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How the Western Diet Has Derailed Our Evolution - Issue 30: Identity - Nautilus
For the microbiologist Justin Sonnenburg, that career-defining moment-the discovery that changed the trajectory of his research, inspiring him to study how diet and native microbes shape our risk for disease-came from a village in the African hinterlands. A group of Italian microbiologists had compared the intestinal microbes of young villagers in Burkina Faso with those of children in Florence, Italy.

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Microbes

Research found the following difference in stomach microbes of different individuals:

  • Intestinal microbes of people living in villages, having a natural diet, are much more complex, and ...

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Wrong Baseline Data

Due to the new kinds of microbes discovered in villagers, all the previous research on diet and microbes, which used the baseline data of the Western civilization microbe, thought to be the healthy...

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Digesting Fibre

The Western world has stomach microbial communities that could digest junk food and might re-diversify and recover (to a limited extent) if we just ate more whole grains and veggies.

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Internal Extinction

The microbial die-outs, a form of mutation inside our stomach due to our specific diets, gets compounded across generations.

This is leading to a sort of internal 'extinction' of microbes, wh...

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Microbial Extinction

As Western civilization fails to nourish key microbes, the type of food taken is starving them out of existence. Many factors cause this:

  • Antibiotics 'nuke' our internal ecosystems, kill...

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New Kinds of Diseases

As the Medical and Pharma industries get equipped with better research and technology, there should ideally be a decline in diseases. Instead, we have an increase in non-communicable dis...

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A Stronger Immunity 

Westerners who grew up in villages, in farms, living among livestock at a ranch, or are exposed to certain infections at an early age, tend to have a lower risk of autoimmune diseases.

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Fiber-Rich Diet

Americans consume less fiber than what is recommended, eating fewer nuts, whole grains and fruits and vegetables.

A fiber-rich balanced diet is known to prevent colon cancer, diabetes, and...

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Chronic inflammation 

Regular poor diet leads to a rise in endotoxins in our bloodstream, making the immune system respond to this by inflammation.

Chronic inflammation, every time we eat junk food, leads to cellu...

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Paleo concept

Humans evolved on a diet very different from today's eating habits. To be healthier, leaner, stronger and fitter, we must re-think our diet and remove some of the food groups we ...

What to eat

  • Animals (especially a "whole animal" approach, including organs, bone marrow, cartilage, and organs).
  • Animal products (such as eggs or honey).
  • Vegetables and fruits.
  • Raw nuts and seeds.
  • Added fats (like coconut oil, avocado, butter, ghee).

What to avoid

  • Grains, although research suggests eating whole grains improve our health and appear to be neutral when it comes to inflammation.
  • Heavily processed oils, such as canola and soybean oil.
  • Legumes, although research suggests the benefits of legumes outweigh their anti-nutrient content. Cooking eliminates most anti-nutrient effects. Some anti-nutrients may even be good.
  • Dairy.

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Fiber gap

Only 5 percent of people in the US meet the Institute of Medicine’s recommended daily target of 25 grams for women and 38 grams for men. That amounts to a population-wide deficiency.

Benefits of a fiber-rich diet

Eating a fiber-rich diet is associated with better gastrointestinal health and a reduced risk of heart attacks, strokes, high cholesterol, obesity, type 2 diabetes, even some cancers. Fiber slows the absorption of glucose — which evens out our blood sugar levels — and also lowers cholesterol and inflammation.

Fiber doesn’t just help us poop better — it also nourishes our gut microbiome.

Processed foods and fiber

Instead of munching on fruits, vegetables, beans, nuts, and seeds, more than half of the calories Americans consume come from ultra-processed foods. On any given day, nearly 40 percent of Americans eat fast food. These prepared and processed meals tend to be low in fiber, or even fiber free. 

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You are a Superorganism

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Our Microbiome Affects Our Mood

Our state of mind gets affected by our gut bacteria, which is part of our Microbiome.

Probiotics are live bacterial supplements and Prebiotics are the dietary fiber that promotes bacterial growth. In various experiments, scientists have been able to alter our stress response, anxiety levels and reduce mental health problems by administering Probiotics/Prebiotics in our stomach.

Psychobiotics

Psychobiotics is an upcoming class of medicines geared towards promoting psychological health through the alteration of your microbiota (Gut Bacteria).

Doctors have known since long that certain mental health problems do have their origin in the gut, like inflammation, but a detailed study on mice is now being done, with large-scale studies on humans in the offing.

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Western vs. Mediterranean diet

Western vs. Mediterranean diet

Western diet, typically high in animal fat and protein and low in fibre, increases the risk of cancer. The Mediterranean diet is high in fibre and low in red meat and has be...

Probiotics

There has been a lot of hype around the health benefits of prebiotics and probiotics in recent years, but while they're increasingly used in treatments including inflammatory bowel diseases such as Crohn’s disease and ulcerative colitis, several reviews suggest there needs to be further research on which strains and dosages are effective. Recent studies have found some people are even immune to probiotics.

