The Planet That Went Ape!

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This is really not a movie review. I just wanted to use the idea in this film as a springboard to discuss why the vegetarian ape cannot support a human sized brain, as this ill-conceived movie suggests, and why humans evolved to eat meat.  Unfortunately, this newest fiasco in the science fiction film series, “The Planet Of The Apes” attempts to create a scenario where scientists increase the capacity of the simian brain to human proportions virtually overnight.  The writer makes the same erroneous assumption that many vegans and vegetarians do – that humans and apes are exactly the same physiologically.  But could a chimpanzee’s or gorilla’s body support the energy-hog that is the human brain?  Could the human brain have evolved on the raw vegetarian diet of the apes?  Is it simply just a matter of giving an ape a larger brain to create our worst adversary?  Let’s take a look at the internal differences of an ape to a human.

First, we have to look at the digestive system of the great apes, which include gorillas, chimpanzees, orangutangs and bonobos.  Though vegans and vegetarians insist that humans are herbivores because we externally resemble apes, internally we are significantly different.  They continue to argue that humans and apes have a similar overall length to their intestines.  This is true, but there is a huge difference in the way the gut is distributed.  The following graph illustrates the wide variation in the amount of foregut and hindgut in man and other primates:

Humans have a much longer small intestine for nutrient absorption and a shorter hindgut (cecum and colon) for the fermentation of vegetable fibers than do other primates.  The distribution of intestines are completely opposite of one another.  This fact disproves the idea that apes and humans have the same gut length and therefore share similar dietary needs.  There is obviously a huge difference in the ancestral diet between man and ape to explain this dramatic difference.

Apes have a much larger hind gut for the fermentation of plant foods.  No mammal on earth can digest plant cellulose, so herbivores depend on gut bacteria to break down the plant cells and then absorb the fatty acid by-products via the colon (read my post “Only One Mammal Survives On Low Fat Nutrition” for more on this).  The human colon is capable of very little nutrient absorption.  It is predominantly used for water absorption to help recycle fluids lost in digestion.  The human hind gut can only supply about 10% of the energy requirements for our body, whereas the ape’s hind gut provides about 65% of their energy needs.  It is possible for a human to live without a colon as many cancer and Ulcerative Colitis patients have proven after colectomies.  Apes on the other hand, will die if their colon is removed.  I personally have only about ¼ of a normal colon (11 inches transplanted, 10 inches native) and I am living just fine.  An ape couldn’t survive on the small amount of hind gut I am left with.

Apes do not live in the rainforests just to avoid colder climates.  Many tribes of mountain gorillas endure extreme cold temperatures.  They never migrated out of the tropical forests because it is the only place where there is enough fruit and vegetation available year round to support their massive bodies. Chimpanzees are primarily frugivores and gorillas are more vegetarian.  The apes in the movie take up residence in the California Redwood Forest – an idea that is completely ridiculous.  There would not be enough wild fruit and non-toxic vegetation year round to maintain their body’s nutritional requirements, much less their newly acquired, virus induced larger brain.  Humans began migrating out of the forests and populating the globe only after we had adapted to the food that is available virtually everywhere – meat.  The Inuit people thrived in icy areas where little vegetation grew, but meat and fish were abundant.  An ape (or vegan) wouldn’t last a couple of days there (sorry Yeti believers).  In order for an ape to support a human sized brain, there would have to be some serious physiological changes made to their digestive system.

According to Kleiber’s law, it would be impossible for an animal to meet the energy demand of a human size brain and an ape size gut.  The colon is an extreme energy hog.  It generates a tremendous amount of heat when fermenting vegetation.  Hominids had to sacrifice the large colon of their predecessor, who probably more closely resembled the vegetarian Australopithecus, in order to spare the energy required to support a larger brain.  You can’t have your cake and eat it too, yet the writer of this drivel thought that apes could have both.  Even if the ape could intake enough dietary calories to support a human size brain and an ape size colon, their body temperature would become dangerously high from the calorie expenditure.  The human brain gobbles up over 25% of the calories ingested, whereas the ape (and probably vegan) brain only uses about 8% of their energy intake.

The ape must maintain a smaller brain in order to feed the massive colon necessary to survive on a low nutrient diet of vegetation.  The image below illustrates the differences in skeletal structure between a man and chimpanzee.

