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Primal Lifestyle Good for Your Heart?

Following a primal eating plan rich in meat, vegetables, berries and nuts may reduce the risk of heart disease, according to a small study [1] published this month in the European Journal of Clinical Nutrition.

For the study, researchers at the Karolinska Institute in Sweden recruited 14 healthy volunteers to ditch their normal diet in favor of a Paleolithic diet. As such, volunteers were restricted from consuming cereals, bread, sugar, milk, butter and cheese.

Over the course of the three week study, the volunteers lost an average of 2.3 kg (roughly 5.5 lbs), reduced their waist circumference (a key indicator of abdominal adiposity as well as potential cardiovascular risk according to this Journal of the American Medical Association study [2]) by 0.5 cm and reduced their body mass index (which, admittedly, is not an accurate indicator of health) by 0.8. In addition, systolic blood pressure was reduced by 3 mmHg and plasminogen activator inhibitor-1 (high circulating levels of which may be associated [3] with increased heart disease risk) were reduced by 72%.

Commenting on the findings, the study’s lead author noted that “a short intervention with a Paleolithic diet had some favorable effects on cardiovascular health.” Of course, we say, “imagine what positive effects a lifetime can have!”

However, his analysis did reveal what they categorized as a potential “drawback” to the diet.

Specifically, he called attention to the reduction in calcium intake experienced across the study period. He cited the lack of dairy as a primary reason for this. Our take at MDA is that the original recommended daily allowance (RDA) for calcium may have been based on a diet comprised of significant amounts of grains, which, according to previous research, may bind calcium and prevent its uptake, thus exaggerating our actual calcium needs. Furthermore, simply increasing the frequency of weight-bearing exercises or reducing the stress in our lives (which promotes production of cortisol, a known calcium blocker) may help maintain bone health and thus somewhat reduce our reliance on calcium. Alternatively, these perceived inadequacies in calcium intake could be ameliorated by increasing the intake of dark leafy green vegetables, adding a little cheese to the diet (one of the Primal sensible vices [4]), or supplementing the diet with either a calcium or vitamin D – which improves calcium absorption – supplement. Or maybe just some regular sunlight.

Groundbreaking study? Probably not, given the size and the fact that even the study’s lead author concluded that more research was needed into the benefits of the diet. We agree! Let’s see that research!

GrinnellGirl [5] Flickr Photo (CC)

Further Reading:

Speaking of a Primal eating strategy [6]

Dear Mark: Nuts [7]

Conditioning Research: Paleolithic Study [8]

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