Thursday, February 2, 2017

Europeans have three times more Neanderthal genes for lipid catabolism than Asians or Africans

Europeans have three times more Neanderthal genes for lipid catabolism than Asians or Africans:

"Contemporary Europeans have as many as three times more Neanderthal variants in genes involved in lipid catabolism than Asians and Africans."

This research indicates that ancestors of Europeans were more dependent on dietary fats than Asians or Africans.  We know that these fats would have come from either wild game, nuts or seeds.

"Cracking nuts is a subsistence activity of contemporary hunter–gatherer societies worldwide, as substantiated by extensive data on the taxonomy, seasonality, gathering, cracking, consumption, and nutritional value of nuts and the gender of participants in nut-related activities."[1] Native Americans were known to consume many kinds of nuts, including various species of acorns.[1]  There exists arcahaeological evidence that prehistoric Europeans exploited and processed with hammer stones at least seven species of nuts including two species of pistachios and and two of acorns as far back as 790,000 years ago.[1

Some people have suggested that prehistoric humans would not have used nuts due to their high contents of tannins which are deemed anti-nutrients due to their potential to reduce mineral absorption. Ethnographic studies have shown that preagricultural people used methods of water processing to remove tannins from nuts.

More importantly, as I discussed in Powered by Plants, humans appear to have an evolved physiological adaptation to dietary tannins in the form of proline-rich proteins secreted in saliva.  Salivary proline-rich proteins (PRPs) help an animal extract nutritional value from plant foods by binding with dietary tannins, and studies of mice and rats have shown that PRPs neutralize the detrimental effects of tannins.[2]  About 70% of the proteins in human saliva consist of PRPs.[2]  Humans have a salivary PRP content consistent with an evolved physiological commitment to to a diet rich in tannins.

Some authors go so far as to suggest that humans have a “taste” for tannins since we seem to even seek out and prefer foods with a certain level of tannins, such as tea, red wine, beer, chocolate, smoked foods, herbs, and spices.[2]  Also, we have evidence that tannins (polyphenols, flavonoids) act as important chemopreventers of infectious and chronic diseases in humans; they have antioxidant, anti-inflammatory, vasoprotective, vasodilatory, antibacterial, antiallergic, hepatoprotective, antithrombotic, antiviral, neuroprotective, and anticarcinogenic effects.[3, 4]  Thus, classifying tannins as ‘anti-nutrients’ for humans ignores evidence of human adaptation to tannins, as well as of the benefits of tannins, so it greatly oversimplifies their influence on human health.

Nevertheless, wild game would most likely have been the dominant fat source for Neanderthals and preagricultural Europeans.  In addition, to survive long winters, Europeans would have had to depend on metabolism of both fatty foods and stored body fat during long winters when starch- and especially sugar-rich plant foods would have been relatively scarce (compared to inhabited regions of Africa and Asia).  Hence, cold climate and long winters would have exerted a strong natural selection favoring reproduction of Neanderthals and Europeans having increased numbers of variants of genes involved in lipid catabolism.

Possibly Europeans are best adapted to diets having cyclical carbohydrate contents, perhaps higher in carbohydrate and lower in fat during warmer months (when plant foods may have been more abundant) and lower in carbohydrate in cooler months (when plant foods were likely more scarce).  This accords with the macrobiotic principle of eating in harmony with the seasons.  Due to the low sugar content of northern fruits and berries, it is likely that people of European (Caucasian) descent are more sensitive to dietary fructose than people of Asian or African descent.

http://sciencenordic.com/scandinavians-are-earliest-europeans

As a consequence, people of European descent, perhaps particularly those of Nordic genetic stock, may be more likely to be better adapted to diets higher in fats and protein, moderate in starchy whole plant foods and low in sugars, or perhaps seasonally lower in carbohydrate-rich whole plant foods, such as the Nordic Healthy diet consisting of cabbage family vegetables, native berries and nuts, native fish and seafoods, wild game or pasture-fed animals, locally grown legumes, and oats, barley and rye.  People of Asian and African descent may be more likely to be better adapted to diets more consistently high in starchy whole plant foods, possibly higher in sweet fruits, and lower in protein and fat.

A lot of the confusion about diet may dissolve when we recognize that people of different ancestry are likely suited to different diets, and that people of European stock are descended from ancestors who survived by adapting to significant seasonal fluctuations in the availability of plant and animal foods and therefore in the proportions of macronutrients in the diet.  Perhaps for Europeans the genetically appropriate diet plan fluctuates between a more plant-based warm season diet and a more animal- (or fat- and protein-) based cold season diet.

If this is so, then the findings of the China Project are likely specific to Chinese, studies on African populations produce findings specific to Africans, and studies of Europeans will be specific to Europeans.  The China Project findings do not have to be false to be inappropriate for application to non-Asians. The mistake may lie in thinking that the China Project findings apply to Europeans, or that studies of Nordic populations will help us understand the best way for Chinese to eat. 

Notes:

1.  Goren-Inbar N, et al. Nuts, nut cracking, and pitted stones at Gesher Benot Ya‘aqov, Israel.  February 19, 2002; vol. 99
no. 4;
pp. 2455–2460.

