Thursday, February 2, 2017

Europeans have three times more Neanderthal genes for lipid catabolism than Asians or Africans

Europeans have three times more Neanderthal genes for lipid catabolism than Asians or Africans:

"Contemporary Europeans have as many as three times more Neanderthal variants in genes involved in lipid catabolism than Asians and Africans."

This research indicates that ancestors of Europeans were more dependent on dietary fats than Asians or Africans.  We know that these fats would have come from either wild game, nuts or seeds.

"Cracking nuts is a subsistence activity of contemporary hunter–gatherer societies worldwide, as substantiated by extensive data on the taxonomy, seasonality, gathering, cracking, consumption, and nutritional value of nuts and the gender of participants in nut-related activities."[1] Native Americans were known to consume many kinds of nuts, including various species of acorns.[1]  There exists arcahaeological evidence that prehistoric Europeans exploited and processed with hammer stones at least seven species of nuts including two species of pistachios and and two of acorns as far back as 790,000 years ago.[1

Some people have suggested that prehistoric humans would not have used nuts due to their high contents of tannins which are deemed anti-nutrients due to their potential to reduce mineral absorption. Ethnographic studies have shown that preagricultural people used methods of water processing to remove tannins from nuts.

More importantly, as I discussed in Powered by Plants, humans appear to have an evolved physiological adaptation to dietary tannins in the form of proline-rich proteins secreted in saliva.  Salivary proline-rich proteins (PRPs) help an animal extract nutritional value from plant foods by binding with dietary tannins, and studies of mice and rats have shown that PRPs neutralize the detrimental effects of tannins.[2]  About 70% of the proteins in human saliva consist of PRPs.[2]  Humans have a salivary PRP content consistent with an evolved physiological commitment to to a diet rich in tannins.

Some authors go so far as to suggest that humans have a “taste” for tannins since we seem to even seek out and prefer foods with a certain level of tannins, such as tea, red wine, beer, chocolate, smoked foods, herbs, and spices.[2]  Also, we have evidence that tannins (polyphenols, flavonoids) act as important chemopreventers of infectious and chronic diseases in humans; they have antioxidant, anti-inflammatory, vasoprotective, vasodilatory, antibacterial, antiallergic, hepatoprotective, antithrombotic, antiviral, neuroprotective, and anticarcinogenic effects.[3, 4]  Thus, classifying tannins as ‘anti-nutrients’ for humans ignores evidence of human adaptation to tannins, as well as of the benefits of tannins, so it greatly oversimplifies their influence on human health.

Nevertheless, wild game would most likely have been the dominant fat source for Neanderthals and preagricultural Europeans.  In addition, to survive long winters, Europeans would have had to depend on metabolism of both fatty foods and stored body fat during long winters when starch- and especially sugar-rich plant foods would have been relatively scarce (compared to inhabited regions of Africa and Asia).  Hence, cold climate and long winters would have exerted a strong natural selection favoring reproduction of Neanderthals and Europeans having increased numbers of variants of genes involved in lipid catabolism.

Possibly Europeans are best adapted to diets having cyclical carbohydrate contents, perhaps higher in carbohydrate and lower in fat during warmer months (when plant foods may have been more abundant) and lower in carbohydrate in cooler months (when plant foods were likely more scarce).  This accords with the macrobiotic principle of eating in harmony with the seasons.  Due to the low sugar content of northern fruits and berries, it is likely that people of European (Caucasian) descent are more sensitive to dietary fructose than people of Asian or African descent.

As a consequence, people of European descent, perhaps particularly those of Nordic genetic stock, may be more likely to be better adapted to diets higher in fats and protein, moderate in starchy whole plant foods and low in sugars, or perhaps seasonally lower in carbohydrate-rich whole plant foods, such as the Nordic Healthy diet consisting of cabbage family vegetables, native berries and nuts, native fish and seafoods, wild game or pasture-fed animals, locally grown legumes, and oats, barley and rye.  People of Asian and African descent may be more likely to be better adapted to diets more consistently high in starchy whole plant foods, possibly higher in sweet fruits, and lower in protein and fat.

A lot of the confusion about diet may dissolve when we recognize that people of different ancestry are likely suited to different diets, and that people of European stock are descended from ancestors who survived by adapting to significant seasonal fluctuations in the availability of plant and animal foods and therefore in the proportions of macronutrients in the diet.  Perhaps for Europeans the genetically appropriate diet plan fluctuates between a more plant-based warm season diet and a more animal- (or fat- and protein-) based cold season diet.

If this is so, then the findings of the China Project are likely specific to Chinese, studies on African populations produce findings specific to Africans, and studies of Europeans will be specific to Europeans.  The China Project findings do not have to be false to be inappropriate for application to non-Asians. The mistake may lie in thinking that the China Project findings apply to Europeans, or that studies of Nordic populations will help us understand the best way for Chinese to eat. 


1.  Goren-Inbar N, et al. Nuts, nut cracking, and pitted stones at Gesher Benot Ya‘aqov, Israel.  February 19, 2002; vol. 99
no. 4;
pp. 2455–2460.

