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Pregnant Women Turn to Alternative, 'Personalized' Birthing Options

iStock/Thinkstock(NEW YORK) -- Giving birth is the most primal act in a woman’s life. And yet, modern medicine has turned birthing into a sterile, medical procedure, often performed in a hospital operating room.

But more and more women are rejecting the traditional hospital approach to delivery in favor of a more “personalized” birthing experience, with some literally going back to their primal roots by trekking into the wilderness to give birth.

Born in the Wild is a new reality TV show, which debuts on Lifetime on Tuesday at 10 p.m. It features expectant mothers who chose to give birth outside in the woods. Peter and Audrey Bird, who live in Alaska and have three children, are featured on the show. They said they had a negative experience in the hospital with the birth of their 6-year-old son.

"My labor was full of fear," Audrey, 25, says on the show. "That's not something that I ever wanted to do again.”

So to welcome their daughter Piper, they decided to go into the great outdoors to give birth in a makeshift tent, with no medical professionals.

"I’m excited to have my baby outside in Alaska," Audrey said. "We’re surrounded by the lake, the trees, and the clouds, and the mountains. It’s absolutely breathtaking. We are about a hundred miles from the nearest road. No power lines run to the property, no phone lines, we don't have a sewer system. On this side of the lake, it’s just us. There’s no neighbors. There’s no other families nearby. So we are very isolated."

Practicing OBGYN and ABC News contributor Dr. Jennifer Ashton said, while extreme, more women are taking control of their labor and delivery.

"I think there's no question we're certainly hearing a lot more about alternative births," Ashton said. "I think in large measure that comes because women are growing more and more dissatisfied with what’s being offered by their doctor, by their board certified OB or even in some cases by a certified nurse midwife, and it’s pushing them to seek out these more extreme birthing experiences."

In suburban New Jersey, Cheryl and Terrance Suydam decided to have all three of their children born at home.

With their third child, Cheryl planned to give birth in a tub set up in the family's living room, with two midwives and her husband on hand. In the final stages of labor, she decided instead to move to the family sofa, which had been covered in plastic. After 21 hours of labor, Cheryl delivered a healthy baby girl.

Throughout Suydam's delivery, the couple's two other kids, Livvy and Alex, who were ages 3 and 6 at the time, and even the family dog, freely walked in and out of the birthing room.

Out-of-hospital births are far from the norm. Only around 1 percent of births in the United States are done outside of a hospital, according to the most recent statistics from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

"The fact of the matter remains, that in obstetrics, there can be life and death, last minute emergencies that are unexpected, unanticipated, and if they occur outside of a safe hospital or birthing center setting can be disastrous for the mother or the baby," Ashton said.

But more U.S. hospitals are seeing the trend of mothers wanting options and now offer a variety of birthing experiences, including Vanderbilt University Medical Center in Nashville, Tennessee.

Jennifer Horn had her son Seth at Vanderbilt University Medical Center, and although it was her third time giving birth, it was the first time she was able to watch her baby being born.

Horn had previously given birth to two children via C-section, but for her third child, she decided to try Vanderbilt’s “family-friendly” C-section option.

With a traditional C-section, the surgical drape stays up for the entire surgery and the mother is cut off from the birthing process. Afterwards, the baby is usually whisked away to be cleaned up. But with the "family-friendly" option at Vanderbilt, the baby is given to the mother immediately after birth, so she can cradle her newborn, skin-to-skin.

"Studies have shown that babies who have that contact with mom, that skin-to-skin in the first hour, have higher rates of breastfeeding, longitudinally, over time when you look at that three months, six months," said anesthesiologist Dr. Sarah Starr, who helped develop the policy at Vanderbilt.

With this option, the surgical drape still goes up on the mother's midsection during the surgery, but when it's time for the baby to come out, the doctor opens a window in the drape so that the mother can have the same view of her baby being born as a mom giving birth vaginally would.

"It's just like vaginal birth. You don't see anything down there, but you get to see the baby come out," Horn said.

In the same hospital, another mom-to-be named Glenna Kramer opted for a completely different type of delivery for her first child. She wanted to have natural childbirth, without an epidural or an obstetrician present. Instead she had a midwife and a nurse help her through the delivery.

