Walk and talk like a man, eat like a caveman

Some people believe that, unlike us, “cavemen” were in sync with their environment. Why? Because “We’re fat and unfi t, we have high blood pressure, and we suff er from ailments that we suspect our ancestors never worried about…” But is this because we are stuck in a modern environment with ancient bodies and genes? In her book Paleofantasy: What Evolution Really Tells Us about Sex, Diet, and How We Live, Marlene Zuk questions this dogma. She shows that evolutionary changes have enabled us to eat and digest a wider range of foods than our ancestors could, but our overindulgence of energy-dense and easily available foods and sloth are contributing to the so-called diseases of civilisation.

Zuk states that evolution is continuous, “can be fast, slow, or in-between”, does not have a purpose, and does not necessarily mean progress. It can occur with or without natural selection, which can be classically thought of as the “winnowing out of genetic variants”: organisms and genes that are most suited to their environment survive and reproduce. She provides many examples of evolution and claims that there has never been a “seamless match” between any species and the environment. The belief that human beings stopped evolving, or are doing so incrementally over 100 000s of years, is just a fallacy.

An example of the many evolutionary changes in human beings is the appearance of blue eyes through a random genetic change about 6000–10 000 years ago. The ability to consume diverse foods, including dairy products and starchy foods, is another example. Lactase persistence after weaning is an evolutionary change that arose through natural selection, enabling about 35% of the human population, clustered in northern Europe and parts of Africa and the Middle East, to remain lactose tolerant in adulthood. Zuk explains that this change occurred about the time Homo sapiens started domesticating cattle—at least 7000 years ago. Milk consumption has benefi ts: it is a source of nutrition (calcium, protein, and sugar), and, for people living in deserts, can be a vital, uncontaminated source of liquid.

Another example of a food-related evolutionary change in human beings is the adaptation to eat starchy foods. Amylase, an enzyme released from the salivary glands and the pancreas, enables the digestion of starch. The amylase gene is “prone to duplication”, but this duplication does not happen during our lifetimes—instead, we inherit the number of copies of the gene from our parents. As a result of natural selection, individuals whose diets contain high amounts of starchy foods have “multiple copies” of the amylase gene compared with those whose diets are rich in meat and fish. Zuk states that domestication of cereal crops (eg, barley and rice) probably happened after natural selection for the ability to digest starch.

All of this is bad news for people who want to counter the various eff ects of the modern lifestyles on their health, and have opted to follow the paleo diet. Unfortunately for them, through evolution, neither we nor the foods that we eat have remained the same since “caveman” times. We are behaviourally and physiologically very diff erent from our ancestors: “The caveman wouldn’t just fi nd our modern cuisine foreign; the microbes inside of us…would be at least as strange”. And Zuk explains that there is no such thing as a natural diet for human beings because we “ate too many diff erent foods in the past, and have adapted to too many new ones”. The belief that we should adjust our diets to conform to a “caveman” ideal, therefore, seems somewhat misguided.

Zuk also issues a warning for modern human beings “that a life of sloth with a diet of junk food isn’t doing us any favors”. She explains that we evolved under conditions of a feast–famine cycle. Hence, a sedentary state sends signals (Zuk does not say what these are) to the genes that there is about to be a famine, so the body makes the best use of resources for the short term. A sedentary lifestyle alters metabolism to favour weight gain and can cause adverse changes—eg, in concentrations of triglycerides, one of the risk factors for heart disease. And because short periods of intense exercise will not be enough to stave off these problems, Zuk stresses the need to move around more to avoid increases in waistlines and blood pressure, and problems with blood sugar concentrations. Other harmful eff ects of being “couch potatoes” include increased rates of anxiety, depression, and mortality.

Although diabetes type 2 can afflict individuals irrespective of ethnic origin, Zuk notes that the fastest increase in prevalence has been in people of non-European descent. She proposes that these individuals have “thrifty genes” that allow the effi cient use of sugar and storage of fat, enabling survival during famine. But when food is always abundant, these genes “promote hyperglycemia and problems with insulin regulation”.

Zuk provides nice metaphorical food for thought about evolution. After reading her book, I wonder whether our ancestors actually felt in sync with their environment. Perhaps they too pined for a past era in which they assumed their forebears had been content with their lives. Or maybe “cavemen” were too preoccupied about their future and were contemplating ways to domesticate ungulates (mammals with hooves) when they were not busy pursuing their food. With scant evidence, who can really say?