2.  Mehanso H, Butler LG, Carlson DM. Dietary Tannins and Salivary Proline-Rich Proteins: Interactions, Induction, and Defense Mechanisms. Annual Review of Nutrition 1987 Jul 1;7(1):423-40.

3. Habauzit V, Morand C. Evidence for a protective effect of polyphenols-containing foods on cardiovascular health: an update for clinicians. Ther Adv Chronic Dis 2012 Mar;3(2):87-106. PMC3513903.

4. Soobrattee MA, Bahorun T, Aruoma OI. Chemopreventive actions of polyphenolic compounds in cancer. Biofactors 2006 Jan 1:27(1):19-35. 21.

Saturday, January 14, 2017

Do you live in a bubble? A quiz

Do you live in a bubble? A quiz: There's a new upper class that's completely disconnected from the average American and American culture at large, says Charles Murray. Take this 25-question quiz to find out just how thick your bubble is.


Friday, January 13, 2017

Bulgarian Ice Water Tradition

Playing in the icy cold water in winter is a traditional health practice for Europeans.  Here some Bulgarian men dance in the ice water.

Saturday, January 7, 2017

A Cold Outdoor Bath With The Wim Hof Method

As I have previoiusly mentioned, I have been taking exclusively cold showers 6 days of every week.  On the seventh day I take a warm shower with  a cold ending.  The cold water coming out of our faucets in Scottsdale is 60 ℉ (16 ℃). 

I enrolled in the 10-week Wim Hof Method video course two weeks ago. Before enrolling in this course, I did traditional pranayama every morning.  For the past two weeks I have been doing Wim Hof's breathing methods. 

I was already ahead of his cold exposure schedule when I enrolled in the course.  Using the Hof method of breathing as a preparation, I have gradually increased to 6 minute long cold showers.  I am gradually increasing this to 10 minutes.  

Today I decided to test my tolerance of a 60 ℉ (16 ℃) cold water plunge on a 45 ℉ (7 ℃) morning in typical desert dry air (which draws a lot of heat from the body via evaporation). 

This is no spectacular feat but it is a step towards the goal of bath in ice water, which is coming up in a few weeks.  I felt I could have stayed in longer but I wanted to be conservative on my first attempt so as to keep a positive experience and excitement.

Thursday, January 5, 2017

Study: Intermittent Fasting May Help Prevent Seizures By Calming Nervous System

New research adds epilepsy to the list of conditions that may be improved by the implementation of intermittent fasting.

This research seems to dovetail with the growing body of research proving the neuroregulating and neuroprotective effects of fasting, which I presented in Intermittent Fasting.

It seems that the human body is highly adapted to an environment within which the food supply is intermittent and sometimes scarce.  Excess food intake makes many things go awry at the cellular level because the cells are genetically programmed primarily for energy and nutrient conservation in the face of scarcity or intermittent supply.  When exposed to a surplus of energy and nutrients, these conservative mechanisms result in accumulations of excess nutrients and wastes in the cells and tissues, which promote a myriad of malfunctions.  This is the Chinese medical macrobiotic view of how overeating impairs blood circulation, overloads avenues of discharge, and promotes progressive tissue malnutrition and toxicity, which I discussed in Essential Macrobiotics.

Tuesday, January 3, 2017

Study: Multi-set Resistance Training Best For Healthy Old Adults?

How many exercise sets are best for strength training?  © Don Matesz
Borde et al have made another contribution to the resistance training debate regarding how many sets to perform of each exercise.

Borde et al set out to determine "evidence-based, dose–response relationships regarding specific RT variables (e.g., training period, frequency, intensity, volume) are unclear in healthy old adults."

Their initial literature search identified 506 potentially relevant studies, but their exclusion criteria resulted in a final yield of 25 studies. They included only RCTs that examined the effects of RT in adults with a mean age of 65 and older.

Through meta-analysis of these 25 studies Borde et al found:
"A training period of 50–53 weeks, a training frequency of three sessions per week, a training volume of two to three sets per exercise, seven to nine repetitions per set, a training intensity from 51 to 69 % of the 1RM, a total time under tension [per repetition] of 6.0 s, a rest of 120 s between sets, and a rest of 2.5 s between repetitions turned out to be most effective."
  The authors however do note:
"Our analyses revealed little or no effect of the training variables “number of sets per exercise” and “number of repetitions per set” on strength gains. The additional analyses of dose–response relationships of the number of sets per exercise revealed an inverse U-shape, with the largest effect (mean SMDbs = 2.99) being prevalent in RT protocols that applied two to three sets. However, it seems that there is no difference between single versus multiple sets in short-term RT (6 weeks) in old adults [64]. Moreover, these results suggested that during the early phase of RT, number of sets was not the primary variable responsible for increases in muscle strength and thickness in old adults [64]."
Thus they suggest that when subjects have no previous training experience, single set training routines produce results substantially equivalent to multi-set routines.  However, multi-set routines may be more beneficial in experienced individuals.

This was a meta-analysis so it does not shed light on any mechanisms which might account for their observed dose-response effect of multiple sets in resistance training programs. 

