Menu
Icons/Close/Hover Created with Sketch.

L. Amber O’Hearn grew up in a household that followed a mostly vegetarian diet.

In subsequent years, Amber struggled with weight fluctuations & mental health disorders. After first experimenting with a low-carb diet, then a ketogenic diet, Amber finally discovered she only required one food that alleviated her from psychiatric medications and weight issues…

Meat.

For the past decade, Amber has been following the carnivore diet and meticulously researching nearly everything about ketogenic nutrition. An “OG” carnivore and data scientist by profession, Amber joins our podcast to share her story.

In this episode, Geoff & Amber discuss...

  • Theories for her neurological issues and the possible explanations for why avoiding plants and eating meat was best for her brain and overall health.
  • The issues with modern veggies & fruit…could they be playing a role in the development of autoimmune disorders?
  • Nuances of protein consumption, ketosis, mTor activation, and AMPK stimulation

Watch Now

Listen Now

Transcription

Geoff

Amber, really great to have you on the H.V.M.N. Podcast.

Amber O.

Thank you so much for having me, I'm excited to talk to you.

Geoff

So one of the things that I saw as I was reviewing and preparing for this conversation was that you're also a computer scientist by background, and I think we're kidding around a little before we went live that my sense is that within recent years I think the nutritional dogmas, I think they're really being reopened and re-examined. And maybe this is first person bias, but it seems like a lot of folks with perhaps engineering backgrounds who might not have come up with this standard nutritional dogma, has been looking at the science and data from first principles and following the data as a true scientific approach rather than appeal to authority. And I know you've been looking at this for perhaps one of the longest, especially on the carnivores side of things for over a decade. What do you make of the recent interest in kind of, well I would say that within the last year or two it had, it's kind of celebrity influencers, folks like Jordan Peterson, Mikhaila Peterson and other folks really bringing it to the mainstream, and what do you make of this? Because I know from your background that you've been exploring this for over a decade.

Amber O.

I do share your bias about the nutritional science being dominated for a long time by just traditions that didn't necessarily have as much to do with the data, that someone who's really an outsider like I am or like you might be can in certain ways see through to things that the knowledge and the traditions might be obscuring, so I definitely agree with that. As to the new recent upsurge in interest and popularity in the carnivore diet, it's been really fascinating. Of course, I was excited to see a lot of people begin to get the benefits and to recognize that a keto diet doesn't have to conform to these preconceived, like to mesh with the current nutritional ideas about a plant based diet being the best, and then trying to line up the ketogenic benefits with the plant based world. Of course it can be done, but it's almost like retrofitting something that wasn't necessary in the first place.

On the other hand I think that now the people, among whom a carnivore diet is very popular, don't necessarily know that it has the history that it has and it's also brought different populations. So I think when I was first starting a carnivore diet and we called it ZC for zero carb back then, a lot of the people who got into it, myself included, started because of a kind of weight problem background. And now I see a lot more people who are more into health optimization, they're younger, might be into weightlifting or bodybuilding and they're just, want to take their health up to an even higher level. So now we've got this mix of people who are basically healthy and want to find out what more they can do, and people who are sick and are seeing all these great benefits that people have been sort of accidentally finding over the years and are getting into it because they think, "Oh it may be this might help my chronic disease problem."

Whereas back when we started, when it was really mostly people who were struggling with weight problems, all these other things came about unexpectedly. So for example, I had a mood disorder that was pretty serious and when I started a carnivore diet I had no expectation that my mood would be affected at all, that was just a surprise bonus side effect.

Geoff

Yeah. I think you hit a couple interesting threads. I think one, the notion of, I think what kind of interventions started people along this path from 10 years ago to today. I think what you mentioned was interesting, was around how people are talking about a well formulated ketogenic diet today. And I think you're absolutely right, like my sense is that people are trying to mold towards traditional guidelines around green leafy vegetables and incorporating that as part of their high fat Ketogenic diets and make it a little bit more playable for the mainstream.

And I'm wondering how much of that is from first principles correct from data? And how much is molding towards the traditional food guidelines? And then I think the third part is, I mean curious to explore the performance angle of it and exactly, I think why people are seeing success here. And I think those are all three interesting and I think before diving into each of the three buckets, it might be helpful just to give our audience a quick synopsis of how you explored and dove into the ketogenic diet, or the carnivore diet, or zero carb diet, as perhaps more rightly we should call it, because that's the more original term. How did you find out about it in 2008, 2009? Were you low carb? Were you experimenting with other diets before entering and seeing success with zero carb?

Amber O.

So my own personal way that I got here was all through the vanity of weight problems that I've had off and on since childhood. And when I first went to university, I gained a lot of weight suddenly. And my first idea was that I should be looking at going to a vegetarian diet because that was what I was brought up with. I was brought up basically vegetarian, I wasn't prevented from eating meat when I'd go to my grandmother's or out at a restaurant or something, but at home we had a vegetarian diet. So when I started having my own weight issues, I naturally just intuitively thought that that was the place that I should look. And it took me a few years of abject failure with that approach, before I was able to actually even consider a low carb diet. I had heard of a low carb diet, but I thought it was just absolutely crazy and I didn't really give it much of a chance actually, intellectually at all because it just flew in the face of everything that I thought I knew.

Geoff

Right. And just to make sure we don't storm in the vegetarian diet, I'm sure it was a reasonable sensible vegetarian diet or what were you eating on this? On your version to a vegetarian diet?

Amber O.

I was brought up with a very conscientious vegetarian diet. So we had a variety of grains and legumes and many vegetables. We didn't eat any junk food or sugar type things. I mean I guess I had jam on my peanut butter sandwiches but I think I'm sure that there would be someone who would criticize what I was eating and say, "Well if only you did it this way or that way." But I think I really did give it an honest try.

Geoff

Because I think when people describe a vegan or vegetarian diet, you could eat 300 Oreos a day and that's a vegan, vegetarian diet. Right? So I think just to make sure that we're still manning the vegetarian side and in your journey there, I wanted to make sure that, it sounded like you were thoughtful around getting the enough proteins and the fat that you'd need to be actually functional.

Amber O.

And I never actually did go low fat. I thought that the vegetarian fats were healthy fats and that they shouldn't be avoided. I was pretty sold for a little while on the idea that health problems were caused by animal foods qualitatively, so that's where I was coming from.

Geoff

Got it.

Amber O.

So when I did eventually try the low carb diet, it happened my deciding to really look into it and give it a fair chance coincided with the publication of Mike and Mary Dan Eades book protein power. So that was 1997 and I loved that book and I still do love that book because it really had a lot of scientific justification throughout it and many references. And I even went to the library and photocopied many of the papers and read them very thoroughly but ultimately the proof was in the actual effect on my body. So it just solved my weight problem very quickly and very effectively and I felt great. And so low carb, I became kind of I wouldn't say a zealot, but you know how when you've discovered something new you get really into why it works and what's going on and figuring out where you went wrong in your previous thinking.

Geoff

So this wasn't quite zero carb yet, but this sounds like you re-introduced animal protein but you're still had some of your vegetables and other non-animal products as well.

Amber O.

It was quite vegetable heavy actually at that time. I mean I eat a lot of cruciferous of course and a lot of salads, and I also made a lot of use of kind of comfort foods that were low carb renditions of previous things. So I used artificial sweeteners, I made things even out of plant based protein powder, not because they were plant-based, because they were convenient for making kind of mixes of protein drinks and things like that.

Geoff

And then in terms of low carb, were you trying to be ketogenic? Were you measuring your blood ketones or was this in terms of just like carb counts? Were you targeting you know sub 100, sub 50?

Amber O.

