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The Paleo Diet Can Be Bad For You

What very popular diet  is loved by a high percentage of health-minded people and yet has relatively few studies to its credit?   And what diet can quickly get a man into trouble, yet its leaders almost never warn its followers of these issues?  Yes, I'm talking about the Paleo Diet.  The Paleo, or Caveman Diet as it is sometimes called, has taken the U.S. by storm in the last 5-10 years.  From what I've seen, it is by far the most popular diet among health-minded men right now.  (Some men also eat a related diet, call "Primal".)

Now, before I go on, let me mention that I think trying to eat "Paleo" is an admirable goal.  Trying to eat according to our evolutionary and developmental ancestry just makes a lot of sense.  So I'm not attacking here the Paleo philosophy and I even try to follow it myself in a certain sense.  But a lot of men are following Paleo not really understanding that, if they deviate even slightly, they can blow out their arteries and create other significant health issues.  Many people cheat on any diet and the consequences of cheating in the Paleo world can be particularly devastating as I'll discuss below.

The problem with the Paleo Diet is that the modern implementation is neither Paleo nor natural.  The gurus of the Paleo movment have built a romanticized view that makes gross assumptions about human development and digestion, something I discuss in more detail in this link on Paleo Diet Mythology.  There are many forms of Paleo and the movement has often struggled to definite itself.  But the majority of threads are low or lowish carbs with, has taken the world by storm and has received widespread adoption in many other Western countries.  It takes many forms from the Caveman Diet to Barry Sears, but they're all essentially the same:  a low carb diet with an emphasis on meat, vegetables and a few fruits such as berries.  In order to round out their carbs, you'll see some of them eat sweet potatoes and still others things likes white rice.  Regardless, this way of eating is very appealing to many Westerners, who generally grew up on a steady diet of meat in various forms. 

One does not have to look far, though, to see the many potential problems - and I emphasize potential - with a Paleo Diet, which tends to be high in protein, medium high in fat and low in carbs.  Furthermore, when one reviews the litereature, one can't help but ask, "Where are the studies showing improved mortality and longevity from anything resembling a Paleo Diet?"  Perhaps more importantly, where are the studies showing that the Paleo Diet improves arteriosclerosis?  One quickly notices that there are none, which is in direct contrast with diets such as The Mediterranean Diet, which shows decreased mortality and improved erectile dysfunction, and a Low Fat Diet, which shows increased blood flow/nitric oxide and improved arteriosclerosis.  (In fairness, the Paleo does have some smaller studies that show that the Paleo Diet is particularly good at improving glucose and insulin control.)

So, if you've adopted a "Paleo Lifestyle", I hope you'll consider some of the potential issues below with the Paleo Diet.  These have the potential to affect your long term and possibly sexual health

1. Blood Flow. What's the one thing you need for good erections?  Blood flow. Well, actually there are many things you need for a good erection, but blood flow has got to be right at the top of the list.

So the Paleo Diet improves blood flow, right?  Unfortunately, a Paleo Diet, if implemented wrong, could easily lead to less blood flow.  For example, one study pitted a Low Fat Diet against a Low Carb Diet and found that the Atkins Diet resulted in much less blood flow. [1] This was under weight loss conditions and many health parameters improve when you lose weight regardless as to which diet is chosen, so this was particularly ugly.  Now it is true that a Paleo Diet is not really a Low Carb Diet in the traditional sense.  However, it definitely is low medium carbs and the Paleo leaders should warn their followers that this could be an issue if carbs drop too low.

Another study found that a higher fat diet, such as one would often get on a Paleo Diet, resulted in decreased "endothelial vasoreactivity". [2] This basically means that the arteries could not expand or dilate as easily, which will usually mean less blood flow and potentially higher blood pressure. The authors also noted that “the high fat Atkins diet is associated with increased LDL-C, reduced endothelial vasoreactivity and increased expression of biomarkers of atherothrombosis.”  This is ugly. 

Now Paleo folks will object, "Well, Paleo is not Atkins (Low Carb)!"  That's true.  But many Paleo followers buy unnatural, modern beef and pork and cook with it.  A modern cow or pig is nothing like the wild game that Paleo people consumed and is very high in total fat and saturated fat. 

Now, in fairness, I will mention that if someone on a Paleo Diet eats walnuts or exercises heavily after a Paleo meal, they may be able to counteract some of these negative effects.  But why take the risk?  The bottom line is that a Paleo Diet likely has be carefully monitored to not go too high in fat or too low in carbs or it becomes nothing more than a glorified Low Carb (Atkins) Diet

 I'll say the obvious:  if too many carbs are eaten, this will likely cause issues as well.  A Paleo Diet with a fair amount of carbs is really not that different than a standard Western Diet

I have seen Paleo folks talk about sweet potatoes and sometimes potatoes as being okay, since they are "root foods".  So what is the difference between a Paleo person sitting down to a (store bought) steak and potato (or sweet potato) and the typical American sitting down to a steak and potato?  Probably not much!

