We're facing a modern epidemic of chronic disease unlike anything humans have ever experienced. A billion people worldwide are suffering from diabetes and obesity. Six-hundred thousand people die in the U.S. from heart attacks each year. Fifty million people in the U.S. alone — nearly 1 in 6 Americans — now suffer from autoimmune disease.
Big Pharma would have us believe that the solution to this disease epidemic is to develop better drugs. While there's no doubt that prescription medication is sometimes necessary, and even lifesaving, drugs are not the solution — and may even contribute to the problem.
So what is the solution? In short, it's one that directly addresses the problem: the way we live, and in particular, the way we eat.
Today, Americans get more than 50% of their calories each day from processed foods like flour, sugar and industrial seed oils that are virtually devoid of nutrients. Soft drinks alone account for 7% of our daily calorie intake. Yet these foods are directly at odds with what our bodies were designed for.
The fastest way to recover our natural health and vitality is not to take a pill; it's to return to a way of living and eating that more closely matches what our genes and biology are designed for.
And that's exactly what Paleo is all about. The Paleo diet emphasizes the nutrient-dense whole foods that our bodies thrive on, and eliminates the highly processed, inflammatory foods that have become the mainstay of the industrialized diet.
With this in mind, let's examine the top five reasons to try Paleo instead of pills for preventing and reversing disease.
1. Paleo is more effective than pills.
Obesity is arguably the single biggest health threat that we face today. In fact, a recent study suggested that excess weight is the #1 cause of death in older Americans.
There is still no pill that reliably and safely leads to weight loss. The Paleo diet, however, has consistently been shown to lead to significant weight loss, often outperforming other diets like low-fat and Mediterranean.
Paleo is also remarkably effective for metabolic syndrome and type 2 diabetes — two complications of excess weight that are among the strongest risk factors for heart disease and early death. Paleo leads to improvements in blood pressure, fasting blood sugar, cholesterol, triglycerides, LDL/HDL cholesterol, and a variety of other inflammatory and lipid markers that are often equivalent or superior to what can be achieved with prescription medication.
2. Paleo is safer than pills.
There's no doubt that drugs are sometimes necessary. But that doesn't mean they are without risk. On the contrary, a study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association found that prescription medication is responsible for over 110,000 deaths a year.
The Paleo diet, on the other hand, is time-tested and safe. It consists of whole, nutrient-dense foods like meat, fish, fruits, vegetables, nuts, seeds, and starchy plants that humans have been eating for over 2 million years.
As for the common objection that the Paleo diet is dangerous because it permits foods like red meat, eggs and saturated fat, the most recent research does not support a causal relationship between eating these foods and heart disease, cancer, or early death.
3. Paleo has fewer side effects than pills.
One of the problems with drugs is that they don't cure disease — they just suppress symptoms. Unfortunately, they also suppress functions, which often leads to many undesired (aka "side") effects.
Ironically, these "side effects" often make the original problem worse. For example, many people take ibuprofen or other nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) to cope with arthritis and inflammatory conditions. While NSAIDs are effective in reducing pain and inflammation in the short term, they are also known to reduce blood flow to cartilage. Since blood carries all of the nutrients and immune substance necessary for tissue repair, NSAIDs can actually worsen the original problem when taken chronically.
With Paleo, on the other hand, the only "side" effects tend to be benefits, like improved energy, skin, mental clarity, mood, and sex drive.
4. Paleo is cheaper than pills.
On the surface, it may seem that eating a diet that emphasizes pasture-ranged meats, wild-caught fish, organic fruits and vegetables, and unrefined, extra-virgin olive and coconut oils might be more expensive than simply taking some pills.
However, setting aside the question of whether pills are comparable to diet and lifestyle changes in terms of effectiveness (see #1 above), preventing and treating disease with Paleo will end up being much cheaper in the long run, even if it's more expensive at first.
As Ben Franklin once said, an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure, and health care is no exception. Chronic diseases like type 2 diabetes, cardiovascular disease, autoimmune disease, and cancer are very expensive to treat — even if you have high-quality health insurance.
For example, some of the newer drugs used to treat diabetes can cost patients between $160 and $200 a month. That's almost $25,000 over 10 years. Given that 40% of people over 65 years of age in the US are taking five or more medications, the cost of prescription drugs can really add up — not to mention expenses related to surgeries, hospitalizations, doctors visits and laboratory tests.
5. Paleo is more empowering than pills.
This might be the most important reason of all to try Paleo instead of pills. When my patients are able to resolve their health problems using diet and lifestyle changes, they feel tremendously empowered. They don't have to depend on something outside of their control; they're able to take their health into their own hands.
What's more, research has shown that people who take prescription medications may be less likely to engage in healthy diet and lifestyle behaviors. For example, a study published in 2014 found that people taking statins to reduce cholesterol may feel a false sense of security and overindulge in unhealthy foods. They increased their total calorie intake by 10% over a 10-year period, whereas no changes in eating habits were observed in non-statin users over that same period.
If you're struggling with a chronic health condition, or want to prevent getting one in the first place, you might want to give Paleo a try. You'll be joining the likes of Anne Hathaway, Kobe Bryant, Jessica Biel, and Matthew McConaughey, all of whom have spoken publicly about how much they've benefited from a Paleo diet.
And if you need some guidance on how to successfully begin a Paleo diet and lifestyle, and customize it to address your health condition, check out my book, The Paleo Cure.
Note: if you're currently taking a prescription medication, make sure to check with your doctor before making any changes.