5

votes

Known neolithic genetic adaptations to food?

Answered on August 19, 2014
Created September 27, 2010 at 6:11 PM

Evolution didn't just stop with the invention of agriculture. Genetics have changed and there have been some genetic changes in response to agrarian foods. These genetic changes generally only affect a certain percentage of the population, often from a particular region. While paleolithic foods seem to be the best for ALL people, knowledge of these genetic changes can be useful for making food decisions like whether or not to eat dairy or how much salt to include.

47a42b6be94caf700fce9509e38bb6a4

(9647)

on October 09, 2010
at 07:02 PM

Everyone should have a look at this link for some thoughts on this topic: "How long does it take for a food-related trait to evolve?" http://healthcorrelator.blogspot.com/2010/01/how-long-does-it-take-for-food-related.html Does not settle the question one way or other but neatly provides some good concepts for consideration.

D13278772f6612432bf53413fad4e7af

(801)

on September 28, 2010
at 07:05 PM

Interesting offhand comment about bacteria evolution being much faster than human evolution. I read somewhere that, even though a newborn starts off with 100% human cells, s/he immediately starts to incorporate all the symbiotic organisms that populate our gut, skin, sense organs, etc. By the time one is an adult, 90% of the cells in our body are non-human! It sounds like a bad horror movie, but it suggests caution about concluding that the total human/non-human co-evolution basically stopped in paleo times.

08ce57b1bbb3bda8e384234389c36d94

on September 28, 2010
at 06:19 PM

Tolerance for lactose was a relatively easy adaption because the genetic hardware was already there. The genetic trick was to keep the lactose tolerance genes from switching off in adulthood. Grains on the other hand are truly foreign and poisonous substances and 10,000 years is not enough time. Grains are literally for the birds.

08ce57b1bbb3bda8e384234389c36d94

on September 28, 2010
at 06:18 PM

Adult tolerance for lactose was a relatively easy adaption because thee genetic hardware was already there. The genetic trick was to keep the lactose tolerance genes from switching off in adulthood. Grains on the other hand are truly foreign and poisonous substances and 10,000 years is not enough time. Grains are literally for the birds.

62ed65f3596aa2f62fa1d58a0c09f8c3

(20807)

on September 28, 2010
at 02:14 PM

I suspect there is a threshold in each of us and most older Japanese managed to stay on the healthier side of of it by eating fresh foods, less damaging types of starch, and not eating much sugar and wheat. But on the flip side, just because they were healthier than current AMericans does not mean they could not have been healthier than they were if they improved their diet still further.

667f6c030b0245d71d8ef50c72b097dc

(15976)

on September 28, 2010
at 01:55 PM

I have to admit that my time spent in Japan (five consecutive years in different parts of that beautiful country) always nags at me kind of against, at least in some way, the paleo argument. Just that, while Japan is quickly getting fat like us and eating McDs all the time etc, the vast majority of Japanese are remarkably fit, while eating a pretty hefty, consistent amount of starch. Granted the relatively benign white rice is more present than wheat, dense carbs are indeed a staple of their diet. And i would argue that the city folk at least are no more active than many Americans.

667f6c030b0245d71d8ef50c72b097dc

(15976)

on September 28, 2010
at 01:51 PM

I'll chime in with a bit of canine info: dogs produce no amylase in their mouths. Humans do (to varying degrees as your link points out) though thats not my point. Just pointing out that we in the dograising community have our own "paleo" war if you will going on and the lack of oral amylase in dogs is but one of our arguments against feeding dogs carbohydrates like grains, starchs, etc.

4b97e3bb2ee4a9588783f5d56d687da1

(22913)

on September 28, 2010
at 12:04 PM

Phytic acid is found in many starches as well, tubers and beans

47a42b6be94caf700fce9509e38bb6a4

(9647)

on September 27, 2010
at 09:31 PM

Yeah, I am possibly misusing the terms here since I didn't really learn genetics correctly in biology class, and so I may not have come across as clearly as I could have. Please let the point stand in a common-sense way: there is a distinction between i. the situation re: skin color, where we can point to a damn good reason why northern Europeans are white, and ii. claims like, say, lentils should be your legume of choice if your ancestors from England. In the second case it just seems unlikely that there's significant "selective pressure" going on.

47a42b6be94caf700fce9509e38bb6a4

(9647)

on September 27, 2010
at 09:28 PM

Yeah, I almost certainly am misusing the terms here since I didn't really learn genetics correctly in biology class, and so I may not have come across as clearly as I could have. Please let the point stand in a common-sense way: there is a distinction between i. the situation re: skin color, where we can point to a damn good reason why northern Europeans are white, and ii. claims like, say, lentils should be your legume of choice if your ancestors from England. In the second case it just seems unlikely that there's significant "selective pressure" going on.

47a42b6be94caf700fce9509e38bb6a4

(9647)

on September 27, 2010
at 09:16 PM

Yeah, I almost certainly am misusing the terms here since I don't really know genetics, or never learned it correctly in biology class. You all should be kind to me in my ignorance and let the point stand in a common-sense way: there is a distinction between i. the situation re: skin color, where we can point to a damn good reason why northern Europeans are white, and ii. claims like, say, lentils should be your legume of choice if your ancestors from England. In the second case it just seems unlikely that there's significant "selective pressure" going on.