I was definitely counting carbs so I got a handbook that I could look up all the different foods in and measure it, and my goal was to be under 25 grams a day. We didn't really have the ability to measure blood ketones at that time, but I had urine sticks which I used to see if I was on track. That's how long ago we're talking about.

Geoff

Okay. So yeah, I mean a sub 25 I mean presumably you were in nutritional ketosis, a pretty proper low carb ketogenic diet. So I think within some of the medical literature it's kind of funny to see that some articles will say that 40% carbs is low carb diet or something. And it's like there's a range of carb consumption, it's like 30% is low carb and it's like well, low carb in the context of maybe the standard Western center American diet, by knowing it means low carb when folks that are talking about keto are talking about low carb, that's interesting. So it sounds like you had kind of, to me it sounds like what would people today call a well formulated ketogenic diet, which is you have the restriction of carbohydrates, sub 25 grams, but you still have a lot of the leafy cruciferous vegetables that people like as the phytonutrients and polyphenols, that people associate with longevity or hormesis or some mechanism of why that can be helpful for health and performance.

So it seemed like that helped you reduce weight, but what was the trigger then to go one step further and associate at a time where this must've been quite counterintuitive, because when I personally started looking into the ketogenic diet and fasting, this was like four or five years ago, the first Google result that came up for ketosis was ketoacidosis, right?

Amber O.

Yeah.

Geoff

So this is like a very extreme form for type one diabetes of uncontrolled ketogenesis, where your blood goes acidic and that's not very good. So I'm sure in 2008, 2009, as you were doing your research and talking to folks, this must've been completely insane within the literature. Or at least within the broader community of like just popular sentiment.

Amber O.

Yes. So, when I started the low carb diet in the late '90s there was still a lot of influence from Atkins and there was still a perception that a low carb diet would have to be meat heavy and fat heavy. And I think that a lot of the kind of rebranding of Atkins started happening. If you look at the progression from, say there's a book in 1972 that was by Atkins and I think that might be the original one. And there was a very limited amount of vegetables if you were in this sort of, I think they called it phase one or induction phase. And then the second book came out, maybe I don't remember the exact timeline, but maybe 10 years later, and they had a slightly more liberal version of vegetables. But by the time The New Atkins For a New You book came out, they were actually pushing, actively pushing vegetables and saying that you had to have vegetables as part of your diet.

So the advice too really changed, and the kind of myths about the low carb diet had changed too. So I think in the earlier days people were really worried about protein for your kidneys. And I think that, that's definitely been disproven as an area of concern. It still persists a little, but the myths about what vegetables are necessary for or what a low carb diet might do to you have moved on to more cardiovascular things or things about hormones, thyroid, cortisol, stuff like that. So I had been doing this diet for a good dozen years, and the thing is that my weight had started to creep up again. And there may be a variety of reasons for that. For example, well it could just be that I was getting older, right? I don't know what effect that has. I had had two children, I'd gained weight during the pregnancies and each time I didn't go back to exactly the state of weight that I had been before.

And then there's also the question of the antidepressants that I'd been on, because I had been diagnosed with depression when I was 20 so I'd been basically on antidepressants for a very long time, since before my low carb diet. So for whatever reason my weight had been creeping up even though I continued to stay on a low carb diet, and still was reading more about it all the time and feeling more and more certain that what I was doing was healthy for me, yet my weight was going up.

By the time the end of 2008 came around, I was weighing probably 200 pounds. I had stopped whinging at, my last recorded weight was 196 lbs and it was just too depressing to even continue to look at. But I was feeling increasingly confused and desperate, and looking for a solution, and reading about things and thinking, "Maybe there's something wrong with my thyroid or maybe I'm not getting enough of, I don't know, something like creatine or whatever the latest supplement I was reading about, or maybe I had a candida infection," and there was so many theories and I spent an embarrassing amount of money on different supplements really to no avail, just trying to figure out what the heck was wrong with me.

So that's the frame of mind I was in when I found this forum where people were not eating any plants at all, which before that moment in time I might have dismissed in the same way that I dismissed the low carb diet originally, because even though I had been pretty sold on the idea that a low carb diet was good for your health, I still had all of that background of believing in the healthfulness of vegetables.

But a lot of the people that were on those forums had a similar background to me. So they were stalled out on low carb for whatever reason, and when they tried this zero carb diet, it was not only helping them break through those stalls, but they were finding unexpected interesting benefits. The forum itself was called Zeroing In On Health and I think I appreciated it at the time, but it took me a while for it to fully sink in that all the people who were there, whether or not they started with a weight problem, they were staying there for health reasons, they were finding that it actually surprisingly benefited their health in some way or other.

Geoff

So it wasn't just a short term intervention, this was an overall upgrade in their lifestyle post correction of some initial weight problem or some initial acute thing that they wanted to resolve.

Amber O.

That was what was happening, although for me I fully admit that my idea when I finally decided, "Yeah, I think I might try this," was an extremely temporary idea, I thought I'm going to try this but I had no expectation that 10 years down the road I'd be talking about still being on this diet, like three weeks I was going to do. That will probably have some effect on my weight and then maybe when I get back to the weight that I want, I can go back to my regular low-carb maintenance diet. But of course that's not what happened.

Geoff

How was those three weeks and how did this turn into a 10 year, N=1?

Amber O.

Well, the first thing that happened was that I realized that it was really psychologically intimidating, which is kind of funny to me now because it's just the way I eat and it seems really normal. But I remember very clearly, and I try to keep this in mind when I talk to people who haven't heard of it, that the idea of not having anything on my plate but meat was just so foreign and intimidating to me, that it took me about three weeks to kind of psych myself up to the commitment to do it. And in fact, so I took the first three weeks of January 2009, to really clean up my low carb diet and make sure I was doing it exactly right. Like I counted, even though I'd been doing it for a dozen years.

And I felt like I was pretty comfortable with how much carbs were in everything. I measured everything again, counted everything again, just to make sure that I wasn't suffering from some kind of carb creep or something like that. And then at the end of the three weeks I jumped in and I mostly was just eating steak because, it's just three weeks and why not just do the most enjoyable thing I can do? And what happened was I immediately first of all started losing weight extremely rapidly. Like a pound every other day, which was of course exciting and fun. And it wasn't as hard as I thought it was going to be. And I also noticed that my mood was better, of course when you start to lose weight or achieve any goal that you haven't been able to achieve, that's going to boost your mood.

But I felt like it was qualitatively different, one thing that I haven't talked about yet so far today is that not only was I suffering from depression, but over the years my diagnosis changed from major depressive disorder treatment resistant, meaning the drugs weren't really helping, to a form of bipolar disorder called type two bipolar. And the difference between that and regular manic depression is that I never had true manias.

So I would have infrequent short periods of what they call hypomania, which is what it looks like if you have manic depression when you're about to go into like a psychotic break and become manic. But that latter part never would happen to me, I would just then crash and go back into depression, which was my more normal state. So my mood was good, but I wasn't really sure what to think about that. But I did happen to mention it to my husband at the time, and he stopped what he was doing and gave me a very serious look and said, "I didn't know how to bring this up with you, but your mood, you seem so much more stable now than you've ever been since I've ever known you." And we'd been together for like 10 years at that point. So I realized something serious might be going on here. Of course, you can't get to a big conclusion on just two weeks of feeling good when you've got this long history of fluctuating moods that crossed time. I didn't think at that time, "Oh my bipolar is cured."

Geoff

The promising little blip. And I think that's the sensible thing to do right? Like don't over fit the data of two weeks like a dozen years.

Amber O.