2.  Mehanso H, Butler LG, Carlson DM. Dietary Tannins and Salivary Proline-Rich Proteins: Interactions, Induction, and Defense Mechanisms. Annual Review of Nutrition 1987 Jul 1;7(1):423-40.

3. Habauzit V, Morand C. Evidence for a protective effect of polyphenols-containing foods on cardiovascular health: an update for clinicians. Ther Adv Chronic Dis 2012 Mar;3(2):87-106. PMC3513903.

4. Soobrattee MA, Bahorun T, Aruoma OI. Chemopreventive actions of polyphenolic compounds in cancer. Biofactors 2006 Jan 1:27(1):19-35. 21.

19 comments:

Bumble Leigh said...

Hi Don! I’m having some trouble with some of the ideas presented in your recent blog posts that I hope you could shed some more light on. As the vast majority of us no longer have to suffer through extreme shifts in survival strategies brought about by seasonal changes and we now have access to an abundance of plant-foods year-round, wouldn’t it be better--and not to mention safer, given the mounting evidence regarding meat’s detrimental effect on health--to obtain any supplemental fat and protein from health-promoting plant sources such as nuts, seeds, legumes, and grains over animal products?

Another line of thought that’s getting me muddled is why we need to increase our fat and protein during the winter months nowadays anyway? I can fully understand the necessity of such a dietary shift in our ancestors and even the necessity of eating animals in lieu of unavailable plant-foods, but as severe temperatures and lack of food no longer pose a threat to my comfort, bodyweight, or mortality, I’m having trouble understanding the need for such a cyclic approach to nutrition. Regarding the introduction of eating animals that the recent posts allude to, I can’t see the anecdotal evidence of a 20th century strongman, and the fact that Lord Bacon knew a man who lived a long time while drinking nothing but milk, standing up to the now decades-deep insight and contrary evidence being provided by many of the world’s leading researchers that show very clearly that eating animals is not in our best interest. I would like to know more of your thoughts on this, as I’m having trouble reconciling some of these arguments with what I understand of the current literature.

Don Matesz said...

Regarding whether it would be better to obtain fat and protein from plant or animal sources, this may depend on an individual's genetic lineage. I am not sure of the answer, but in this post I clearly discussed the possibility that Europeans are better adapted to a higher fat rather than a high carbohydrate diet, and discussed the possibility that nuts might be the best choice.

Why would dietary fluctuations be necessary despite our apparent ability to maintain summer all year round in our indoor environments? Because despite our having this ability, our physiology does go through seasonal changes linked to changes in light availability and exposure, as illustrated by Seasonal Affective Disorder. Further, some people still have to deal with these changes directly, because their occupations require them to spend time outdoors in the elements.

As for the claim that research shows very clearly that eating some animal food is not in our best interest, I am not sure this is proven true. Moreover I have not drawn conclusions from weak anecdotal evidence. As I have mentioned several times in recent posts, the Adventist Health Study has not shown that vegans have the lowest mortality rate. In particular, Adventist women do not fare as well as semi-vegetarian or pesco-vegetarian Adventist women, and Adventist vegan men don't appear to do any better than pesco-vegetarian men. And this is very important because Adventists are known to choose vegan diets for health reasons, not ethical motives, so Adventist vegans are choosing ostensibly healthy vegan diets.

Then you have the evidence also that among Adventists "meat intake of four or more times weekly was associated with a 40% reduced risk of hip fracture (hazard ratio=0·60, 95% CI 0·41, 0·87) compared with those whose meat intake was less than once weekly." https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4125560/

The authors of this study indicate the increased risk of hip fracture in Adventist vegans may be linked to low lysine availability from plant foods: "For an adult weight of 60 kg, about 2280 mg of lysine is recommended per day. Two cups of cooked navy beans would yield approximately 2160 mg of lysine. Therefore, an individual who adheres to a vegan diet, which excludes meat and dairy products, will need at least two cups of cooked beans to meet the recommended lysine intake requirement."

So, what about the individuals (they do exist) who have difficulty digesting legumes and do not tolerate gluten? And it is unlikely that lysine shortage only affects bone. Collagen is needed throughout the body (skin, hair, nails, eyes, etc.). Hip fracture may be the proverbial canary in the coal mine.

Don Matesz said...

Moreover, there is evidence that at least some people have difficulty meeting certain nutrient requirements when eating completely animal-free diets. For example:

" In contrast, vegetarian elderly are at a higher risk for a marginal iron, zinc, and vitamin B12 status." https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/2273194

"Dietary zinc intakes and serum zinc concentrations were significantly lower (-0.88 ± 0.15 mg day(-1), P < 0.001 and -0.93 ± 0.27 µmol L(-1), P = 0.001 respectively; mean ± standard error) in populations that followed habitual vegetarian diets compared with non-vegetarians. Secondary analyses showed greater impact of vegetarian diets on the zinc intake and status of females, vegetarians from developing countries and vegans. Populations that habitually consume vegetarian diets have low zinc intakes and status. "https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/23595983

In addition as I discussed in a previous post, there is compelling evidence that at least Europeans need to supplement DHA to preserve brain health.

