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Can an Animal-Based Diet Prevent Heart Attacks? - Part 5

The Evolutionary Mismatch Behind It All

Over my quest for understanding about what creates health I have found it useful to not only understand what drives the development of a particular illness or disease, but also to have a big picture understanding of why the imbalance is even happening in the first place. This last post of this series will discuss the why of the imbalances we have discussed when it comes to heart attacks.

Up to this point we have laid the foundation of what causes a heart attack, shown how burning fat and ketones are best for your heart, discussed how an Autonomic Nervous System imbalance can lead to a heart attack, and discussed the key role of oxidative stress in the whole equation. Now let’s take a step back and look at the big picture. Here is where we are in the series:

Part 1 – The Foundational Imbalances That Cause Heart Attacks

Part 2 – Cholesterol, Fat Burning, Ketones, and Metabolic Flexibility

Part 3 – The Autonomic Nervous System Imbalance

Part 4 – Toxins, Oxidative Stress, and Nitric Oxide

Part 5 – (This post) The Evolutionary Mismatch Behind It All

About 6 million years ago humans and the apes of modern day (chimpanzees, bonobos) shared a common ancestor. Something happened that set our evolutionary paths on different courses. Whatever it was that created the divide is not important, but what happened after the divide is what resulted in the differences we see in modern humans and modern chimps and bonobos today.

After that split 6 million years ago, it wasn’t until about 2 million years ago that humans started to do something that would put us on an entirely different path than our closest living ancestors. We started eating large amounts of animal fat and meat. Around this time species like Australopithecus afarensis and Australopithecus africanus were walking around. These species were closer in characteristics to that of modern-day chimps and bonobos in that they had larger digestive tracts, less acidic stomach acid, and smaller brains.

When some of these species started eating more animal fat and meat by scavenging the carcasses of animals and breaking open the skulls and bones to get at the fat left behind by other animals, then the push that would eventually lead to us modern humans had begun. You can see in the diagram above that 2 million years ago is when the lineage that eventually became modern humans broke off. The high stomach acidity we have as humans today (1,2) evolved during this time as it would have been very useful to be able to kill bacteria growing on the carcasses that they were scavenging on.

Eventually pre humans evolved the skills to hunt their own animals and there is evidence that the species that preceded modern humans were hunting and eating a lot of large fatty animals starting about 2 million years ago. (3,4) This lead to a flip-flop in our digestion. Instead of needing a short small intestine and large colon (like we see in apes) to ferment and extract nutrients, by eating very bioavailable nutrition in the form of animal fat and meat humans developed a longer small intestine for higher absorption and a smaller colon because we didn’t need to ferment much. (5,6)

It also lead to increased stature (7), as well as an increase in the size of their brain (8,9,10) because of all the fat they were eating and because of the communication and strategy they developed to become master hunters. Humans did not evolve to eat animals, they evolved to what we are today because they ate high amount of animal meat and fat.

Then something changed. Over the 2-million-year period there was a massive die off of the large megafauna that pre humans and humans were hunting that was supplying them with these coveted nutrients of meat and fat. (11) Some say it was a massive global change of some sort on the planet that caused this, and some say that our ancestors hunted the animals to extinction. Whatever the cause our ancestors had now lost the food source that was driving their evolutionary success.

Because of this, around this time, we started to see the first evidence of farming and civilizations. This would prove to be the single most abrupt change in the way of life for humans, and I believe that we can trace the causes of the imbalances that cause heart attacks discussed in this blog series back to this time in human history.