A Stab at The Carnivore Diet

Slamming Muktuk | Robbing a Pride of Lions | Bureaucrats Have to Eat Too | Allow The Good Doctor to Restate Your Conclusions | Weight Loss | Stay Safe out There

Photo by Lisovskaya/iStock / Getty Images

Photo by Lisovskaya/iStock / Getty Images

Slamming muktuk

The carnivore diet has become a bit of a fascination lately.

For me, the anecdotal evidence has more or less risen to the point of overwhelming positivity. The formula for its success seems like it might go something like this.

If you begin from a position of relative pathology, (depression, anxiety, arthritis, diabetes, autoimmunity) ANY shift away from processed food is going to reorient your metabolism in the direction of order.

My favorite image on the internet: Click on the following link for a closer look at the complexity.   Recon 2, a virtual reconstruction of human metabolism

My favorite image on the internet: Click on the following link for a closer look at the complexity. Recon 2, a virtual reconstruction of human metabolism

Complex systems tend to function much more smoothly when they have few predictable inputs. Just imagine how easy it would be to 'gum up' a highly interrelated process such human metabolism with not only several hundred different inputs, (unending variety of food) but several dozen inputs that the system does not under any circumstance recognize as being food (processed food, fast food, additives, preservatives, HFCS, trans-fats, etc)

...complex systems do not have obvious one-dimensional cause-and-effect mechanisms, and that under opacity, you do not mess with such a system.
— Nassim Nicholas Taleb

In this context, metabolic, digestive, and autoimmune pathologies make perfect sense.

The skeptic in me initially thought, “Okay, the Inuit were probably slamming muktuk—which contains enough Vitamin C—and seal meat for a few centuries, but we also know that they consumed berries and also traded for a variety of other plant based foods throughout the year.

It’s also probably true that many of the transatlantic settlers died of scurvy both during and after their multi-month voyage, but a part of me thinks that this could be more complicated that we initially thought.

These numbers are debatable, but the generally accepted amount of time it takes for Vitamin C depletion to occur is 8-12 weeks. At this point, you may experience a loss of appetite, weight loss, fatigue, irritability, and lethargy. If left untreated, this can lead to swelling, poor wound healing, gum disease, shortness of breath, and depression. Then, you’ll show signs of jaundice, hemolysis, spontaneous bleeding, fever, neuropathy, and convulsions, which can lead to death.

While I’m certain that many sailors died of scurvy during the ‘Age of Sail’, I’m uncertain that all of the deaths attributed to the disease were in fact scurvy and only scurvy.

As early as 1492, Columbus took just over 8 weeks to cross the Atlantic.

It’s bizarre to consider that even though scurvy has been a well known disease process for thousands of years, that these individuals would not at least have been extra diligent about loading up on Vitamin C before they left.

Further to this, I’m also thinking, "If tens of thousands of people are really eating this way now, and they're finding success in the process, there must be an extremely high probability that”;

A) There is some as yet unknown mechanism at play that is preventing these people from reaching Vitamin C depletion. Further, there is data from the 1950’s suggesting that skeletal, cardiac, and smooth muscle in animals contains Vitamin C. So maybe it’s a simple as that.

B) Bacterial adaptations in the gut must happen on the order of hours or days, and not months or years. This has apparently been demonstrated to be true in laboratory settings.

Though at this point there is zero clinical data to demonstrate beyond a shadow of a doubt that this diet is 'healthy' over the long-term, there is a part of me that sees this in exactly the same light as I saw the paleo diet 7 years ago.

In other words, zero scientific evidence for its efficacy (safe some studies demonstrating ketosis treats epilepsy) but thousands of people implementing the 'principles' to excellent, and sometimes life saving effect. 

Today, no person who has done any amount of personal research into diet disputes that a paleo/real food template is the way to go.

Robbing a Pride of Lions

Evolution doesn't care about our beliefs regarding diet. Homo-sapiens evolved as hunters, foragers, and scavengers. To this day, tribesmen in Africa will outsmart a pride of feasting lions and steal their kill.