Maybe it is best for these individuals to just take multiple nutrient supplements, as is now recommended by Joel Fuhrman. https://www.drfuhrman.com/learn/library/articles/15/why-take-a-multivitamin-what-to-take-what-not-to-take

However, it has yet to be proven that this approach is superior to inclusion of small amounts of animal-source foods in the diet. If we are talking strictly about health, I don't think the scientific evidence clearly supports a 100% animal-free diet as superior to a diet including small amounts of unprocessed meat from healthy animals, prepared in such a way as to minimize production of heterocyclic amines and lipid peroxides. As with all other substances,the dose of animal products determines its effects. I am trying to be objective and consider all angles.

Don Matesz said...

Regarding Adventist mortality rates, see table 4 in this report: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4191896/

Pesco-vegetarian women had an ischemic heart disease mortality relative risk of 0.52; vegan women, 1.39. This is alarming and suggests women may have a much greater need for n-3 fatty acid EPA than men for IHD mortality prevention.

Women's cancer mortality relative risk: Vegan 0.99, lacto-ovo vegetarian 0.85, pesco-vegetarian 0.86, semi-vegetarian 0.85.

Women's all cause mortality rank: pesco 0.88, semi 0.92, lacto-ovo 0.94, vegan 0.97.

Hawariy Al-Maari said...

Interesting, I have been really contemplating eating bivalves but can't we get all this from supplements like a algae based DHA/EPA, etc. However with the exception of B12 it seems like any form of supplements seem to be harmful. I work night shift and sleep during the day so I worry about Vitamin D now also. Here's the thing, eating a vegan diet is about ethics, it is wrong to harm another sentient being unless absolutely necessary. That's the kicker though, and that's why I'm in the fence about oysters, muscles, clams etc because they have everything that's hard to get: B12, zinc, some vit D,. And it's a real question about whether they are sentient at all. Yet a they can be expensive and quite simply: They are gross, nasty looking and tasting. I don't like the argument that ancestors did this or that, or is "natural". Honestly though the difference is I don't look at the world and see anything good, just relents that are the least worse of like my pet rescue dog companions, and good music etc. The world is evil, and we are ALL victims of a birth we did not ask for. We will all suffer and die. The planet will die. The sun will die. All the universe and ever atom in it will die. Maybe the energy and matter will be reborn, but you won't. We are all the walking dead. Beauty is a programmed elusion of attachment to this reality.

As far as veganism is concerned maybe eating bugs or bivalves may not be that much worse morally?

But still we should avoid causing suffering and exploitation regardless of what or DNA says....

Don Matesz said...

Hawarly:

"Honestly though the difference is I don't look at the world and see anything good, just relents that are the least worse of like my pet rescue dog companions, and good music etc." Really? You don't see ANYTHING good? IMO this is the effect of modern education. They teach us that everything is bad, everything that humans do it bad, life is just one big terrible hell of oppression.

" The world is evil, and we are ALL victims of a birth we did not ask for. " Oh yeah, and we are ALL 'victims.' This is what Nietzsche called "slave morality." Modern education teaches us all to play the victim, i.e. the slave, and the only way to "win" the morality game is to be the biggest victim.

"it is wrong to harm another sentient being unless absolutely necessary.." and who proved that to be a moral certainty? If so, and you believe there is no morally relevant difference between humans and non-humans, then many non-human animals do "wrong" every day of their lives.

Frankly, I don't buy any of the moral arguments for veganism any more. I have come to see, they are all based on two contradictory premises: 1) there exists no morally relevant difference between humans and non-human animals, and 2) humans, unlike other animals, are morally obligated to avoid using other animals to satisfy needs.

If there is no morally relevant difference between humans and non-humans, then humans can't be morally obligated to avoid using other animals to satisfy needs, because humans can't be held to any standard to which we can't hold other animals (i.e. second premise is false).

If, on the other hand, humans are morally obligated to avoid using other animals to satisfy needs, despite our inability to hold other animals to this standard, then there does exist a morally relevant difference between humans and non-human animals (i.e. first premise is false).

You can't hold both claims true, yet all animal rights arguments maintain that both premises true. Premise 1 is needed to support treating all animals no differently from humans, while premise 2 is needed to explain why humans but not other animals are required to be altruistic toward other species.

Ask yourself: If the world is evil, and there exists nothing good, what will happen to me if I violate this supposed "rule" that I must avoid eating animals?

In your world view: nothing. You yourself believe there is no justice anywhere. So if that is so, why adhere to this supposed rule? What's in it for you? Pure misery, by your own admission.

I don't subscribe to that view. I don't believe "the world is evil" and I don't believe I am a victim of a birth I didn't ask for. I am a reincarnation of my parents, and in my form as them, I definitely asked for my birth.

And I don't believe animals have "rights" that require human subservience to creatures that can not and do not treat us as we can and do treat them. When was the last time that a cow, chicken, pig, or any other non-human built a shelter and provided food and medical care for a human being?

