intake until you approach your new set-point.

That's what I believe happened here. The paleolithic group supplemented their diet with 3.9 kg of their own rump fat over the course of 12 weeks, coming out to 30,000 additional calories, or 357 calories a day. Not quite so spartan when you think about it like that.

The most remarkable thing about Lindeberg's trial was the fact that
the 14 people in the paleolithic group, 2 of which had moderately elevated fasting blood glucose and 10 of which had diabetic fasting glucose, all ended up with normal fasting glucose after 12 weeks. That is truly amazing. The mediterranean diet worked also, but only in half as many participants.

If you look at their glucose tolerance by an oral glocose tolerance test (OGTT), the paleolithic diet group improved dramatically. Their rise in blood sugar after the OGTT (fasting BG subtracted out) was 76% less at 2 hours. If you look at the graph, they were basically back to fasting glucose levels at 2 hours, whereas before the trial they had only dropped slightly from the peak at that timepoint. The mediterranean diet group saw no significant improvement in fasting blood glucose or the OGTT. Lindeberg is pretty modest about this finding, but he essentially cured type II diabetes and glucose intolerance in 100% of the paleolithic group.

Fasting insulin, the insulin response to the OGTT and insulin sensitivity improved in the paleolithic diet whereas only insulin sensitivity improved significantly in the Mediterranean diet.
Fasting insulin didn't decrease as much as I would have thought, only 16% in the paleolithic group.

Another interesting thing is that the paleolithic group lost more belly fat than the Mediterranean group, as judged by waist circumference. This is the
most dangerous type of fat, which is associated with, and contributes to, insulin resistance and the metabolic syndrome. Guess what food belly fat was associated with when they analyzed the data? The strongest association was with grain consumption (probably mostly wheat), and the association remained even after adjusting for carbohydrate intake. In other words, the carbohydrate content of grains does not explain their association with belly fat because "paleo carbs" didn't associate with it. The effect of the paleolithic diet on glucose tolerance was also not related to carbohydrate intake.

So in summary, the "Mediterranean diet" may be healthier than a typical Swedish diet, while a diet loosely modeled after a paleolithic diet kicks both of their butts around the block. My opinion is that it's probably due to eliminating wheat, substantially reducing refined vegetable oils and dumping the processed junk in favor of real, whole foods.
Here's a zinger from the end of the paper that sums it up nicely (emphasis mine):
The larger improvement of glucose tolerance in the Paleolithic group was independent of energy intake and macronutrient composition, which suggests that avoiding Western foods is more important than counting calories, fat, carbohydrate or protein. The study adds to the notion that healthy diets based on whole-grain cereals and low-fat dairy products are only the second best choice in the prevention and treatment of type 2 diabetes.