Paleo-suckered: Worshiping the Paleolithic lifestyle that nearly led our ancestors to extinction

The word 'Paleo' written with fresh vegetables on a wooden background.

Are you a Paleo-sucker?

Paleo-suckers believe in the central conceit of modern alternative health — everything from the paleo-diet to natural parenting to herbal supplements — that human beings reached the apogee of our evolution during the Paleolithic Era. According to advocates of “natural living,” our bodies were designed for the demands of life in the Paleolithic and technology, whether modern diets, modern medicine or modern parenting, is making us sick; and returning to the Paleolithic lifestyle will make us healthy.

[pullquote align=”right” cite=”” link=”” color=”” class=”” size=””]We came mighty close to extinction during the Paleolithic Era only to be saved by technology.[/pullquote]

From The Paleo-Diet Revised by Loren Cordain:

When you put into practice the nutritional guidelines of the Paleo Diet, you will be getting the same protection from heart disease that the Eskimos had. You will also become lean and fit, like your ancient ancestors. This is your birthright. By going backward in time with your diet, you will actually be moving forward.

From Positive Birth Stories:

What if we knew pregnancy and giving birth was the most normal natural thing on earth and millions of women go through it without ‘complications’, fear or intervention?

What if we were reminded that our bodies are perfectly designed to give birth?

From Jennifer Grayson in HuffPo:

Of course, if prehistoric mothers had been facing problems of milk insufficiency with the global pervasiveness that exists today, it is pretty conceivable that mankind would have died out a long time ago. It’s been estimated that anywhere from 1 to 5 percent of women are physically unable to produce breast milk, which is known medically as “failed lactation.”

Nothing could be further from the truth!

The dirty little secret about our Paleolithic ancestors is that they were relatively poorly designed from an evolutionary perspective. Indeed, we came mighty close to extinction during that era and our closest hominid relatives, the Neanderthals, did become extinct. The fact that we are still here has nothing to do with our biology and everything to do with technology.

This graph illustrates the point:


As you can see, the Paleolithic era was characterized by relatively flat population growth, and though you can’t see it on this graph, there were periods of time where human evolution encountered bottlenecks. The population actually dropped as low as 50,000 individuals and possibly even as low as 10,000 breeding pairs.

The average annual growth rate was approximately 1 per 1000. In other words, a group of 1000 people would end up with 1001 people who survived to reproduce. Why did the population grow so slowly? It grew slowly because up to half of all children died before age 5, and as many as three-quarters died before reproductive age.

Paleolithic life expectancy was appallingly low: approximately 35 years. It didn’t improve very much until the mid 1800’s as this graph demonstrates:


Just about every health parameter you can name was execrable in the Paleolithic Era. Far from being the period of our greatest health success, it was a period of our greatest health vulnerabilities. Based on our health in the Paleolithic, human beings aren’t particularly evolutionarily successful at all. Our success comes from our technology. The ultimate Paleolithic hominids were the Neanderthals and they were literally driven to extinction by Homo sapiens because their prehistoric “technology” was better.

We are healthier now than we have ever been at any period in human history. There is no other period of time during the entirety of our evolution that even comes close. The key to our health has NOTHING to do with diet, NOTHING to do with supplements, NOTHING to do with breastfeeding, NOTHING to do with the quackery that masquerades under the name of alternative health.

We are healthiest now because of technology:

  • Clean water
  • Sewage systems
  • Central heating
  • The germ theory of disease
  • Cooked food
  • Modern obstetrics
  • Vaccines
  • Antibiotics
  • Surgery
  • Anesthesia

I could go on and on, but you probably get the point by now.

Why would we want to recapitulate the diet of our Paleolithic ancestors if they died in droves? Why would we want to copy childbirth in nature if it led to massive perinatal death rates? Why would we want to treat our illnesses with natural remedies if they didn’t help our ancestors at all? Why would we glory in the parenting methods of our ancestors if 3 out of 4 children didn’t survive to reproduce?

Why? Because some people are suckers. They have literally no idea what life was life in the Paleolithic and they’ll believe any nonsense fed to them if it has a pretty book cover or website. They are so desperate to feel smarter and better than others that they can’t tell the difference between stupidity and wisdom, mistaking the former for the latter.

Don’t be a Paleo-sucker. Diet, childbirth, remedies and health weren’t better in the Paleolithic Era. They were far, far worse and only a fool would believe otherwise.