Bumble Leigh said...

Don, thank you for your thoughtful reply; much appreciated. I do, however, have a few reservations; I have made these inline for clarity.

"Regarding whether it would be better to obtain fat and protein from plant or animal sources, this may depend on an individual's genetic lineage. I am not sure of the answer, but in this post I clearly discussed the possibility that Europeans are better adapted to a higher fat rather than a high carbohydrate diet, and discussed the possibility that nuts might be the best choice."

Due to genetic differences, Europeans can tolerate alcohol better than Asians; should we therefore conclude from this that modern Europeans require alcohol or that alcohol is healthy? Not so fast, you’d have to look at contemporary studies assessing this question specifically. The detrimental health effects of alcohol consumption are well-documented; and yet, a modern European has a greater tolerance for alcohol written into their genes. Similarly, if Europeans did indeed have “meat-adaptive” genes, it certainly would not follow that meat should be included in an ideal diet, and this study you posted doesn’t even say that much—just greater genetic variety with respect to lipid synthesis. In fact, the idea that a genome requires a certain diet is highly speculative at best, and thus I cannot reconcile the claim that where best to get our fat or protein depends on our genetic lineage with what is known about evolution. Organisms require certain nutrients, not specific diets, and in the case of humans, there is no credible evidence to suggest that we cannot obtain the nutrients we need from plants alone.

“Why would dietary fluctuations be necessary despite our apparent ability to maintain summer all year round in our indoor environments? Because despite our having this ability, our physiology does go through seasonal changes linked to changes in light availability and exposure, as illustrated by Seasonal Affective Disorder. Further, some people still have to deal with these changes directly, because their occupations require them to spend time outdoors in the elements.”

Yes, SAD is caused by lack of exposure to sunlight brought on by a change in season; so what? If residents of a colder climate need more fat in their diet for optimal health then there are plenty of sources of plant fat year-round to satisfy this presumed requirement. I don’t see how your SAD analogy helps here; maybe I’m just being dense.

“As for the claim that research shows very clearly that eating some animal food is not in our best interest, I am not sure this is proven true. Moreover I have not drawn conclusions from weak anecdotal evidence. As I have mentioned several times in recent posts, the Adventist Health Study has not shown that vegans have the lowest mortality rate. In particular, Adventist women do not fare as well as semi-vegetarian or pesco-vegetarian Adventist women, and Adventist vegan men don't appear to do any better than pesco-vegetarian men. And this is very important because Adventists are known to choose vegan diets for health reasons, not ethical motives, so Adventist vegans are choosing ostensibly healthy vegan diets.”

I have responded to these and other claims below where you actually cite the studies you’ve alluded to.

Bumble Leigh said...

“Then you have the evidence also that among Adventists "meat intake of four or more times weekly was associated with a 40% reduced risk of hip fracture (hazard ratio=0·60, 95% CI 0·41, 0·87) compared with those whose meat intake was less than once weekly."
https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4125560/”


This study also says that “[L]egumes intake of once daily or more reduced the risk of hip fracture by 64% (hazard ratio=0·36, 95% CI 0·21, 0·61) compared with those with legumes intake of less than once weekly.” The authors conclude that "Hip fracture incidence was inversely associated with legumes intake and, to a lesser extent, meat intake, after accounting for other food groups and important covariates. Similarly, a high intake of meat analogues was associated with a significantly reduced risk of hip fracture.” The takeaway message from this study for me is that certain plant-foods outperform meat in the reduction of hip fracture risk. It is important to note that there are conflicting studies regarding protein and bone health; however, the evidence is much clearer that saturated fat is detrimental to bones [Corwin RL, Hartman TJ, Maczuga SA, Graubard BI. Dietary saturated fat intake is inversely associated with bone density in humans: analysis of NHANES III. J Nutr. 2006 Jan;136(1):159-65].

“The authors of this study indicate the increased risk of hip fracture in Adventist vegans may be linked to low lysine availability from plant foods: "For an adult weight of 60 kg, about 2280 mg of lysine is recommended per day. Two cups of cooked navy beans would yield approximately 2160 mg of lysine. Therefore, an individual who adheres to a vegan diet, which excludes meat and dairy products, will need at least two cups of cooked beans to meet the recommended lysine intake requirement."

Looking at my Cronometer results from a few days ago, I obtained 3500mg lysine even though 1. Only my breakfast and lunch were entered, and 2. The only grain/legume I had eaten in those two meals was a serving of green peas amounting to 500mg of lysine. The notion proposed here, that vegans need at least two cups of cooked beans to meet lysine requirements, seems to me to be a straw man.

“So, what about the individuals (they do exist) who have difficulty digesting legumes and do not tolerate gluten? And it is unlikely that lysine shortage only affects bone. Collagen is needed throughout the body (skin, hair, nails, eyes, etc.). Hip fracture may be the proverbial canary in the coal mine.”

