Meet The Kitavans: Daily BS #11 11/5/21
Meet The Kitavans, Insulin and Glucose of Non-Westernized Peoples
Topic: The Kitavan Study
This is a fascinating study comparing certain markers including insulin and glucose levels, of a group of people unaffected by western diets and lifestyles, with a random group of Swedes.
I first read this study while searching for data on the blood sugar and insulin levels of modern day hunter and gatherers. I wanted to see if I could determine the average blood sugar and insulin levels of humans … before people were affected by a ‘modern’ lifestyle and diet.
In short, I was trying to determine what ‘truly normal’ blood sugars should be.
I found this very interesting study.
The Kitavan Study:
A very interesting study, when I read this, it blew my mind. (Not literally)
The study reinforced some assumptions while destroying others.
Who are the Kitavans?
“… subsistence horticulturalists aged 20 to 86 years in the tropical island of Kitava, Trobriand Islands, Papua New Guinea”
Subsistence horticulturalists are small scale farmers who raise food for personal consumption.
The study compared insulin and blood glucose levels of the Kitavans with Swedes, randomly selected, ages 25-74.
“Increased serum insulin is related to abdominal obesity and high blood pressure in affluent societies where insulin, weight, and blood pressure typically increase with age.”
I’d add to this, blood glucose also tends to rise with age in Western countries.
“The increased insulin level has been thought to reflect insulin resistance, a well-known associated factor in the metabolic syndrome. In most non-westernized populations, body weight and blood pressure do not increase with age and abdominal obesity is absent.“
“In Kitava, the intake of Western food is negligible and stroke and ischemic heart disease are absent or rare. The body mass index (BMI) and diastolic blood pressure are low in Kitavans.“
As the table above shows, glucose levels are in mmol/l, so I converted Glucose to mg/dl as is used in the US. I also swapped the columns around and added a HOMA-IR calculation to determine the levels of insulin resistance. (see below)
Note: Readings of HOMA-IR below 1.0 are considered healthy, and numbers above 1.0 are considered insulin resistant.
Glucose levels were lower in the Kitavans in EVERY age group… and it’s not even close.
Insulin levels, the same, lower in the Kitavans in EVERY age group, and again, it’s not EVEN close.
HOMA-IR is a formula for determining insulin resistance. It short, the calculation determines the amount of insulin required to maintain the fasting glucose levels.
The less insulin required … the better. EVEN better is to have a small amount of insulin with truly normal blood sugars.
We talked about the HOMA-IR formula in this Daily BS Newsletter #8.
Serum fasting insulin levels were lower in Kitava than in Sweden for all ages (P < .001). For example, the mean insulin concentration in 50- to 74-year-old Kitavans was only 50% of that in Swedish subjects.
The fact that the Kitavans who were largely unaffected by Westernization, had lower insulin levels in every age group compared to those from Sweden… was NOT a surprise.
However, it was a surprise that the Kitavan men had LOWER insulin levels as they aged was a surprise.
That’s surprise #1, apparently it’s not ‘normal’ or automatic for human insulin levels to rise as we age.
The low serum insulin that decreases with age in Kitavans adds to the evidence that a Western lifestyle is a primary cause of insulin resistance. Low serum insulin may partly explain the low prevalence of cardiovascular disease in Kitavans and probably relates to their marked leanness. Copyright © 1999 by W.B. Saunders Company
The data reinforces my belief that the further we are removed from how we were designed to live … the more bad things happen.
“We have performed a health survey among the people of Kitava in the Trobriand Islands of Papua New Guinea, who are uninfluenced by Western dietary habits and whose staple foods are tubers, fruit, coconut, fish, and vegetables. The population is free from overweight and, apparently, hypertension, cardiovascular disease, and malnutrition.”
That’s what I call a ‘real food’ diet. No highly processed foods and we can pronounce all of the ingredients. 😀
“The Kitavans provide one of the last opportunities to study humans who are uninfluenced by Western dietary habits. The low fasting insulin concentrations that do not increase with age suggest high insulin sensitivity in this very lean population. In conjunction with a low BMI and diastolic blood pressure, this may partly explain the virtual absence of cardiovascular disease among Kitavans.”
“There is little reason to suspect genetics as a major explanation. Compared with populations of northern European ancestry, traditional ethnic groups in general and Pacific Islanders in particular seem more prone, not less, to develop diabetes after adopting a Western lifestyle.”
