Monday, May 24, 2010

Ishi: America's Last Known Hunter-Gatherer

by Patrick Baker

Imagine being the last of your kind and entering a world that is nothing like the world your grandparents knew. What if you could no longer live in the homeland that had sustained your ancestors for centuries? This is exactly what happened nearly a century ago for a Native American man known to the modern world as "Ishi."

Ishi ("man" in his native Yana language) was believed to be the last of the Yahi people, and is believed to be the last Native American to have lived the majority of his life outside of American culture as it existed in 1911. Ishi was the name given to the last known hunter-gatherer in America by Alfred Kroeber, an anthropologist at the University of California at Berkeley in 1911.

Ishi, the last of the Yahi people, shown with anthropologist A.L. Kroeber in 1911
Ishi shown with anthropologist A.L. Kroeber in 19111

Dr. Cordain has been researching Ishi intensely for the past six months, having been first introduced to Ishi by his father at about 11 years of age. Dr. Cordain stated that "I now believe I have an answer to Ishi's final two to three years of existence" in his ancestral home on Deer Creek, located east of present day Los Molinos, California - before his appearance in October, 1911 at a slaughter house in Oroville, California.

Kroeber stumbled into Ishi's life following his "death walk" from his hunter-gatherer home on Deer Creek to the slaughter house near Oroville. Kroeber wrote of and exploited this Native American's life and culture before Ishi’s death in 1916 from tuberculosis.

Cordain states that "sleuthing via Google Earth and the early records of Dr. Kroeber in the academic literature has given me insight into the exact location of his final 'village' of residence, and how he spent the last two to three years of his life with his paralyzed mother at another location on Deer Creek." Historically, this site was known only to the long-dead Kroeber and his colleagues. Cordain states that "modern anthropologic and forensic examination of this site would help to clarify and demystify the legend of Ishi."

Dr. Cordain believes that eventual carbon dating of this site - once verified and reexamined - will reveal the missing two to three years of Ishi’s life before he became known to the world of 20th century America. Cordain has compiled his information and will contact the appropriate members of the California Anthropological community before deciding how to proceed.

Cordain’s research and writings indicate that a contemporary diet that precisely mimics hunter-gatherer diets is "obviously impossible, as most of us don’t have unlimited access to wild game and plant foods." However, Cordain’s studies indicate that "our health, well being and mental state improve, and we can emulate Ishi's personality, psychological state and health" by consuming fresh fruits, vegetables, lean meats and seafood, as documented in his book The Paleo Diet. Dr. Cordain’s dietary recommendations in The Paleo Diet include avoiding processed foods, grains, refined sugars, refined vegetable oils, and salted foods.

Dr. Cordain goes on to say that "Ishi's story is heart-wrenching, sad, warm, but human above all else. His spirit, optimism and love of life - despite the awful events which sealed his fate - represent a truly remarkable and final tale" of the hunter-gatherer lifestyle as it was once practiced by Native Americans and other indigenous peoples. Unfortunately, much of Ishi's life will remain undocumented and unknown, and, according to Dr. Cordain, "the available historical, archaeological and forensic evidence about his final days on Deer Creek as America’s last known hunter-gatherer are vaguely understood and highly speculative."

For many of our readers, the story of Ishi may be unknown, and lost in the fog of a long forgotten history our great-grandparents knew - particularly those among us who lived with Native American inhabitants of this continent, after the American population of European descent had settled in the American West.

  1. Heizer, Robert F. (Editor), Kroeber, Theodora (Editor). Ishi the Last Yahi: A Documentary History. University of California Press, 1981.
  2. Kroeber, Theodora. Ishi in Two Worlds: A Biography of the Last Wild Indian in North America. Deluxe Edition. University of California Press, 2004.
  3. Starn, Orin. Ishi's Brain: In Search of America's Last "Wild" Indian. W.W. Norton & Co., 2005.
  4. DVD Documentary. The Last Yahi (2002). Linda Hunt (Vocals), Jed Riffe (Director), Pamela Roberts (Director)

Friday, May 14, 2010

Audio Interviews with Dr. Cordain

Dear Readers,

A collection of audio interviews with Dr. Cordain (MP3 format), including his March 30, 2010 guest appearance on Seattle's The Soul's Edge radio program, have been published on our web site. Visit our web site to download the recordings.