Right. But that was definitely our first clue that there was something different going on. And as time went on, there was a bit of a complication because a few weeks later I found out I was pregnant with my third child. And even though I felt very comfortable with the medical knowledge about the safety of the carnivore diet and the ketogenic diet, I didn't stay ketogenic throughout that pregnancy for a variety of reasons.

But after the baby was born, I went right back on the carnivore diet. And while there was actually a really neat coincidence there that was lucky for me, and that's that because I was pregnant, I had to stop all my medication. So I went off the medication that I was using for the bipolar, for the safety of the baby. And then after the baby was born, I was going to be breastfeeding so I didn't start it again then either. But I restarted the diet and it had the same stabilizing, uplifting effect on my mood then that it did at the beginning. And I just never needed to go back and have any prescriptions renewed. So the bottom line is that I've been off psychiatric meds for 10 years after having a disease that was progressing and was crippling me.

Geoff

Fascinating. That's incredible. So stepping in and looking at what happened with the low carb versus the carnivore diet, do you have some suspicion what "went wrong" with just kind of the standard ketogenic approach? I mean, it seems like there's two main mechanisms of actions going on. I think ketosis and upregulating all the different metabolic pathways that triggers when ketosis occurs, is one probably dominant mechanism and that would carry through a well-formulated or a plant included ketogenic diet as well as a carnivore diet.

But I suspect that there was something in terms of potentially like an autoimmune developments, that you were getting autoimmune issues or some other effect that the elimination diet of the carnivore diet unlocked. Like what is your suspicion there? I mean I think it's like those are probably the two main clues of why these things could work. I'm curious if you have other hypotheses or explanations of how you think the transition really flipped a switch. Not in just reversing, I guess reversal of the benefits you got from a ketogenic diet and then something really astounding happened with the mood and the neurological side as well.

Amber O.

I had many theories throughout the years and I still don't really know exactly, but I'll tell you the different things that I've thought about. So the first thing that I kind of dismissed pretty early on was the idea that it was just about the amount of carbohydrate and therefore the depth of ketosis. But the problem with that theory is that protein effects ketosis, right? So I do think people go a little overboard on their understanding of protein being bad for ketosis. But there's definitely some level somewhere where too much protein will take you out, and there's a continuum between the depth of ketosis you're going to get into with a lower protein and a higher protein, low carb diet. And the diet that I was eating was definitely on the higher end of the protein range. So later on when I started measuring ketones and such, I knew that I was in ketosis at the one millimole level, but I don't think that the ketosis and the carbs itself was the major difference for me.

A second theory that I had for a little while is that I had some kind of a crobial infection, like maybe a fungus or a bacteria or candida or something that was affecting my mood, and that somehow I was starving them out by not giving them, again, the level of carbohydrate. Like, "Gosh, I'm so sensitive to carbohydrates that even the amount in lettuce is going to feed these microbes." One of the reasons I decided that that might not be it is because there was a certain point where that was so strongly my theory that I thought, "I've got to really kill these buggers off while they're down." And so I bought a whole bunch of different candida supplements that were supposed to attack the candida infection. And within about a week of taking these, some of them included plant herbal concoctions like oil of oregano and garlic.

And it's hard to say because I started taking them all at the same time, but I actually had for the first time a recurrence of depression. It took about a week of taking these supplements and one day I found myself lying on my bed looking up at the ceiling and thinking I would be better off, and the world would be better off if I weren't alive. And then I suddenly went, "Oh my God, I've been here before, what's going on? This is not normal." And I made the connection to the things I was taking and I immediately stopped them, and within about two days that sensation went away. And so then I thought, "Wow, this is really serious and it has something to do with actual plants themselves." And that was I think really the first time that even though it seems really obvious you take away the plants, then it must be something about the plants, but that was the first time that I really deeply considered that.

And the Paleo tradition has a lot of literature about autoimmune diseases and the contribution of lectins for example, and how they get through the gut barrier and trick it into making gut permeable. And I had never really given that much credence for two reasons, one is that I'd been on a low carb diet for a dozen years and so I wasn't eating grains or legumes, which are the major source of those kinds of compounds that are supposed to do this. And secondly, I didn't see my disorder as a form of an auto immune disorder, which now I think might actually be more the case. I think that the scope of what we call autoimmune and the scope of what can happen if you have inappropriately permeable membranes could quite easily include things like depression.

Geoff

Yeah, I think that's an interesting vein that I want to explore a little bit more, because when I talked to carnivores and these are folks that have been on carnivore much shorter than you, maybe a year, a couple of years. I think one of the main routes that they find carnivore is through leaky gut, gut permeability, they have gut issues and that's affecting obviously, diarrhea, all of that stuff, but like the broader I think "autoimmune issues", eczema, skin rashes, maybe some neurological effects.

And to me it makes sense if people have autoimmune issues towards something in plants like polyphenols, some of these plant molecules, that makes sense. But do you think that autoimmunity issues are becoming more prevalent in modern society? I mean, just as I think animal consumption has been a part of all of human history, I think there's always been some history of plant consumption as well. And to me it seems like that we wouldn't evolve that behavior of just plant consumption if everyone had some sort of autoimmunity. And I think there probably is some, obviously some individual variation on tolerability of plant polyphenols. My simple observation is this, I'm curious if you think that or if you see something like this as well, is there something with the modern environment, the modern, whether that's chemical pollution or with our food environment today that's increasing sensitivity to lectins, increasing sensitivity to some of these compounds in plants? I mean, what do you make of kind of the recent success that people are finding in carnivores?

Well, I want to draw a bit of a parallel between low carb and carbohydrates and carnivore and plants, because even though I have a pretty strong suspicion that a lot of our evolutionary history was somewhat low in carb, I agree with you that plants have probably been some part of our diet for all along except for pockets of time where we may not have. But if you think about people who have metabolic syndrome or diabetes for example, clearly, I think that it's very clear anyway that the best treatment you can possibly do if you have diabetes is avoid carbohydrates. But on the other hand, I do not think that the idea that carbohydrates caused diabetes is very well supported at all, because you don't even have to look very far back in history. You can just even look at other parts of the world right now where there are people who are eating high carb diets and they don't have a problem with diabetes or metabolic syndrome.

So clearly the carbohydrates themselves aren't causing the problem and we should as humans be able to have a high tolerance for a high carbohydrate diet. Yet if you have diabetes, once you are there, it seems like there's no going back. You can put all of that disease into remission. Many people completely normalize their glucose levels, even get their insulin levels back down and avoid all of the horrible complications that can happen if you have diabetes. But if you give them a potato, they diabetic responses to it immediately, which is not normal.

And I think the same kind of logic can be applied to the carnivore diet. I think it's absolutely not normal for someone not to be able to tolerate some plants in their diet. I don't think you can make a good argument that humans just aren't cut out to digest any plants, but there seem to be a lot of people who are at the point where they're just not tolerating them and it's causing disease symptoms that can go away if you take it away. Whether that ends up being something that we want to umbrella as auto-immune, or what the actual cause or mechanistic problem or what diseases are going to fall under that maybe less clear, but I think it's really clear that it's causing more people problems than it ever has before.

Geoff

Yeah, I think we can explore this part as well, which is carnivore being an optimal diet. Which I think is probably a little bit more speculative and I think there needs to be more studies and evidence there. But I think you put it quite nicely that it's probably not an ideal state to be so sensitive to plant compounds. And I think from my experience I've tried, for the six week blocks of carnivore, I do blocks of low carb ketogenic diet with plans, I have just normal windows of eating normal food. And I feel like, I think I'm just relatively lucky in the sense that my performance levels are, my general mood and happiness are relatively the same as long as I get some exercise into I think, making sure I use up all the energy substrates. So my perspective on this is almost focused on metabolic flexibility and being able to process all the substrates well.

