Ancestral Carb-fueled Brain Growth

Ancestral Carb-fueled Brain Growth

              Unlocking the secrets of ancestral carb-fueled brain growth reveals fascinating insights into our evolutionary journey. No matter what diet is trending–whether it’s paleo or keto—brain health and big brains are in!  With mineral deficiencies in the soil (we’re looking at you, magnesium), people cutting down on environmental costs for eating livestock, or the rise of plant-based food, we’re living in a brand-new era where food is regarded as medicine more and more.

               Many people are turning back to how their ancestors ate in an effort to mitigate some of these factors and to incorporate more whole-food based nutrition into their plans.  It’s clear that we understand things aren’t as they once used to be, and there’s a desire to eat like we once did in the past.  We understand the why behind eating food akin to our ancestors, but do we really know what they ate?

                New research has uncovered clues from our (very) distant ancestors:  a Neanderthal who lived 100,000 years ago left clues in the teeth that are turning what we thought we knew on its head.

Ancient Oral Microbiome Insights               

In this case, it’s a good thing that our distant ancestors didn’t floss because the fossilized plaque lead to the identification of bacteria present in those remains.  This snapshot is a picture of the bacterial ecosystem, if you will, called the oral microbiome.  We have an intestinal microbiome as well.  The foods we eat influence the intestinal microbiome, fueling or restricting the growth of certain bacteria, while the oral microbiome reveals diet composition.

                Ancient remains were compared with modern human plaque and cross-referenced with other hominid relatives, including primates, for analysis. Scientists sequenced bacterial DNA fragments, identifying Streptococcus strains with a specific starch affinity, elucidating dietary habits from ancient remains.

                Starch from carbohydrates like potatoes, nuts, and seeds feeds Streptococcus bacteria by breaking down saliva enzymes. Starch-consuming strains were exclusive to Neanderthals and ancient humans, absent in primate relatives, highlighting dietary distinctions among species. In fact, the oral microbiome of today’s living humans and the Neanderthals of the distant past are almost completely identical!  Bacteria adapted to starch in early diets, earlier than previously thought, suggesting ancient starch consumption by distant beings. A starch-rich diet fueled brain size evolution, shaping us today, attributing carbohydrates and glucose as crucial brain energy sources.

Further Reading

James A. Fellows Yates, Irina M. Velsko, Franziska Aron, et al. The evolution and changing ecology of the African hominid oral microbiomeProceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, 2021; 118 (20): e2021655118 DOI: 10.1073/pnas.2021655118

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