If we follow the angle of the ribs, we can see that the chimpanzee’s abdomen flares out into a more pear-shaped figure.  We also notice that the pelvis is a taller bowl to hold the massive amount of hind gut.  The human rib cage angles inward towards the hips, creating a more wedge-shaped torso and flat stomach.  The large pear-shaped abdomen seen on some people is an accumulation of fat around their waist and not intestines.  The gorilla’s pot belly is not fat, but a huge, gas-filled colon.  The fermentation of cellulose creates a lot of flatulence in the ape and vegan colon.

As unlikely as it is that a virus could enlarge the brain of an ape, it is even a further stretch to assume that the virus could also restructure their entire digestive tract, shortening the colon and cecum, and increasing the size of their small bowels.  It took a couple of million years for humans to make this adaptation.  The option of eating nutrient dense meat is quite suicidal for apes, especially gorillas.  According Finch and Stanford in their quarterly “Meat-adaptive Genes And The Evolution Of Slower Aging In Humans”, it is proposed that the evolution of the apolipoprotein E 3 gene, may provide humans protection from diseases suffered by apes when consuming meat. [PDF]   The following is a quote from the abstract:

Chimpanzees eat more meat than other great apes, but in captivity are sensitive to hypercholesterolemia and vascular disease. We argue that this dietary shift to increased regular consumption of fatty animal tissues in the course of hominid evolution was mediated by selection for “meat-adaptive” genes. This selection conferred resistance to disease risks associated with meat-eating also increased life expectancy. One candidate gene is apolipoprotein E (apoE), with the E3 allele evolved in the genus Homo that reduces the risks for Alzheimer’s and vascular disease, as well as influencing inflammation, infection, and neuronal growth. Other evolved genes mediate lipid metabolism and host defense…”

– Finch and Stanford, 2004

So switching to a meat based diet is not in the cards for the apes anytime soon because Alzheimer’s and heart disease would overcome them quickly.  An ape army would have a real logistics nightmare having to carry tons of vegetation from battlefield to battlefield.  Instead of spending time planning their strategies for the overthrow of man, they would continue to eat and poop every waking hour of the day to obtain their nutrition from their low nutrient diet.   Not a very formidable foe.

I know folks will tell me to lighten up and enjoy the movie because it’s only science fiction.  My purpose of this rant was not to disprove a ridiculous movie storyline, but to use it to disprove a popular piece of vegan propaganda.  Hominid brain growth was the result of a shrinking gut, based on a diet of nutrient dense meat, and the larger brain would later lead us to better food preparation.  Grinding, cooking and even the fermentation of food made digestion and the extraction of nutrients much easier and therefore required less intestines for internal processing.  More of our absorbed food energy could then be routed to the brain, rather than the gut.  Humans had to first grow their brains from meat consumption before we could have the intellect to discover fire, agriculture and food processing to make nutrients more accessible from plant foods.  The modern vegan would not be possible had humans not first thrived on meat.

Hollywood, being the Mecca of vegetarianism and other pseudoscience, found this movie to be quite plausible.  The film’s director Rupert Wyatt was quoted as saying;

I think we’re ending with certain questions, which is quite exciting.  To me, I can think of all sorts of sequels to this film, but this is just the beginning.”

Most likely the apes will take over the world at some point.  I don’t even want to imagine what silly writing will be applied to explain how endangered species of primates, that number in the thousands, can overtake a human population of over six billion humans!   Sometimes I think the apes have already taken over Hollywood and are writing the scripts for new movies.



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6 Responses to The Planet That Went Ape!
  1. Zachary N.
    July 15, 2012 | 4:11 pm

    I have been experimenting with a plant based diet, and have been asking questions about the human digestive system and historical adaptations relating to diet composition. Your article is well founded. My findings (plant based eating) have been, for the most part favourable, but the when it comes down to it, we are omnivores, thanks to your elaboration on the scientific and genealogical aspects. I believe that the best way to live is on a periodically plant based diet (as with our ancestors), but not without the presence of meat, however un-predominant it contributes to the diet in general.

