Longevity and the Paleo Diet

Maria Lucimar Pereira - possibly the world's oldest woman. Photo courtesy of Survival International.

I’m sure that many of us read with interest the announcement on Tuesday - by Survival International, an indigenous rights group working in the Amazon - that the world’s (assumed) oldest living person is about to celebrate her 121st birthday.  Maria Lucimar Pereira is one of the Kaxinawá tribe, and lives in the western Brazilian Amazon. She says she will spend her birthday, on September 3rd, with her family.

If you have an interest in the paleo diet or ancestral health, no doubt you will have focused, like me, on the details of her diet and lifestyle:

Maria has never lived in a city and puts her longevity of life down to a healthy lifestyle. She only eats natural foods from the forest: grilled meat, monkey, fish, manioc (a root vegetable), and banana porridge.  She does not eat salt, sugar, or any processed foods.

Meat, fish, vegetables, fruit, no processed foods, a focus on local produce - a practically paleo approach.  Could it be that this has contributed to her longevity?  Survival’s Director, Stephen Corry, thinks so:

All too often we witness the negative effects forced change can have on indigenous peoples. It is refreshing to see a community that has retained strong links to its ancestral land and enjoyed the undeniable benefits of this.

Although little research has been done on the link between the paleo diet and longevity, it is well known that caloric restriction extends life span and retards age-related chronic diseases in a variety of species, including rats, mice, fish, flies, worms, and yeast (as outlined in this Review Article from the Clinical Journal of American Nutrition).  What’s not clear yet is exactly what mechanism causes this to be so.

Nevertheless, is it too much of a stretch to speculate that the mechanism - whatever it is - may also be at work in the paleo diet?

Perhaps not.  Consider a study, published in 2009 in the Journal of Applied Research, entitled “Clinical Experience of a Diet Designed to Reduce Aging”.  The parts to note are, respectively, what the study subjects ate, and how the diet affected them.  In terms of eating, the diet followed wasn’t strictly paleo, but it came pretty close to it.  Study subjects were instructed to:

1. Eat unlimited fats
2. Restrict protein to 1-1.25g/kg lean body mass
3. Limit carbohydrate intake to non-starchy vegetables
4. Eat to satisfy hunger

Fats in the diet were obtained from raw nuts and seeds, avocados, olives, and olive, flax and cod liver oils.  Subjects were instructed to consume 50-80g of protein per day (depending on their body weight) from sardines, fish, eggs, chicken, turkey, wild meats, tofu, unprocessed low-fat cheeses, and vegetable burgers.  Whilst some of the foods consumed - the last three items, for example - don’t pass the paleo test, the bulk of the diet did.  The macronutrient ratio also bore a close resemblance to the paleo profile: 30% of calories from protein, 10% from carbohydrate, and 60% from fat.

Interestingly - given that the study subjects were not required to consciously restrict their caloric intake - the results of their post-study blood work indicated blood chemistry changes that closely parallel those experienced in calorie-restricted diets, and presumed to be associated with increased markers of longevity. Insulin dropped by 40%, glucose by 8%, leptin by 48%, triglycerides by 28%, free T3 by 11%, and blood pressure by 10% systolic and 11% diastolic.  The study’s authors note:

Similar findings were reported in caloric restricted rodents, monkeys, humans,
and centenarians. It has been suggested that the reduction in T3 and
body temperature could alter the aging process by reflecting a reducing
metabolic rate, oxidative stress, and systemic inflammation.

Of course, one study does not a proof make.  Nonetheless, it’s interesting - and encouraging - to consider that following the paleo diet could result in the positive metabolic effects of caloric restriction without the associated hunger and possible malnutrition.  We all know that the paleo diet can be highly satisfying - could it be life-extending too?

Whatever the answer to that question - I’m sure you’ll join Paleo Diet News in wishing Maria Lucimar Pereira a very happy, healthy 121st birthday for Saturday!


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Brian Cormack Carr is a professional life and career coach, writer, and advocate of a real foods diet.
His home on the web is www.cormackcarr.com where you will find more articles, a free newsletter, and information about his online career-creation programme www.vitalvocation.com. You can follow Brian on Twitter: @cormackcarr


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