F1000Research (2017-10-01)

The sedentary (r)evolution: Have we lost our metabolic flexibility? [version 1; referees: 2 approved]

  • Jens Freese,
  • Rainer Johannes Klement,
  • Begoña Ruiz-Núñez,
  • Sebastian Schwarz,
  • Helmut Lötzerich

DOI
https://doi.org/10.12688/f1000research.12724.1
Journal volume & issue
Vol. 6

Abstract

Read online

During the course of evolution, up until the agricultural revolution, environmental fluctuations forced the human species to develop a flexible metabolism in order to adapt its energy needs to various climate, seasonal and vegetation conditions. Metabolic flexibility safeguarded human survival independent of food availability. In modern times, humans switched their primal lifestyle towards a constant availability of energy-dense, yet often nutrient-deficient, foods, persistent psycho-emotional stressors and a lack of exercise. As a result, humans progressively gain metabolic disorders, such as the metabolic syndrome, type 2 diabetes, non-alcoholic fatty liver disease, certain types of cancer, cardiovascular disease and Alzheimer´s disease, wherever the sedentary lifestyle spreads in the world. For more than 2.5 million years, our capability to store fat for times of food shortage was an outstanding survival advantage. Nowadays, the same survival strategy in a completely altered surrounding is responsible for a constant accumulation of body fat. In this article, we argue that the metabolic epidemic is largely based on a deficit in metabolic flexibility. We hypothesize that the modern energetic inflexibility, typically displayed by symptoms of neuroglycopenia, can be reversed by re-cultivating suppressed metabolic programs, which became obsolete in an affluent environment, particularly the ability to easily switch to ketone body and fat oxidation. In a simplified model, the basic metabolic programs of humans’ primal hunter-gatherer lifestyle are opposed to the current sedentary lifestyle. Those metabolic programs, which are chronically neglected in modern surroundings, are identified and conclusions for the prevention of chronic metabolic diseases are drawn.

Keywords