    • Wolverine
      July 15, 2012 | 8:22 pm

      Thanks Zackary, Some people do seem to strive better with a diet higher in plant foods with just some animal food supplements. Most of us high fat/low carb dieters do still consume a lot of vegetables – it is grains that tend to be problematic for many people – especially wheat. A lot has to do with the person’s ancestry. There are other nationalities that have a tolerance to other foods, such as dairy – based on the diets of their ancestors. As much as many would like to believe and far too many people teach – there is not one diet that fits all.

      You need to be careful about lumping all of our ancestors in the same box. There are many races of people whose ancestors thrived on completely different diets. People of the Mediterranean appear to have a much greater tolerance to wheat and barley. Their ancestors have been eating wheat for more than 10,000 years and have developed a certain amount of tolerance to gluten. If you look at the research concerning celiacs and other wheat allergies, you will see them predominantly afflicting the people of northern European descent. Many of these people were hunter/gatherers for thousands of years after the Mediterranean, middle eastern and north africans had been heavy into agriculture for thousands of years. Native Americans people have little tolerance to wheat and have the highest rates of obesity, diabetes and cancers, when white flour and sugar was introduced to them. They were hunter/gatherers until just a few hundred years ago.

      Because I come from a long line of dairy consumers (scandinavian people – my eyes are as blue as the sky), I have no problem with dairy, but there are many people who can no longer digest dairy in later life due to their heredity – it would be wrong for me to recommend dairy to these people and cause undo stress on their intestines.

      If a plant dominated diet works well for you, then that’s what you should adopt, but remember, not everyone who emulates your diet will find your level of great health – especially if it includes a high amount of grains and legumes, like soy. If you read my article on “The Truth About Soy”, you will see the damage soy can do to most people.

      I am not a big advocate of grain eating. When you say plant based, I’m assuming you mean vegetables and fruits, which are a very important part of any diet. If your plant based diet is high in grains, beans and legumes – you may not fare so well in the long run, depending on your ancestry. But, even people whose ancestors were large grain eaters historically are now seeing problems, because the grain eaten now are quite a frankenstein as opposed to their ancestors. Wheat has undergone intensive genetic hybridizing in an attempt to increase it’s yield (read Dr. William Davis’ book “Wheat Belly” for an extensive look at the history of wheat hybridization over the last thousand years). When I was a kid, wheat fields had grasses over 4′ tall – now, this semi-dwarf strain of wheat is only 2′ tall and the proteins, such as gluten and gliadin has increased 10 fold – not to mention the amylopectin-A, which spikes the blood sugar far higher than it’s ancestor (wheat has a much higher Glycemic Spike than does table sugar). Grains and legumes have had the greatest amount of bioengineering over the last decades due to government subsidizing and to increase its output.

      Grains even make my cows sick (and they’re pure herbivores). Being involved in agriculture and animal husbandry, I have seen that not many mammals do well on grains. Rodents appear to be the only mammals who have adapted mechanisms to keep them safe from the damages inflicted by grains on those who prey on them – other wise, it’s only birds and insects that do well on a grain based diet. It was wheat that first damaged my intestines and many of the other intestinal transplant recipients I met have suffered bowel obstructions due to wheat. I have had no obstructions since abstaining from wheat.

      Some of my readers write and ask me to give more information on the diet I eat, but I am always reluctant, because not everyone is going to thrive as well as I do on my diet. The only diet I don’t recommend, is the standard highly processed high carb affair that our US government recommends. I believe that that epidemic-like numbers of obesity, diabetes, cancer, arthritis, Alzheimer and other out-of-control modern disease have proven that their diet leads only to a long, slow, agonizing death, but is very profitable to the corporations that put these officials in office – think Monsanto!

  2. Lisa
    February 21, 2013 | 4:18 pm

    Fantastic articles! Read a few now. Just a comment about herbivores probably not being true herbivores at all. There’s got to be a fairly substantial proportion of insect life in the grass not to mention the material bodies of the critters doing the work in the gut! Sourdough bread for example actually increases in protein content as it ferments…is the chemical structure changing or are there just more of the little fermenting critters in there having eaten up all the sugars? Do cows actually eat grass or are they eating tiny organisms that are thriving on the grass in their gut?

