Two New Studies Show the Many Potential Anti-Inflammatory Benefits of the Paleo Diet
The increased abdominal fat that many women develop after menopause due to hormonal changes and the skin disorder psoriasis are divergent health concerns that would seem to have little in common. But two recently published studies found a common ground – chronic inflammation.
More importantly, the anti-inflammatory properties of the Paleo Diet were found to improve both [1, 2].
After menopause, women have a tendency to “redistribute” fat around the abdomen which increases the risk for metabolic disorders such as diabetes and cardiovascular disease [3, 4]. In the first study, which was published in Obesity, researchers placed 70 obese postmenopausal women on either a Paleo Diet or a “prudent control diet” (CD) for 24 months. The CD diet, also called the Diabetes diet, is recommended for people with diabetes or insulin resistance; it includes higher vegetable, fiber, whole-grain, and fruit consumption along with lower fat intake .
Women on both diets were able to reduce adipose tissue and improve their inflammatory markers. However, improvements in the Paleo Diet group were greater. Women in this group were also the only ones to lower two key inflammatory markers – MCP-1 and plasma C-reactive protein (figure 3). This led the researchers to suggest that the Paleo Diet produced “a more pronounced overall decrease in low-grade inflammation compared to the CD group.”
It’s worth pointing out that subjects on the Diabetes diet reported greater difficulty adhering to the diet and had a higher dropout rate . The Diabetes diet differed from the Paleo Diet in only two major ways – unlike the Paleo Diet, it recommended whole grain consumption and it recommended reduced fat intake. The researchers pointed to the fatty acid profile of the Paleo diet as a potential reason for the better inflammatory profile.
The second study, out of the Department of Dermatology at the University of California, took a different tact. The researchers surveyed 1206 psoriasis patients through the National Psoriasis Foundation to determine specific foods and diets that may influence their condition .
Tables 4 and 5 below shows reported trigger foods, foods that may have improved symptoms, and diets that patients said helped their condition:
What is fascinating is that with only a few exceptions, the foods that worsened or helped the condition aligned very closely with Paleo Diet recommendations. Likewise, 69 percent of respondents who tried the Paleo Diet found it helped their condition. Many of the other diets on the list, including the Pangano diet (increased fruit and vegetables/decreased nightshades and junk food) have Paleo-like characteristics. In fact, the study reported that compared to controls in the large-scale NHANES 2009-2010 dataset, “respondents reported less daily intake of sugar, whole grain fiber, dairy products, and calcium.” A quote that could be used to describe someone starting a Paleo Diet.
A theme of the two studies was that chronic inflammation was considered both a cause and a major risk factor for co-morbidities. In fact, psoriasis is being increasingly recognized as a systemic inflammatory condition that is associated with a variety of cardiac and metabolic diseases [6-8].
Researchers of the psoriasis study proposed that a poor diet may change the microbiome and digestion leading to poor immune function. They specifically pointed to the consumption of simple carbohydrates (sugar) and nightshades.
Likewise, authors of the postmenopausal study discussed past research showing that fat deposits can increase inflammation and contribute to metabolic dysfunction. But weight-loss alone did not resolve the inflammation in some of this past research [2, 9]. The authors pointed to the better fatty acid profile of the Paleo Diet – focused on monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fatty acids over saturated fats – as a potential explanation for the better inflammatory profile after both six and 24 months .
Perhaps most telling is that after including many diets in their survey, the authors of the psoriasis study specifically called out the Paleo Diet. They wrote the diet “can reduce the risk of cardiometabolic comorbidities in psoriasis which are a predominant cause of reduced life expectancy and an important aspect of disease management” .
Afifi, L., et al., Dietary Behaviors in Psoriasis: Patient-Reported Outcomes from a U.S. National Survey. Dermatol Ther (Heidelb), 2017. 7(2): p. 227-242.
Blomquist, C., et al., Attenuated Low-Grade Inflammation Following Long-Term Dietary Intervention in Postmenopausal Women with Obesity. Obesity (Silver Spring), 2017. 25(5): p. 892-900.
Gaspard, U., Hyperinsulinaemia, a key factor of the metabolic syndrome in postmenopausal women. Maturitas, 2009. 62(4): p. 362-5.
Kranendonk, M.E., et al., Inflammatory characteristics of distinct abdominal adipose tissue depots relate differently to metabolic risk factors for cardiovascular disease: distinct fat depots and vascular risk factors. Atherosclerosis, 2015. 239(2): p. 419-27.
Jonsson, T., et al., Beneficial effects of a Paleolithic diet on cardiovascular risk factors in type 2 diabetes: a randomized cross-over pilot study. Cardiovasc Diabetol, 2009. 8: p. 35.
Takeshita, J., et al., Psoriasis and comorbid diseases: Implications for management. J Am Acad Dermatol, 2017. 76(3): p. 393-403.
Coimbra, S., et al., Systemic inflammation and proinflammatory interleukin-17 signalling persist at the end of therapy in patients with metabolic syndrome and psoriasis, reducing the length of remission. Br J Dermatol, 2016. 174(2): p. 414-6.
Reich, K., The concept of psoriasis as a systemic inflammation: implications for disease management. J Eur Acad Dermatol Venereol, 2012. 26 Suppl 2: p. 3-11.
Magkos, F., et al., Effects of Moderate and Subsequent Progressive Weight Loss on Metabolic Function and Adipose Tissue Biology in Humans with Obesity. Cell Metab, 2016. 23(4): p. 591-601.
Trevor started working with Dr. Cordain in 2010, soon after retiring as a Professional Cyclist. At 38, he felt it was time to hang up the bike. Trevor had studied traditional sports nutrition for over a decade and was admittedly very reluctant to accept the Paleo Diet. But after experimenting with the diet himself, Trevor was able to return to the Pro Peloton at 40, getting Top Five’s in several races and establishing himself as the top ranked 40+ rider in the country for several years running.
Trevor now writes the Coaching Section of the international cycling magazine Velo, has his own coaching business, and recently managed the semi-Professional cycling team Team Rio Grande who’s alumni include Teejay Van Gaarderen, a top five finisher at the Tour de France and multiple national champions.
Trevor is currently working on publishing several studies and reviews on the effects of wheat on the digestive immune system. Recently, he moved back to Canada so his wife could pursue her dream of making the 2016 Olympics in pole vaulting (as a Paleo Dieter and ranked top 10 in the country in her mid-30’s.)