How the Paleo Diet Creates Cellular Health

March 4, 2016

My sister called me looking for help with her son’s science project. “William has some questions about the paleo diet and how it affects the health of cells.” It soon emerged that he had a particular list of questions that he wanted answering, and initially I thought I should do some research and answer them to the best of my ability just as I would with any list sent to me. The longer I thought about the list of questions, the more I thought it looked like the outline to a great podcast, and who better than Dr. Tommy Wood to provide the answers?

But why care about cellular health in the first place?

We tend to think of health in terms of big things, but a living organism is just a collection of organ systems. An organ system is a set of organs, and those organs are made up of tissue. Drilling down beyond the tissue, we arrive at the smallest level of organisation able to sustain life: the cell. We’re all just a big bag of cells, trillions and trillions of them! Happy cells make for happy bodies, so it makes sense to care about the cell.

Can your diet affect cellular health?

Yes! Absolutely. Certain oils are capable of damaging the DNA that codes for the proteins manufactured inside of the cell. Don’t eat deep fried food. Other omega-3 fats are essential for healthy mitochondrial membranes. Do eat small fatty fish.

Around 10,000 years ago, fossil records show that we became shorter, and our dental health deteriorated. At the same time, we transitioned away from hunting and gathering and became agriculturists. It seems at least possible that a switch to a grain-based diet had a deleterious effect on our health.

What about ketosis?

I’ve talked a lot about high-fat ketogenic diets on the podcast, and those shows garner a lot of interest. But do we all need to be eating ketogenic diets? Tommy thinks not, but there may be some benefits to cycling intake to mimic what would have been the natural seasonal variation of carbohydrate availability.

Beyond diet.

Through his careful research and chemical engineering inspired systems analysis, Tommy has shown that although important, diet is not the only determiner of health. Well tuned circadian rhythm and adequate sleep, appropriate stress management, time spent outdoors in nature and being part of a strong social group are also important.

Did you find the fresh, unbiased perspective of an inquisitive 12-year old helpful? Please let me know in the comments section below.

Here’s the outline of this interview with William Chatterton and Dr. Tommy Wood:

0:00:22    William Chatterton's list of questions for a school project should make for an interesting interview.

0:00:27    Let me know (in the comments below) if you found this podcast interesting!

0:00:47    Levels of organisation in biology.

0:01:54    Can your diet affect the health of new cells?

0:02:09    We're constantly growing cells, throughout life.

0:02:32    There's a very rapid turnover of cells in the gut.

0:02:48    At the same time we're constantly getting rid of the junk.

0:02:59    The building blocks are important.

0:03:18    We measure DNA damage as 8-hydroxy-2-deoxyguanosine.

0:03:29    DNA is the code that controls the manufacturer of proteins.

0:03:46    It's important then that the DNA doesn't get damaged.

0:04:00    Certain oils can cause oxidative damage to the DNA.

0:04:28    DHA is very important for mitochondrial membranes.

0:05:08    The fats story is complex.

0:05:18    Saturated fats.

0:05:31    A fatty acid is a long chain of carbon atoms.

0:05:59    The double bonds are delicated and can be broken to create a free radical.

0:06:11    Fatty acids that have carbon–carbon double bonds are known as unsaturated.

0:06:29    Polyunsaturated fats are unstable.

0:07:00    When omega-6 fats are carried around in the body, they're unprotected.

0:07:39    Omega-3s are better protected.

0:07:59    Don't eat deep fried stuff!

0:08:26    How direct is the link between diet and cell health?

0:08:49    The link is incredibly direct.

0:08:56    Food is the most important determiner of cell health.

0:09:17    Circadian rhythm and stress is important.

0:09:30    Being part of a social group.

0:09:52    Don't focus just on food.

0:10:04    Food is the first thing people figure out.

0:10:35    Everybody wants one thing they can fix.

0:10:52    Being sociable can be easier than you think

0:11:05    Give your mum a hug.

0:11:50    What is the most nutrient dense meal you could eat for cell health?

0:12:02    Small fatty fish.

0:12:13    DHA, selenium, iodine.

0:12:25    Collagen.

0:12:34    Eggs with yolks and liver.

0:12:43    Dark green leafy vegetables.

0:12:54    Preferably wild grown plants.

0:13:30    The new surf and turf!

0:13:57    Not being squeamish about certain foods at certain times of day.

0:14:39    How does a ketogenic diet affect the health of a cell.

0:15:01    Adding fat doesn't necessarily make it ketogenic.

0:16:16    My diet has zero refined carbohydrates.

0:16:30    Still lots of vegetables.

0:16:40    At this point, you've gotten rid of most of the crap.

0:17:15    Ketogenic diets can cause an increase in oxidative stress inside of the mitochondria in the short term

0:17:42    Reactive oxygen species are signalling molecules.

0:17:59    ROS Goldilocks principle.

0:19:14    Some people will say that the ketogenic diet is bad because of this initial increase in ROS.