I agree that these individuals exist. However, whether it’s a sensitivity to FODMAPs, celiac disease, favism, non-celiac gluten intolerance, or any other dietary malady, there are plenty of other plant-foods from which one can obtain everything they need. Presumably, you agree that at least a largely plant-based diet is optimal, and so I’m curious as to why you think these dietary issues would only affect vegans? Getting (roughly) at most 5% of one’s calories from animal products wouldn’t really help all that much, would it? You’d still be left with trying to find an agreeable subset of plant-foods for at least 95% of your diet. And again, acquiring adequate lysine does not depend on eating copious amounts of legumes or grains.

Bumble Leigh said...

“Moreover, there is evidence that at least some people have difficulty meeting certain nutrient requirements when eating completely animal-free diets. For example:

"In contrast, vegetarian elderly are at a higher risk for a marginal iron, zinc, and vitamin B12 status." https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/2273194

"Dietary zinc intakes and serum zinc concentrations were significantly lower (-0.88 ± 0.15 mg day(-1), P < 0.001 and -0.93 ± 0.27 µmol L(-1), P = 0.001 respectively; mean ± standard error) in populations that followed habitual vegetarian diets compared with non-vegetarians. Secondary analyses showed greater impact of vegetarian diets on the zinc intake and status of females, vegetarians from developing countries and vegans. Populations that habitually consume vegetarian diets have low zinc intakes and status."
https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/23595983”


This is a rather odd objection to make since a vegetarian philosophy dictates what an adherent should not eat rather than what they should. It seems obvious to me that this sentence should say: “In contrast, the elderly consuming iron-, zinc-, and B12-deficient diets are at higher risk for a marginal iron, zinc, and vitamin B12 status.” Indeed, the authors say as much themselves: “although some nutrition-related risks are prevalent among vegetarian elderly, these risks can probably be prevented by lifestyle changes.” If one routinely avoids iron- and zinc-rich plant-foods, and does not supplement with B12, then one can expect predictable consequences—this has very little to do with vegetarianism per se.

Bumble Leigh said...

“In addition as I discussed in a previous post, there is compelling evidence that at least Europeans need to supplement DHA to preserve brain health.

Maybe it is best for these individuals to just take multiple nutrient supplements, as is now recommended by Joel Fuhrman. https://www.drfuhrman.com/learn/library/articles/15/why-take-a-multivitamin-what-to-take-what-not-to-take

However, it has yet to be proven that this approach is superior to inclusion of small amounts of animal-source foods in the diet. If we are talking strictly about health, I don't think the scientific evidence clearly supports a 100% animal-free diet as superior to a diet including small amounts of unprocessed meat from healthy animals, prepared in such a way as to minimize production of heterocyclic amines and lipid peroxides. As with all other substances, the dose of animal products determines its effects. I am trying to be objective and consider all angles.”


It is arguable whether long-chain omega-3s are essential in those whose short-chain intake is sufficient [Carlson BA, Kingston JD. Docosahexaenoic acid, the aquatic diet, and hominin encephalization: difficulties in establishing evolutionary links. Am J Hum Biol. 2007 Jan-Feb;19(1):132-41.], but, as you’ve alluded to, there are supplements from microalgae for those who feel happier with belt and braces. What is the issue here? Just as with B12, why would you want to get your nutrients along with all the undesirable baggage that comes inseparably with the consumption of animal products? Maybe the issue is that supplements are not natural, but this argument is too weak to grace with a refutation. Moreover, you make it sound like there is a laundry list of supplements that vegans need to take, but if the diet is appropriate then only a few are required: B12, D3, and DHA/EPA. The latter is questionable, the former also applies to many non-vegans, and the necessity of vitamin D supplementation is a function of non-dietary-related criteria like skin pigment and latitude. Although this data is a little dated now, it’s worth comparing these nutrients of concern for vegans to the deficiencies of your average non-vegan: calcium, iodine, vitamin C, vitamin E, fibre, folate, and magnesium [USDA. Food and Nutrient Intakes by Individuals in the United States, by Region, 1994-96]. And why are we talking about proof? Proofs are for mathematicians, whereas nutrition is (probably) forever stuck with imperfect evidence as there will never be a study long enough or controlled enough to unequivocally tell us what the optimal diet is. The weight of the evidence is clearly in favour of more plants and less animals, and so the only question is whether this trend of improved health outcomes with decreasing animal product consumption flattens out or not. I would argue that there is certainly no detriment to 100% animal product-free with the caveat that all nutrient needs are met, which is not difficult.

Bumble Leigh said...

"Pesco-vegetarian women had an ischemic heart disease mortality relative risk of 0.52; vegan women, 1.39. This is alarming and suggests women may have a much greater need for n-3 fatty acid EPA than men for IHD mortality prevention."

