Episode 416 – Dr. Michael Rose – Aging, Adaptation, and Diet
For Episode 416 of The Paleo Solution Podcast we have guest Dr. Michael Rose. Dr. Rose is a prolific evolutionary biologist whose work on aging has transformed the field. Evolution has described the field of aging research as “after Rose,” thanks to his influential book Evolutionary Biology of Aging. In 1997, Rose was awarded the Busse Research Prize by the World Congress of Gerontology. In 2004, he published a technical summary of his work on the postponement of aging, Methuselah Flies, followed in 2005 by a popular book on the topic, The Long Tomorrow. His most recent book, with L.D. Mueller and C.L. Rauser, is Does Aging Stop? He has more than 300 publications, and has given hundreds of scientific talks around the world. He is currently a Distinguished Professor of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology at the University of California, Irvine.
This was a super interesting episode. We talked about evolutionary changes in diet, how young people may be more adapted to agricultural diets, how that changes with age, and how your background and ancestry can affect how you handle agricultural diets and foods as well. I definitely recommend giving this one a listen.
00:48 – Summary/Pre-intro
2:15 – What is aging
3:22 – Experimental evolution
6:15 – Ancestral Health Symposium talk and fruit fly experiment
19:07 – Variables of optimizing a paleo diet and adaptation to agricultural foods
27:25 – Self experimentation and values
29:25 – The evolution of human diet
33:20 – Nutrient density
34:48 – Brain evolution nutrient requirements
35:33 – Movement, activity, and exercise
39:27 – Minimum effective dose
41:01 – Where you can find Dr. Rose’s work
Dr. Rose’s AHS presentation: Evolutionary Biology of Diet, Aging, and Mismatch
Google Scholar page: https://scholar.google.com/citations?user=NCQ3E5sAAAAJ&hl=en
The Long Tomorrow book: https://amzn.to/2DgmUOQ
Download a transcript of this episode here (PDF)
Paleo Solution – 416
Robb: Hey, folks. Robb Wolf here. Man, today’s show is a goodie. It is pretty technical, goes pretty deep. Dr. Michael Rose is a bona fide hero of mine. The guy is absolutely brilliant. He is an aging researcher in a major evolutionary biology journal, deals a lot with aging. Basically, broke down the state of the art of aging research in the time before and after Dr. Rose’s work. That’s how influential he and his graduate students have been.
He was a recent presenter at the Ancestral Health Symposium 2018. Just amazing material. Talks about the potential benefits of, say, like kids maybe eating closer to a not processed but Neolithic diet and then the potential need for all of us to transition to something that looks pretty akin to a Paleo type diet as we age.
So, it answers a lot of questions, clears up a lot of the confusion around Paleo type diet, some of the push back that the Paleo diet concept has received within more mainstream evolutionary biology circles. I think that many of us have gotten much of this right. But as with everything, timing is of the essence. Check out this podcast with Dr. Michael Rose.
Dr. Rose, thank you so much for coming on the show.
Michael: My pleasure.
Robb: Doc, one of the more prestigious evolutionary biology journals that also does a fair amount of work in the aging realm paid you a rather amazing compliment in that they said something — Again, I’m going to paraphrase here. They basically broke down aging research in the time before your work and the time after your work. That’s a pretty remarkable accolade to receive. I think it puts you in a pretty good position to maybe give some commentary on what exactly is aging.
Michael: Aging is not a process of cumulative molecular damage. Aging is instead a loss of adaptation with adult age. I know that sounds relatively meaningless but I can make that concrete if you like to ask me more focused questions.
Robb: Absolutely. I think we’ll be able to lead that one along. I think maybe a next lead into that is just the concept of experimental evolution and how that plays into — In particular, this Paleo diet concept versus Neolithic adaptation. I think that starts fleshing out some of what you mean by this loss of adaptation due to natural selection forces. Could you talk a little bit about that experimental evolution concept?
Michael: Well, if aging is all tied up with adaptation, meaning Darwin’s notion of that adaptation to environments, then it should be tunable in response to changes in the intensity with which natural selection pays attention to the problem of adaptation at later ages. A simple way to put the evolutionary explanation of aging is to say that, somewhat like Rhett Butler in Gone With the Wind, at first natural selection cares very much about you and then over time its interest in your health fades because its interest in your level of adaptation fades. And to an evolutionary biologist health is really just adaptation translated into medical terms.