To ease the pain, Glenna used a tub of hot water, an option not available to women attached to IVs, and she had nitrous oxide, more commonly known as "laughing gas," to help take the edge off.

"[The nitrous oxide] more or less served the purpose of calming me down and helping me relax and helping me cope with the pain rather than taking the pain away," she said.

In the end, Glenna was snuggling happy, healthy baby boy she had brought into the world by doing it her way.

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Gender Identity is Biological, Study Says

ABC/Lou Rocco(BOSTON) -- There is a growing body of evidence that gender identity is hard wired into the brain and not simply a matter of psychology, according to a new Boston University School of Medicine study.

Writing in the journal Endocrine Practice, the researchers said that as many as one in 100 people could be living with some form of gender identity disorder -- meaning they may identify their gender differently than the one they were born with.

For example, actress Laverne Cox was born a man but identifies as a woman.

This makes the case for doctors to use surgery and hormone treatment rather than psychotherapy alone to help their patients come to terms with their gender identity, Dr. Joshua Safer, the lead researcher and a professor at BUSM, said.

“The paper was a comprehensive review of the scientific evidence that gender identity is a biological phenomenon," Safer explained. "As such it provides one of the most convincing arguments to date for all medical providers to gain the transgender medicine skills necessary to provide good care for these individuals," he added.

Nearly 40 percent of medical students they surveyed said they were uncomfortable caring for transgendered patients, and 5 percent of medical students said that the treatment was not part of conventional medicine. After teaching a course that raised the medical students' awareness about transgender medical need, the students' discomfort dropped by 67 percent.

Safer and the other authors of the study said they hope to change the perception of transgendered people within the healthcare system so that they get better treatment. But because the study was small, it does have limitations, the researchers said, and there should be additional investigation to focus on the specific biologic mechanisms for gender identity.

The ABC News National health team would also like to raise awareness about gender identity and what it means to be transgendered. We’re holding a tweet chat on the topic Tuesday at 1 p.m. ET. Dr. Richard Besser, ABC News chief health and medical correspondent, will moderate. We’ll be joined by experts, patients and loved ones to talk about the challenges of being transgendered and what that means for overall health and wellbeing.

Joining the chat is easy. Click here to learn more.

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High Numbers of Teens Are Victims of Dating Violence -- A new survey by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention finds that just over 20 percent of all teenage girls and one in 10 teen boys have experienced at least one instance of violence while dating over the past 12 months.

Although the CDC has been taking this survey since 1999, the criteria has been revamped to list far more serious forms of teen dating violence (TDV).

Polling 9,000 teens who've dated over the past year, the CDC says that 20.9 percent of teenage girls reported TDV, with 6.6 percent saying it was physical, eight percent claiming the violence was sexual and 6.4 percent acknowledging it was both physical and sexual.

Meanwhile, 10.4 percent of teen boys reported TDV, with the numbers about half of those for girls when it came to physical, sexual or both physical and sexual violence.

Nonetheless, the CDC researchers say "prevention efforts may be more effective if they include content for both sexes."

Certain at-risk behaviors associated with TDV include smoking, drinking, using drugs, depression, eating disorders and thoughts of suicide.

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Drinking Hot Coffee Is Cool

iStock/Thinkstock(NEW YORK) -- No one ever saw the Fonz with a cup of coffee in his hand but perhaps the King of Cool was missing out on something.

At least that's what a lot of New Zealanders think when 1,500 were asked by the survey company Canstar for their attitudes about drinking coffee.

Twenty percent of the respondents believe that sipping coffee makes them appear more sophisticated.

What's more, a third of millennials, those 18-to-34, say they look cooler when holding a cup of coffee.

There also appears to be a certain snobbery among a small group of coffee drinkers as 12 percent will actually judge a person by the brew they consume.

Overall, 52 percent admit that they'll go out of their way for a good cup of joe and yeah, there are Starbucks in New Zealand.

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Report: Elderly Dentist Drugged, Drooled, Pulled Wrong Teeth

iStock/Thinkstock(TULSA, Okla.) -- While drooling is sometimes expected at the dentist's office, it's usually not the dentist doing so -- though that's just what authorities say was going on with 75-year-old Dr. Gary Dean Burnidge, who is accused of repeatedly operating on patients while under the influence of drugs.