And it sounds like when people are focused on specific eliminations of certain dietary groups or types of substrate, could induce specific adaptations that optimize certain pathways that people want to focus on. For a potentially performance benefits or adaptation benefits, but seems like there's an increased impaired state where people lose their ability to process, whether that's carbohydrate as you said, for folks with type two diabetes or metabolic syndrome or I think we were seeing with autoimmunity, which I think you put quite nicely and I think that's a really well articulated analog. There seems to be an uptick in autoimmune issues with lectins or plant compounds. I mean, my only guess there is that, is there something with the food environment or our modern environment or the types of foods that we're eating that are triggering this? I mean, do you have any suspicion or ideas of why this is happening? Or is this, always has happened and people just didn't realize it and people are just like, "Oh, I just have gut issues and I just kind of feel bad, and I didn't realize that not eating plants made me feel better."

So I guess there's, there's two options, which is that just something that's modern that's changed or something relatively recent that's changing our acceptance of plant compounds, or it's just always been the case but it's more important not to starve therefore eat some plants then only eat meat, which is I think as you mentioned probably the preferred, most nutritionally dense form of food that would be readily available. And I think one of the things that has always struck me as funny was that the modern fruits and vegetables never existed in nature. I mean these are Frankenstein, very plumped, seedless beautiful fruits and if you look at like the ancient apple or the ancient orange, these are tiny, very, very low on free sugar, kind of sour fruits. But I think it's kind of-

Amber O.

And seasonal.

Geoff

At least gives a hint that there's maybe something with the modern food environment, it's triggering some of these autoimmune issues. So I want to throw it back at you to digest or break down some of the points I brought up there.

Amber O.

One distinction that we might want to make is whether the effect is something that's kind of gradual. For example, is it the case that that plants are always a little bit damaging and the more you have, the more likely you're going to be damaged? Or is there some kind of a thresholding effect coming into play where you're basically able to cope with plants and then suddenly something happens and now you're not? Well, they're not necessarily completely mutually exclusive, but I have a suspicion that the thresholding effect might be coming into play more, especially if there's some kind of an accumulated damage. And I do think you're right that there are things beyond food that could be contributing to that. There could be just toxins in the environment, there may be more exposure to, gosh I don't know and I'm speculating here, but things like heavy metals. But then there also has been I think a huge increase.

I don't have real statistics on it, but my perception even from the nearly half of a century that I've been alive is that, the amount of vegetables and fruits and the timing that people are eating is just off the scales. Like I have the perception, and maybe it's wrong, that when I was a child my family excepted, most people were eating meat and potato and maybe a side of veg. Whereas now you go and get something like kale smoothies and eat them every day and just that something that we might have tolerated in a small amount is suddenly overwhelming the system if you're throwing. There's so much confusion over plant compounds, people think that they're actually a health benefit. Whereas if you think about biologically what all these plant compounds do is they evolved to be toxic and so just piling on all of these plant compounds eating the rainbow may actually be creating its own stress level just as it is.

Geoff

Yeah. I don't know if I have a strong conclusion or opinion around this, which is plant compounds evolving as toxins, but I've heard other folks, scientists, academics, claim or make the argument that these are hermetic compounds. The notion for me is this, something that doesn't kill you makes you stronger. And we just had Professor David Sinclair who uses the term xenohormesis which is like, this is some sort of like interspecies communication of stress where the plant is stressed and it produces things like resveratrol and other polyphenols. It's somehow when a human consumes it, it triggers some of the stress adaptation pathways. I guess there's still the main argument of why people would argue that yes there's probably a multiple, very complicated reason why these polyphenols evolved in the first place. But could the toxin in the right dose be beneficial?

Amber O.

Yeah.

Geoff

And I think for me it's, the literature is not conclusive. That's where I'm at.

Amber O.

I gave a talk about that this year at Low Carb Salt Lake, I didn't title it hormesis, I titled it something about plant and animal food benefits. But what I came up with when I was researching for that talk is basically, I mean you're correct that the stress level, that it's stress that's being communicated when you eat these plant compounds. And so there are a couple of different things that you have to keep in mind when you're talking about stress. So stress means that there's this toxin that's coming in and your body says, "Oh my gosh, there's a toxin we have to upregulate our ability to deal with stress."

And the idea of hormesis is that the amount that you upregulate, that response actually outweighs that toxic insult that came along with it in the first place. So there's two things that I think are important when you're thinking about this. One is the dose, and it turns out that a few of these compounds have actually been found to be clinically viable, most of them have not actually. But if you like resveratrol, sulforaphane, curcuminoids, have efficacy but only when they've been isolated and concentrated to way beyond food dosages. So already we're talking about something that's medicine and not that you would necessarily see as an effect if you were just eating it in the wild per se. The second is-

Geoff

And you could also maybe classify metformin in that category because that comes from a plant, like a Willow bark tree.

Amber O.

Absolutely. And caffeine and nicotine, all of these actually work somehow or other through the AMPK pathway so, and that should give us a clue, right? Because if you're on a ketogenic diet, your AMPK pathways is already way ramped up. So the effect that those plant compounds are giving you if you're on a high carb diet, is that they're forcing a pathway that would never be active when you're on a high carb diet. So it may give some added benefit that there's no way to get when you're on a high carb, but if you're on a ketogenic diet, it's really unclear whether there's any extra added benefit from stimulating AMPK when you're already doing that through ketosis. And there is a, and I'm pretty sure that Jeff Bullock was one of the authors, they looked at the oxidation and the antioxidant response to a ketogenic diet in rodents.

And what they basically see happening is when you first go on a ketogenic diet, you get the same stress response that you would to these plant toxins. And so you see oxidation levels go up and you see an antioxidant, endogenously created antioxidant response in tandem with that, just like hormesis. But then what happens is over time, through keto adaptation, the endogenous antioxidant levels stay up and the oxidation, detectable oxidation levels, go down. And so if you're in this keto adapted state, I think that it's really questionable whether now adding a hormetic kind of dose, which we already don't even know what that dose is, is going to help you. And the danger is that you overtoxify. So even in some of the literature that talks about how these toxins can help with say cancer, it's also known that past a certain point, if you try to use those very same polyphenols or whatever they're specifically using, it actually increases the cancer rather than helping it and so it's a very delicate balance.

Geoff

Yep. I agree with what you said there. I think the nuance is dose, and then the specific individual baseline state are they in, to be able to receive a hermetic shock? Because I think an exercise for me is, if I'm metabolically healthy, is going to be adaptative in a good way for me. But if you have an issue with exercise, if there's an injury or some other impairment then forcing someone to run a half marathon is probably going to be detrimental to them. So I think even from that analogy, if we can look at hormesis in general exercise for example, can be considered hormesis. Different types of diets, and then when we're talking specifically on plant polyphenols, I think if we look at it from that lens, it would make sense. And it sounds like we kind of agree that there is potentially use cases, or there are for sure use cases that we've seen helpful. But I think just to give a broad sweep that, all of them are helpful, I think is overly crude.

Amber O.

Yeah. And you know, speaking of exercise, one thing that I learned recently is that if you give exogenous vitamin C with the hope of reducing oxidation because it's an antioxidant, it's been shown that the adaptations, the positive benefit of exercise are taken away if you give too much vitamin C. so you can't necessarily predict what kind of effect you're going to get when you start messing around with doses of things that you wouldn't naturally get.

