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Are our Paleolithic ancestors really that similar to us people who live nowadays?

Answered on August 19, 2014
Created September 01, 2013 at 7:07 PM

The question is the title, im wondering if our genes and digestive system and stuff is really that similar to the ones of our bodies nowadays.

Because my experience is, that the strongest argument of the Paleo diet is practically the one, that our bodies havent changed in those 2.5 million years in which humankind has been habitating planet earth, and so our digestive system, and this is why stuff like grains arent good for us, because our ancestors many years ago ( more than 10.000 years ago, before the domestication) didnt consume it.

But- obviously- if you just look at the outward appearance: modern-day people dont really look like those Neanderthal men, or any kind of those. They are way more hairy, have way sharper teeth and a way stronger natural dentition and are looking just way different.

So maybe our digestive system isnt even the same like the one of those people back then...

What do you think?

( I hope you get the hint and the aim of my question..)

96440612cf0fcf366bf5ad8f776fca84

(19413)

on September 07, 2013
at 03:57 PM

+1, but what cavemen actually ate is useful to figure out what we've evolved to eat. It's not that evolution stopped so much as it's not instant, so the things they ate, we can be certain they were adapted for, and therefore are safe for us to eat - that's why there is scientific confirmation. In modern life, we have removed most evolutionary selective pressures, so the weak can survive and produce (weak) offspring.

186493bc720991a12c6808aae5a22c45

(5)

on September 07, 2013
at 01:46 PM

Man im that thankful for this great answer, that not just gives me a plain answer, but also wome tips that i actually really required.

THANK YOU!

Im actually curious what YOU think about fruit and its consumption.. ! I actualy love them but always feel a bit guilty after eating them...

( yes, i know , while other people in the mean time are consuming their sugary cereal grains and cookies and sodas, yeah i know :D ) but i think you get the clue , so tell me your opinion, please!

Medium avatar

(624)

on September 04, 2013
at 04:44 PM

Also, for some (myself included) Paleo is a blanket term. It does not mean eating in the same way as they did. It means taking hints from their macronutrient mix and looking to modern science to help us filter which practices to adopt ourselves. We could take in a Paleo-like macronutrient mix with potentially a better micronutrient mix. More antioxidants and a better balance of amino acids, minerals, more easily digestable foods with better bioavailability, etc... are all attainable today. Coconut oil is a great source of energy that they could never have obtained.

Medium avatar

(624)

on September 04, 2013
at 04:27 PM

While SOME groups might have eaten SOME grains, the quantities were small if so. More important, they weren't the hubridized, super-glutenized, dwarven, agricultureal super-star grains that go into the breads and pastas on today's supermarket shelves.

Medium avatar

(624)

on September 04, 2013
at 04:17 PM

On the "resistance to grains" front, maybe you mean ability to cope with gluten? Most modern humans are good at dealing with starches and carbohydrates but I, too, have north-central European (European mutt) genes. We're particularly predisposed to gluten sensitivity and even full blown celiac disease.

Medium avatar

(624)

on September 04, 2013
at 04:16 PM

While I agree with much of your insight, I have to point out that perhaps one of the main factors in the longevity of those plant-eating cultures is lifestyle. Knowing every day that your rice will be there reduces a lot of stress. Needing to feast and fast on seasonal plant and animal foods takes a lot out of the body.

Medium avatar

(624)

on September 04, 2013
at 04:10 PM

I agree. Understanding what Paleolithic humans ate is just the starting point. We're not trying to mirror that (which would be impossible anyway) but rather to use it as a broad starting point. What can we learn from our ancestors? I can tell you one thing, I learned a lot from my dad - about how NOT to eat and behave, but also some good stuff.

Medium avatar

(624)

on September 04, 2013
at 04:07 PM

Another major point to consider is that we are NOT descended from neanderthals. The Paleolithic diet is about attempting to understand what our Paleolithic ancestors ate and mimicing just certain aspects of that using grocery store food.

D33a8d5f095a8532ddf7a0d6c27bfe63

(578)

on September 02, 2013
at 10:03 PM

Paleolithic humans were hunter-gatherers for the most part. They were not grain eaters. They ate meats, tubers and almost anything else that was edible. No, EVCO was not available. Which is in vogue in Paleosphere. I fail to understand how eating a tub of EVCO every week will enhance your health, seriously.