0:19:55    Should everyone be eating a ketogenic diet?

0:19:58    No, certainly not all of the time.

0:20:11    Sodium and potassium and selenium can be difficult to hold onto in ketosis.

0:20:38    The extra stress of the diet can also be problem.

0:21:13    Seasonal ketosis.

0:22:00    Wills is already eating a high-fat diet.

0:22:21    What happened to our diet in between the paleolithic and the era of the Food Pyramid?

0:23:32    Carbohydrate consumption may have changed.

0:23:53    Access to fire and cooking has made a difference.

0:24:10    Eating fish.

0:24:19    If you didn't live near the sea, you ate brain.

0:24:40    Around 10,000 years ago, we became agriculturalists.

0:25:04    Seeds and grasses like wheat.

0:25:19    Where there is a fossil record, we see health deteriorated.

0:25:43    People got shorter and had worse teeth.

0:25:57    We can't say definitely that farming was the cause.

0:26:23    There's no benefit from eating wheat.

0:26:59    When the food shows up in front of you, that's what you eat.

0:27:36    1980 saw the first dietary guidelines with grains as the foundation.

0:27:53    Part of this decision was driven by economics.

0:29:00    The perfect storm of refined carbohydrates plus vegetable oils and refined sugar.

0:29:51    This combination used to be impossible to obtain.

0:30:26    Will the Food Pyramid change soon?

0:30:44    People are working on this problem.

0:31:04    People don't eat according to the food pyramid, but it is used to create the foods that we eat.

0:32:05    Farming is heavily subsidised, this creates momentum.

0:33:16    Nothing is going to change any time soon.

0:33:26    Wording has changed around the word saturated fat and the caution on cholesterol has been removed.

0:34:00    Tommy's two presentations on MS and dairy.

0:34:22    Terry Wahls has largely reversed her MS with her protocol.

0:35:00    Tommy comes from a family of chemical engineers.

0:35:04    His stepbrother has MS.

0:35:11    Chemical engineers are problem solvers.

0:35:27    They built a root cause analysis for MS.

0:35:42    Gluten and casein allergies.

0:35:56    Mitocondria that are not working properly.

0:36:14    Terry also advocates ketosis.

0:36:27    Tommy and Terry represent two groups of people that came up with the same conclusion using different methods.

0:37:09    Do you think that Terry Wahl's work is original?

0:37:31    There's nothing new under the sun.

0:37:53    Tommy has ideas, and then doesn't want to tell anybody about it for fear they will steal it.

0:38:21    Terry is the first person to apply these principles in MS patients and in clinical trials.

0:39:24    I had tremendous results eating the AIP diet.

0:39:40    The book The Paleo Approach.

0:39:48    Personalising the Wahls Protocol.

0:40:14    This would look like a high-plant, dairy-free, low-carb diet.

0:41:07    Not everybody needs to be that strict.

0:41:32    Eat the yolks.

0:42:11    Start with the basic elimination diet.

0:42:23    Reintroduce later.

0:42:55    You can go too far, but most people don't go far enough.

0:43:12    Be really strict for two months and then reintroduce.

0:43:56    Then the signal ratio is great enough for you to know what's causing the problem.

0:44:41    Are there any other diets that can produce the same results.

0:45:03    Yes, the Swank Diet.

0:45:25    This is the most successful diet for MS patients.

0:45:33    Terry Wahls doesn't have that much data yet.

0:45:50    The problem is the diet is a very low fat vegan diet.

0:46:14    The stricter you were with the diet, the better you did.

0:46:34    Actively engaging in your treatment has a positive effect.

0:46:58    Recent research is not impressive.

0:47:53    The Swank Diet is probably better than what people were eating before.

0:48:33    It's impossible to create a blinded trial.

0:49:11    Swank is better than standard American but perhaps not the best.

0:49:22    If these diets are so successful, then should doctor be making dietary prescriptions?

0:49:47    Yes they should, but doctors are not trained in nutrition.

0:50:18    Tommy is a traditionally trained doctor.

0:50:42    We are in an era of evidence-based medicine.

0:51:12    Clinical trials are not going to happen for diet.

0:51:35    Therefore, the doctors are not going prescribe a diet.

0:51:58    There's always confounding factor.

0:52:08    Someone will always say the evidence isn't good enough.

0:52:35    Nowadays you can use clever statistics to show that your new drug is not inferior.

0:53:03    Rather than showing superiority.

0:53:49    You cannot control for diet and lifestyle.

0:54:29    Is there any one simple takeaway message?

0:54:52    Yes, just eat real food.

0:55:04    Go to your local grocery store and buy ingredients.

0:55:19    Turn that into food and you will avoid all of the trouble.

0:55:37    Even better, go to the local farmer's market.

0:55:54    Getting enough sleep.

0:55:57    Being part of a social group.

0:56:01    Don't worry about the things you can't control.

0:56:08    Occasionally lift heavy.

0:56:16    Circadian rhythm.

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