Eating a Hunter-Gatherer Diet Reverses Diabetic Indicators in Just 7 Weeks

Note: This is an older study — one that most people don’t know about but should.

Change the diet and see striking improvements in virtually every measure of health for people with diabetes in just seven weeks? That’s exactly what happened for ten middle-aged, overweight, diabetic Australian Aborigines in 1982.

All ten of them had developed type 2 diabetes after leaving the bush where they had lived some years before and abandoning their traditional diet. Their diet in an urban area of Australia consisted mainly of flour, sugar, rice, carbonated drinks, beer, port, powdered milk, cheap fatty meat, and potatoes.

For a research experiment, the Aborigines agreed to return to their traditional homeland, and eat the way they did before, hunting and gathering foods. During that seven-week period of time, their diet consisted of seafood, along with birds, kangaroo and the fatty larvae of a local insect (during the time they were on the coast). They moved to a more inland location and ate freshwater fish and shellfish, turtle, crocodile, birds, kangaroo, yams, figs, bush honey, and other plant foods.

After seven weeks eating their traditional diet, all ten of the Aborigines lost weight (an average of almost 18 pounds or 8.2 kg). Also, their blood pressure, blood triglycerides, and fasting glucose levels all dropped to healthier levels.

“In summary, all of the metabolic abnormalities of type II diabetes were either greatly improved (glucose tolerance, insulin response to glucose) or completely normalized (plasma lipids) in a group of diabetic Aborigines by a relatively short (seven week) reversion to traditional hunter-gatherer lifestyle,” researcher Kerin O’Dea concluded.

Reference: O’Dea K. Marked improvement in carbohydrate and lipid metabolism in diabetic Australian aborigines after temporary reversion to traditional lifestyle. Diabetes, 1984;33:596-603.

Melissa’s Comments:

Our ancestors who ate hunter-gatherer diets didn’t have Western diseases – including diabetes – like we do today. O’Dea’s experiment showed in no uncertain terms that the harmful physiological effects brought on by the high-refined-grain, high-sugar Western diet can be reversed quickly if we stop eating the Western diet. (And, no, we don’t have to eat insect larvae to do it!)

This is a classic study with such powerfully clear results, it’s a shame so few people – especially people who have been diagnosed with diabetes – know about it.
It shows that yes, Syndrome X and diabetes can be reversed with the right diet (especially if you catch them early enough). You can read success stories from clients of mine and readers of my books that testify to that, too.

What is amazing about this study is that some nutrition authors or researchers who cite it use the study to emphasize the health-hazardous effects of white flour and white sugar – which they should do – but they often follow with the idea that we should be eating a high intake of whole grains. This study in no way should be used as a rationalization to eat more whole grains. People in Australia did not have or eat any grains (until refined white flour products were brought by European sailors a few centuries ago). It’s difficult to imagine, but even after the advent of agriculture, the majority of the world’s population did not eat wheat. Today, of course, refined wheat products are virtually everywhere in the modern world and they’re a key contributor (with refined sugar, refined oils and refined meats) to the damage and disease caused by the Western diet.

© Copyright 2008 Melissa Diane Smith

2 Comments to “Eating a Hunter-Gatherer Diet Reverses Diabetic Indicators in Just 7 Weeks”

  • Hi Melissa. Hope you enjoyed your trip downunder, and got a buzz out of your keynote speech. I am especially interested in this article with respect to Diabetes. My Mother-in-law who is diabetic is going to get a copy of your book as a gift from me, and yes, I’m going to shout myself a copy too!

    Comment by: linbug   on May 12, 2008

  • Hi linbug,

    Yes, I enjoyed my trip down under and really love the people of the New Zealand.

    I understand why you’re especially interested in this study. It is extremely powerful. It’s a shame so few people know about it.

    Comment by: Melissa   on May 12, 2008

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