Tulsa World reports Burnidge surrendered his license in January and subsequently sold his practice. He is accused of pulling the wrong teeth, operating on the wrong side of patients' mouths, and instructing his staff to inject him with medications that at times left him slurring and drooling while on the job.

The dentist is also alleged to have over-anesthetized patients, and improperly stored controlled drugs around the office.  

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Certain British Workers Have More than Sex Education

iStock/Thinkstock(LEEDS, England) -- Turns out that many of Britain's streetwalkers have more than just street smarts.

Research by Leeds University reveals that 38 percent of people in the sex trade have at least an undergraduate degree and among that group, 17 percent have finished a level of post-grad study.

Leeds researchers qualified their findings by acknowledging that none of the 240 sex workers they polled, which included 28 men and 12 transgender people, were forced into their current profession.

Meanwhile, most working in the sex trade have done other things for money. Over seven in 10 say they worked at healthcare, education or charity jobs while a third admitted working in retail.

Yet, while the money is good, the risks are also great. Almost half of those surveyed claim to have been victims of violent crimes such as rape and robbery and 36 percent say they received threats via emails, calls or texts.

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Life After Ebola: Nurse Says She Has Nightmares, Aches, Hair Loss

JIM WATSON/AFP/Getty Images(DALLAS) -- Since surviving a harrowing brush with Ebola last October, Dallas nurse Nina Pham has been plagued with nightmares, body aches and hair loss, her lawyer told ABC News. On top of that, she says people are afraid of her because they know her as "the Ebola nurse."

Pham cared for Liberian native Thomas Eric Duncan, the first patient diagnosed with Ebola on U.S. soil, at Texas Health Presbyterian Hospital in Dallas last fall. Duncan died on Oct. 8, and Pham tested positive for the virus a few days later. She is now suing the hospital, alleging that she wasn't given the proper training or equipment to handle an Ebola case.

"The fact is, I'm facing a number of issues with regard to my health and my career and the lawsuit provides a way to address them," Pham said in a statement Monday. "But more importantly, it will help uncover the truth of what happened, and educate all health care providers and administrators about ways to be better prepared for the next public health emergency."

Pham's lawyer filed a petition on her behalf against the hospital Monday in Dallas, seeking an unspecified amount of damages for past and future pain, impairment, mental anguish and medical expenses, to name a few.

"She has not gone back to work yet, and she is working on recovering," Pham's lawyer Charla Aldous told ABC News, adding that she's also having problems with her liver enzymes. "I don't know if she'll ever be a nurse again."

Just prior to the diagnosis, Pham asked the hospital for her privacy and requested that her name not be used, Aldous said, but instead, the Texas Health Presbyterian Hospital used her name, asked for quotes and released a video of her in the isolation room.

"Nina felt violated," Aldous said, because the hospital was using her likeness to drum up positive publicity.

Even when Pham's physician noted that she was unable to make her own medical decisions, the hospital asked for her to consent to releasing information about her condition to the public and "ambushed" her with a GoPro camera interview, the petition alleges. Although the hospital at one point announced that it upgraded Pham's condition to "good," her health was precarious at the time and health workers told Pham's mother her condition had not improved, according to the petition.

Now, Pham said she is known as "the Ebola nurse" wherever she goes.

"She has people that shy away from her, fearing that they could get sick from being around her," Aldous said.

The 26-year-old nurse battled Ebola at Texas Health Presbyterian Hospital for more than a week before she was transported to the National Institutes of Health hospital in Bethesda, Maryland, for treatment on Oct. 16. She was declared virus-free on Oct. 24.

Pham has a laundry list of continuing symptoms, her lawyer said, many of which mirror post-Ebola syndrome, which can include vision loss or blindness, fatigue, aches and other symptoms, according to the World Health Organization. Pham has not reported vision loss.

Pham frequently relives her battle with Ebola in her dreams, Aldous said, but Pham is also worried about her future because she doesn't know the long-term effects of the four experimental drugs she was administered to help her fight the Ebola virus.

Nurse Amber Vinson, Pham's coworker at the hospital, also contracted Ebola and recovered. To date, she has not filed a lawsuit.

The hospital’s parent company, Texas Health Resources, released the following statement through spokesperson Wendell Watson: "Nina Pham bravely served Texas Health Dallas during a most difficult time. We continue to support and wish the best for her, and we remain optimistic that constructive dialogue can resolve this matter."