Paleofantasy: What Evolution Really Tells Us about Sex, Diet, and How We Live Marlene Zuk, W W Norton and Company, 2013. Pp 328.  ISBN 978-0-393-08137-4

Cholesterol: no longer a “Nutrient of concern”

Interesting article


Cholesterol: The Good and the Bad, reiterated

Image: http://bit.ly/198U7J3 Image: http://bit.ly/198U7J3

Cholesterol has a bad reputation, its name linked to heart attacks, strokes, and other types of cardiovascular disease. Yet cholesterol is as necessary for human health as water or air.

Cholesterol comes from two sources – the body and food. The liver secretes 75% of the cholesterol that circulates in blood, and the remaining 25% comes from the food that we eat. At normal levels, cholesterol actually plays an important role in functioning of the cells. But cholesterol levels are precariously high in more than 100 million Americans.

There are two types of cholesterol, namely High Density Lipoprotein (HDL) and Low Density Lipoprotein (LDL). HDL is good cholesterol, which helps remove bad cholesterol and prevents it from accumulating inside the arteries. The optimal score is 60. LDL known as the bad cholesterol, when combines with other substances clog the arteries. Usually…

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Vitamin D at high levels increases susceptibility to death

Vitamin D is very important for bone strength and the deficiency of which results in impaired bone mineralization and bone damage leading to bone-softening diseases. Body can synthesize this vitamin from freely available sunlight. However the risk of skin cancer due to exposure to sunlight leads to the deficiency of Vitamin D. Several studies showed that extremely low levels of this Vitamin can prove detrimental to our health.

Doctors prescribe supplements for the Vitamin D deficienct patients which lead to aberrant levels of Vitamin D in some patients. But the level of Vitamin D in our blood should neither be too high nor too low. For the first time, scientists from the University of Copenhagen showed a connection between high levels of Vitamin D and cardiovascular deaths. Their study shows that extremely high levels of Vitamin D in our blood is connected to an increased risk of dying from a stroke or heart disease.

“We have studied the level of Vitamin D in 247,574 Danes, and so far, it constitutes the world’s largest basis for this type of study. We have also analysed their mortality rate over a 7-year period after taking the initial blood sample, and in that time 16,645 patients had died. Furthermore, we have looked at the connection between their deaths and their levels of Vitamin D”, Professor at the Department of Clinical Medicine and physician at Glostrup Hospital, Peter Schwarz, explains. The findings were published in the world-renowned Journal of Endocrinology and Metabolism. The study confirms that there is indeed a correlation between mortality rates and low or high levels of Vitamin D.

“If your Vitamin D level is below 50 or over 100 nanomol per litre, there is a greater connection to deaths. We have looked at what caused the death of patients, and when numbers are above 100, it appears that there is an increased risk of dying from a stroke or a heart condition. In other words, levels of Vitamin D should not be too low, but neither should they be too high. Levels should be somewhere in between 50 and 100 nanomol per litre, and our study indicates that 70 is the most preferable level“, Peter Schwartz states. This study greatly influences the future of nutritional supplements intake and manufacture.

Image: Vitamin D (http://bit.ly/1GfdN9s)      Image: Vitamin D (http://bit.ly/1GfdN9s)

“These are very important results, because there is such great focus on eating Vitamin D. We should use this information to ask ourselves whether or not we should continue to eat vitamins and nutritional supplements as if they were sweets. You shouldn’t simply up the dose to feel better. We should only consume such vitamins in close coordination with our GP”, Peter Schwartz concludes.

Original article can be accessed here.

Your food choices and blood group

Certain “healthy” foods make your stomach rumble even as they offer a host of nutritional benefits to others.

Each blood type has a unique composition of digestive enzymes that determines how the body will react to different food groups. Basically, your blood type has a distinct way of recognising what is “alien” for you. When the body perceives a threat from such an “alien”, it reacts violently, often leading to a host of health problems.

Picky O Group
People with type O blood, are more prone to stomach problems because of the high acidic content in the stomach. So while they can digest protein well, they have to be cautious about consuming too many fats or carbohydrates. They are also known to have a sluggish metabolism so they must exercise regularly and avoid grains and heavier oils made from corn or peanut. Fresh fruits such as berries, plums, bananas and pears are beneficial as they are “friendly” with the typical stomach enzymes of those who have type O blood.