Now some Paleo followers are very different:  they only eat lower fat, range fed meats or fish that is high in omega-3's.  This kind of eating is NOT what I am talking about.  Kudos to them.  However, this way of eating is very expensive and I doubt that most Paleo adherents with kids are able to eat this way from a monetary standpoint.

CAUTION:  A Paleo Diet that is not based on range fed meat will usually have high saturated fat content.   Saturated fat slugdges the blood in your arteries and lowers blood flow.  There are many other issues with saturated fat and you can read about them in my link on The Dangers of Saturated Fat for more details.  Again, it doesn't matter whether you consume coconut oil or supermarket-based animal products:  the saturated fat will often slow down your blood flow and that's not going to be good for erections for many middle-aged and older men.  I have seen countless times on the Peak Testosterone Forum where men 40+ years old are eating lots of saturated fat and can't figure out why they are having erectile troubles.  Well, many studies have shown that it slows down blood flow.  Usually, only the younger guys can handle eating boatloads of saturated fat, because they have so much buffer in their systems.

2. Inflammation. Several studies have found that low carb and/or higher fat diets increases inflammation levels. For example, one recent study on women found that a low carb, high fat diet increased C-Reactive Protein, which is linked to heart disease and many other chronic diseases. [4] Again, this was even more remarkable, because it occurred during weight loss, which normally produces superior results for any eating pattern.  Regardless, this is particularly ominous for those on a Paleo Diet, because inflammation is probably our #1 enemy and is a risk factor for erectile dysfunction and heart disease.  Again, the gurus need to do some study work to find out the parameters for not increasing deadly inflmmation. 

--Yes, if someone eats range fed meat, this issue is avoided.

3. Mitochondrial Dysfunction. Mitochondria are the powerhouses of all cells in human tissue. They are front and center stage when it comes to aging and researchers have correlated the age-related loss of testosterone (andropause/male menopause) to mitochondrial damage. [5] What diet has been found to likely lead to accelerated mitochondrial damage? You guessed it – a high fat diet, very similar to a standard Paleo Diet. This kind of dietary pattern downregulard mitochondrial genes used for normal function and biogenesis. [6]

--Again, if someone eats range fed meat, this issue is avoided.

4. Cortisol. Most men know that cortisol is a testosterone-killer.  It can also attack neurons and lead to elevated visceral fat.  One study of obese men showed that a low carb, high fat diet changed cortisol metabolism such that cortisol persisted in the system longer. [69] So, again, the irony is that Paleo Diet advocates love to criticize those with "Wheat Belly," i.e. those that eat grains get a gut that they can't get rid of.  Yet the evidence actually shows that their diet can actually lead to increased cortisol and thus likely can accelerate belly fat in and of itself.  Again, this may not be true for all Paleo implementations, but there is very little studywork giving followers specific guidelines.

--Of course, if someone eats range fed meat, this issue is avoided.

5.  Protein. Those on a Paleo Diet would almost always consume a lot of animal protein. This also can increase cortisol and many other negative health parameters.  I cover this in more detail in my link on The Dangers of Protein and Protein and Immunity.

7. Exclusion of Most Superfoods. A Low Carb Diet almost always implies no fruit or whole grains. Of course, many vegetables are superfoods, but why deliberately leave out most of the nitric oxide-boosting superfoods that can load you up in certain phytochemical classes such as glutamic acid and many flavanoids that will greatly benefit your sex life and cardiovascular health?  (NOTE:  I'm not a big fan of wheat or corn, simply because they are so heavily GMO'd.)

Now I'm sure you noticed that most of the above issues can be avoided by eating lower fat, range fed meats.  So, if you are Paleo and that applies to you, then kudos and you can avoid all of what I said above.  To everyone else, I encourage you to consider that your Paleo can very quickly turn ugly and be bad for health if you are not extremely careful.



1) Hypertension, 2008, 51:376-382, "Benefit of Low-Fat Over Low-Carbohydrate Diet on Endothelial Health in Obesity"

2) Circulation, 2007, 116:II_819, "Abstract 3610: Comparative Effects of 3 Popular Diets on Lipids, Endothelial Function and Biomarkers of Atherothrombosis in the Absence of Weight Loss"

3) "Vascular effects of a low-carbohydrate high-protein diet", Proceedings of the National Academy of Science, Published online 25 August 2009, Foo S, Heller ER, W20) Prevention, Apr 2010, p. 45.

4) J Am Coll Nutr, Apr 2007, 26(2)163-169, "Low Carbohydrate, High Fat Diet Increases C-Reactive Protein during Weight Loss"

5) Diabetes Care, 2005, 28:1636-1642

6) Diabetes, 2005, 54:1926-1933

69) The Journal of Clinical Endocrinology & Metabolism November 1, 2007 vol. 92 no. 11 4480-4484, "Dietary Macronutrient Content Alters Cortisol Metabolism Independently of Body Weight Changes in Obese Men"




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