In a message sent to employees Monday night, Texas Health Resources CEO Barclay Berdan acknowledged the lawsuit, saying that THR "values our strong culture of caring and compassion." That culture, he said, is "why we have continued to support Nina both during and after her illness, and it's why she is still a member of our team."

Berdan's message also noted that the lawsuit is "distressing," but the company remains "optimistic that we can resolve this matter with Nina."

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Pain Causing Sleep Problems for Many Americans

OcusFocus/iStock/Thinkstock(NEW YORK) -- A survey conducted by the National Sleep Foundation found that pain may be the problem keeping many Americans from getting sufficient sleep.

Respondents said that having pain was associated with feeling unhealthy and more stressed, and with problems sleeping. Included in the pain-related sleep issues was lower-quality sleep, as the actual difference in duration between those with chronic pain and those without was only about 20 to 30 minutes per night.

Even environmental factors, such as temperature, light and noise, were more problematic for those respondents with pain.

People with chronic pain, the survey showed, were more worried about their sleep, saying that it was impacting their daily life.

The study found that 21 percent of Americans suffer chronic pain, and 36 percent said they had suffered acute pain within the last week.

Sixty-five percent of those without pain reported good to very good sleep quality, compared to just 45 percent with acute pain and 37 percent with chronic pain. 

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Study: American Minors Can Easily Purchase E-Cigarettes on Internet

iStock/Thinkstock(NEW YORK) -- A new study shows that American minors may find it dangerously easy to purchase e-cigarettes online, despite regulations preventing those under the age of 18 from purchasing such products.

According to the study, published in the Journal of the American Medical Association Pediatrics, researchers in North Carolina had 10 minors between the ages of 14 and 17 take part, attempting to purchase electronic cigarettes online. Those 10 participants made 98 attempts to buy e-cigarettes and were rejected for being underage just five times.

In total, 75 purchases were successful. None of the 98 vendors complied with North Carolina's e-cigarette age-verification law.

The researchers called for federal laws to "require and enforce rigorous age verification for all e-cigarette sales."

The study also noted that all delivered packages came from shipping companies that, according to either company policy or federal regulation, do not ship cigarettes to consumers.

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CDC: 170 Measles Cases Identified Around Country

CDC(NEW YORK) -- More cases of the measles continue to pop up around the nation, with the latest data from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention showing 170 cases in 17 states and the District of Columbia.

According to the CDC, 16 new cases were identified between Feb. 20 and Feb. 27. Most of the measles cases -- 125 of them -- seen across America have been linked to a single outbreak centered around Disneyland in Anaheim, California. Of the 16 newest cases, seven were linked to that outbreak.

California, Illinois, New Jersey, New York, Nevada and Washington state were the sites of the latest confirmed cases of measles. The CDC notes that its reports may not include all reported cases.

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Husband and Wife Fighting Cancer Get Dream Vacation

Chett Birr(COLEMAN, Wisc.) -- A Wisconsin husband and wife both battling cancer are getting a much-deserved vacation, thanks to donations from their neighbors and local wrestling teams.

In a few weeks, Chett Birr will drive his parents, Beth and Gary Birr, to a resort in Kissimmee, Florida, for a seven-day vacation.

"They never really took the time or money" to go on vacation before, Chett Birr, 23, told ABC News. "They didn't really think about vacation for themselves. Thought more for others."

"Then," he added, "the doctor bill and just costs of everything kept them held back."

In 2009, Chett Birr was on the Coleman, Wisconsin, wrestling team when his mother, now 48, was diagnosed with brain and lung cancer.

"The team took it upon themselves to dedicate the season to her," wrestling coach Kevin Casper said.

Casper is also a cousin to the Birrs, Chett Birr said.

"It was really special. It really helped my mom fight through it," Chett Birr said. "It wasn't looking very good for her, but when everyone came together it gave her a reason to stay and keep fighting."

Two years ago, Gary Birr, now 56, was diagnosed with melanoma.

Both husband and wife have undergone surgery, radiation and chemotherapy. Beth Birr is in remission, according to Chett Birr, while Gary Birr started his third round of chemotherapy last week. The couple worked for years at a family concrete business.

When people in the Coleman area learned of the Birrs' story, friends, family and wrestling teams around the state started to donate.