Geoff

I think that's one thing that I've just come to appreciate more and more and perhaps with a computer science back, you have a similar lens here, which is that this is a very complicated systems network and if you push on one node it impacts all the other nodes very, very intricately, right? So it's not just like turn up vitamin C and instantly that's the one thing that you want. It's just there's some homeostatic function that I think all life is trying to maintain some balance, and once you artificially Jack up one side, you're effecting 17 other pathways and it's hard to predict how that all happens, right? I think you kind of tease upon this with a ketogenic diet, you're not just increasing ketones or reducing carbs, which reduces insulin, you're also hitting AMPK, you're hitting potentially the NAD+/NADH ratio. You're hitting all of these metabolic pathways that people are now studying individually for longevity or health span effects.

And I think you see that some of these primal interventions like fasting, like keto, and I think carnivores have more extreme or more restrictive version of keto, are hitting a lot of the pathways in like the way that you want to control them. Right? Like I think if you would want to be very crude, you'd want AMPK to be upregulated because I think it's associated with a lot of good adaptations for increased mitochondrial biogenesis and that's a source of longevity, right? So I think it's interesting that some of the primal interventions seem to hit the system much more completely than just a spot like, I'm going to take a rapamycin to inhibit mTOR, I'm going to take a metformin just to try to bump up AMPK

Amber O.

I think that's an excellent point, you're coming from a background of psychiatric illness. It reminds me a lot of the way that psychiatric medicines work. So you've got this living homeostatic system like you say. Right? And if you just try to intervene at one specific pathway, everything's going to fight to go back to where it was supposed to be. So I was taking serotonin reuptake inhibitors for a while, right? And I'm quite certain that my body quickly worked its way around that so that it was no longer effective. But on the other hand, now I've got all these knock on consequences of the system having to work around it, which I think is where side effects come from. So I don't want to get into a naturalistic fallacy, but there are reasons that your body would get into a ketogenic state that come about in a sense that, pulls in a lot of things that are synergistically working together to get you into that state.

So if you're fasting, I think that's a very natural, so to speak, way to be in ketosis and it's unlikely that there's going to be parts of your body that are fighting against it. But if you just say take ketones in assault, or ester form, I would expect that to be very confusing to your body. Why do I have high glucose and high ketones? What's going on? And I don't think it's going to have, even if it's going to have some positive effects I'm sure it does, the literature shows it does on something like cognition, that doesn't necessarily mean that you've got your body working together in a safe, effective way.

Geoff

Yeah, I mean I think obviously it's not just ketones and ketone acidosis, a specific area of interest of mine. And I think that there's a robust building block of evidence there, but I think you're asking the right question. This is a novel physiological state to have high ketones and high carbohydrate potentially at the same time. And my way of thinking about it is that it's similar in terms of just energy, substrate overload in general. If you're just eating a lot of fat and a lot of sugar at the same time, that's probably not a good state and I wouldn't necessarily recommend just eat a lot of ketones, a lot of carbs, and a lot of fat at the same time, I prefer actually balancing it properly. To me it's just like a ketone ester is almost opening up, but just additional nutritional lever that has different properties than carb, fat, protein. And you just have like some way to just ingest ketones directly.

Amber O.

And I also think it can be an excellent way to bootstrap or if there's some reason, for example, if you've got a problem releasing a fat from your adipocytes, having a boost of even extra fat, let alone extra ketones can help you, help your body start to recognize the signals of the state that you're trying to get it into, as long as you're not crossing the signals too much.

Geoff

Yeah, it's like there's nothing that's I think is magical, right? I think when people make overly broad claims where I've seen different publications literally say, "This is Kim Kardashian's keto diet in a bottle, just drink this and you're going to melt fat off your body." It's like, no it's not that simple. We wish you could just like turn to these things that, everything is just more complicated. And I think it's a very similar journey where you think nutrition should be settled. It's one of the most, as everyone has an opinion on it because everyone eats and it seems like it should be something that's like understandable, but I think even today it just like no one knows what to eat. Like literally, I think, I'm curious to get your thoughts on some of the recent developments where like the New York times had that big article around, "Oh red meat might not be as bad as we had recommended for the last 20, 30 years."

So I think from that perspective, and this might tie into the larger trend around which institutions to even trust. I don't want to become too conspiracy theory, but I just see a kind of a broader trend towards people really just wanting to understand the broad data, the evidence in it for itself, because I think just within the lens of nutrition, I think we've seen issues with the broad stroke guidelines and I think that little lens for me is opening up my questioning of just broader institutional interpretation of knowledge, and I think perhaps some areas are a little bit more robust than others right? But I think politics and news is one where people are living in parallel realities.

Let's not get into politics, but I think that might be something salient that a lot of people can kind of intuit where our notion of what is real news and fake news is like people are not even talking on the same planet anymore. And I think nutrition is I think a more sensible maybe way to talk about this topic, but I think this is definitely some sort of maybe broader cultural trend as well that nutrition is just a small part of.

Amber O.

I was really happy to see those particular criticisms of the recommendations. I know that it caused quite a controversy in the community, but I think what's really finally being acknowledged is that a lot of the methods that are being used to implicate certain nutritional things in chronic disease, we just don't have enough of the right kind of evidence to make those kinds of firms statements of causality. And the sad thing about it is that when I was in high school, we got education about illicit drugs being bad for you.

And because there's this idea that all drugs are bad for you, things like heroin would be equated with marijuana and with alcohol. And I think it's very clear if you are a teenager who's experimenting with marijuana, that the dangers are being exaggerated and therefore it breaks your trust. And so I saw people in my cohort who would get into very hard, very dangerous drugs based on the lack of trust in the people who are teaching them about drugs. And so I think that the nutritional world is in a similar kind of situation where we have all these medical victories that should be taken seriously. Like the discovery of germs that led to antibiotics and to vaccines is a huge benefit and win for mankind. But now when you see people making claims about red meat causing heart disease with the same confidence level that they are making about vaccines, it breaks down trust in a way that makes it hard to tell if anything is correct.

And so the only real way I think to understand it unfortunately is to delve into the actual science, but not everyone has the interest or the background or the ability to evaluate like is this statistical method actually enough to get the kind of confidence that we want or not? It's subtle. Even for me with a math background, I don't know all the ins and outs of epidemiological adjustments for different factors, but what I do know is that you can't prove causality by looking at a whole bunch of people from a pretty homogenous grain-based diet, and then draw conclusions about their biomarkers that would apply to mine.

Geoff

Yeah. Associational studies should be about hypothesis generation and not causality claims. Right? I think that's the original purpose of associational or epidemiology and I think that's where I think the line gets confusing where the news headlines wants that one sentence headline that's like, eggs are bad for you or chocolate's good for you. And it's like, I think you're right in the sense that I think each participant in this current ecosystem is doing this in good faith. They want to give their best practical guideline.

And I think, they think they're doing the right thing. But I think when you lack the nuance of actually explaining all the caveats of how you came to that conclusion, I think that's where it might be an arrogance thing or overconfidence thing where it's like, "No, just trust me I'm smarter than you, this is kind of like the way you should do it." And it doesn't have enough of the caveats or edge cases that would make that conversation a lot more trustworthy. Right? I think maybe that's a cultural thing because I think my sense is that when you talk to an authority figure maybe a generation ago, like a doctor or a lawyer or a politician, like the news anchor, this is like a trusted authority, I'm going to listen and sort of comply and follow their guidance.

But I feel like maybe something with the culture today, it's much more of a dialogue where, "Don't just tell me what to do, I want to believe you, but also explain a little bit about why you're telling me to do this." And I feel like that might be just kind of a recent cultural shift perhaps with the emergence of internet, with people's ability to actually tap into the raw papers themselves. Right? Because I think 50 years ago you and I couldn't go look at the same papers that the academics we're looking at. Right? You needed to have like a university card, maybe look up the journal in the library or maybe look up the microfiches of the scanned copies of the papers originally.

