A documentary by chef Pete Evans, The Magic Pill has just been released, claiming that the paleo diet is a treatment for significant illnesses such as cancer, alzheimers, epilepsy, asthma, kidney disease, diabetes and autism in children . 'The Magic pill" is screening in various cinemas around Australia currently, and is advising that adopting a ketogenic high fat, low carbohydrate diet for five weeks will reduce symptoms and requirement to take medication for the diseases.

The AMA president has publicly criticised the film and the advice, particularly regarding offering false hope to the parents of autistic children. " The idea that a high-fat diet can change a child's behaviour in a month is just so patently ridiculous". Dieticians Association of Australia have also issued a major caution to parents not to follow the diet, particularly children due to the exclusion of wholegrains and dairy products.

Pete Evans has regularly attempted to debase evidence-based medicine suggesting it is " in the pockets of the pharmaceutical industries"

There are many versions of the Paleo diet, although few resemble the diets consumed by our ancestors in various parts of the world. Humans in different parts of the world survived on different food types and there is no single healthy way to eat.  Fruits, vegetables and the flesh of most birds and animals available are quite different from the wild foods of earlier times, with the exception of wild caught fish and kangaroo. Foods not permitted include grains ( in spite of evidence from many sources that the seeds of grasses played a significant role in some human diets), legumes, dairy products and sugar. Permitted fats include coconut, macadamia, avocado and olive oils, some ignore the dairy objection and include butter. Some Paleo diets restrict fruits and others permit it. Some ban alcohol, tea and coffee and others do not. Sugar substitutes including stevia, rice malt syrup, glucose or sugars extracted from coconut or palm also feature in some versions.

Life expectancy in Paleolithic times is estimated to be approximately 50years, so the problems affecting our health in age did not occur. Humans continue to evolve and are not stuck in some previous time, and although we increased out consumption of grains and dairy products 10,000 years ago, the foodstuffs are unlikely to be the cause of current chronic diseases such as diabetes and dementia , particularly as the diseases were rare for the first 9500 years after the foods were introduced.

Australia's major dietary problem is the huge consumption of junk food and drink, providing 35% of adult's and 40% of children's energy intake daily, significantly contributing to the obesity epidemic. Just 7% of Australians consume the recommended quantity of vegetables daily.

The Paleo diet is likely to reduce energy intake due to the restrictions on what can be eaten. A number of short term studies have demonstrated weight loss and improved indices in diabetic patients' bloods sugar control. There are no long term studies showing maintenance of the improvement. The diet also ignores the strong evidence favouring wholegrains, legumes, milk, cheese and yoghurt in weight loss programmes. The evidence was published in Australia's 2013 dietary guidelines and has been reinforced by more recent long term studies. The World Cancer Research Fund states that the evidence linking red and processed meat to modestly increasing the risk of colorectal cancer is convincing ( their highest level of risk). Paleo diets do not all include large amounts of red meat, but most are against any restrictions in intake.

For those managing chronic illnesses such as diabetes, the Paleo diet recommendations emphasising vegetables and the removal of sugar, junk and sugary drinks are worth following. There is no benefit and some risk in removing wholegrains, legumes and selected dairy products from your diet.

Elimination diets to reduce the characteristic behaviours of Autism Spectrum Disorders ( ASD)  have limited evidence of benefit, is controversial as ASD is not one single disorder and there remain the concerns regarding the safety of restricting wholegrains regarding fibre and B vitamins and dairy for growing children. A number of children with ASD have gastrointestinal problems and anecdotally  gluten and casein can play a role. It is advised that each child needs an individual approach and dietary changes should be done in collaboration with a trained dietician and doctor. There is no one size fits all solution




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