The men, however, did very well in the vegan group: 0.45 compared to pesco at 0.77. With respect to the women, I would agree with you here: that is alarming, and a lower omega-3 intake for the vegans is a possible explanation. My question, therefore, would be: how is this evidence that some amount of animal products in the diet makes it more optimal? Why not make sure that there is sufficient ALA in the diet, or—if you’re convinced by the argument that conversion to long-chain omega-3s is insufficient, although this is debatable—take an algal-based DHA/EPA three times per week? All the purported benefits without any of the significant risks posed by fish consumption—suppressed immune function, delayed virus clearance, and toxic burdens [Fürst P, Kuhn KS. Fish oil emulsions: what benefits can they bring? Clin Nutr. 2000 Feb;19(1):7-14]; and maybe even diabetes [Djoussé L, Gaziano JM, Buring JE, Lee IM. Dietary omega-3 fatty acids and fish consumption and risk of type 2 diabetes. Am J Clin Nutr. 2011 Jan;93(1):143-50]. Having said all this, it is not actually clear that increased omega-3 intake is cardio-protective [Rizos EC, Ntzani EE, Bika E, Kostapanos MS, Elisaf MS. Association between omega-3 fatty acid supplementation and risk of major cardiovascular disease events: a systematic review and meta-analysis. JAMA. 2012 Sep 12;308(10):1024-33], [Marik PE, Varon J. Omega-3 dietary supplements and the risk of cardiovascular events: a systematic review. Clin Cardiol. 2009 Jul;32(7):365-72]. It may be that the vegans were not diligent enough about ensuring adequate B12 supplementation, which is easily rectified. On the balance of evidence, I see no reason to be interested in fish or fish oil; it seems to me that the promoting of fish consumption is a half-measure meant to ameliorate risk factors that an appropriately planned vegan diet would have addressed even better.

Bumble Leigh said...

"Women's cancer mortality relative risk: Vegan 0.99, lacto-ovo vegetarian 0.85, pesco-vegetarian 0.86, semi-vegetarian 0.85."

Again, the men fared much better in the vegan group with 0.81 compared to the other groups’ 1.01, 1.10, and 1.15 for lacto-ovo, pesco, and semi-vegetarian, respectively, and so I don’t think this gets us very far here. Moreover, a vegan diet seems to lower the risk for overall and female-specific cancers when compared to other dietary patterns: semi (0.98), pesco (0.88), lacto-ovo (0.93), and vegan (0.84) [Tantamango-Bartley Y, Jaceldo-Siegl K, Fan J, Fraser G. Vegetarian diets and the incidence of cancer in a low-risk population. Cancer Epidemiol Biomarkers Prev. 2012 Nov 20].

"Women's all cause mortality rank: pesco 0.88, semi 0.92, lacto-ovo 0.94, vegan 0.97."

This doesn’t strike me as that much of a difference, and the combined all-cause mortality ranks in this study are even more similar, again due to vegan men benefiting more. It is important to note that this study is far from perfect: 1. the diet was only measured at baseline and not re-assessed, and 2. the follow-up was only less than 6 years, which the researchers themselves believed would bias the results toward finding little differences between diet groups. I would go a little further here, too: although you have mentioned that Adventists are known to choose vegan diets for health reasons over moral obligations, their fibre intake doesn’t seem to support this belief: at around 45g per day, I would contend that their diets contained a thoroughly non-optimal amount of plant fragments. From what I can gather, the Adventists’ dietary practices are biblically inspired, which to my mind, is quite far from being concerned with sound plant-based nutrition. In any case, they were certainly not eating the kind of diet described in David Jenkins’ Miocene diet study [Jenkins DJ, Kendall CW, Marchie A, Jenkins AL, Connelly PW, Jones PJ, Vuksan V. The Garden of Eden--plant based diets, the genetic drive to conserve cholesterol and its implications for heart disease in the 21st century. Comp Biochem Physiol A Mol Integr Physiol. 2003 Sep;136(1):141-51]; I’d imagine they’d have fared better if they had. I am not saying that there is added benefit to a 100% plant diet versus a 95-99% plant-based diet, assuming both are planned to be as healthy as possible, but equally one cannot claim that the reverse is true, either; we just don’t know until such studies are done. What is clear, however, is that necessity is very unlikely, and this is codified in the official position of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics on appropriately planned vegan diets. Where nutrition ends, ethics begins; ultimately, veganism is about your own conscience, which brings me to your latest reply regarding ethical veganism.

Bumble Leigh said...

“Frankly, I don't buy any of the moral arguments for veganism any more. I have come to see, they are all based on two contradictory premises: 1) there exists no morally relevant difference between humans and non-human animals, and 2) humans, unlike other animals, are morally obligated to avoid using other animals to satisfy needs.

If there is no morally relevant difference between humans and non-humans, then humans can't be morally obligated to avoid using other animals to satisfy needs, because humans can't be held to any standard to which we can't hold other animals (i.e. second premise is false).

If, on the other hand, humans are morally obligated to avoid using other animals to satisfy needs, despite our inability to hold other animals to this standard, then there does exist a morally relevant difference between humans and non-human animals (i.e. first premise is false).

You can't hold both claims true, yet all animal rights arguments maintain that both premises true. Premise 1 is needed to support treating all animals no differently from humans, while premise 2 is needed to explain why humans but not other animals are required to be altruistic toward other species.

And I don't believe animals have "rights" that require human subservience to creatures that can not and do not treat us as we can and do treat them. When was the last time that a cow, chicken, pig, or any other non-human built a shelter and provided food and medical care for a human being?”


