Diagnostic Paleo

A friend went on the paleo diet and lost 30 lbs. He got down to his target weight and felt better than he’d felt in a long time.

Despite these positive results neither he nor I, as his coach, were satisfied with his body composition. He was still a bit pear-shaped and hadn’t gotten as lean and muscular as I was expecting, considering how cleanly he was eating.

A few weeks later I was talking with Keith Norris at the Ancestral Health Symposium who recounted a similar story. The culprit? Low testosterone.

I had my friend get his levels checked and results confirmed that his testosterone was extremely low. More tests were run to determine why, ultimately revealing a tumor on his pituitary gland.

With treatment he is expected to make a full recovery. Natural testosterone production may resume and if not he will supplement. In either case a major improvement to his quality of life is on the way.

This story is a parable of the state of health care today. My friend had been a conscientious customer of the conventional medical system. He’d seen numerous doctors over the years, had annual physicals and all the standard blood work.

Despite this sophisticated regimen, none of the health professionals he encountered suspected any problem. He’d lost 30 lbs and was keeping it off. He was no longer heading toward diabetes. His triglyceride levels had plummeted. So what if he was still a little doughy?

But we expected more, because we knew that the paleo diet is generally so effective that nearly anyone who follows it can expect not just to hit their weight loss goals but also to end up more lean and muscular than perhaps they’ve ever been.

My friend was following a strict paleo protocol. He rarely consumed sugar. He’d gone grain free. He avoided seed oils and anything high in omega-6. The new norm was pasture-raised meats, lots of healthy fat. Vitamin D levels were up.

The biggest ‘problem’ remaining was a silken layer of fat he couldn’t lose.* As paleo practitioners we viewed his lackluster body composition suspiciously, as a warning sign and a mystery to solve. Had we viewed his healthfulness relative to the average American, as were his doctors, we wouldn’t have noticed it.

We can’t rely on today’s medical professionals to spot such subtle warning signs, so mediocre has become their notion of health. And really, who can blame them? With the average person so unhealthy, doctors have become desensitized. Moreover, since poor lifestyle is the culprit anyway, responsibility for healing ultimately lies with the patient, leaving doctors powerless to address root causes, further conditioning them to treat problems symptomatically.

But this story suggests that the paleo diet can form the basis of a powerful diagnostic tool, enabling us to track down problems that would otherwise remain camouflaged in the poor picture of health that has become the norm.

* I should note that the one thing we didn’t try was exercise, as my friend prefers to live almost completely sedentary. To the laymen this sounds absurd, but isn’t. Because though I recommend he eventually become more active this was a good opportunity to control for that variable and see just how far we could get with diet alone. Given how tightly we had tweaked his diet, the baby fat complexion he was left with even after hitting his target weight seemed unacceptable to me, yes, even without exercise.