Robb: At some point, it frankly doesn’t give a damn if one is worth the end of that story, I guess, would be the implication there.
Michael: Yes. And the thing about experimental evolution in this context is that in a lab setting, with the kind of organisms I work with, which are food flies, you can change the feelings, if you will, of natural selection about your later health, your later adaptation by only allowing lab population of flies to reproduce at much later ages. When you do that very simple procedure, you’re forcing natural selection to care for a very, very long time like a dutiful husband, if you will.
Lo and behold, it turns out there’s lots of genetic variation genome wide that will happily take on the burden of keeping animals alive much, much longer simply because natural selection is now corralling all that genetic variation and pushing it to solve problems of aging.
Robb: You really detailed this in a remarkably accessible way in your Ancestral Health Symposium talk where you detailed what you characterize as like a “fly” Paleo Neolithic and modern diet. Can you, again with the visuals, they’re so incredibly helpful, and I will link to that talk in the show note, but could you go through that process?
Michael: Sure. I’m happy to. But first, let me say this was the work of Grant Rutledge.
Robb: Okay. Your graduate student.
Michael: He got his doctorate this year and is now working for the USDA, which I regard is a very helpful development. The basic idea is this. And I realized this in 2010 and then I basically talked Grant into focusing on this question for his doctorate. Because natural selection basically loses interest in us as we become older adults, what that means is you have a very elegant resolution to the whole Paleo versus organic agricultural controversy about the best kind of diet for people.
There’s no question really among people who pay any attention to evolution. But we’re not adapted to high fructose corn syrup. Go down your list of completely nasty foods, Twinkies, Red Bull. Because all of those things are completely novel. Now, the original version of the Paleo hypothesis was based on faulty evolutionary biology.
What we’ve learned in evolutionary biology over the last 35 years is that evolution by natural selection can move with incredible speed so long as it is strongly focused on solving a particular problem, whether that particular problem is digesting lactose in Europeans or adapting to high altitudes of Tibetan populations. And we among many others have shown that in the lab, again, with experimental evolution where we can make populations adapt to all kinds of weird and nasty toxic environments.
So that led many evolutionary biologists, myself included up until 2010, to reject the basic Paleo hypothesis because we’ve had hundreds of generations on agricultural foods, if that is indeed our ancestry, and therefore we should be able to adapt to consuming them. But there’s a logical flaw in that argument because that only applies when natural selection is strong. That means, younger ages.
Younger children, in most cases, not all but in most cases, will be reasonably adapted to an organic agricultural diet. And the basic mathematical logic of the evolutionary theory of aging suggests, unfortunately, that that rapid adaptation which should be present for those who are under 25 with Eurasian ancestry will steadily fade out with age until a point should be reached where you’re much better off on a Paleo diet.
When that point is will depend on your ancestry. So, for example, if your ancestry is some combination of African and North American native then probably that point is reached very early, maybe when you’re 15 years old.
If you come from a very longstanding agricultural ancestry such as perhaps Persians, Iraqis then maybe they’ll do well on organic agricultural foods until 40 or 45. But eventually you’re going to lose your adaptation on agricultural foods. That was my inference from the theory. So, Grant Rutledge did an ingenious test of these ideas because they’re completely general ideas that relate to any population that has undergone a changed diet in relatively recent evolutionary time which, as it turned out, completely accidentally, was true of the fruit flies in my lab which were harvested from an apple orchard in Massachusetts in 1975 where they had probably resided for centuries feeding primarily off of apple and before they came to Massachusetts probably feeding on things like apples in Northwestern Europe.
So, we felt we had a fairly good idea of what the fruit fly Paleo diet was. It was basically rotting apples. We knew exactly what their Neolithic diet was because for about a thousand generations, much longer than the human case, we’ve kept these diets, these flies on a banana molasses diet. And, thirdly, we tested these ideas using a completely novel diet which is relatively benign but still completely new to the fruit fly which is an…