Gut microbiota

Gut microbiota has a major role to play in the health and function of the GI tract, with evidence that conditions such as irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) often coincide with altered microbiota. But it also plays a much wider role in our health, and this is largely determined in the first few years of life.

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Pros of the Mediterranean Diet

Pros of the Mediterranean Diet
  • General Nutrition. It encourages a variety of nutrient-dense foods.
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Cons of the Mediterranean Diet

  • Cost. Some consumers do worry about the cost of including fish regularly.
  • Additional Guidance May Be Necessary for Diabetes. Because there is an emphasis on grains, fruits, and vegetables (including starchy vegetables), meals may be high in carbohydrates.
  • Restrictions May Feel Challenging. This diet recommends reducing red meat and added sugar consumption.
  • Concerns About Alcohol Intake. Some experts raise concerns about regular alcohol intake (particularly wine).

The human microbiome

The human microbiome

The human body is made up of trillions of human cells. There are possibly three times as many microorganisms (bacteria, fungi, and other microbes) living in and on the human body. The micro...

Using metaphors to describe microbiomes

Metaphors that scientists use to talk about the microbiome influence scientific understanding and can shape medical treatment. For example, viewing the microbiome as an "organ" or a "part of the immune system."

Some physicians support fecal microbiota transplantation (FMT) - treating the malfunction of the gut microbiome by swallowing a pill full of someone else's poo. It follows the same basic principles as an organ transplant, and the treatment is probably a consequence of understanding the microbiome as an organ.

A limited perspective on the human microbiome

To think of a microbiome as an organ creates a limited perspective because organs are relatively set. Generally, a heart will develop and remain the same in each person. But a microbiome is not one thing. It's trillions of things and responds to small changes in our diet, environment, and behavior. It works together with the human body in a symbiotic relationship.

Each metaphor can only capture a part of what the microbiome is. We need all the metaphors to understand the complexity of the microbiome and its role in our bodies.

Soya benefits

Soya has only been a common part of the Western diet for around 60 years. Soy products include soy milk, soy burgers and soy-based meat replacements, tofu tempeh, miso and soya sauce.

Soya ha...

The soya controversy

Soya contains a high content of isoflavones that have estrogenic properties. It means they act like estrogen, the primary female sex hormone, and bind to estrogen receptors in the body.

Estrogen can fuel the growth of some types of breast cancer, but it is not clear from research if isoflavones themselves contribute to cancer. 

Cancer protection

There is a 30% lower risk of developing breast cancer among women in Asian countries who are known for their high soya intake (compared to American women). Also, there is a 21% reduction in mortality among women with breast cancer who consumed more soya.

It is not certain why soya protects against cancer risk. It could be because its isoflavones can increase apoptosis (a genetically programmed mechanism that tells cells to self-destruct when they get DNA damage they’re not able to repair). Without this process, damaged cells can turn into cancer.

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Vitamins and free radicals

In the 90s, vitamins were touted as treatments for cardiovascular diseases, cataracts, and even cancer. Sales in multivitamins and other dietary supplements boomed.

But over...

Added antioxidants

In the 1970s and into the 80s, research was done where mice were given a variety of supplementary antioxidants in their diet or via an injection straight into the bloodstream.

The result showed that an excess of antioxidants didn't stop the onset of disease or extended lifespan.

Antioxidant supplementation

  • In 1994, one trial followed the lives of 29,133 Finish people in their 50s who all smoked. Some were given beta-carotene supplements. The group that supplemented with Beta-carotene had a 16% increase in lung cancer.
  • Another study shows a breast cancer increase of 20% for postmenopausal women who supplemented with folic acid.
  • One study with 100 heavy smokers had a 28% increase in lung cancer after just four years of beta-carotene and vitamin A supplementation.

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The general Keto diet

The general Keto diet

The Keto diet is one of the biggest diet phenomenons today. It is the most Googled diet of 2018 and has surpassed Weight Watchers and other low-carb regimens, Atkins and Paleo.

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Keto is more than just a diet. It is a cultural identity.

The Keto diet changes how adherents think about medicine and nutrition. With the fake news that dominates the news cycle, it's not surprising that keto went viral. It's anti-establishment.

Understanding ketosis

The body can only store glucose to last a few days. If we don't eat carbs, the body finds other ways to fuel the body, like ketogenesis. In ketogenesis:

  • The liver starts to break down fat from food and our body reserves. The useful energy source is called ketone bodies and can replace glucose as fuel when there's a glucose shortage.
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  • The body burns fat instead of the usual glucose.

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Social Jet Lag

Irregular sleep schedules and broken sleep-wake times are not just an occasional traveling phenomenon, but a wider problem due to our social lives conflicting with our sleep patterns.

Our Internal Alarm Clock

Our internal body clocks are better programmed to help us sleep and wake up, according to our unique body chemistry and energy levels.

Ignoring our internal clocks in favor of the alarm clock, and following our social obligations, sacrificing on sleep, is taking its toll on our health.

Poor Sleep

As our sleep patterns shift, leading to poor or no rest, there are a bunch of diseases that become more likely:

  • Obesity
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  • Alzheimer's disease
  • Metabolic imbalances and diabetes
  • Heart disease.

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