This is how powerful the human brain is. 

Three or four sinewy hunter-gatherers can exploit the way lions perceive incoming threats and successfully INTIMIDATE an entire pride of apex predators into abandoning their hard earned meal.  

The point I'm making here is that the human brain is the most successfully adapted and adaptable organ in the known universe.

Whatever it is we can hunt, forage, or scavenge, we can probably adapt to.

Within the context of real food, ditto for human metabolism.

It just so happens that THE ONLY REASON individuals even have the ability to have differing or divergent beliefs about diet is because our distant ancestors ate boatloads of animal flesh.

Animal flesh gave us our brains, and our brains built the glories of modern world. 

If A = B, and B = C, then A = C.

  Bureaucrats Have to Eat Too

Literally everything the government told us about nutrition for the last God knows how many years (60 - 70?) was complete nonsense.

Here's a short list of my favorites. 

  1. Saturated fat is bad

  2. Cholesterol is bad

  3. Trans-fats are good

  4. Awful experimental methodologies (epidemiological, observational studies) confirming their non-results. Selective sensationalizing. (ie: the facts are true, the news is fake)

  5. Salt is bad

  6. Refined carbohydrates are the cat's meow

  7. Breakfast cereals are super!

  8. Sugar is stupendous!

  9. Don't eat too much protein dumb-dumb!

  10. Real full-fat dairy is bad, but plasticky Kraft singles and modified milk ingredients? Well heck, they get the first ever "Kids Eat Right" label with thanks to the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics!

I no longer even care why they got it so wrong, (Ancel Keys, China Study, yadi yadi yada) or why they lied (big agro commie lobbyists, engorged bureaucrats rent seeking greater sources of tax revenue; they gotta eat too.)

The only thing that actually matters is that, consciously or unconsciously, it was all a sham.

And, when you discover you've been the unwitting participant of the largest and most disastrous public health "research" project known to man, well, you might be wise to simply do the exact opposite of everything you've been told. 

Allow the Good Doctor to Restate Your Conclusions

Whenever the question of the effects of protein on liver and kidney function comes up, I always defer to one Dr. Stuart Phillips, PhD and Professor of Kinesiology at McMaster University.

In short, there is absolutely no evidence of any kind that higher protein diets cause kidney or liver problems. Oh yeah, and red meat doesn’t cause cancer either.

While there is certainly an upper limit to protein consumption, a carnivore type diet is high enough in fat content as to be self-limiting on protein consumption.

Traditional carnivore diets comprised roughly 30-35% protein—no more than a modern high protein diet—with the remainder being derived mostly from animal sources of monounsaturated fats, and small amounts of fruit and plants for fiber and vitamins.

Weight Loss

Dr. Jordan Peterson is probably the most famous case illustrating the success of the carnivore diet. He states unequivocally that a modified carnivore diet cured his depression, his gastrointestinal reflux disorder, and his snoring (snoring was cured before he lost weight). Then he was able to actually wake up in the morning, clear-headed, without needing an hour to stumble around first. Then, he lost 7 lbs a month for 7 months in a row. Then, his psoriasis disappeared. Then, the floaters in his right eye cleared up.

Then, on a full carnivore diet, his morning anxiousness disappeared completely. Then he gained some musculature. Then, what he states as being the “coolest” effect of the full carnivore diet, the gum disease he’s had since he was 25 years old, which was serious enough to require minor surgical scraping, was gone.

Dr. Peterson is also quick to reminds us that he doesn’t know the first thing about nutrition science, and he’s not recommending a carnivore diet to anyone.

If we leave aside the weight loss for a moment and assume that all of the disease processes that were cured by his diet are metabolic in nature, (I don’t believe snoring is normally characterized as being metabolically related) then many if not all of those improvements make perfect sense.

You change your diet that drastically, you reorient your metabolism in the direction of order, things clear up.

But how did he lose all of that weight eating foods that are so calorically dense?

Dr. Chris Kresser has a theory.