D33a8d5f095a8532ddf7a0d6c27bfe63

(578)

on September 02, 2013
at 05:15 PM

I actually agree with this. I always thought it was retarded that Cordain and others would cite how many years men have been around as hunter-gatherers to support his diet. We have Microsoft Word Version 15 right now. Word has been around in as a DOS version too, since going back to like the 1970s. Is the current version more similar to Version 14 or Version2, which was the DOS version? Is the 2014 Toyota Camry more similar to 2012 or 1998's? It really is a silly argument if you think about it, because the pace of evolution isn't constant and we know there have been bottlenecks.

50ef4a664144b97faa37430916739309

on September 02, 2013
at 02:25 PM

Our lifestyle before 50 thousand years ago could have been much the same; but to cover the most behavioural and genetic consistency with modern homo sapiens, we are limited until after the timeframe where transition and significant mutation from earlier homids was still occurring (mid-palaeolithic). For example Paleo suggestions regarding Social Play, Music or Fine Motor Control might not have been as relevant to earlier homids. The virtuous cycle of Think more/Hunt more/Think more/Hunt more/... might not have fully kicked in until behavioural modernity arose.

Medium avatar

(10611)

on September 02, 2013
at 12:30 PM

Darwinian evolution is rapid, if I understand it correctly. His model in Origin of Species is selective breeding for trait.

Medium avatar

(10611)

on September 02, 2013
at 12:27 PM

Chickens would conceivably need teeth if meat was the only food available. Which raises the question of whether a diet should be based on what chimps OR Neanderthals ate. We got where we are by our wits, and have teeth to match, so that we can eat anything we can find that we can digest.

3ce6a0d24be025e2f2af534545bdd1d7

(26217)

on September 02, 2013
at 12:47 AM

if you are talking about the Neanderthal genome project, the finding was 99.7% between Humans and Neanderthals and 98.8% between Humans and Chimps (When comparing similar base pairs). The 94% number comes from a complete match -- something that is impossible with Neanderthal DNA. Still your second point is well taken.

D33a8d5f095a8532ddf7a0d6c27bfe63

(578)

on September 01, 2013
at 11:34 PM

Life between 50 - 10 thousand years ago? That does not leave much room for the hunter-gatherer lifestyle, which was displaced in many parts of the globe by agriculture from 10,000 years hence. Not that I disagree with this. But if true, whither the Paleo argument that the longer the absolute time span that we lived as hunter-gatherers, the more adaptable he is to what he hunted and gathered (meats, roots, veggies, fruits), despite the proximity of agricultural lifestyles from 80,000 years onward?

50ef4a664144b97faa37430916739309

on September 01, 2013
at 11:22 PM

It's not quite as sharp as non-homid primates. We share 99.7% with Neanderthals and only 94% for Chimpanzees. Although precise genetic percentages when you are into high-90s percentages can be misleading as regulator genes which don't take up much of the genetic space cause massive differences in expressed genetic instruction. e.g. Turning on gene expression of teeth in chickens.

D33a8d5f095a8532ddf7a0d6c27bfe63

(578)

on September 01, 2013
at 10:14 PM

Actually most Europeans have the same number of copies of Amylase as East Asians, another high starch group. This is not a case of being "resistant" to grains but those who can convert carbs to energy efficiently being successful and having more children. Taht's why such groups, as generations pass, show more amylase than the hunter-gatherer tribes.

D33a8d5f095a8532ddf7a0d6c27bfe63

(578)

on September 01, 2013
at 10:00 PM

What makes you think Neanderthal men were hairy? There is no consensus on what a Neanderthal looked like. They could have looked quite ape-like for all we know. We know about their skull features like high brow ridges, shorter stature, higher bone density, stronger bones to which more muscle could attach, but there is no info on their skin or facial texture. Yes, the N's were 100% carnivorous; this you can't deny but as far as other aspects of their physiology are concerned, we don't know much.

Medium avatar

(10611)

on September 01, 2013
at 09:20 PM

The main hint I see here is that we used to be better omnivores. A great percentage of the food eaten today is based on inexpensive grains, both vegetable and and feed-lot/chicken coop animal.