As far as I can see there is only one moral argument for veganism, namely, that all sentient beings, humans or nonhumans, have one right: the basic right not to be treated as the property of others. To highlight the important point here: sentience is the trait that matters; that is, sentience is the only morally relevant quality. Your argument can be restated as follows: there is a morally relevant difference between human and non-human animals and that difference is moral agency; however, moral agency is not morally relevant. To see this we only need to look at humans who lack moral agency, and there are many examples. For your argument to work, you would either have to: 1. Exclude from the moral community all the human moral patients, or 2. Rely on the speciesist justification that only humans matter morally; to my mind, both of these arguments are very difficult to defend. Hopefully, the first one does not resonate with you, and if you accept the second, then there is nothing to say—a speciesist, just like a sexist, racist, ableist, or heterosexist, is unlikely to be open to rational discourse.

How exactly is granting non-humans one negative right—the right to not be used as property—being subservient to them? Your choice of words strikes me as rather bitter here; it’s as if you’re annoyed at the idea that it is wrong to exploit the innocent and the vulnerable. Again, there are plenty of human animals who do not contribute to society in the ways you have described; are these also banned from the moral community? The notion that our moral obligations to others depend on what they can do for us is an utterly impoverished one, and to be frank with you: those who ascribe to such a morally bankrupt and thoughtless social code come closer to moral patienthood than the non-human animals they are trying to ostracize from the moral community.

Don Matesz said...

1. There exists some evidence that a low-carbohydrate vegan diet produces superior improvements in cardiovascular risk factors compared to a high-carbohydrate, low fat diet. http://bmjopen.bmj.com/content/4/2/e003505 This is among many other studies suggesting that some (likely Europeans) may have lower cardiovascular disease risks eating higher fat, lower carbohydrate diets. This would align with genetic evidence for European adaptation to higher fat diets. In contrast there is little to no similar evidence in favor of increasing alcohol consumption for any desirable health outcome.

2. There is growing evidence for human physiology being adapted to fluctuations in habits, including fluctuations in nutrient intakes. At the very least, there is good evidence for maintaining fluctuations in caloric intake, i.e. feeding and fasting periods. It is important to note that many human physiological processes are labile to stress. For example, overeating calories is tolerable in a short term, not tolerable in a long term. Given the large body of evidence indicating temporary positive results from both high-carbohydrate low-fat diets, and high-fat low-carbohydrate diets, yet flattening of benefits in some longer-term studies, I simply hypothesize that this apparently confusing literature is due to the body being adapted to fluctuations which would have occurred continuously in the evolutionary environment where humans had minimal control over food production. Sometimes pre-agricultural humans would have had surplus carbohydrate diets (abundance of fruits and starches in summer), sometimes surplus fat (fat based diet in fall and winter), and would never have experienced selective pressure to adapt to chronic stability of macronutrient ratios. This would result in a human physiology that tolerates high carbohydrate diets or high fat diets for short terms, but not long terms.

Don Matesz said...

3. My point in citing the lower hip fracture risk among Adventists who regularly eat meat was simply to note that meat intake has been linked to positive health outcomes in this population. Also, daily legume intake was compared to legume intake less than once weekly to derive the 64% reduced risk number; it was not compared to meat intake.

4. Gross intake of lysine as shown on nutritional analysis of the foods is not the only issue. Amino acids from plants are less bioavailable than those from animal products, due to fiber and other plant components interfering with availability.

http://cra.iaea.org/crp/project/ProjectDetail?projectId=2048&lastActionName=OpenedCRPList
https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/3046316
https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/21167687

I have little doubt that the ability to extract nutrients from plant foods varies from individual to individual. BTW it has also been shown that protein (and phosphorus) is more available from from e.g. polished rice or refined wheat than from whole plants.

https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/2822877 "The brown rice diet had 3 times as much dietary fiber as the polished rice diet. On the brown rice diet, fecal weight increased, and apparent digestibility of energy, protein, and fat decreased, as did the absorption rates of Na, K, and P. The nitrogen balance was negative on both diets, but more negative on the brown rice diet. The phosphorus balance on the brown rice diet was significantly negative, but other minerals were not affected by the diet...we concluded that brown rice reduced protein digestibility and nitrogen balance."

Therefore, removing fiber from a plant-based diet may actually make it more nutritious in some respects rather than the opposite.

Don Matesz said...

5. I can't agree with your suggestion that the authors of the one study on elderly should have written “In contrast, the elderly consuming iron-, zinc-, and B12-deficient diets are at higher risk for a marginal iron, zinc, and vitamin B12 status.” The point of the study was that individuals following a specific style of diet were more prone to these deficiencies. Your articulation obscures the association between a diet style and the outcome. It also ignores the fact that this study found a lower risk of these deficiencies among meat-eating elderly. Essentially, it found that in this population group, a vegetarian diet was likely to be an iron-, zinc-, and B12-deficient diet. The question is, was this due to "avoiding iron- and zinc- rich plant foods" as you insinuate, or was it due to properties of plant foods (e.g. fiber, phytates, less assimmilable proteins) that make them less than ideal sources of iron and zinc for this and perhaps other populations?