Hardy B Group
Of the four basic types, people with type B blood have the most resilient digestive systems. They usually aren’t overly sensitive to food choices. ‘They are lucky that their bodies aren’t averse to grains, meat or dairy. They should just aim at a balanced diet with lots of green vegetables – corn, lentils, tomatoes and peanuts are best avoided,’

Sensitive A Group

On the other end of the spectrum are people with blood group A. Some studies suggest that these people have a low acidic content making it difficult for them to digest meat. ‘This group has shown a tendency towards cardiac problems. So for them we recommend a vegetarian diet with restricted animal fat and dairy products – intake of plenty of fruits and vegetables lowers the risk of cardiovascular disease. Since they also have thicker blood, it’s best for them to avoid fatty meat.’

Somewhere In The Middle – AB Group

This group combines the vulnerabilities of both A and B groups and falls in the sensitive zone. People with this blood type fare better with a diet that’s more vegetarian in nature. Since they don’t have enough stomach acid, they should – as far as possible – avoid dairy, alcohol, caffeine and citrus fruits.

On The Flip Side
Like most other diets, the Blood Group Diet has also attracted a fair share of cynicism from experts – it ignores other aspects that determine an individual’s health: age, genetics, eating habits, food preferences (vegetarian/non-vegetarian) and so on. Doctors against thinking of the principle on which this diet works as an absolute science. ‘There is not enough scientific evidence to establish this as a wellaccepted practice. However, our personal experiences with patients indicate that the correlation of the blood group with the diet does have some bearing on a person’s overall health and fitness levels.’ This effect might not always translate in weight loss but in improved energy levels or a general feeling of wellbeing.

KNOW MORE: For a list of foodstuffs that fall into three categories: beneficial, neutral and avoidable for each blood type, refer to D’Adamo’s book Eat Right 4 Your Type.

A new inhibitor for treatment of inflammatory diseases

Scientists have developed a new inhibitor for the treatment of inflammatory diseases. They have come up with a potent, selective, small-molecule inhibitor called MCC950. MCC950 is the inhibitor of NLRP3, a NOD-like receptor (NLR) family, pyrin domain–containing protein 3 inflammasome. NLRP3 inflammasome s a component of the inflammatory process, and its activation is pathogenic in diseases like multiple sclerosis, type 2 diabetes, Alzheimer’s disease and atherosclerosis.

The results were published in Nature Medicine and could prove to be a therapy for various diseases in the future. MCC950 specifically inhibits only NLRP3 and not other inflammasomes. MCC950 reduced interleukin-1β (IL-1β) production in vivo and attenuated the severity of experimental autoimmune encephalomyelitis (EAE), a disease model of multiple sclerosis.

Dr. Rebecca Coll, from UQ’s Institute for Molecular Bioscience, said “Inflammatory diseases result when our immune system is unable to switch off and so causes chronic inflammation in the body. Current therapies for inflammatory diseases, such as asprin, ibuprofen and steroids, don’t work well in severe cases and are not targeted, which can limit their effectiveness and cause side-effects. We now know that MCC950 can block an important component of the immune response — an inflammasome called NLRP3 that ‘switches on’ inflammation in our immune cells.”

Researchers hope that this development would help in treating patients diagnosed with Cryopyrin-Associated Periodic Syndromes (CAPS), a family of rare and severe autoinflammatory diseases caused by a genetic mutation to NLRP3. Professor Luke O’Neill, Co-author and from Trinity College Dublin said, “We are excited about MCC950, which we believe has real potential to benefit patients suffering from several highly debilitating diseases, where there is a dire need for new medicines.”

How informative is the mouse for human gut microbiota research?

The pioneering studies on new animal models for gut microbiota research have greatly demonstrated their potential. However, despite the limitations of mouse models, their advantages are numerous and, furthermore, the amount of research and knowledge on mouse gastroenterology, genetics and immunology far surpasses any other model. Murine mouse models provide a range of customizable genotypes and phenotypes far superior to any other model organism. They have thus played a very important role in the emerging gut microbiota research field. Owing to their widespread use in biomedical research, these models are complemented with extensive knowledge on genetic background and deep phenotypic and functional characterization. Moreover, with well-set-up standardized mouse house facilities throughout labs in the world, conducting experiments on mouse models, even germfree ones, can be more easily achieved than with other models.

Each one of the animal models shows some similarity to the physiology of the human digestive system, thus providing useful knowledge from different angles about the gut microbiota in health and disease. It is clear that information obtained from studies using alternative models has diversified our understanding of the mammalian gut microbiota in general and has deepened our knowledge of each model separately. It is, however, important to keep in mind that models always have some degree of dissimilarity with the system modeled. Therefore, results from animal models, including the popular murine ones, are not always translatable to humans and conclusions should be made with caution. In addition, even well-controlled gut microbiota experiments using mouse models show important inter-study variations due to confounding factors in the experimental setup, such as mouse house origin, maternal effects, environmental conditions (food composition, light, stress factors, pathogen infection), genetic backgrounds and in the downstream analysis methods applied.