But now like the world's literature is at our fingertips. So I think the democratization of access has changed the conversation from, let me just listen to what the higher ups telling them what to do now it's like, "Okay, I'm happy to listen and take that more educated or maybe you spent more time thinking about this, but I can also look at the data myself and gut check."

Amber O.

Right. I got the idea from Gary Taubes actually that this is more acute in the medical community in particular, and he argues that this is because medicine came through military and so you had medical experts who were also command and control style. Like you're in an emergency situation, I'm the head doctor, I'm going to tell you what to do. And that same culture became part of the medical education, even when we're talking about research where you don't have that kind of emergency, we're in the hospital and we have to make a decision whether it's the right one or not.

Geoff

That's interesting from a cultural perspective. But I don't want to pooh-pooh or bash too hard on the current system. I think, again, you're right exactly on the sense that germ theory, vaccinations, all these things have literally improved and extended health and happiness of mankind. I think let's help improve the conversation quality and move everything forward, right? I don't think it's like rip everything down, we don't trust anything. There's absolutely legit science in technologies and medicines that actually work. Let's focus and double down on that and I think at the edges, especially around diet where it goes from, I think it's fairly interdisciplinary. I think hopefully there's more progress made there. How do you envision the space moving forward? Because I think 10 years ago you probably had like this weird online community that those people were the only ones talking about it.

I think four or five years ago keto is, I would say, still controversial but I would say that most people probably heard of the notion, like the word keto or a good substantial of the mainstream have and I think a large part. You have celebrities talking about their diet, seeing some success there. In my sense is that carnivore is on that same trajectory. I think someone like yourself proves the counterexample that you're not going to die on a carnivore diet. So I think hopefully the downside is moved towards, this is not going to kill you in a year, you haven't died of scurvy yet. So I'm curious, what do you think are the catalysts that might trigger a broader examination around carnivore? Maybe it's already happening with people talking about it, maybe it's more studies. It sounds like folks are trying to do more formalized studies on the carnivore diet. What do you think are the catalysts that you see coming down in the next few years here?

Amber O.

Even in my personal life, I'm beginning to meet people who know the word carnivore, and like even just two years ago if I wanted to explain to someone if it came up how I eat, it really took a lot to wrap their head around the idea of what I was trying to say and now they're like, "Oh you mean carnivore?" So that's really astonishing. I think that we're getting movement because some people have been publishing books, Shawn Baker's book just came out. In terms of scientific study I'm a little bit cynical about that just because of what I've seen in the ketogenic world, I mean when I found out about low carb diets back in the '90s, I was so blown away with the amount of literature that we already had about the potential of this that I thought, "Gosh, in five years the whole world is going to know about low carb and is going to be positive for this as a therapy in a way of life."

And of course that still really hasn't happened even though a lot of people know about keto. And part of it is that I think it's hard to get funding, certainly there's not necessarily any pharmaceutical that you could use as a point of interest to study carnivore with. I think ketosis has been driven by Department of Defense grants where they actually do want to look at optimization, particularly under harsh conditions like low oxygen or a traumatic brain injury type situations.

Geoff

Something we're very familiar with. Yep.

Amber O.

Right. Whereas I still haven't come up with ideas where a body like that too would be interested in funding a lot of studies, would want to go the carnivore route, I would love to see people looking at it for, of course my heart is deeply into the psychiatric problems cause I know the stress that that causes, not just an individual but their entire family when you have that kind of problem. But I'm not sure what the best way to incentivize that would be, and I think that getting the incentives right is the right way to move things forward.

Yeah. I think that sounds about right in my estimation as well, where I think it's very hard to fund nutrition studies because no one can patent it and make money off of it. Right? There's just some capitalism forces even in science, whether it's for a good or bad, it's just how it works. I'm curious to explore a little bit on the performance side. Again, I think with the examples of people that have been on carnivore for decades like yourself, and I think it's not even many because when I think, there's been a good historical literature on certain populations being heavily carnivorous. I think we can hopefully move the conversation that, it's not going to kill you and it could be like a fine reasonable diet. I think with this interesting nuance is, the folks are looking on a performance perspective. I think from an autoimmune perspective, clearly people are seeing benefit, right?

Geoff

I don't think folks like yourself, folks like Mikhaila Peterson who have really resolved a lot of their autoimmune issues, like there's some signal there, right? I think to dismiss it is foolish, I think is overly arrogant to be like, "Oh these are, these are weird N=1s I don't believe it." It's like there's been enough signal there, at least from my estimation, that there's something real from a autoimmune and potentially a neurological perspective. Right? Something on the psychiatric sense, there's something happening there. But on the performance side I have less confidence or I'm curious, I think it's more speculative on the performance side. What is your thought on that? I mean I think even with carnivore or low carb athletes, a lot of the folks that we talk with or work with, they'll use simple carbohydrate before a competition to get a maximum performance. I'm curious to get your thoughts, nuance on the maximal performance side, which I do understand is orthogonal to health and everything else. Right?

Amber O.

Do you know Peter Defty? He works with endurance athletes and he gave a talk at KetoCon a couple of years ago in which he was basically arguing that carbohydrates are in many levels of analysis, like a performance enhancing drug, and I'm sure many of the reasons are obvious. That gives it a whole different frame of reference, right? If you're going to use something strategically, then that's very different from what you're going to get if you're trying to focus on longevity for example. And I'm not sure I have much to add really to that conversation. Since I've been around in forums for a while with people who are doing carnivore diets, one thing that I have seen is that there are people who have said that they perform better in terms of their endurance running or in terms of their weight lifting, but it doesn't seem to be tied directly to ketosis.

And so the mechanisms really aren't very clear to me unless it's just a matter of putting less stress on the body, such that you can focus all of your stress in a strategic way, in the exercise form, and you're not getting any compounded stress that's interfering with your ability to recover or to make the best use of that.

Geoff

Fair enough. I mean think a lot of the top athletes that we speak and work with, they'll always cycle and they'll do periodizations of low carbon and having carbs. Right? And I think that's like, again, going back to hormesis or adaptation. You want to induce adaptations at the right time because again, I think there's that orthogonality of going for a health span or longevity versus peaking for Saturday, December 2nd, I got to break the world record and you need to be maximal for that specific day. Right? So very different problem set, like a goal to optimize for.

Amber O.

There is something interesting that is the difference between carnivore and keto in that way and that's because of that protein element. So if you manage the timing of your meals, for example, you can on a purely carnivore diet go for a long period in which you're not eating, even if it's just like all day or a day and a half or something, and then eat a huge bowl of protein and you're going to get a very different effect than you would get if you were trying to just maintain ketosis at a little level round the clock. And it isn't exactly the same as a kind of carb cycling, but I think that there are some similarities because you're getting this anabolic hit that is going to involve insulin and mTOR, but also protein and everything that you need to build your body. And you can do that within the context of a carnivore diet and in a way that, if you're aiming for ketosis as your kind of highest value, you may or may not get. I once had conversation with Ron Rosedale about this. I don't know how familiar you are with his work.

Geoff

No.

Amber O.

But he advocates very strongly for the lowest protein that you can possibly have in order to keep your ketosis as high as possible, in order to facilitate what he believes is the longevity properties of that. And what I said to him was that if you're talking about, the scientific background of a lot of that research comes from other animals who appear to have a trade off between longevity and reproduction. And so like the canonical nematode worms are going to actually put off the ability to reproduce until they detect environmentally that there is enough food to actually have a reproductive success.

I don't think that those results actually translate very well to humans when it's been looked at, but even if they did, if I were just thinking from a personal level, the kind of life that I want to live, yes, I want it to be long, but I want to have very strong vitality in all of the senses that we associate with reproductive success. And if that's going to shorten my life, I'd kind of rather have a more vital, [viral 01:03:15] Kind of existence while I'm alive than to have a long lifespan where I don't feel very energetic or have high libido.

