Paleo ‘caveman’ diet linked to heart disease biomarker, study finds

The Paleolithic diet, also known as the caveman regimen, is touted for improving gut health. But those who follow the Paleo diet may have twice the amount of a key blood biomarker closely associated with heart disease.

That's according to a study recently published in the European Journal of Nutrition, for which Edith Cowan University researchers compared 44 people on the Paleo diet with 47 others following a more traditional Australian diet and measured the amount of trimethylamine-n-oxide, or TMAO, in their blood.

According to ECU, high levels of the gut-produced compound are associated with an increased risk of heart disease.

"Many Paleo diet proponents claim the diet is beneficial to gut health, but this research suggests that when it comes to the production of TMAO in the gut, the Paleo diet could be having an adverse impact in terms of heart health," lead researcher Dr. Angela Genoni said in a university statement. "We also found that populations of beneficial bacterial species were lower in the Paleolithic groups, associated with the reduced carbohydrate intake, which may have consequences for other chronic diseases over the long term."

The Paleo regimen consists of protein-heavy, low-carb items, including meats, fish and veggies, and limited fruit. The diet excludes legumes, grains, dairy, refined sugar, salt and processed oils. Researchers found that the lack of whole grains was associated with the amount of TMAO and "may provide a link between reduced risks of cardiovascular disease we see in populations with high intakes of whole grains," according to Genoni.

According to the Mayo Clinic, whole grains play an important role in regulating blood pressure and heart health.

Genoni and her colleagues noted the Paleo diet’s increased daily serving recommendation of red meat also provides precursor compounds that produce TMAO, and it encourages more than the recommended level of saturated fats.

The American Heart Association recommends saturated fat make up no more than 5% to 6% of total daily calories, or no more than 11 grams to 13 grams if you're following a diet of 2,000-calories a day.

Cardiovascular disease is the No. 1 cause of death worldwide. In Australia, heart disease kills one person every 12 minutes. In America, the condition is responsible for 1 in every 4 deaths.

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