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7 Answers

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Medium avatar

on September 04, 2013
at 04:55 PM

Simple answer is: Our digestive system closely resembles that of pre-agrarian homo sapiens. Some people have some adaptations to post-agrarian diets, but they're incomplete.

Also, we're not to be compared with Neanderthals. While they are close relatives, we are not their decedents. At best, there may have been some cross breeding between homo sapiens and neanderthal populations.

Not everyone pursuing a Paleo diet and lifestyle believe we should attempt to mirror the diets of pre-agrarian humans. Farm-fresh fruits and vegetables are certainly not Paleo in that sense, and neither is chocolate or olive oil. However, we can attain a similar balance of macronutrients to fuel our bodies to the best of our abilities while looking to modern science to tell us what is really best. We can also consume things like butter, tallow, and coconut oil, which are more nutrient dense than what the ancestors had available. We can engorge on superfoods like kale, blueberries, and chocolate.

It's still unclear what is actually good for you long term, but the short term studies are overwhelming.

Just don't let yourself believe that our modern day super-grains are in any way good for your body, paleo or not. They're good for the economy, not for your health.

186493bc720991a12c6808aae5a22c45

(5)

on September 07, 2013
at 01:46 PM

Man im that thankful for this great answer, that not just gives me a plain answer, but also wome tips that i actually really required.

THANK YOU!

Im actually curious what YOU think about fruit and its consumption.. ! I actualy love them but always feel a bit guilty after eating them...

( yes, i know , while other people in the mean time are consuming their sugary cereal grains and cookies and sodas, yeah i know :D ) but i think you get the clue , so tell me your opinion, please!

5
718fd304d7abab150730638bf2be5153

(184)

on September 01, 2013
at 08:26 PM

Who cares what the cavemen ate. The whole point here is: what is the ideal diet for a human being ? What should it include and what should we avoid, in order to maintain or achieve the best possible health and energy levels throughout our lives ?

It turns out that scientific studies confirm that what our hunter/gatherer ancestors generally ate corresponds to the healthiest choices we can make. Great. Makes sense from a genetic point of view. Have there been mutations in our genes which imply that we should modify some aspects of our diet ? Perfect, let's make those changes.

If scientific evidence clearly demonstrated that eating meat or eggs (yes, we can take a subtle hint) was harmful and sub-optimal for a healthy life, I would be the first to give it up and binge on seitan. But all available evidence seems to show that a plant-based diet is not healthier. Now, if one considers that saving animals is more important than one's own health, I can understand that, but it should be stated clearly.

Medium avatar

(624)

on September 04, 2013
at 04:10 PM

I agree. Understanding what Paleolithic humans ate is just the starting point. We're not trying to mirror that (which would be impossible anyway) but rather to use it as a broad starting point. What can we learn from our ancestors? I can tell you one thing, I learned a lot from my dad - about how NOT to eat and behave, but also some good stuff.

96440612cf0fcf366bf5ad8f776fca84

(19413)

on September 07, 2013
at 03:57 PM

+1, but what cavemen actually ate is useful to figure out what we've evolved to eat. It's not that evolution stopped so much as it's not instant, so the things they ate, we can be certain they were adapted for, and therefore are safe for us to eat - that's why there is scientific confirmation. In modern life, we have removed most evolutionary selective pressures, so the weak can survive and produce (weak) offspring.

2
50ef4a664144b97faa37430916739309

on September 01, 2013
at 11:14 PM

The complete Palaeolithic Era covered a very long time range from an organic perspective: From 2.5 million years ago (first stone tools) to approximately 10 thousand years ago (prior to Neolithic agriculture).

Anatomically modern humans arrived 200 thousand years ago. There was either a sharp or protracted population bottleneck for humans after 200 thousand years ago but prior to 50 thousand years ago. Thus we all share similar genes and we haven't diverged excessively in the short time since.

Hence a health assessment of Paleo practices should be geared on human life between 50 - 10 thousand years ago.

Neanderthals were a different homid species which, if the admixture theory holds, we share about 1 - 4% DNA with, varying by geography (another 4 - 6% for Denisovan homids).

The evolution of our gut biota is still an emerging scientific discipline and much more flexible than our cellular chromosomes, so the degree of difference in our gut biota over 10 thousand years ago is unknown.

