Water for the Pima

A few months ago, I published a post about the Pima Indians (Akimel O'odham) of Arizona. The Pima are one of the most heart-wrenching examples of the disease of civilization afflicting a society after a nutrition transition. Traditionally a healthy agricultural people, they now have some of the highest rates of obesity and diabetes in the world.

The trouble all started when their irrigation waters were diverted upstream in the late 19th century. Their traditional diet of corn, beans, squash, fish, game meats and gathered plant foods became impossible. They became dependent on government food programs, which provided them with white flour, sugar, lard and canned goods. Now they are the subjects of scientific research because of their staggering health problems.

I'm happy to report that after more than 30 years of activism, lawsuits and negotiation, the Pima and neighboring tribes have reached an agreement with the federal government that will restore a portion of their …

Conflict of Interest

The U.S. National Cholesterol Education Program (NCEP) is a government organization that educates physicians and the general public about the "dangers" of elevated cholesterol. They have a panel that creates official guidelines for the reduction of cardiovascular disease risk. They contain target cholesterol levels, and the usual recommendations to eat less saturated fat and cholesterol, and lose weight.

They recommend keeping LDL below 100 mg/dL, which would place tens of millions of Americans on statins.

I was reading Dr. John Briffa's blog today and he linked to a government web page disclosing NCEP panel members' conflicts of interest. It's fairly common in academic circles to require conflict of interest statements, so a skeptical audience can decide whether or not they think someone is biased. The 9-member NECP panel was happy to indulge us:
Dr. Grundy has received honoraria from Merck, Pfizer, Sankyo, Bayer, Merck/Schering-Plough, Kos, Abbott, Bristol-Mye…

Eating Down the Food Chain

Europe once teemed with large mammals, including species of elephant, lion, tiger, bear, moose and bison.

America was also home to a number of huge and unusual animals: mammoths, dire wolves, lions, giant sloths and others.

The same goes for Australia, where giant kangaroos, huge wombats and marsupial 'lions' once roamed.

What do these extinctions have in common? They all occurred around when humans arrived. The idea that humans caused them is hotly debated, because they also sometimes coincided with climactic and vegetation changes. However, I believe the fact that these extinctions occurred on several different continents about when humans arrived points to an anthropogenic explanation.

A recent archaeological study from the island of Tasmania off the coast of Australia supports the idea that humans were behind the Australian extinctions. Many large animals went extinct around the time when humans arrived in Australia, but that time also coincided with a change in climat…

Saharan Hunter-Gatherers Unearthed

The media recently covered an archaeological discovery in Niger that caught my attention. In the middle of the Sahara desert, researchers found a hunter-gatherer burial site containing over 200 graves ranging from about 10,000 to 4,500 years old. During this period, the region was lush and productive.

There were two groups: the Kiffian, who were powerful hunters and fishermen, and the Tenerian, who were smaller pastoralists (herders) and fishermen.

Individuals at the Kiffian sites averaged over 6 feet tall, with some reaching 6' 8". They were powerfully muscled, and found with the remains of elephants, giraffes, pythons, giant perch and other large game.

Not that you have to be Conan the Barbarian to kill an elephant. Forest pygmies traditionally hunt elephants, and there's a picutre in Nutrition and Physical Degeneration to prove it. They use stealth, agility and an intimate knowledge of their prey to make up for their small size and primitive weapons.

Both the Kiff…

Fit at 70

In my professional life, I study neurodegenerative disease, the mechanisms of aging, and what the two have in common. I was reading through a textbook on aging a few months ago, and I came across an interesting series of graphs.

The first graph showed the average cardiorespiratory endurance of Americans at different ages. It peaks around 30 and goes downhill from there. But the author of this chapter was very intelligent; he knew that averages sometimes conceal meaningful information. The second graph showed two lines: one representing a man who was sedentary, and the other representing a man who exercised regularly for his entire life. The data were from real individuals. The endurance of the first man basically tracked the national average as he aged. The endurance of the second man remained relatively stable from early adulthood until the age of 70, after which it declined noticeably.

We aren't taking care of ourselves for nothing, ladies and gentlemen. We're doing …

Kitava: Wrapping it Up

There's a lot to be learned from the Kitava study. Kitavans eat a diet of root vegetables, coconut, fruit, vegetables and fish and have undetectable levels of cardiovascular disease (CVD), stroke and overweight. Despite light smoking. 69% of their calories come from carbohydrate, 21% from fat and 10% from protein. This is essentially a carbohydrate-heavy version of what our paleolithic ancestors ate. They also get lots of sunshine and have a moderately high activity level.

The first thing we can say is that a high intake of carbohydrate is not enough, by itself, to cause overweight or the diseases of civilization. It's also not enough to cause insulin resistance. I sent an e-mail to Dr. Lindeberg asking if his group had measured Kitavans' glucose tolerance. He told me they had not. However, I can only guess they had good glucose control since they suffered from none of the complications of unmanaged diabetes.

The Kitavan diet is low in fat, and most of the fat t…

Cardiovascular Risk Factors on Kitava, Part IV: Leptin

Leptin is a hormone that is a central player in the process of weight gain and chronic disease. Its existence had been predicted for decades, but it was not identified until 1994. Although less well known than insulin, its effects on nutrient disposal, metabolic rate and feeding behaviors place it on the same level of importance.

Caloric intake and expenditure vary from day to day and week to week in humans, yet most people maintain a relatively stable weight without consciously adjusting food intake. For example, I become hungry after a long fast, whereas I won't be very hungry if I've stuffed myself for two meals in a row. This suggests a homeostatic mechanism, or feedback loop, which keeps weight in the body's preferred range. Leptin is the major feedback signal.

Here's how it works. Leptin is secreted by adipose (fat) tissue, and its blood levels are proportional to fat mass. The more fat, the more leptin. It acts in the brain to increase the metabolic ra…