Geoff

So I think you bring up an interesting point around perhaps some of the considerations to, how to properly implement or think about carnivores in the context of health span and longevity. So perhaps to go through a quick list of attacks or critiques of why carnivore might not be optimal and maybe just break down how you think about it. So you mentioned mTOR and I think there's some literature and some folks would argue that leucine, a branch of amino acid, essentially protein, activates mTOR. And mTOR is one of the main precursors for an anabolic signal, but there's been tremendous studies showing that inhibiting mTOR through drugs, through fasting, extends lifespan. Right? So how do you think about obviously ramping up a lot of protein with a carnivore? And I think the folk that, the person you cited I was like, "It seems like they have a similar idea."

You want to have the minimum protein threshold for the minimum amount of mTOR activation, which I presume is probably one of the main mechanisms that he's trying to control for. So is that really just devolving the argument that, "Hey, we're trying to balance health span and longevity and there's different ways to control for mTOR if you just do fasting." And I think there's also some other literature suggesting that mTOR is not triggered without the high load of insulin anyways. So perhaps if you don't eat carbohydrate with your protein, the mTOR problem is not as stark as what we might suspect. Well, how would you break that down?

Amber O.

The way I would approach the mTOR question I've already kind of alluded to it and that has to do with frequency. So most of the, if not all of the research that's been done on the benefits of fasting, so if you think of Valter Longo for example, it's done in the context of a high carb diet. And so their idea of how much fasting you have to do to get longevity benefits, comes down to something like a suggested protocol of five days in a row of fasting, once every month to get the total autophagic renewal of all your cells, right? But if you think about what they're doing when you do a five day fast, when you're on a high carb diet, you're spending two or three of those days getting into ketosis before you're really getting those benefits. So if you're on a carnivore diet, it may be the case that I ate two pounds of steak and now my ketones are down to 0.5 millimoles or something, right? But 0.5 millimoles is already according to any for example-

Geoff

Yes, the nutritional ketosis.

Amber O.

... The level is nutritional ketosis. So maybe I'm not going to get maximal longevity benefits at that level, but then the question is how long do I have to fast, if my starting point is 0.5 millimoles, before I'm going to get these benefits that take a high carb advocate five days to get into? And although I certainly don't have concrete numbers, I don't have a lab to test this, I'm going to suggest it's like a day, even overnight you're going to be at the levels that it would take days to get these benefits that have been clinically shown to be relevant. So my kind of biased answer is that if you're already on a carnivore diet you can get these pendulum swings within the course of a week, that would take a high carb dieter many days in a row of suffering in order to switch between phases. Whereas you can get a huge anabolic kit and then the next day already be doing beautiful ketosis level, low mTOR fasting like benefits. In all likely hood.

Geoff

Yeah, I think that makes a lot of sense. Right. You just basically skip the glycogen depletion phase, which takes upwards of a couple, one, two days, right? Which is so you just basically jumpstart into like a three day fast, like a third day of a fast if you are on a low carb keto or carnivore diet. Fiber is also like one of those interesting questions where it's been drilled into our brains that you need fiber to have bowel movements. And I think that was like the most interesting part of my own personal experience with carnivore. It's like, "Okay, literally going to just eat like to rib eye steaks a day, I wonder what's going to happen." People are like, "Oh, you're going to just be constipating the whole time," and I had fairly normal bowel movements, but I don't think that's like the main critique. I think there's like this whole notion of the gut microbiome, you need to feed it all these pre, probiotics, these healthy gut bacteria like these fibers, as a substrate. Why is this potentially less important or is not a problem when one is considering a diet with zero fiber?

Amber O.

I don't want to downplay the excitement and possibilities of things we're learning about the microbiome and how important it can be in the signals that it can send, but I do think that the kinds of claims and statements that have been made about it go beyond the evidence in a way that's very similar to epidemiology, in that if you want to know what a healthy microbiome is, basically you should say it's the biome of a healthy person, right? You have to start somewhere. So I think a lot of preliminary work has been done in measuring different strains of different bacteria and associating that with different kinds of health conditions. And that's sort of the starting point of, "Oh, these strains or this kind of biome profile is what we know maps to a healthy person." But the thing is that the biome changes, can change very drastically if you change the kinds of food that you're feeding it.

And in the same way that epidemiology for say heart disease biomarkers has all been based on people eating a high carb, grain-based diet, you suddenly are looking at the microbiome of someone who's not eating any grains or, and not eating any plants at all, and you see a series of different strains that would be definitely a signal of ill health for someone who is eating grains. I think it's a huge logical leap and an inappropriate one to say that we know for sure that those strains would cause ill health. It's kind of like the ketoacidosis thing, right? Yes, if you see ketosis in a high carb grain eater, that's a big sign of trouble. But if you see it in someone who's not eating any carbohydrate, that's a completely different situation. So while I think there can be a lot to be learned for the microbiome and the effects of different kinds of bacteria, I think we really ought to be cautious about claiming causality at this state in our knowledge.

Geoff

I think that's my sense of the gut microbiome as well. It very much evolves and adapts to the substrate that you feed it. Right? And it sounds like you quite turn over quite quickly. I haven't done this myself, but I've seen other people's N=1s where the gut microbiome from a standard Western diet turns over quite quickly after a few weeks on a keto or a carnivore diet, where you're essentially starving out bacteria that might thrive off of fiber to things that might die off of butyrate or short chain fatty acids. You're just selecting for a population that thrives off of, what kind of substrate that you're offering it.

Amber O.

Right. And there's also this idea that short chain fatty acids like butyrate are only obtainable through plant fibers, and it just turns out that that's not really true. I did look at one experiment in dogs where they gave them a completely meat based diet and compared it with a plant based diet, and the short chain fatty acid measurements that came out the other end were pretty much identical in both cases. And that's because there are many different strains of bacteria that can generate butyrate and they're not necessarily plant fiber dependent. And not only that but there are bacteria that themselves generate butyrate from eating, say the part of the mucosal lining. Well, if you look at akkermansia muciniphila for example, is the one that I'm thinking of in particular. It's considered even by conventional standards to be a sign of good health and associated with good outcomes.

It goes way up when you're fasting, so obviously it's not coming from something that you're eating to feed it, and it turns out that it's actually cleaning up the mucosal lining. There was some worry at some point, maybe they would just continue to eat it and you would have no more colon left, but I don't think that that's turned out to be true. And yet they provide butyrate, which then in turn feeds the colon. So there are many different ways that those things can be achieved, not necessarily the way that it happens when you're on a high carb diet.

Geoff

Yeah. Going back to your original point is that it's definitely an exciting area of research and hopefully we, broader scientific community, we can learn more about the, how this intersects with the gut-brain communication. I think that's a very intriguing area to explore. So maybe popping back up to a little bit, just more on practical tips and the kind of future directions here. So you've been living a carnivore or zero carb lifestyle for last 10 years, any learnings, lessons, and how to implement this?

I know that this is a bigger community when there's sub communities of carnivore now where people have this notion of, "Oh, you have to have grass fed versus grain fed, you can only eat ruminants, avoid seafoods, there's cheese and milk and dairy count or is that okay?" Well, there's obviously all these variations and again, I think from my perspective as someone that doesn't really seem to have any intolerance issues with some of the plant matters and all of this stuff, I think it matters less for me but I'm curious for from your perspective, what are some best tips and ideas and guidance as broadly speaking as possible here? And maybe just to make it personal, like what do you do now that you might have not done 10 years ago?

Amber O.

