Berkeley Eating certain veggies not only supplies key nutrients, it may also influence hormone levels and behaviors such as aggression and sexual activity, says a new study led by researchers at the University of California, Berkeley, that could shed light on the role of diet in human evolution.
The research is the first to observe the connection between plant-based estrogenic compounds, or phytoestrogens, and behavior in wild primates in this case, a group of red colobus monkeys in Uganda.
The more the male monkeys dined on the leaves of Millettia dura, a tropical tree containing estrogen-like compounds, the higher their levels of estradiol and cortisol. The researchers also found that with the altered hormone levels came more acts of aggression and sex, and less time spent grooming an important behavior for social bonding in primates.
The study, published in the current issue of the journal Hormones and Behavior, suggests how potentially important consuming phytoestrogens is in primate ecology and evolution.
"It's one of the first studies done in a natural setting providing evidence that plant chemicals can directly affect a wild primate's physiology and behavior by acting on the endocrine system," said study lead author Michael Wasserman, who conducted the research as a graduate student at UC Berkeley's Department of Environmental Science, Policy and Management. "By altering hormone levels and social behaviors important to reproduction and health, plants may have played a large role in the evolution of primate including human biology in ways that have been underappreciated."
For 11 months, the researchers followed a group of red colobus monkeys in Uganda's Kibale National Park and recorded what the primates ate. For behavioral observations, the researchers focused on aggression, as marked by the number of chases and fights, the frequency of mating and time spent grooming.
|Contact: Sarah Yang|
University of California - Berkeley