Gotshalk et al.  reported finding that in comparison to a single-set training program, a multi-set program produced greater post-training increases in lactate, growth hormone (GH), testosterone, and cortisol.  Since GH and testosterone both stimulate muscle growth, it may well be that multi-set routines produce greater strength and muscle mass gains on average because they result in greater post-exercise anabolic hormone levels.

The authors suggest that the take home message is that you can make gains with a time-saving single-set training routine, but if you want to maximize results, you may need to utilize a multi-set training routine.

Addendum 1/8/17

Drew Baye has some important comments to make about these studies claiming superiority of multiple sets.  Here are some of Drew's comments:

Most if not all of these studies fail to standardize repetition performance and time under load.  With proper repetition performance, a single set training routine can actually involve similar or more time under load and metabolic work stress than a multiple set routine, as Drew explains here:

A slower repetition cadence increases the force generating ability of muscles (due to the force/velocity curve) while increasing the safety of movement.  Using a slower repetition cadence a trainee will be able to use a higher training load (resistance) than with a faster cadence.  The trained muscles are thus exposed to a higher degree of tension for a similar or greater total time under load when properly performing single-set high intensity training.

Since this meta-analysis is based on studies that did not compare properly performed single-set high intensity training to conventional multi-set training, it does not provide support for the claim that older adults must use multiple set routines to maximize results.

Monday, January 2, 2017

George Hackenshmidt's Comments on Diet Resonate With Macrobiotics

By Unknown -, Public Domain,
George Hackenshmidt (1877-1968) was an early 20th century Estonian strongman and professional wrestler who is recognized as the world's first heavyweight world wrestling champion.

In his book The Way To Live, Hackenschmidt has some interesting things to say about diet in relationship to strength and health.

In regard to the relation between diet and strength, he wrote:
"It is not my intention to discuss here the old problem, whether meat is necessary as food for man or whether man was created and should remain a vegetarian.  My experience has taught me that foodstuffs are of secondary importance.  There are very strong people who are strict vegetarians, whilst others eat a good deal of meat."
Hackenschmidt's father was Baltic German and his mother an Estonian Swede.  He made a remark that suggested he was aware that one's ancestry might affect one's dietary requirements.  He suggested that "A fare which consists of three-quarters of vegetable food and one-quarter meat would appear to be the most satisfactory for the people of central Europe."  In other words, a plant-based but omnivorous diet.  I should note that it is a basic macrobiotic principle that individuals who live in a more northern region (such as Europe) or regularly engage in intense or prolonged physical activity benefit from consuming a somewhat greater amount of food with a more yang (warming and supplementing) influence, of which animal flesh is one possibility.

Of interest, although The Way To Live was published about 1908, Hackenschmidt wrote of the disadvantages of flesh foods, his first concern was "it is most difficult to obtain meat from absolutely healthy animals (I count those artificially fed in stables and pens among the unhealthy ones.)"  This was a considerable time before the advent of the large confined animal feeding operations we see today.

By photo: unknown; file: James Steakley - Begas. Monumente für das Kaiserreich, ed. Esther Sophia Sünderhauf (2010)., Public Domain,

His second concern was "that far too much flesh food is taken."

He also says that "pure vegetables...certainly form the ideal human food" as they are perhaps the only foods which do not "deposit drossy sediments in the body...which may be removed by four channels, the lungs, the skin, the kidneys, and the intestines."  Dross is impurity.

Finally, with regard to consumption of fluids, Hackenschmidt writes an opinion contrary to modern beliefs but in accord with classical Chinese medicine and macrobiotics, namely that excessive consumption of water places a burden on the kidneys and drains the body of vital minerals, particularly sodium and chloride, "which support energy and vital power, and if they are wanting, decay of tissue and decomposition take place." 

Hackenschmidt himself consumed 11 pints (1.375 gallons; 5.2 liters) of milk daily but ate little animal flesh infrequently.  He avoided alcohol, tobacco and coffee.

Hackenschmidt's reported milk consumption reminds me of Christoph Hufeland's statement in Macrobiotics: The Art of Prolonging Life:
"We find that it is not those who lived on flesh, but on vegetables, pulse, fruits, and milk, who attained to the greatest age; Lord Bacon mentions a man of 120, who, during his whole life, never used any other food than milk."
According to strength athlete historian David Gentle, Hackenschmidt had the mental qualities we aim to cultivate as part of macrobiotic practice:
"George Hackenschmidt was the epitome of calm, self-assurance and inner peace, with full awareness of his own capabilities and thus like all masters of combat found no need for machoism or outward aggression. His tactic to win was skill and speed, born of confidence in his own ability and fighting prowess."
Hackenschmidt's dietary comments, recommendations and practices resonate with the macrobiotic principles that I discussed extensively in my book Essential Macrobiotics.  Hackenschmidt developed his abilities as both an athlete and a thinker, and he lived fully to 90 years of age, very vigorous his entire life.  I think Hackenschmidt lived a both a great life and a long life, fulfilling both meanings of the word macro-bios.