There have been recent efforts to standardize gut microbiota experiments, for example by establishing standardized microbiota in isobiotic mice that would be shared by institutions involved in gut microbiota research (Hooper et al., 2012). Although these efforts are still in their infancy (Würbel, 2000), they will increase result reproducibility and inter-study comparability, and allow for the healthy growth of the gut microbiota research field.

6 Most Important Health Tests That All Women Must Get Done

Do you exercise an hour daily, eat healthy, and even for a minute don’t think that you would have any underlying health condition? Well ladies, though we all pray you remain hale and hearty always, we want you to rethink this assumption. Certain health check ups are as important as your healthy diet and fitness regime. They help in early detection of diseases, and in getting you their timely cures.

Even though you might not see any symptoms on the surface, it is said that prevention is always better than cure! To help you out, we bring you here a list of few medical tests that every woman must undergo from time to time.

Cervical cancer

Ideally you should undergo a ‘Pap smear’ test first when you turn 21 or within three years of becoming sexually active. Yes, you can get this test done even if you are a virgin, there are no possible side effects. This test should be repeated after every three years. It is usually done to detect cervical cancer, which if detected early, can help in removing abnormal cells from the cervix before they become cancerous. Once you hit 30 you can wait for about five years (if you test negative thrice in a row) before going for another one unless you see any changes in your body.


Breast cancer

Usually doctors recommend mammograms, a low dose x-ray to screen the breasts and other tissue around it for cancerous lumps, after the age of 40. But you can start performing a self-exam even in your early 20s and 30s. Although some lumps in your breast can be nonthreatening, this test can help you trace malignant lumps too. But, it all depends on detection, so whether you do a self-test or a medical one, keep a close watch on various symptoms and changes. This way, if the lumps are cancerous they can be prevented from spreading to lymph nodes and brain or lungs.

Skin Test

Melanoma (skin cancer) is the second most life-threatening form of cancer among women, after breast cancer. This is the most common health problem for women in their late 20s or early 30s. If you have a family history of skin cancer, then do visit a dermatologist annually. But, if there has been no prior history, then you can do so semi-annually. This is also known as mole screening. A dermatologist will give a fully body examination, including the skin between your toes, behind your ears and your scalp too. They would check for any forms of suspicious looking moles, freckles and skin growths that might be cancerous in nature.

Heart Disease

Did you know that two-thirds of women who have no prior history of heart problems die of heart diseases? This is to say that even though you don’t have a family history of heart diseases, you still could be at a risk. The secret to keep a check on it is recognising early symptoms, adopting a healthy lifestyle (exercise, quit smoking and sleep well) and undergoing relevant medical tests listed below:

  • Blood pressure
  • Waist circumference
  • Cholesterol
  • Blood glucose levels checked

ECG is recommended if you are on the other side of 50, even if you have no previous history of heart problems in your family. This test helps to monitor heart abnormalities, if any.

 Bone Mineral Density Test

It is important for you to keep a check on the bone mineral density in your body. Especially, women who reach menopause are at a greater risk of having weak bones; and this would increase their risk of getting osteoporosis. You must visit your doctor and discuss if you are at an increased risk of bone deterioration, which comes with age. The most commonly recommended test is DXA or dual energy x-ray absorptiometry. It becomes a must for women above 65 years of age, as with age, bone mineral density reduces and chances of fractures increase. The DXA test will help to measure your bone marrow density and determine risk of osteoporosis.

Ovarian cancer

Most of you would not know, but ovarian cancer is the most common cause of gynaecological cancer deaths. Other than age, family history of ovarian cancer and personal history of breast cancer, endometriosis, post-menopausal hormonal therapy and infertility too are considered contributory factors that increase the risk of ovarian cancer. This risk particularly increases for women between 50 to 75 years of age. Usually during screening, doctors perform a pelvic exam to confirm if the uterus and ovaries show symptoms of cancer or not.


So, take an appointment with your doctor who will be in a better position to recommend– depending on your age, family history and other risk factors– the tests you must undergo. And, ladies, do not ignore your health problems or overlook them. Keep a close watch on any slight symptom and change that you see in your body.