He suggests a possibility that the carnivore diet mimics some of the effects of fasting, but it “allows people to persist for longer [on the fast] because it’s providing some nutrition.”

If you look at the scientific literature, fasting is like the cure all for everything. You can look at any condition, and fasting IS the cure...Meat is absorbed very high up in the digestive tract, and so when you only eat meat it’s a low residue diet and there’s nothing left over to irritate and inflame the gut. My theory is that many of the people who are benefiting from this have a disrupted gut microbiome...Leaky gut is a precondition for autoimmunity, and the carnivore diet is essentially like a gut-rest or a fast.
— Dr. Chris Kresser

That’s sounds like a compelling answer to the question of weight loss on the carnivore diet. It also goes a long way in explaining why Dr. Peterson’s other autoimmune issues cleared up.

Dr. Kresser and Dr. Kahn also go on to discuss what is still the most important topic and biggest mystery if you’re going to attempt a carnivore diet—Vitamin C.

Stay Safe Out There

Risk comes from making investments you know nothing about.

Every meal you eat is an investment in your future health.

...one should not mess with a system if the results are fraught with uncertainty, or, more generally, should avoid engaging in an action with a big downside if one has no idea of the outcomes.
— Nassim Nicholas Taleb

While many have benefited greatly from consuming a carnivore diet, there is still much that we don’t understand.

Specifically, what is the exact relationship between the current incarnation of an all-meat diet, and the consumption of vitamin C?

Dr. Shawn Baker suggests that because a molecule of glucose is basically the exact same as a molecule of vitamin C, and that they compete for the same transporters, that this means that if you don’t have a lot of glucose floating around your system, you need far less vitamin C.

He goes on to explain that he thinks many of the vitamin deficiencies we experience in modern society are due to our over-consumption of carbohydrates.

The example given to support this claim is that the mineral manganese is highly required for carbohydrate metabolism, and that if you’re not consuming carbs, you can easily get away with consuming far less manganese. He cites research indicating a similar mechanism for Thiamine—Vitamin B1.

Dr. Baker also recently spoke about his coronary artery calcium scan—an indicator of cardiovascular disease risk—and surprise surprise, it’s ZERO, meaning he has little to no risk of cardiovascular disease, all while consuming 25 x the amount of meat compared to a normal American diet.

I’m cautiously optimistic that the carnivore diet will soon be recognized by many as being just another powerful tool in the battle against obesity and autoimmunity.

However, until we have a more technical understanding of how this diet actually works, I’d like to circle back to Vitamin C to give you a few strategies to help ensure you’re getting enough in the event you decide to experiment with a carnivore diet.

If you’re not going to supplement with Vitamin C, here are a few common sources of Vitamin C found in animal foods.

Best estimates indicate you require 10 mg per day or slightly less to prevent scurvy.

  1. Homemade Bone Broth: 1 cup = +/- 2.75 mg

  2. Oysters = +/- 30 mg per 100 grams of food

  3. Cod Roe = +/- 26 mg per 100 grams of food

  4. Cow’s Milk = +/- 2 mg per 100 grams of food

  5. Chicken Liver = =/- 26 mg per 100 grams of food

Dr. Jordan Peterson left us with the only caveat he could think of, and it’s a concept I can echo from my own experience.

After having modified his diet so dramatically, he found that when he went back to eating foods he had previously eliminated, the results were “catastrophic.”

Speaking from personal experience, I can say that having done several years of strict Paleo dieting, and having healed my gut and cured my allergies, I initially thought that my symptoms were gone for good.

I was wrong about that.

The only difference was that my initial symptoms were not as severe as Dr. Peterson’s, and the totality of my Paleo intervention was much longer.

This meant that I was able to tolerate a return to my old ways of eating for longer before the allergens had accumulated in my system in sufficient quantities as to reopen the floodgates of inflammatory reactions. (Dose Response)

This made it clear that if I was going to make a change in my life, I simply had to accept the fact that as much as I might want to, I could never go back to my old ways of eating, the complex system of human metabolism won’t let me.

It won’t let you either.

Stay safe out there.