More than $3,000 has been raised so far.

"A couple wrestling clubs that aren't even close by donated, which is very nice," Casper said. "It just goes to show that not only are we competitors...but when it comes down to situations like this...other communities come together to help support those that are wrestling-type families, which is very nice to see."

The couple is "really grateful for everyone in the community," Chett Birr said.

The family is still planning what they'll do on the Florida trip.

"I don't know if we could do it later on," Chett Birr said. "It's now or never."

"It's a good chance to go and try to enjoy it," he added.

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How a New Treadmill Test Predicts 'Survival of the Fittest'

ABC News(NEW YORK) -- Going for a jog on a treadmill can predict how long you’re going to live, a large new study suggests.

Researchers from the Mayo Clinic looked at standard treadmill stress test results for more than 58,000 subjects, ages 18 to 96. After age and sex, the two best predictors of whether the patient would be alive in 10 years was how highly activated their metabolism was and how fast their heart would beat during the test.

Metabolism was calculated using "metabolic equivalent of tasks" or METs, a measure of how much energy someone expends during a task. The higher MET level achieved, the more likely it was the subject would last another decade.

The closer someone came to reaching their maximum heart rate as they ran, the more likely they were to die within 10 years, compared to someone who only reached about 85 percent of their maximum heart rate during the test. Maximum heart rate was determined by subtracting the subject’s age from 220, a formula that’s been used for decades by exercisers and doctors alike.

Dr. Jennifer Ashton, ABC News medical contributor, explained the science behind the test on Good Morning America.

“In medicine we usually base predictions of survival on the absence or presence of a disease state,” she said. “What’s new here is that there is now a fancy equation doctors can use to compare the chances of survival for one 50-year-old woman against another 50-year-old woman.”

Rather than being viewed as morbid, experts should be able to use this information to motivate people to change their behavior, Ashton said. Everyone can improve their survival score by exercising more often and pushing it a little harder when they do, she added.

“This is in your power to change and improve your numbers. You can actually change your own destiny,” she said.

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Dangerous Bacteria Mysteriously Escapes from Louisiana Monkey Lab

ABC News(COVINGTON, La.) -- How a potentially deadly strain of bacteria escaped from a primate research lab infecting four monkeys is a mystery, government officials said, but they added the incident poses no threat to the public.

The bacterium in question, burkholderia pseudomallei, is widespread throughout Southeast Asia and northern Australia, infecting humans and animals via contaminated soil and water entering the blood stream through cuts in the skin, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

The high-security laboratory at the Tulane National Primate Research Center in Louisiana, which is studying the bacteria, reported that at least four rhesus macaques not used in studies were infected with the bug, possibly as early as November of last year.

How the bacteria made its way from the lab to animals not used in experiments is still an open question despite weeks of investigation by multiple federal and state agencies, including the CDC, the U.S. Department of Agriculture and the Environmental Protection Agency.

“The only connection among these four animals was their presence in the veterinary hospital during the same period of time,” said Dr. Andrew A. Lackner, the director of the center in a statement last week, adding that more than 50 soil and water samples from the 500-acre compound have tested negative for the bacteria.

A federal investigator was also diagnosed with melioidosis, a disease caused by burkholderia, after visiting the center, Jason McDonald, a CDC spokesman, told ABC News. It isn’t clear whether he was exposed to the bacteria at the primate center or during travel to an infected region, McDonald said.

“You must do tests over several weeks to see whether the antibodies ramp up to indicate a recent exposure or hold steady to suggest the exposure wasn’t recent,” McDonald said. “We’ve done two tests already and the third test is due some time this week.”

Although they stressed that there is no risk to the general public, the agency directed Tulane to suspend all research until the investigation is complete, a CDC statement said. The infected animals were euthanized, according to the Tulane statement.

“The veterinary hospital has been thoroughly disinfected, and additional animal testing is ongoing,” Lackner’s statement read. “Tulane continues to work with the CDC, USDA and the EPA, as well as state and local officials on this matter.”

Melioidosis causes fever, headache, loss of appetite, muscle and joint pain. Although full-blown illness from the bacteria is rare, the fatality rate is up to 50 percent in some countries for those who do get sick, studies show.

Also of concern: The bacterium has been studied for use as a potential bioweapon, according to the UPMC Center for Health Security, an independent biosecurity think tank.