This is a key point, once the Kitavans adopt a Western lifestyle, they are EVEN MORE prone to diabetes.
That’s a HUGE POINT. So often people blame genetics for their ailments and disease, when (I believe) it is more often due to their diet and lifestyle.
(Yes, I know genetics play a role, but the driver is diet and lifestyle, in my opinion.)
Since my diabetes diagnosis I have experimented with every macronutrient ratio… high fat, low fat, low carb, very low carb… and yes even high carb.
I follow a VERY low carbohydrate diet for one reason … it’s the only diet that allows me to THRIVE … while maintaining truly normal blood sugars, truly normal weight and all while remaining totally drug and insulin free!
I found this study while researching for blood sugar levels of humans, who had not been tainted by neolithic or modern civilization. So when I read this study I was blown away.
More About the Kitavan Diet
“Tubers (yam, sweet potato, taro, and manioc), fruit, fish, and coconuts were the dietary staples, mad the intake of Western food was negligible.
Tubers are higher carb vegetables… it’s not a surprise that the islanders ate them, but given the low levels of insulin, glucose and HOMA-IR scores, I’m curious how much of their diet was carbohydrate.
We are about to find out.
“In contrast, the notion that high-carbohydrate diets are a cause of insulin resistance is not supported by the low fasting insulin levels in Kitava, where carbohydrate provides an estimated 70% of calories.”
70% of calories … from carbs? … are you kidding me?
Now, this doesn’t change a thing for me and how I successfully self-treat my diabetes. As I mentioned, I’ve already experimented with a high carb ‘diet’, it’s doesn’t work for me.
As in all things, let your [glucose] meter be your guide.
However, this study does provide insights into what an optimum diet and lifestyle could be, before the damage of a modern diet and lifestyle causes harm.
I wrote a post related to this topic, “Carb Requirement Nonsense”, it’s a refutation of the thought that humans need to eat carbohydrates to survive… or thrive.
“Possibly, the quality rather than the quantity of carbohydrates is important: carbohydrate-rich foods with a low glycemic index and a high nutrient density, such as Kitavan tubers and fruit, may be preferable to refined cereals and sugar.”
The researchers might be right that quality is more important than quantity, and I think there may be ‘some’ validity to that…
But there are a LOT of variables the study doesn’t mention.
Two big omissions:
Vitamin D3 levels - I’d love to see D3 levels compared in the two groups. I would expect vast differences in their D3 levels.
Industrialized seed oil consumption would be vastly different. Given what we know about the Kitavan diet, I’d expect -0- seed oil consumption while the Swedes would at least have some consumption.
“… our findings suggest that insulin sensitivity may be unnaturally low in the majority of middle-aged and elderly Westerners. This, in turn, may be reflected by the increased prevalence of diseases associated with insulin resistance in Western societies, such as the metabolic syndrome.”
”We propose that increasing fasting insulin is not part of normal aging but is rather an untoward effect of a Western diet and lifestyle--in analogy with the typical age-related increase of waist circumference and blood pressure in affluent societies. This study also adds to the growing concern about the epidemic of insulin resistance and cardiovascular disease in developing countries.
Wow! I can’t say it any better… I will just add that two points.
The Kitavans may have consumed a lot of fat, but it was ‘natural’ fats, and not the industrial processed oils that those most humans eat today.
I avoid ‘highly’ processed seed oils … no corn, canola, veggie, peanut oils… period.
Not only were the Kitavan insulin levels lower in all age groups, but so were the blood glucose levels. This study, adds to the evidence that we all need to obtain and maintain TRULY normal blood sugars. It’s my #1 priority when it comes to my long term health.
To sum this up…
According to the study, there are circumstances where people can consume a high percentage of calories from carbohydrates and *NOT* suffer from the diseases of modern living.
Apparently there are circumstances where people can eat a high carb diet and *NOT* be insulin resistant.
I do not think applying this knowledge to those (like me) who have already suffered damage from metabolic syndrome is wise. But there are certainly lessons to be learned.
I’ve experimented with a lot of different macronutrient ratios, high carb, low carb, very low carb…etc. This meal plan, is the only one that has allowed me to THRIVE … all while maintaining truly normal blood sugars, drug and insulin free. ❤