4ab3b10d52010fcb0d00b1a893b3d9df

(194)

on September 27, 2010
at 08:47 PM

Essentially, in you second point, you are say there are no selective pressures. Therefore, all the genes survive, adapted or not.

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4 Answers

6
47a42b6be94caf700fce9509e38bb6a4

(9647)

on September 27, 2010
at 07:59 PM

  1. I've been looking back through a lot of Stephan's older posts, and there's some really great stuff. Not that we didn't know that already. But I came across a nice post, short and sweet, "Grains and Human Evolution", which makes two important points (and in July of 2008, which is practically prehistory in the paleo world): i. Even if there is evidence of grain agriculture 10,000 or 11,000 years ago, it was not widespread until much later -- in the case of many African or New World groups, under a 1,000 years or even 0 years, practically speaking. ii. Nevertheless, there is evidence of some adaptation to grain consumption. And Stephan actually points to particular genes as candidates. Have a look.
    He leaves us with the overall conclusion that there has been some adaptation to grains, but, put briefly, not enough.

  2. I'd like to suggest -- and I know this is dangerous territory -- that whenever we are engaging in evolutionary speculation, we consider in each case what exactly the pressure would be that resulted in the genetic change. Because keep in mind that for one adaptation to survive such that all the members of a population have it, everyone else who didn't have it had to die. I understand that this is often a matter of degree. But not always -- there's a reason why essentially all Africans have dark skin and essentially all Europeans do not. If you had dark skin in Europe you eventually would not have been able to produce enough Vitamin D from the sun, and you would die without leaving offspring. The disadvantages for you were great enough to prevent you from reproducing -- either from failure to survive until the age of reproduction, or failure to attract a mate because of your relative sickliness, or failure of you and your group to survive in warfare against a healthier group. I'm sure there are others out there who are much more familiar than I with the various pressures on genes. If I'm missing something please correct me.
    The main point is not to fall into the assumption that just because your ancestors come from a certain place that means they "soaked up" the food of that place. We of all people should be wary of this kind of reasoning, because we know that the persistent eating of certain things may be perfectly OK for the genes, even if not OK at all for the individuals who are the vessels for those genes. The perfect example, of course, is grains.

47a42b6be94caf700fce9509e38bb6a4

(9647)

on September 27, 2010
at 09:28 PM

Yeah, I almost certainly am misusing the terms here since I didn't really learn genetics correctly in biology class, and so I may not have come across as clearly as I could have. Please let the point stand in a common-sense way: there is a distinction between i. the situation re: skin color, where we can point to a damn good reason why northern Europeans are white, and ii. claims like, say, lentils should be your legume of choice if your ancestors from England. In the second case it just seems unlikely that there's significant "selective pressure" going on.

47a42b6be94caf700fce9509e38bb6a4

(9647)

on September 27, 2010
at 09:16 PM

Yeah, I almost certainly am misusing the terms here since I don't really know genetics, or never learned it correctly in biology class. You all should be kind to me in my ignorance and let the point stand in a common-sense way: there is a distinction between i. the situation re: skin color, where we can point to a damn good reason why northern Europeans are white, and ii. claims like, say, lentils should be your legume of choice if your ancestors from England. In the second case it just seems unlikely that there's significant "selective pressure" going on.

47a42b6be94caf700fce9509e38bb6a4

(9647)

on September 27, 2010
at 09:31 PM

Yeah, I am possibly misusing the terms here since I didn't really learn genetics correctly in biology class, and so I may not have come across as clearly as I could have. Please let the point stand in a common-sense way: there is a distinction between i. the situation re: skin color, where we can point to a damn good reason why northern Europeans are white, and ii. claims like, say, lentils should be your legume of choice if your ancestors from England. In the second case it just seems unlikely that there's significant "selective pressure" going on.

4ab3b10d52010fcb0d00b1a893b3d9df

(194)

on September 27, 2010
at 08:47 PM

Essentially, in you second point, you are say there are no selective pressures. Therefore, all the genes survive, adapted or not.

47a42b6be94caf700fce9509e38bb6a4

(9647)

on October 09, 2010
at 07:02 PM

Everyone should have a look at this link for some thoughts on this topic: "How long does it take for a food-related trait to evolve?" http://healthcorrelator.blogspot.com/2010/01/how-long-does-it-take-for-food-related.html Does not settle the question one way or other but neatly provides some good concepts for consideration.

3
6fa48935d439390e223b9a053a62c981

(1676)

on September 27, 2010
at 07:20 PM

You mentioned dairy, which one has to be lactose tolerant to eat. Lactose tolerance, or the ability to make lactase in adulthood, apparently evolved independently in both Northern Europe and Northern Africa. It is, in fact, a genetic adaptation to a new food source. I'm a product of Northern European genetics and I happen to know that I'm lactose tolerant, because I don't get a case of the bloated, gassy trots when I eat dairy. But I don't eat dairy because I'm afraid it might cause chronic low-level inflammation or other systemic problems like gluten and lectins do.