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Blind Man Regains Sight After 33 Years with 'Bionic Eye'

WebMD(NEW YORK) -- Larry Hester was 33 years old when he got horrible news.

“The ophthalmologist said, ‘You're going to go blind,’” Hester recalled of his diagnosis of retinitis pigmentosa, a genetic condition leading to retinal degeneration and causing severe, incurable vision problems. It can sometimes lead to blindness.

He had two young children and called the news devastating.

“It was like the wind got knocked out of me. It was tough,” Hester, now 67, told Good Morning America’s co-anchor, Robin Roberts.

Blindness came quickly. Soon, Hester lived his life in the dark. His wife, Jerry Hester, was by his side.

"I just couldn't imagine being married to a blind person. It was hard," Jerry Hester said.

For another 33 years, the Raleigh, North Carolina, couple coped, until a breakthrough came in 2014. Called the Argus II Retinal Prosthesis System, it’s the world’s first Food and Drug Administration-approved device designed to restore vision to the blind. It’s being hailed as a bionic eye.

The device is only approved for use in people with retinitis pigmentosa, which affects about 100,0000 people in the United States.

Dr. Michael Smith, the chief medical editor of the website WebMD, explained how the device works to restore sight.

“It starts with electrodes implanted on the patient's retina,” he said. “And then the patient wears eyeglasses that has a video camera on it. That actually captures the images, sends them to a video processing unit that the patient wears, that then sends electrical impulses wirelessly back to the electrodes on the retina and then ultimately to the brain which allows them to decipher really light and dark. Not great vision, but spectacular vision for them.”

It’s impossible to tell exactly what the patient can see.

“It's not normal vision as you or I know it,” said Hester's retinal surgeon, Dr. Paul Hahn, of Duke University Eye Center. “But what they do get is crude series of flashes of lights in a pixelated fashion that allow them to make better sense of their surroundings.”

Larry Hester was the first patient in North Carolina to receive the visual prosthesis at the Duke University Eye Center. In October, Hahn did a countdown -- “three, two, one” -- and hit the button to turn on the device for Hester.

“Can you see?” he asked Hester.

“Yes!” his patient replied, beaming.

Jerry Hester was overjoyed. “Oh my goodness. Can I give him a kiss?” she asked.

Larry Hester remembered his emotions that day. “It was so overwhelming. I think my head rocked back a little bit,” he said. “It's hard to put into words because, for the first time in 33 years, I'm seeing light.”

He acknowledged that his vision is “incredibly basic,” adding: “but it’s light and, in my case, sight.”

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Creator of the Paleo Diet Publishes First-Ever Cookbook

John Wiley & Sons/Houghton Mifflin Harcourt(NEW YORK) -- Soon-to-be mom Jessica Biel swears by it and Megan Fox is also a follower. With such celebs on the Paleo Diet, the eating plan that is intended to mimic the way our paleolithic ancestors ate, is more popular than ever. And now, its secrets are being revealed in a new cookbook by Paleo Diet founder Dr. Loren Cordain.

“Our genes haven't changed a lot in the last 40 or 50 thousand years,” Cordain said Monday on ABC's Good Morning America. “So we do quite well on the foods that we’re genetically adapted to.”

The idea behind Paleo is to eat foods that our ancestors ate tens of thousands of years ago. Cordain claims you’ll stay in shape and protect yourself better from heart disease and diabetes. He even says following the diet can even help reduce or eliminate acne.

But it’s not an easy lifestyle. You can eat only grass-fed meat, fish, fruits and veggies, staying away from processed foods, sugar, wheat, grains and dairy.

A little-known secret, though? Cordain recommends following the diet at least 85 percent of the time, allowing for some cheats.

Some easy swaps are veggie chips in place of potato chips or nuts instead of granola in a trail mix.

But not everyone’s sold on the diet.

“The downfall is missing out on certain foods that many nutrition experts, including myself, feel are important to have in one’s diet, such as legumes that are rich in fiber and other good nutrients,” nutritionist Rachel Beller, author of Eat To Lose, Eat To Win, said on GMA.

Cordain responded to that criticism, though, by saying, “When we eliminate those, what happens is all of the other foods fill in and make the diet much healthier and nutrient dense.”

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