Note: Regarding specific health initiatives - they should not be derived solely from Palaeolithic extrapolation; but rather the newest scientific evidence-based clinical trials. Our evolutionary heritage is a great source of inspiration, but it was many thousands of years ago.

D33a8d5f095a8532ddf7a0d6c27bfe63

(578)

on September 02, 2013
at 05:15 PM

I actually agree with this. I always thought it was retarded that Cordain and others would cite how many years men have been around as hunter-gatherers to support his diet. We have Microsoft Word Version 15 right now. Word has been around in as a DOS version too, since going back to like the 1970s. Is the current version more similar to Version 14 or Version2, which was the DOS version? Is the 2014 Toyota Camry more similar to 2012 or 1998's? It really is a silly argument if you think about it, because the pace of evolution isn't constant and we know there have been bottlenecks.

D33a8d5f095a8532ddf7a0d6c27bfe63

(578)

on September 01, 2013
at 11:34 PM

Life between 50 - 10 thousand years ago? That does not leave much room for the hunter-gatherer lifestyle, which was displaced in many parts of the globe by agriculture from 10,000 years hence. Not that I disagree with this. But if true, whither the Paleo argument that the longer the absolute time span that we lived as hunter-gatherers, the more adaptable he is to what he hunted and gathered (meats, roots, veggies, fruits), despite the proximity of agricultural lifestyles from 80,000 years onward?

50ef4a664144b97faa37430916739309

on September 02, 2013
at 02:25 PM

Our lifestyle before 50 thousand years ago could have been much the same; but to cover the most behavioural and genetic consistency with modern homo sapiens, we are limited until after the timeframe where transition and significant mutation from earlier homids was still occurring (mid-palaeolithic). For example Paleo suggestions regarding Social Play, Music or Fine Motor Control might not have been as relevant to earlier homids. The virtuous cycle of Think more/Hunt more/Think more/Hunt more/... might not have fully kicked in until behavioural modernity arose.

2
56c28e3654d4dd8a8abdb2c1f525202e

(1822)

on September 01, 2013
at 09:03 PM

Truth be told, the longest living groups in the world eat a lot of vegetables, in fact, it is the sole recurring theme. One can start by looking at the five Blue Zone groups, then proceed to other long lived groups in the Caucasus and Central Asia. Indeed the correlation between longevity and meat consumption is weak at best.

But beyond that, we have changed. The switch from hunter-gatherer to agriculture, 5-10,000 years ago, depending on where your genes come from, was a dramatic period in the history of mankind, with population collapse and widespread disease. In short, it was a clear moment of non-Darwinian (rapid) evolution. Only those with some resistance to grains survived. To these days, whenever Western diet penetrates a previously pristine group, such as the Tokelauans, American Indians, and Inuit, the collapse in health is immediate.

Me, or any other forum member whose ancestors have farmed for a long time, have much greater resistance to grains than them. My genes are from mid-central Europe, and probably not as good as genes from the Middle East regarding grains, for agriculture arrived there much later than the Middle East, where it was born. To me it is obvious that there are people out there with high tolerance to grains. My mother for example, but not my father. Lots of variability, and one has to find his own optimum on his own.

D33a8d5f095a8532ddf7a0d6c27bfe63

(578)

on September 01, 2013
at 10:14 PM

Actually most Europeans have the same number of copies of Amylase as East Asians, another high starch group. This is not a case of being "resistant" to grains but those who can convert carbs to energy efficiently being successful and having more children. Taht's why such groups, as generations pass, show more amylase than the hunter-gatherer tribes.

Medium avatar

(10611)

on September 02, 2013
at 12:30 PM

Darwinian evolution is rapid, if I understand it correctly. His model in Origin of Species is selective breeding for trait.

Medium avatar

(624)

on September 04, 2013
at 04:16 PM

While I agree with much of your insight, I have to point out that perhaps one of the main factors in the longevity of those plant-eating cultures is lifestyle. Knowing every day that your rice will be there reduces a lot of stress. Needing to feast and fast on seasonal plant and animal foods takes a lot out of the body.

Medium avatar

(624)

on September 04, 2013
at 04:17 PM

On the "resistance to grains" front, maybe you mean ability to cope with gluten? Most modern humans are good at dealing with starches and carbohydrates but I, too, have north-central European (European mutt) genes. We're particularly predisposed to gluten sensitivity and even full blown celiac disease.