And like milk, I can eat grain-derived foods with no immediate problems whatsoever. The whole problem with these neolithic foods is that they don't just kill you today like poison would, but cause problems that only manifest over extended periods of time. And this makes the effect hard to correlate with the cause. Even today, some people, even doctors, just can't seem to relate type-2 diabetes to a lifetime of high carbohydrate consumption.

So even if I'm genetically adapted to eating dairy, the fact that it doesn't make me immediately overtly sick does not mean that it is not causing me harm. But maybe it's not. How would an individual like me know one way or the other, except to wait a few decades and see?

In my case, I've just decided to adopt the paleo diet and skip grains and dairy, despite the lack of any obvious problems. But I'll tell you one thing: I miss the hell out of a toasted sesame bagel with cream cheese, smoked salmon, and capers.

08ce57b1bbb3bda8e384234389c36d94

on September 28, 2010
at 06:18 PM

Adult tolerance for lactose was a relatively easy adaption because thee genetic hardware was already there. The genetic trick was to keep the lactose tolerance genes from switching off in adulthood. Grains on the other hand are truly foreign and poisonous substances and 10,000 years is not enough time. Grains are literally for the birds.

08ce57b1bbb3bda8e384234389c36d94

on September 28, 2010
at 06:19 PM

Tolerance for lactose was a relatively easy adaption because the genetic hardware was already there. The genetic trick was to keep the lactose tolerance genes from switching off in adulthood. Grains on the other hand are truly foreign and poisonous substances and 10,000 years is not enough time. Grains are literally for the birds.

2
62ed65f3596aa2f62fa1d58a0c09f8c3

(20807)

on September 28, 2010
at 04:00 AM

I read somewhere that about 20% of the human population can produce some level of phytase in the gut. Phytase breaks down phytic acid and makes it safer and more digestable. The only advantage to producing phytic acid would be to help with the digestion of phytic acid rich foods like nuts and grains. However, it just occured to me that this adaptation may have originally been to help with digestion of nuts or some other nongrain food item. Grains may have had nothing to do with it originally!

Also interesting, the news recently carried some blurbs about how Japanese often have a bacteria in their gut that allows them to better digest seaweed like nori. This is not necesarily a human evolution, but interesting nonetheless. Bacteria evolve faster than humans and their evolution then effects us directly. Since their survival and our survival are intimately linked, it makes for an interesting situation.

4b97e3bb2ee4a9588783f5d56d687da1

(22913)

on September 28, 2010
at 12:04 PM

Phytic acid is found in many starches as well, tubers and beans

667f6c030b0245d71d8ef50c72b097dc

(15976)

on September 28, 2010
at 01:55 PM

I have to admit that my time spent in Japan (five consecutive years in different parts of that beautiful country) always nags at me kind of against, at least in some way, the paleo argument. Just that, while Japan is quickly getting fat like us and eating McDs all the time etc, the vast majority of Japanese are remarkably fit, while eating a pretty hefty, consistent amount of starch. Granted the relatively benign white rice is more present than wheat, dense carbs are indeed a staple of their diet. And i would argue that the city folk at least are no more active than many Americans.

62ed65f3596aa2f62fa1d58a0c09f8c3

(20807)

on September 28, 2010
at 02:14 PM

I suspect there is a threshold in each of us and most older Japanese managed to stay on the healthier side of of it by eating fresh foods, less damaging types of starch, and not eating much sugar and wheat. But on the flip side, just because they were healthier than current AMericans does not mean they could not have been healthier than they were if they improved their diet still further.

D13278772f6612432bf53413fad4e7af

(801)

on September 28, 2010
at 07:05 PM

Interesting offhand comment about bacteria evolution being much faster than human evolution. I read somewhere that, even though a newborn starts off with 100% human cells, s/he immediately starts to incorporate all the symbiotic organisms that populate our gut, skin, sense organs, etc. By the time one is an adult, 90% of the cells in our body are non-human! It sounds like a bad horror movie, but it suggests caution about concluding that the total human/non-human co-evolution basically stopped in paleo times.

1
9d43f6873107e17ca4d1a5055aa7a2ad

on September 28, 2010
at 12:27 PM

I'll make this a wiki so that YOU and I can keep adding to it:

  • Starch digestion: "We found that copy number of the salivary amylase gene (AMY1) is correlated positively with salivary amylase protein level and that individuals from populations with high-starch diets have, on average, more AMY1 copies than those with traditionally low-starch diets."
  • Folate metabolism, though it's possibly epigenetic. Either way, some people seem to need more folate than others.

667f6c030b0245d71d8ef50c72b097dc

(15976)

on September 28, 2010
at 01:51 PM

I'll chime in with a bit of canine info: dogs produce no amylase in their mouths. Humans do (to varying degrees as your link points out) though thats not my point. Just pointing out that we in the dograising community have our own "paleo" war if you will going on and the lack of oral amylase in dogs is but one of our arguments against feeding dogs carbohydrates like grains, starchs, etc.

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