The Savannah Principle: Our Pleistocene Bodies in a Plasticene World

April 20, 2009

The Savannah Principle:  Our Pleistocene Bodies in a Plasticene World 

 Competency # 20 Lifestyles of the Long Lived           ReferenceWhy Beautiful People Have More Daughters by Alan S. Miller 

 The human species started migrating out of Africa about 70,000 years ago at which time there were about 5,000 of us living in small tribes made up of maybe 75-150 individuals.  We were spread out over Sudan, Ethiopia, Uganda and Somalia.  The Human Genome Project traces maximal genetic diversity back to this area, suggesting that “Primeval Eve” lived somewhere close to Western Ethiopia.  

The primeval garden didn’t have much of what we call fruits and vegetables today.  Mostly it was wildebeest, antelope and smaller mammals…and ants, beetles and a whole variety of now unused roots, leaves, wild figs, grasses.  Scrambling for food may not have been difficult all the time, but dry seasons and climate changes over millennia shaped us to survive on the edge of starvation, always looking for the next reliable food source.  

If one is to understand our basic instinctual eating behaviors, we need to understand that we were designed to always be walking and looking for food.  We needed to be living in full sunshine, eating tons of fiber, eating frequent meat, feasting whenever we could, sharing with our tribal mates, and cooperating on the hunt for food.  

The Savannah Principle: you fast, you hunger, you hunt, you find, you kill, you share, you eat. Our tongues and our metabolism evolved to adapt to feast or famine.  Much of our food was very high fiber, so we spent a lot of time chewing and our large dense molars prove it.  In fact, our wisdom teeth grow in at an angle, not to keep oral surgeons fully employed, but to push our other teeth forward as they wore out.  When we found certain flavors, we gorged.  

Honey was sweet, as were ripe fruits.  If Grandma Eve found a ripe fruit tree, the tribe gorged on it until it was gone.  Meat was another flavor that was also on our tongues.  You run down a gazelle and everyone gorges.  When we had a feast, our bodies evolved to secrete insulin to push all the extra calories into storage as fat.  Insulin evolved as our storage hormone.  We must have had meat frequently enough, because all our vitamins are contained in meat.  There was no penalty to our bodies to lose the ability to make those vitamins, because we ate meat frequently enough to get all the vitamins we needed.  

We did not get our vitamins through our fruits, except vitamin C.  And, you don’t need C if you don’t have any carbohydrates.  C is only needed to digest carbohydrates.  (Those British “Limeys” were fed dry flour biscuits and salt beef.  They needed lots of C not to get scurvy).  We didn’t learn to grow grains until humans settled around the Black Sea and started harvesting emmer wheat around 10-12,000 years ago.  

Corn and potatoes evolved separately in the new world, probably not far off that timeline.  Rice was developed in Asia, again around that timeline.     Switching to a diet of mostly grains meant we had to also start eating more fruits and vegetables to get adequate C.

 WWW.  What will work for me?  So, here we are 10,000 years later sitting next to our microwaves and our fridges.   We have Savannah bodies, designed for the Pleistocene, living a twenty-first century lifestyle.   Much of what we are learning is getting back to the premise that our metabolism was set to thrive 10,000 years ago.  Before we started messing with it.  More walking, more animal fat, more fiber, ………

The column was written by Dr. John E. Whitcomb, MD, Brookfield Longevity, Brookfield, WI, (262784-5300)