The first thing I would say is you have to modulate it around your own personal goals. So if you suspect that you might have some plants sensitivities or that you might farewell in a carnivore diet because you've got X or Y condition that people have been talking about, I think the first most important thing to do is give it a fair trial. A lot of people think that they can do a diet that's mostly carnivore and then draw conclusions from that. I mean you can draw conclusions from it, but most of us who have had clear benefits and I'm not talking about, "Did that help me or did it not? I'm not really sure," like clear benefits. Really we're astonished at the minute amount of plant matter that could be the difference between actually having a benefit. If you're going to go through all the trouble of restricting your diet to find out if it's going to help you, don't add the spices in the sauce.

Don't have like a salad one day and write it off, find out for sure if it's going to help you. And then if you do get benefit from it, that's clear and you can tell then, really the world is your oyster it's up to you to decide. I have a friend who back from the early days discovered through the same like I'm going to lose weight idea, she discovered that both her asthma and her arthritis went into remission when she stopped eating plants. And the first year on Thanksgiving she said, "Well, I'm going to have some Brussels sprouts because I really like them and it's just Brussel sprouts," and she had them and she was in immediate arthritic pain for the next week. But even if you find out, I can't eat Brussels sprouts without this pain coming back, if you will love Brussels sprouts, that's your decision to make, right?

So once you have to determine what your baseline, sort of best result outcome is, everything else is up to you. And I think that there's a lot of sort of shaming and purity that can go on within diet circles, and I really want to differentiate from that and say this is about you making the trade-offs that give you the most pleasure and the most ability for you to meet your goals at the same time, and where that falls for you might be different from where it falls for me. The other thing that I think people make a mistake with, and especially if they're coming from the weight loss perspective, is that they try to combine things that they learned from other places like calorie restriction, and I think that that can backfire really, really badly because part of the benefit that I've seen personally with myself and a lot of other people is that really, really nourishing your body can have better health outcomes in the long run, including weight loss.

Then putting yourself on the edge of not enough all the time because I think, I don't want to anthropomorphize the body too much, but I think the body is unwilling to go into the state of we're going to build you up and make you your best you now, until we know that there's going to be the material for it. And tying along with that, you can really learn to trust your own appetite and in a way that I think when you're maybe on a higher carb diet, or maybe it just has to do with hyper palatable foods, but there are a lot of foods that really interfere with your whole appetite mechanism and you don't know if you're eating this, do I really? I probably actually don't need this and I'm eating it because it tastes so good or because I'm just hormonally driven and I can't stop.

And having had that experience makes it hard sometimes to trust. There's this idea, :Oh, you've got to stop when you're 80% there because your signals aren't really actually right." And one thing that I've learned and a lot of people I know have learned through the carnivore diet is that, the signals actually are right. And it stands to reason, right? What kind of animal would have evolved to have signals that don't match up with how much food you actually need. So if you're giving it the food that it's expecting, those things start to actually work.

Geoff

Yep. I think the nutrient sensing, it doesn't send a reason why this would be evolutionarily faulty and I think it does make sense with hyper palatability of foods like, "Okay, you just eat a bunch of doughnuts and like it tastes really good." It should be nutritionally dense if it's so tasty and in the wild, but it's just like empty fat and carb calories. It's tricking the appetites or the nutrition sensing pathways from a, I guess like a taste, appetite perspective. And I think what you said in terms of people's personal goals, I think is hopefully part of the reason why people tune into more longer form conversations like this where, I think the path that you found yourself on was through self experimentation. I mean I think that's the path I came to like my protocols. It's not like, "Oh I want to match some gurus or some magical diet book."

I think it's like we maybe were inspired by the principles, the mechanisms of actions to get there, but ultimately your state is different from my state, which is going to be different from our listeners state and we might have different goals, right? Like if you're trying to be a bodybuilding world champion, versus a marathon runner, versus resolving metabolic syndrome or resolving psychiatric issues or what-not. Those are a little bit of different variants that we consider as we're putting in together our own personal journeys through this life. Yeah.

Amber O.

Yeah. It turns out I'm not very good at following authorities for better.

Geoff

But I think that's the way you make progress. Because I think no authority has been 100% right. I think that would be almost like the lesson to learn from history, when has any authority been 100% right? Right? People are looking at quantum mechanics and Albert Einstein, Einstein corrected Newton. These are some of the smartest people ever in history, right? And it's like it would be arrogant to think that any single authority living today is 100% right in everything. Like if someone thinks that they're a 100% right, all right, cool, maybe you are a demigod of, a special pearl of humanity. But I don't, not likely that you're 100% right.

Amber O.

That reminds me, not to be too geeky, but I can remember going to a seminar at a conference on computational linguistics about a decade or 15 years ago even maybe. And the topic was grammatical inductions, so you're trying to look at a sequence of language and try to just automatically without any outside knowledge, determine structure out of it, which is a fascinating problem. And what the speaker said is to succeed at something as difficult as this, you have to have a combination of arrogance and humility. So humility that there have been brilliant minds working on this, maybe even more brilliant than you for a long time and they haven't come up with the perfect solution. But at the same time you've got to have the arrogance that may be you do have some new piece of information or some new perspective that could allow you to be the one who solves it.

Geoff

Yeah. So it's probably like the right way to live life, right? Like be humble but have that confidence to shake things up if you have a nose for it. So wrapping up here and what's on your roadmap, obviously you've given talks about the areas of research. I mean, what are you looking forward to personally in the low carb or carnivore movement, over the next year or two? Just looking at a little bit on your calendar and your schedule and your plans.

Amber O.

Thanks for asking. I gave a lot of talks over the last year almost to the point of burnout, and almost every talk was a new one. So I talked about the role of anecdotes, I talked about measurements of quality that lead us to pitfalls, like the word nutrient density. And I talked about evolution and I talked about hormesis, and I talked about mTOR. And now I have no more talks on the docket, all of my focus is going to go into two things that I really want to achieve before the year is even half out. And one is to finish the book that I've been writing, which I'm releasing online chapter by chapter at facultativecarnivore.com.

Geoff

Exciting.

Amber O.

And the other one is the second annual carnivore conference. I made the first one in Boulder this past March, and we're doing it again in May. I decided to open it to submissions for talks because I wanted to give people who I didn't know, who were doing relevant research to have a chance to show us what they're coming up with, and that's going to happen in May and I'm very excited about that too.

Geoff

They'll definitely share out those links for folks that might be interested. So where do folks find you? I know you're on social, where do people stay up to date on your day to day?

Amber O.

I do spend way too much time, particularly on Twitter. My handle's KetoCarnivore and I'm pretty responsive there. I have a couple of blogs but I think they can also be found from the Twitter account.

Geoff

It was fun to explore some of the nuances that don't get typically covered with just like a, "Oh, a carnivore diet? What are you eating and are you dead?" So fascinating to dive into some of the science and also, I think some of the maybe more philosophical approaches of how we should even approach questions like these.

Amber O.

Likewise. Yeah, it's a great pleasure to get to talk to someone who gets the basics and wants to move to the more subtle points of conversation. So I thank you for that.

Editors Choice

Atoms / Icons / List / Back / Black Created with Sketch.
Support
Icons/Close/Hover Created with Sketch.

Help Center

We’re on a mission to help you. Let us know how we can best assist you!

Need to get in touch?

Our team will get back to you in one business day, and often times, much faster.

(Mon-Fri, 10 AM - 5 PM PST)

Call us: 1 (833) 415-4866

Email is: care@hvmn.com

Cart
Icons/Close/Hover Created with Sketch.

Your cart is empty!

You haven't added anything to your cart yet! Go ahead and check out our products. Then you can come right back to checkout.

Shop All Products