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Ancestral Health

Evolutionary Medicine is the application of modern evolutionary theory to understanding health and disease

Ancestral Health is another name for Evolutionary Medicine. These both suggest promote a theory that we can better understand our current modern diseases though  studying our ancestors.

I presented the framework of Ancestral Health during a lecture for my department at the University of Utah.

Here are some of the notes from that presentation.


  • Describes a certain adaptation which at one time was well adaptive in a certain environment.
  • But this trait is “mismatched” to the environment in which the trait is currently present.
  • Example: Sweet taste. Evolutionarily the taste of sweet provided an advantage, because we came to associate this with high calories. This taste provided an advantage to us. Now this is a modern mismatch. This drive for sweet produces negatives health effects.

Four Key Modern Mismatches

  • Nutrition
  • Sleep
  • Lack of Movement
  • Stress

Grains should be viewed as a Luxury item

  • Traditionally difficult to produce
  • Eaten in low quantities until recent modern technological advancement

Dietary Guidelines

  • Advent of the dietary guidelines correlates with obesity
  • Some studies show that as a population we are close to following the guidelines
  • The guidelines correspond to an increase in designed foods which match the macro-nutrient specifications
  • From 1970 to 2000 we have increase total calories on average by 250 with almost all of this being carbohydrates especially processed carbohydrate.

How Dr. Henriksen Eats:

  • Real food that is fresh and natural.  Foods like meat, vegetables and fruit, nuts and seeds.
  • Foods which are nutrient-dense, with lots of naturally occurring vitamins and minerals, rather than foods that have more calories but less nutrition.
  • I’m not lacking carbohydrates – I just get them from vegetables and fruits instead of bread, cereal or pasta.


  • Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).  Trends in intake of energy and macronutrients–United States, 1971-2000. Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report. 2004 Feb 6;53(4):80-2.
  • Hartwig, Melissa, Dallas. It Starts With Food. 2012
  • Kuipers, Remko, et al. “A Multidisciplinary reconstruction of Paleolithic nutrition that holds promise for the prevention and treatment of diseases of civilisation.” Nutrition Research Reviews. 2012
  • Lindeburg, Stephan. Food and Western Disease. 2010