Melvin Konner, MD, PhD; and S. Boyd Eaton, MD
A quarter century has passed since the first publication of the evolutionary discordance hypothesis, according to which departures from the nutrition and activity patterns of our hunter-gatherer ancestors have contributed greatly and in specifically definable ways to the endemic chronic diseases of modern civilization. Refinements of the model have changed it in some respects, but anthropological evidence continues to indicate that ancestral human diets prevalent during our evolution were characterized by much lower levels of refined carbohydrates and sodium, much higher levels of fiber and protein, and comparable levels of fat (primarily unsaturated fat) and cholesterol. Physical activity levels were also much higher than current levels, resulting in higher energy throughput. We said at the outset that such evidence could only suggest testable hypotheses and that recommendations must ultimately rest on more conventional epidemiological, clinical, and laboratory studies. Such studies have multiplied and have supported many aspects of our model, to the extent that in some respects, official recommendations today have targets closer to those prevalent among hunter-gatherers than did comparable recommendations 25 years ago. Furthermore, doubts have been raised about the necessity for very low levels of protein, fat, and cholesterol intake common in official recommendations. Most impressively, randomized controlled trials have begun to confirm the value of hunter-gatherer diets in some high-risk groups, even as compared with routinely recommended diets. Much more research needs to be done, but the past quarter century has proven the interest and heuristic value, if not yet the ultimate validity, of the model.