modern health paved road

Stone-Age Diet Disparity

The modern-age lifestyle has not come without its consequences to human health. Approximately 54% of all Europeans have elevated cholesterol levels [1]. Almost 51% have insufficient vitamin D levels [2], and this reaches over 60% in places like Germany where there is less sunshine year round [3].

Modern humans have really only evolved up until the stone age when selective pressure drove adaptation to food insecurity and much other adversity that is no longer present in Westernized culture [4,5]. Nowadays, not only has an abundance of food become reliably accessible, but diets containing high amounts of processed foods and fast foods have become the norm. Portion sizes of meals and snacks eaten outside of the home have drastically increased, particularly for sugary drinks, and are as much as four times larger now than they were in the 1950’s [6].

Eating out is further linked to much lower consumption of fruits and vegetables [7]. Global studies suggest that a poor-quality diet contributes to heart disease, diabetes and cancer, where too much salt and too little whole grains, fruit and nuts have the highest associated risk of death [8]. About one-third of the American population will eat fast food on any given day [9]; foods that are highly processed, calorie-dense, and provide minimal amounts of the vitamins and minerals required for good health.  

Inactivity in the Modern Age

Furthermore, our stone-age ancestors adapted to much higher levels of physical activity than the levels that humans are engaged in today [10,11]. The disparity in physical activity between modernized humans and humans who must spend more energy to secure food is evident in observations of communities that have acculturated to a sedentary lifestyle, such as Canadian Inuit communities [12], or contrasted by communities who have resisted modernization and lead a very active agricultural lifestyle, such as Old Order Amish communities [13].

In addition to a reduction in physical activity, life indoors is impacting health with many hours spent seated away from the sun. Natural vitamin D production peaks in the midday due to higher UVB-sunlight exposure on the skin. People who work indoors are much more likely to be vitamin D insufficient due to the lack of exposure to sunlight [14]. The dissonance between how we produce nutrients from sunlight and the choice to live indoors can have detrimental health effects.

The human genome is not aligned to the environment Westernized humans currently live in. [4]. This has translated into a change in biomarker levels that are far from optimal. LDL-cholesterol levels are much higher than necessary for healthy lipid metabolism [4,15], while vitamin and mineral insufficiencies are common [16], and liver damage biomarkers can become elevated as a result of alcoholism or excessive medication or drug consumption. Thus, we monitor biomarker levels because of this disparity between our stone age genomes and modern lifestyle.

Testing biomarker levels can provide you with the knowledge of how your body is responding to your environmental circumstances and gives you the power to change your day-to-day habits so that your lifestyle is more suited to your health. Click below if you are interested in our range of biomarker test kits.

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1. Global Health Observatory (GHO) data: Raised Cholesterol. World Health Organization.

2. Vitamin D deficiency in Europe: pandemic? Am J Clin Nutr. 2016 Apr; 103(4): 1033–1044.

3. Vitamin D status among adults in Germany – results from the German Health Interview and Examination Survey for Adults (DEGS1). BMC Public Health. 2015; 15: 641.

4. Why is hypercholesterolaemia so prevalent? A view from evolutionary medicine. Eur Heart J. 2018 Aug 28.

5. Stone agers in the fast lane: chronic degenerative diseases in evolutionary perspective. Am J Med. 1988 Apr;84(4):739-49.

6. The New (Ab)Normal. Division of Nutrition, Physical Activity, and Obesity, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

7. Consumption Frequency of Foods Away from Home Linked with Higher Body Mass Index and Lower Fruit and Vegetable Intake among Adults: A Cross-Sectional Study. J Environ Public Health. 2016; 2016: 3074241.

8. Health effects of dietary risks in 195 countries, 1990–2017: a systematic analysis for the Global Burden of Disease Study 2017. Lancet. 2019 Apr 3.

9. Fast Food Consumption Among Adults in the United States, 2013–2016. National Center for Health Statistics, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. NCHS Data Brief No. 322, October 2018.

10. Physical Activity, Sedentary Behavior, and Health: Paradigm Paralysis or Paradigm Shift? Diabetes. 2010 Nov; 59(11): 2717–2725.

11. An evolutionary perspective on human physical activity: implications for health. Comp Biochem Physiol A Mol Integr Physiol. 2003 Sep;136(1):153-9.

12. Physiological consequences of acculturation: a 20-year study of fitness in an Inuit community. Eur J Appl Physiol Occup Physiol. 1994;69(6):516-24.

13. Physical activity in an Old Order Amish community. Med Sci Sports Exerc. 2004 Jan;36(1):79-85.

14. Vitamin D levels and deficiency with different occupations: a systematic review. BMC Public Health. 2017 Jun 22;17(1):519.

15. How Low to Go With Glucose, Cholesterol, and Blood Pressure in Primary Prevention of CVD. J Am Coll Cardiol. 2017 Oct 24;70(17):2171-2185.

16. Multivitamin/mineral supplement contribution to micronutrient intakes in the United States, 2007-2010. J Am Coll Nutr. 2014;33(2):94-102.

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