Thursday, December 31, 2009

Paleo Diet Q & A - 31 December 2009

Dear Readers,

Here's today's edition of Paleo Diet Q & A. On behalf of the Paleo Diet Team we wish you a happy, healthy, prosperous new year.

Q: Dear Dr. Cordain,

I've been researching diet and its role in male pattern baldness for about a year and a half now. There is a website that lists studies showing positive hair loss benefits from various phytochemicals in different foods. Essentially, a Mediterranean diet with some aspects drawn from other diets seems to be the most optimal bet. I put to you that it's no coincidence the Japanese population traditionally has no male pattern baldness. Anyhow, one such study involves the legume soy. There is an isoflavone, a specific term for the more general term phytoestrogen in soy that is known to metabolize in the gut to a compound called equol which is a potent male pattern baldness fighter. Studies show only 30-50% of humans produce equol, and other components of the diet play the part in determining who is a strong equol producer. Seaweed or sea vegetables, for example, has a strong correlation with equol producers, and consumption of dairy has a strong negative correlation to being a strong equol producer.

The reason I came across your website is simple: I've been on a diet for the last year and a half that is aimed at fighting male pattern baldness. When I switched from dairy milk to soy milk, 99% of the acne on my back went away. However, I still get some acne, and I've had a dandruff problem for a few months now. Now some Google searches have indicated that dandruff is potentially caused by not shampooing enough -- especially with relatively long hair like myself, not getting enough sunlight or Vitamin D, or showering with too hot water. However, I feel like my problem may be inflammation, since dandruff's real name is seborrheic dermatitis. A video by a guy who in my opinion is very knowledgeable about health on YouTube named lorax2013 brought the Paleo Diet to my attention. He gives studies where subjects were put on the Paleo Diet and their respective ailment--whether multiple sclerosis, lupus, or acne--were remedied almost all the time, if not all the time. However, I don't see any mention of the Paleo Diet's role in male pattern baldness. Were any hunter gatherers of the past or present bald? I've read that chronic inflammation plays a negative role in male pattern baldness, and studies from that site indicate that inflammation is the reason that the hair follicle eventually shrinks and dies.

My question: I don't want to start the Paleo Diet and give up soy only to realize a year or three later that my hair is starting to thin. What are your thoughts on this?

Thanks so much for your time!

A: Hi Tony,

Thanks for your question. A scientific paper our group has written (Hyperinsulinemic Diseases of Civilization: More than Syndrome X) in part addresses male pattern baldness and how a number of studies indicate that high glycemic load diets may set off a hormonal cascade that is characteristic of men with male pattern baldness. To date, no randomized controlled interventions of low glycemic load diets (basically Paleo Diets) have yet been conducted, so we have no human on whether or not a Paleo Diet may be effective in combating male pattern baldness. However, having said this, numerous historical photographs of hunter gatherers rarely if ever depict young or middle age men with male pattern baldness. I have read anecdotal accounts of hunter gatherers who were described in 19th century writings suggesting that premature graying also rarely occurred. I had not heard about the equol story -- thanks for bringing it to my attention.

Best wishes,
Loren Cordain, Ph.D., Professor

Q: Dr. Cordain,

I am an undergraduate student that's dabbled with both the Paleo Diet and vegetarianism for several months now. I hope you can answer a question that's troubled me greatly.

I'm having trouble coming to terms with what I see as contradictory data on diet. I read the Paleo Diet almost a year ago as it came recommended to me from a fitness website I was browsing. The site raved about how healthy the Paleo Diet was, and how it could work well for an athletic lifestyle. That winter I began to eat much more in the way you described. I came into conflict last summer, working at an environmental nonprofit. My employer has been vegan for a while now and recommended I read another diet/health book called The China Study. Touted as the largest epidemiological study ever performed by man, the study reported that across the board vegan diets proved to be the healthiest among living human populations. My initial reaction that my protein intake would be too low if I pursued such a diet was alleviated by the research provided by the book.

I'm having trouble reconciling these views. Both you and the author of The China Study (Dr. Colin Campbell) provide compelling research to back up your points, and I can't see where to draw the line. The logic behind the Paleo Diet makes more sense to me than the logic of a vegan diet, but I can't argue with the enormous amount of data Dr. Campbell has on current living populations and the health they enjoy. Can you shed some light on this for me?

Thank you for your time,

A: Hi Ryan,

We have a PDF that's available for download on our web site that includes two papers: Dr. Cordain's The Evolutionary Basis for the Therapeutic Effects of High Protein Diets and Dr. T. Colin Campbell's paper entitled How Much Protein Is Needed? Dr. Cordain's online "debate" with Dr. Campbell was originally commissioned by Robb Wolf, a strength & conditioning coach, formerly a research biochemist, who hosts a blog discussing intermittent fasting, fitness, and paleolithic nutrition (

We hope you find this information useful.


  1. I am a dermatologist who writes on the subject of diet and acne.
    I agree with Dr. Cordain that male pattern baldness may also be related to our modern diet. But, as he says, there are no formal studies. I suspect it is just as important in women as it is in men, by the way.
    Tony's comment on acne and milk avoidance is typical.
    You might like to take a look at

  2. I thank you for the honesty of including opposing opinions. I value this tremendously. It is a rare virtue to allow alternative ideas.



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