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Paleo Diet Q & A - Whey Protein

Q: Could you please provide some details on the benefits/detriments of whey protein supplementation? I am a weight trainer/powerlifter and supplement with whey protein, which is currently touted as the best/most health-conscious choice there is. I have read in your newsletter about the inflammatory aspects of dairy products - is whey protein included in this? Is it better or worse than other dairy products?

Many people interested in the Paleo Diet who are also into strength training and fitness would be interested in your thoughts on this. Any pointers re: inflammation and supplementation of protein would be very well received. Thank you, in advance.

Best regards,

A: Dear Karl,

Unfortunately, at this point, most of the research has focused on the beneficial effects of whey. It basically revolves around whey's high BCAA content, its use as a post-workout recovery drink ingredient, and its capacity – due to cysteine – to increase Glutathione, a powerful endogenous antioxidant enzyme.

Nevertheless, we believe that whey protein can have some potential adverse effects, because it greatly elevates insulinemia - although it can be therapeutic for diabetics in the short term. We suspect that whey protein could be detrimental long term, as hyperinsulinemia can down-regulate the insulin receptor and lead to insulin resistance. Insulin resistance underlies the Metabolic Syndrome, and is implicated in various other diseases, such as Acne, Alzheimer, various cancers, Coronary Heart Disease, Myopia, PCOS, etc.).

But to be completely sure, we would need intervention studies with whey protein with a relatively long duration in people genetically prone to insulin resistance, or who are in fact insulin resistant.

Whey Protein powder

Also, there is the matter of hormones in milk: estrogens, DHT precursors, Insulin, IGF-1 and the hormone Betacellulin (BTC), which Dr. Cordain has discussed in a previous edition of this newsletter. These are some of the possible mechanisms for which there is repeated epidemiological evidence associating milk consumption with some cancers - especially Prostate Cancer.

We know that these hormones are present in milk and - in the case of BTC - it is present in whey too. Nevertheless, the real content of all these hormones in commercial milk-derived products is an open question that deserves proper and urgent study. So while we don’t know for sure, and since and we have alternatives, I would follow the old saying: do no harm!

Finally, if you have an auto-immune disease or allergy to Beta Lacto Globulin (protein that exists in bovine milk, but nonexistent in human milk) I would stay away from whey. Whey contains not only Beta Lacto Globulin, but also Bovine Serum Albumin. Some peptides from this protein have structural homology with peptides from our own tissues, and BSA has been implicated in Multiple Sclerosis, Rheumatoid Arthritis and Type 1 Diabetes.

In conclusion, I would follow the evolutionary template until all these issues are resolved. which states that recently introduced foods may have potential adverse effects to humans, especially long term. Non-human milk was only introduced in the human diet ~10,000 years ago. Therefore, given the potential health hazards of milk that science is revealing, I would use another protein source. Lean meat and seafood are very good sources of BCAA. If you want a protein drink immediately after strength training to speed recovery and increase muscle mass, I would suggest ~9 grams of essential amino acids, along with a banana.

I hope this helps.

Pedro Bastos

Editor's note: the following blog posts also discuss whey protein:
  • Q: I started the program and I was wondering if Whey Protein or protein powder in general is against the diet?

  • Q: I like drinking protein shakes in the morning, but I noticed some of the protein sources in my protein shake are made from milk or dairy products. Is there an alternative that is available in the market place?

  • Q: I am just trying to figure out your feelings and thoughts on protein powders.

Additional reading: Hyperinsulinemic diseases: more than just Syndrome X.

Thursday, May 6, 2010

Paleo Links

Dear Readers,

In addition to our paleo nutrition links on the right-hand side of the blog (scroll down if not visible), here are useful links for fitness, Paleo Diet, and paleo nutrition-related web sites and blogs.

