"High protein diets" and "early death and cancer"

Answered on March 09, 2014
Created March 08, 2014 at 9:32 PM

I just signed up, and this is my first post. Been reading about Paleo for quite some time and wanting to try it. It's going to be quite a challenge for me as I can't cook and getting Paleo foods eating out is difficult. But I hope to be on the right track and see good results. Personally, being on carb-rich diet all along (rice is staple in Asia, plus everything is with bread or fried in commercial vegetable oil), I am actually having terrible cholesterol levels at the young age of late 20s! Compounded by the fact that my father had a heart attack a few years ago and my mother has diabetes.

I had been researching, reading, watching videos and losing sleep over Paleo diet. It sounds all good and real common sense. Who can argue with the fact that a diet like this kept humans healthy for millions of years? But then, I stumble on this: High protein diets like Paleo as bad as chain-smoking for early death and cancer

I skimmed through the study available online in full (It's 5 AM, so please excuse me) and I found it to be an observational study (survey-based), with experiments conducted on mice. Earlier, while watching Fat Head videos, I learnt that dietary experiments conducted on mice cannot be translated to humans. The study attempts to do exactly this, while also making generalizing assumptions from a survey with questionable results - it actually recommends high-protein diet to seniors above 65, in addition to calling "above 20% protein" as high-protein.

The study didn't even target its survey on actual Paleo consumers, but simply generalized that "above 20% protein" (which is likely to be non-Paleo protein) consumers (who by the way consumed 40-50% carbs with 25-35% who-knows-what-kind-of fat) having health problems can easily be translated into the "detrimental effects" of Paleo or Paleo-like diets.

The headline is quite frankly scary, but as we all know, the media gets readers and earns revenue through the fear-mongering. So, of course. But I want to be sure that I am not actually going to have an early death or cancer solely from switching to a high-protein low-carb Paleo diet.

I am not looking for a religious validation or re-assurance. I want a concrete scientifically valid answer that makes sense.

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on March 08, 2014
at 11:15 PM

If you google NIH and NHANES, you'll find a ton of interesting studies to read. Yesterday I gleaned a lot of information on thyroid function among centenarians, and on the connection between Ca deficiency and obesity for affected populations (adolescents and Amerinds). The study is enormous, and has been running since 1986, collecting health data of all sorts on about 20,000 participants.

Medium avatar


on March 08, 2014
at 11:06 PM

A number of studies have been published on the enormous NHANES III population study. The media picked up on one of these and sensationalized it. A year ago a study was published which shows the exact opposite - no correlation between meat consumption and mortality (both all type and specific causes) - using NHANES III data


The new study researcher has a dog in the fight, being involved in development of synthetic meat. IMO he parsed the data by splitting the populations into small subgroups and found one that looks bad.

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3 Answers



on March 09, 2014
at 10:26 PM

That "study" is pure buffalo shit.

As for the cancer link, well, yes, excess protein is slightly toxic, it has to be converted to glucose via gluconeogenesis in order to be disposed of, if you eat too much, since the rest gets converted to glucose and since cancer cells usually have broken mitochondria that thrive under glucose, they're more likely to thrive. Then again, so will they if you consume high glucose levels.

The mice used were prone to cancer and were given cancer. There's no actual link between protein and cancer, but of course, once you get cancer, both glucose and glucose converted from tons of excess protein will feed them.

Some paleo folks typically do IF or full on fasting for several days once a year in order to trigger autophagy and also starve out possible cancer cells before they get large enough to be a problem.

Don't spend all your time in mTOR, and you'll be fine. That is, let your self experience hunger once in a while. And eat between 0.8-1g/pound of lean body mass per day in animal protein. Don't go over 1.5g/pound. Fast once in a while, maybe do an IF by skipping breakfast 3x a week, or one week a year, fast for several whole days.


on March 09, 2014
at 01:44 AM

Paul Jaminet wrote an interesting response to this study. Here's a snippet regarding the mice:

"A mouse weighs 20 grams, and a 2000 mm3 tumor weighs 2 grams, or 10% of body weight – equivalent to a 15-pound tumor in humans. Growing a tumor of this size requires building a large amount of tissue — blood vessels, extracellular matrix, and more. The ability to construct new tissue is constrained on a protein-starved diet, so it’s not surprising that tumor growth is slower when the tumor is large and protein is severely restricted."


on March 08, 2014
at 09:54 PM

The British health service had an article on this recently. A certain level of fear-mongering is involved http://www.nhs.uk/news/2014/03March/Pages/high-protein-diet-may-be-harmful-for-middle-aged.aspx

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