1
3ce6a0d24be025e2f2af534545bdd1d7

(26217)

on September 01, 2013
at 10:33 PM

Neanderthals are a completely different species from sapians. Comparing us to Neanderthals is like comparing is to chimps.

50ef4a664144b97faa37430916739309

on September 01, 2013
at 11:22 PM

It's not quite as sharp as non-homid primates. We share 99.7% with Neanderthals and only 94% for Chimpanzees. Although precise genetic percentages when you are into high-90s percentages can be misleading as regulator genes which don't take up much of the genetic space cause massive differences in expressed genetic instruction. e.g. Turning on gene expression of teeth in chickens.

3ce6a0d24be025e2f2af534545bdd1d7

(26217)

on September 02, 2013
at 12:47 AM

if you are talking about the Neanderthal genome project, the finding was 99.7% between Humans and Neanderthals and 98.8% between Humans and Chimps (When comparing similar base pairs). The 94% number comes from a complete match -- something that is impossible with Neanderthal DNA. Still your second point is well taken.

Medium avatar

(10611)

on September 02, 2013
at 12:27 PM

Chickens would conceivably need teeth if meat was the only food available. Which raises the question of whether a diet should be based on what chimps OR Neanderthals ate. We got where we are by our wits, and have teeth to match, so that we can eat anything we can find that we can digest.

0
Medium avatar

on September 07, 2013
at 04:46 PM

Very new to Paleo, so new we (husband & I) haven't even started yet. But I'm not new to thinking and using tools at my disposal. This is my first post please read it with a certain air of timidity. ;-)

When first learning about Paleo I had a rudimentary understanding of human evolution. I did not take the words "Paleo Diet" literally. I understood it to mean that I was going to be using the technology & expanded pantry of the 21st century to consume a Paleo-esque diet.

In application, what that means to me: what the nomadic humans <200k years ago ate is important. However, considering I have access to the information of what those humans ate as they traversed over & populated the planet before the advent of agriculture I would be able to apply that to the PD. What humans mainly consumed in one region would be different in another. They adapted to what was available in that particular region as they spread across the current nations over the course of those 200k years. they adapted where we have access to those foods. We can grow in our own yards the plants that they had to travel to discover. We can raise the animals on a farm that once only populated a specific region in another country. For instance, cows are from Europe & chickens came from Asia (EXTREMELY simplified, I realize that it's more "complicated" than that). :-)

The Neanderthals are not us. They are a part of our "family tree" but we are Homo sapiens, they were Homo neanderthalensis. They are extinct. We are not. We are looking at the diet of Homo sapiens, the species that has roamed this green & blue marble for the last 200,000 years.

0
5dd50f78f47b8848d93724d6eb38d4c1

on September 02, 2013
at 09:33 PM

Paleoithic humans did eat grains and god knows what else. I'm pretty confident they weren't eating bacon and eggs cooked in coconut oil. But it's not entirely relevant anyway, they were different and lived extremely different lives. Besides, both humans and animals in the wild eat for reproduction not longevity. Heart disease or dementia in the 80's was the least of their worries.

Medium avatar

(624)

on September 04, 2013
at 04:44 PM

Also, for some (myself included) Paleo is a blanket term. It does not mean eating in the same way as they did. It means taking hints from their macronutrient mix and looking to modern science to help us filter which practices to adopt ourselves. We could take in a Paleo-like macronutrient mix with potentially a better micronutrient mix. More antioxidants and a better balance of amino acids, minerals, more easily digestable foods with better bioavailability, etc... are all attainable today. Coconut oil is a great source of energy that they could never have obtained.

D33a8d5f095a8532ddf7a0d6c27bfe63

(578)

on September 02, 2013
at 10:03 PM

Paleolithic humans were hunter-gatherers for the most part. They were not grain eaters. They ate meats, tubers and almost anything else that was edible. No, EVCO was not available. Which is in vogue in Paleosphere. I fail to understand how eating a tub of EVCO every week will enhance your health, seriously.

Medium avatar

(624)

on September 04, 2013
at 04:27 PM

While SOME groups might have eaten SOME grains, the quantities were small if so. More important, they weren't the hubridized, super-glutenized, dwarven, agricultureal super-star grains that go into the breads and pastas on today's supermarket shelves.

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