    • Wolverine
      February 26, 2013 | 1:18 am

      Thanks again Lisa for your comment. Apes are omnivores like we are (eating insects and small creatures, whereas chimpanzees actively hunt meat, mostly colobus monkeys). So yes, apes do digest a lot of the micro life that they consume with the plants. Though it is true that herbivores (ruminants) eat hundreds of pounds of micro life, they do not have the acid and enzymes to digest them.

      Ruminants (which would included cattle and over 900 other species, like buffalo, elk, deer, sheep, goats) get their name from the fourth stomach chamber (the rumen), which is a huge fermentation vat. Unlike the human stomach, which is acidic and virtually sterile, the ruminant stomachs are loaded with bacteria and even Protozoa (something not found in the entire human GI tract). All of the bacteria that cattle eat is colonized in their stomach and they are dependent on it for survival (to convert indigestible carbohydrates, we call fiber, into a triglyceride called butyrate, a saturated fat). Without the bacteria, they would die.

      For this reason, it would be counter productive and suicidal if they digested bacteria, as we do. So a cow can, and does live strictly on grasses. Ruminants also regurgitate their food between each pass of a stomach chamber and chew it again. No enzyme on earth can break down cellulose, so only by repetitive chewing can they break down the cell walls mechanically. Cellulose is a tough, wood-like carbohydrate, indigestible to humans.

      Only by cooking or fermenting vegetables can we get the same amount of nutrition that herbivores do from vegetables.

      So, to answer your question, no, cattle cannot digest these little critters. So the ones they don’t colonize just pass through them undigested, just as many vegetables and grains pass undigested through us (think of corn).

      I found a lot of undigested vegetables and seeds in the ostomy bag between the time I lost my bowels until after the transplant (I no longer have an ostomy, which is amazingly due to the transplant). I wrote about this in better detail in my post, “Can Humans Digest Meat”, if you haven’t read it yet.

      You are correct that fermented foods are much more nutritious for humans, but that is because we do not have the ability to ferment them inside us, with the exception of the colon, but humans absorb very little nutrients from the colon.

      The chemical structure does not change during fermentation, it’s just that the bacteria break down the indigestible part of the plants, which are carbohydrates that they consume and then covert to lactic acid. But in doing so, they release the vitamin and minerals within the plant cells, thereby making them available to us. If we ate uncooked, unfermented cabbage, we have no enzymes to break the cellulose walls and would suffer a lot of indigestion as a result (and get no nutrition). Basically, we are letting the bacteria predigest the vegetation for us.

      We are also then capable of digesting the bacteria, which are highly nutritious. In reality, the cow is feeding the bacteria inside their stomach, which I turn feeds them. The cow actually receives a saturated fat in the form of a triglyceride called butyrate from the bacteria. We have to get our fat from our diet. I wrote a detailed article about this named, “Only One Mammal Survives On Low Fat Nutition”. Thanks again for your comment and excellent questions.

  3. Sarah Brown
    April 28, 2017 | 1:09 pm

    An interesting read here. I eat a completely plant based, whole foods diet, mainly because I wish to cause no harm to any living being and I took a blood test recently out of curiosity, because I have SOOO many people say that I must be protein deficient or lacking in iron, calcium or whatever. But every single nutrient and macronutrient was in the range it should be, which actually took me by surprise. I do take B12 supplements though because I’m not about to eat soil or drink untreated water. So it seems that humans can thrive on a herbivorous diet. I doubt apes and money’s could survive on a totally carnivorous diet though because of a few reasons:
    – they cannot make their own vitamin C like true carnivores can
    – as you mentioned above, they would get clogged arteries and other diseases.

    But yeah, it was an interesting read and gets the mind going. Thank you

    • Jodey Grist
      July 25, 2017 | 8:11 am

      How about harming yourself? Does that count as harming any living being? Granted you’re not nutrient deficient yet – but perhaps you should read the vegetarian myth be Lierre Keith.

      Even pure carnivorous humans like myself (I only eat from the animal kingdom and mostly meat – a zero carb diet) don’t want harm or adverse conditions to come to animals – I’d rather they were all roaming free eating grass and enjoying their lives. But everything has to die for other life to survive, and I have no qualms with eating an animal to be in optimal health, provided it lived a free range and healthy happy life before I “hunted” it.

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