The carnivore connection: dietary carbohydrate in the evolution of NIDDM.

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URL: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/7895958

Journal: Diabetologia.

Publication Date: 12/1994

Summary: We postulate a critical role for the quantity and quality of dietary carbohydrate in the pathogenesis of non-insulin-dependent diabetes mellitus (NIDDM). Our primate ancestors ate a high-carbohydrate diet and the brain and reproductive tissues evolved a specific requirement for glucose as a source of fuel. But the Ice Ages which dominated the last two million years of human evolution brought a low-carbohydrate, high-protein diet. Certain metabolic adaptations were therefore necessary to accommodate the low glucose intake. Studies in both humans and experimental animals indicate that the adaptive (phenotypic) response to low-carbohydrate intake is insulin resistance. This provides the clue that insulin resistance is the mechanism for coping with a shortage of dietary glucose. We propose that the low-carbohydrate carnivorous diet would have disadvantaged reproduction in insulin-sensitive individuals and positively selected for individuals with insulin resistance. Natural selection would therefore result in a high proportion of people with genetically-determined insulin resistance. Other factors, such as geographic isolation, have contributed to further increases in the prevalence of the genotype in some population groups. Europeans may have a low incidence of diabetes because they were among the first to adopt agriculture and their diet has been high in carbohydrate for 10,000 years. The selection pressure for insulin resistance (i.e., a low-carbohydrate diet) was therefore relaxed much sooner in Caucasians than in other populations. Hence the prevalence of genes producing insulin resistance should be lower in the European population and any other group exposed to high-carbohydrate intake for a sufficiently long period of time.

Key Takeaways

Over the course of millions of years, the dietary patterns of humans and our ancestors have gone through some changes. Before the ice ages, it is likely that our ancestors ate a higher carbohydrate diet, but when the ice ages came along we were forced to eat a diet of mostly protein and fat. The ice ages lasted about two million years and therefore made it so individuals who could adapt to this high protein and fat diet were more likely to survive. But, after the ice ages humans began farming and returned to a higher carbohydrate diet. Populations that began farming earlier such as Europeans likely have adapted better to higher carbohydrate diets and are therefore less likely to become diabetic in the modern era.

Two Million Years Of Ice Ages Selected For Humans To Consume A High Protein and Fat Diet

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