How can food contribute to better health? Jean Seignalet dedicated his life’s work to the question


Jean Seignalet (1936-2003) was a French surgeon and immunologist who spent a good part of his working life studying the interconnection between food and health. Although controversial among his peers, his rather extreme recommendations still highlight how important our diet is to our health.


Prevention is an important part of preserving health, and it is an issue that we have already addressed several times on down to Earth (for instance, here and here). French surgeon and immunology researcher Jean Seignalet was one person who dedicated his working life to exploring the links between the human lifestyle and health, focussing in particular on diet. His work was controversial within the scientific community, but he nonetheless drew attention to the important issue of how we can be the actors of our own well-being.


Going back to the diet of hunter-gatherers


Jean Seignalet was born in 1936 and first became known as a surgeon and immunologist: specifically, he worked on compatibility-related issues for organ donation. He used to publish articles in the most serious scientific journals, where his work would be reviewed and approved by his peers. In the 1980s, after becoming seriously ill, Seignalet started to look into the relationship between food and health in more detail.

He soon came to the conclusion that the human lifestyle has evolved much faster than our organisms, and that the modern diet is generally unsuitable for the needs and processes of our bodies  and, long-term, can trigger or favour the appearance of certain diseases.

He thus came up with a specific diet, called “hypotoxic”, intended to resemble as closely as possible that of the hunter-gatherers of the Palaeolithic Age (200,000 to 12,000 B.C.). The diet is strict, as it excludes all foods cooked at high temperatures and gluten for instance. The consumption of organic foodstuffs and unrefined oils is encouraged. As Seignalet was first and foremost a doctor, his diet aimed to help patients recover from diseases, some of which were considered incurable.


A complex legacy


In a book called L’Alimentation ou la troisième médecine (Food, or the Third Medicine), he recounted the results he witnessed with his patients, which no scientific journal agreed to publish. His work on diet and health was never acknowledged by the scientific community, and he insisted that he did not set out to cure diseases with the hypotoxic diet, but rather to help prevent their apparition and support the recovery process. This controversial figure died in 2003, leaving behind him a community of enthusiastic adepts of his diet who live by it every day. Even though his specific recommendations were never validated by his peers, in a context of increasing diet-related issues (such as the spread of obesity in the developed and in the developing world), Seignalet’s work resonates with the idea that we can, to a certain extent, be our own health’s best helper.

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