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(Fire and Cooking in Human Evolution--continued, Part E)

Caveats with respect to using modern
hunter-gatherers as dietary models

Okay, let's move on to the hunter-gatherers you mentioned earlier. I've heard that while some tribes may have low rates of chronic degenerative disease, others don't, and may also suffer higher rates of infection than we do in the West.

This is true. Not all "hunter-gatherer" tribes of modern times eat diets in line with Paleolithic norms. Aspects of their diets and/or lifestyle can be harmful just as modern-day industrial diets can be. When using these people as comparative models, it's important to remember they are not carbon copies of Paleolithic-era hunter-gatherers.[157] They can be suggestive (the best living examples we have), but they are a mixed bag as "models" for behavior, and it is up to us to keep our thinking caps on.

We've already mentioned the Eskimos above as less-than-exemplary models. Another example is the Masai tribe of Africa who are really more pastoralists (animal herders) than hunter-gatherers. They have low cholesterol levels ranging from 115 to 145,[158] yet autopsies have shown considerable atherosclerosis.[159] Why? Maybe because they deviate from the Paleolithic norm of 20-25% fat intake due to their pastoralist lifestyle by eating a 73% fat diet that includes large amounts of milk from animals in addition to meat and blood.*[160] Our bodies do have certain limits.

But after accounting for tribes like these, why do we see higher rates of mortality from infectious disease among other hunter-gatherers who are eating a better diet and show little incidence of degenerative disease?

There are two major reasons I know of. First, most modern-day tribes have been pushed onto marginal habitats by encroaching civilization.[161] This means they may at times experience nutritional stress resulting from seasonal fluctuations in the food supply (like the Aborigines noted above) during which relatively large amounts of weight are lost while they remain active. The study of "paleopathology" (the study of illnesses in past populations from signs left in the fossil record) shows that similar nutritional stress experienced by some hunter-gatherers of the past was not unknown either, and at times was great enough to have stunted their growth, resulting in "growth arrest lines" in human bone that can be seen under conditions of nutritional deprivation. Such nutritional stress is most likely for hunter-gatherers in environments where either the number of food sources is low (exposing them to the risk of undependable supply), or where food is abundant only seasonally.[162]

Fasting vs. extended nutritional stress/deprivation. Going without food--or fasting while under conditions of total rest as hygienists do as a regenerative/recuperative measure--is one thing, but nutritional stress or deprivation while under continued physical stress is unhealthy and leaves one more susceptible to pathologies including infection.[163]

The second potential cause of higher rates of infection is the less artificially controlled sanitary conditions (one of the areas where modern civilization is conducive rather than destructive to health)--due to less control over the environment by hunter-gatherers than by modern civilizations. Creatures in the wild are in frequent contact with feces and other breeding grounds for microorganisms such as rotting fruit and/or carcasses, to which they are exposed by skin breaks and injuries, and so forth.[164]

Animals in the wild on natural diets are not disease-free. Contrary to popular Hygienic myth, animals in the wild eating natural diets in a natural environment are not disease-free, and large infectious viral and bacterial plagues in the past and present among wild animal populations are known to have occurred. (To cite one example, rinderpest plagues in the African Serengeti occurred in the 1890s and again around 1930, 1960, and 1982 among buffalo, kudu, eland, and wildebeest.[165])

It becomes obvious when you look into studies of wild animals that natural diet combined with living in natural conditions is no guarantee of freedom from disease and/or infection. Chimpanzees, our closest living animal relatives, for instance, can and do suffer bouts in the wild from a spectrum of ailments very similar to those observed in human beings: including pneumonia and other respiratory infections (which occur more often during the cold and rainy season), polio, abscesses, rashes, parasites, diarrhea, even hemorrhoids on occasion.[166] Signs of infectious disease in the fossil record have also been detected in remains as far back as the dinosaur-age, as have signs of immune system mechanisms to combat them.[167]

Uninformed naturalism and
unrealistic expectations in diet

Pure "naturalism" often overlooks the large positive impact of modern environmental health advantages. One of the conclusions to be drawn from this is that artificial modern conditions are not all bad where health is concerned. Such conditions as "sanitation" due to hygienic measures, shelter and protection from harsh climatic extremes and physical trauma, professional emergency care after potentially disabling or life-threatening accidents, elimination of the stresses of nomadism, plus protection from seasonal nutritional deprivation due to the modern food system that Westerners like ourselves enjoy today all play larger roles in health and longevity than we realize.[168]

Unrealistic perfectionism leads to heaping inhumanity and guilt on ourselves. Also, I would hope that the chimp examples above might persuade hygienists not to feel so guilty or inevitably blame themselves when they occasionally fall prey to acute illness. We read of examples in the Natural Hygiene M2M which sometimes seem to elicit an almost palpable sense of relief among others when the conspiracy of silence is broken and they find they aren't the only ones.

I think we should resist the tendency to always assume we flubbed the dietary details. In my opinion it is a mistake to believe that enervation need always be seen as simply the instigator of "toxemia" which is then held to always be the incipient cause of any illness. It seems to me you can easily have "enervation" (lowered energy and resistance) without toxemia, and that that in and of itself can be quite enough to upset the body's normal homeostasis ("health") and bring on illness. (Indeed I have personally become ill once or twice during the rebuilding period after lengthy fasts when overworked, a situation in which it would be difficult to blame toxemia as the cause.)

The examples of modern-day hunter-gatherers as well as those of chimps should show us that you can eat a healthy natural diet and still suffer from health problems, including infectious disease, due to excessive stresses--what we would call "enervation" in Natural Hygiene.


(Health Improvements After Becoming Ex-Vegetarian)

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GO TO PART 1 - Setting the Record Straight on Humanity's Prehistoric Diet and Ape Diets

GO TO PART 2 - Fire and Cooking in Human Evolution

GO TO PART 3 - The Psychology of Idealistic Diets / Successes & Failures of Vegetarian Diets

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