Monday, May 3, 2010

Paleo Diet Q & A - Sprouted Legumes

Q: Hi, the Paleo Diet makes a lot of sense to me and I very much appreciate the research that's gone into it. However, am I right in thinking that any diet we are adapted to may nevertheless not be an ideal diet? We adapted to a diet that enabled us to be healthy enough to live long enough to reproduce healthy enough offspring.

If I understand correctly, couldn't certain foods could make that basic diet even healthier? For example, I have The Paleo Diet for Atheletes out from the library right now and I see that you believe that the life of an athlete requires departure from a strict paleolithic diet. Couldn't properly treated grains and legumes be beneficial additions to the diet? (i.e. soaked/sprouted to reduce/eliminate anti-nutrients?)

I am waiting to receive The Paleo Diet from the library (I'm on a long waiting list, which is good news I guess!) so maybe you address this issue in the book, in which case, I apologize. But if not, I would appreciate knowing your views on soaking/sprouting grains and legumes, and the reasons behind those views.

Thanks so much,

A: Dear Zena, first of all - thanks for supporting our work.

Lectins, one of the known antinutrients in cereal grains and legumes1, have been demonstrated to exert several deleterious effects upon human physiology1, (especially for those with autoimmune diseases) by increasing intestinal permeability2. Their function is to protect the plant against attacks by plant-eating animals by using several toxic substances, such as lectins3. There is a growing body of evidence showing that both the root and the sprout of wheat kernels have significant amounts of wheat germ agglutinin (WGA), one of the most studied lectins. Indeed, WGA originates in the wheat kernel, especially during germination and growth4, and the highest concentrations are found in young plant roots, seeds, and sprouts.

Lectins are resistant to digestive enzymes, and are found intact in peripheral circulation, as shown by Wang et al (1998)5. Furthermore, they are deposited in the internal organs6.

As stated by Pusztai et al7, lectins are heat stable, and normal cooking does not completely eliminate these toxic compounds unless they are pressure cooked8-11. The best way to reduce lectins' adverse health effects is to limit their intake.

In addition, saponins - another type of toxic/antinutritive compound - exist in legume sprouts. Saponins have been shown to affect the gut barrier and by extension immune system function12. They may also increase the risk of autoimmune diseases in genetically susceptible individuals13. Soaking, sprouting or cooking legumes, does not reduce their saponin content14, 15.

In addition, a peptide fraction from gluten proteins called gliadin is found in wheat. Gliadin is resistant to digestive enzyme degradation16, arrives intact when it comes into contact with intestinal epithelial cells17, and increases intestinal permeability. Increased intestinal permeability may be at the root of autoimmune diseases such as Celiac Disease and Type 1 Diabetes13.

Phytate, the main form of phosphorus storage in many plants (especially bran and seeds) is classified as an antinutrient because is a chelator of iron, magnesium, calcium and zinc1. Phytate ingestion inhibits the intestinal absorption of those minerals. Phosphorus from phytate is unavailable to humans, as we do not produce the phytase enzyme necessary to break down phytate - unlike ruminants, who do produce phytase, and are able to digest phytate18. Yeast fermentation in bread reduces phytate content19. Furthermore, addition of ascorbic acid counteracts the inhibitory effects of phytate upon iron absorption20. Soaking and fermentation reduces the phytate content of grains and legumes as indicated in several studies21, 22, 23, 24.

Having said that, Dr. Cordain in his first book talks about the 85:15 rule, where he explains that 85% of caloric intake from modern paleolithic-like foods is still more healthy than the typical western diet, where more than 70% of caloric intake comes from foods introduced in the human food chain after the agricultural revolution25.

The bottom line is that our metabolism is perfectly adapted to the nutrition that shaped our genome during million of years of evolution. Therefore, any nutrient introduced after the agricultural revolution may not be compatible with our ancient genome. We believe that anyone engaged in athletic activities could do very well on a diet based on 85% paleolithic nutrients, which are preferable to the nutrients found in the typical western diet.

I hope this is helpful.
Maelán Fontes


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