I've been on a paleo diet for about a year and a half and it has completely eliminated my gut symptoms and has also cut down on Candida overgrowth in my intestines (as evidenced by Candida antibody tests.) Incidentally, I have lost about 20 pounds since going on the paleo diet, but that was not my goal, and I would actually prefer to gain some of it back.
Since the paleo diet seems to be a trendy topic these days, I read a lot of articles on it: both pro and con. Those who are against the paleo diet cite studies that show a correlation between red meat consumption and arterial blockage. This always concerned me because the aforementioned correlation seems pretty solidly established in the medical literature, and has been for decades. On the other hand, if you believe the pro-paleo crowd, red meat only contributes to arterial blockage when we eat pro-inflammatory grains, sugars, and dairy along with the meat, which creates the inflammation that allows those nasty lipids to stick.
Recently, while tracking down old medical records, I noticed that I had had a lipid panel performed in August, 2010 -- about a year before I went on the paleo diet. So I realized that all I needed to do was have another lipid panel performed and compare the results. Then I would have my answer as to whether paleo leads to dangerously high cholesterol levels. I really hoped that wouldn't be the case because the diet has helped my ME/CFS symptoms so significantly.
Before we compare my before and after results, let's compare my typical daily diet before and after paleo. Notice, I am not a strict paleo person, as I eat cheese in small quantities and a couple other minor things that some would consider cheating (olive oil, for instance). While there are many different versions of "paleo," my main mantra is "absolutely no bread or processed sugar." I stick to that religiously.
Breakfast: Bagel, or cereal with lowfat milk, or a banana
Lunch: Chicken burrito with corn chips, or a sandwich with potato salad; diet coke
Dinner: Pasta or pizza or (occasionally) frozen TV dinner; salad; water.
Dessert: Non-fat frozen yogurt, or cookies, or pie
Breakfast: A whole large avocado, or 3 scrambled eggs, or full-fat goat milk yogurt with fresh berries.
Lunch: Almost always a salad with chicken - olive oil for dressing; water.
Snack: Walnuts or macadamias
Dinner: Roast chicken or turkey, or grilled beef with steamed veggies; salad; water
Dessert: Usually none; sometimes fresh berries
So the main thing to notice is that I eat a lot more fat and cholesterol now than I did when I had my first lipid panel 3 years ago. And, because I came down with ME/CFS in June 2011, I am no longer able to do any cardiovascular exercise, whereas, at the time of my first lipid panel, I was doing 1 hour cardio workouts 1-3 times per week. So traditional thinking would expect my lipid panel results to be much worse now, yet here are the results:
Before Paleo After Paleo Reference Range
Total cholesterol 182 159 125-200 mg/dL
HDL (good) cholesterol 46 46 > or = 40 mg/dL
Triglycerides 205 86 <150 mg/dL
LDL (bad) cholesterol 95 96 <130 mg/dL (calc)
So the first thing to notice is that my trigylcerides were very high (out or range) before paleo, and now they are much improved. Also, total cholesterol has come down from 182 to 159. On the other hand, both HDL and LDL cholesterol have remained almost exactly the same, despite claims in some pro-paleo literature that those numbers would improve too. But at least they haven't gone up, as some would have predicted.
It appears the paleo advocates were correct that at least some of my lipid panel numbers would improve even though I'm consuming much more fat and cholesterol. This leads me to believe that the paleo advocates probably are right when they state that grains, sugar, and casein (in dairy) make our arteries more "sticky", which causes the fats that we do eat to stick to our arterial walls. As long as I cut out those pro-inflammatory foods, I can eat a fair amount of fat and get away with it.
It seems to me that I could probably improve these numbers even more if I either went 100% strict on paleo (although I think I'm pretty close already) or by cutting down on red meat in favor of white meats. Right now, I eat red meat 2 or 3 times a week. I could easily cut that down to once per week and perhaps improve my numbers even further while continuing to adhere to the paleo diet that has helped me so much in other ways.