Your conclusion is that there is nothing more to learn about human nutritional requirements, it has all been figured out and is settled science. I am unable to endorse that view because I have knowledge of "scientific revolutions" occurring where "settled science" was overturned by new discoveries, and have no reason to believe that we have discovered every thing there is to discover about human nutrient requirements.

Don Matesz said...

6. "Moreover, you make it sound like there is a laundry list of supplements that vegans need to take, but if the diet is appropriate then only a few are required: B12, D3, and DHA/EPA." Again, you take this to be settled science, whereas I do not. I rather have a concern that if these nutrients are required, there may be others, currently known or unknown, that may be in the future proven to be a requirement. I hold this position with regard to both plant- and animal- source nutrients. For example, I believe it is likely that some carotenoids not currently listed as essential nutrients, such as lutein and lycopene, will eventually be designated essential as evidence accumulates that these are required to prevent age-related, long-latency deficiency diseases. It is equally possible that future research may demonstrate conditional or absolute requirement for some nutrients uniquely supplied by animals, at least in some ethnic groups.

Alpha-linolenic acid was not isolated until 1942, and the human requirement for n-3 fatty acids was only proven years later. There currently exists debate about DHA, which I believe is marred by assumptions that all human ethnic groups have the same evolved dietary requirements and adaptations, which current research strongly disputes as I have discussed on this blog. The paper you cite is I believe among those that takes evidence from different ethnic groups as all representing universal human nutrient requirements, when we are now learning this can't be sustained because of difference in genetics. Knowledge moves slowly. I am not ready to declare the science settled when it clearly is not.

Don Matesz said...

7. "The men, however, did very well in the vegan group: 0.45 compared to pesco at 0.77. With respect to the women, I would agree with you here: that is alarming, and a lower omega-3 intake for the vegans is a possible explanation."

The fact that vegan men did well but vegan women did not is alarming to me precisely because I know that women have different nutritional requirements from men, because of their unique biology and support of menstruation, pregnancies and lactation. Hence they are more susceptible to certain nutrient deficiencies due to greater demands. Brushing this off by saying the men did well seems to belittle the unique needs of women.

Moreover, I offered n-3 as only one possible explanation. The point is that here there exists a very large difference in heart disease mortality between vegan women and non-vegans, and overall the non-vegans show lower mortality. You ask what this has to do with vegan diets? To me it is obvious: this suggests that non-vegans are getting something from their diets – it may be EPA/DHA, it may be iron, it may be iodine, and it also might be something not yet known, which is protecting the non-vegan women from heart disease death among Adventists. I don't pretend to know, only to hazard a guess.

Don Matesz said...

8. "From what I can gather, the Adventists’ dietary practices are biblically inspired, which to my mind, is quite far from being concerned with sound plant-based nutrition. In any case, they were certainly not eating the kind of diet described in David Jenkins’ Miocene diet study [Jenkins DJ, Kendall CW, Marchie A, Jenkins AL, Connelly PW, Jones PJ, Vuksan V. The Garden of Eden--plant based diets, the genetic drive to conserve cholesterol and its implications for heart disease in the 21st century. Comp Biochem Physiol A Mol Integr Physiol. 2003 Sep;136(1):141-51]"

I don't take this Jenkins paper as perhaps providing evidence of the "ideal" diet for modern humans. The food was so bulky and low in energy density, the subjects were spending about 8 hours daily eating to meet caloric requirement, and "considerable pressure had to be brought to bear on them" to get them to eat enough to maintain normal body mass. While this study supports a conclusion that humans may have a high requirement for plant material to regulate cholesterol metabolism, it also supports the conclusion that humans are not adapted to fiber and bulk intake of a simian diet, which should be obvious from human gut dimensions and functions compared to those of great apes. I would not consider this experimental diet a "sound" plant-based diet because it is clearly inappropriate for human digestive capacity. If "considerable pressure must be brought to bear" on an individual on such a diet in order to prevent him or her from developing energy deficiency, it is unlikely that anyone would choose to eat that way for a lifetime, and likely that anyone who attempted it for a long time would develop various deficiencies.

The fact that studies of free-living individuals such as the Adventists shows they tend toward a moderate fiber intake is taken by some to indicate that these Adventists are not health conscious enough. However, it could also be that people choose such diets because unless they are highly motivated by ideology, they will choose what most suits their digestive capacity. In other words, very high fiber diets may have adverse digestive effects such as bloating, flatulence, enormous loose stools, and others, which deter people from spontaneously adhering to them. This can be viewed as "they are too ignorant to choose what is best" or as evidence for human adaptation to lower fiber intakes i.e. avoidance of gastrointestinal discomfort.

In this regard I will only mention that if a cat rejects rice and beans, we have no trouble viewing this as "only natural" i.e. the cat is expressing its nature. However, if a set of humans spontaneously rejects a certain diet style, some recoil from the idea that these humans are expressing their human nature.