Orthopedic surgeon, world record holding masters athlete, US Air Force veteran, hardcore carnivore...it’s none other than Dr. Shawn Baker.
Largely viewed as today’s de facto spokesperson for the carnivore diet, Shawn is an interesting n=1 case study of someone not only following the diet to resolve health issues, but also experience athletic performance gains.
Every month, we offer a new discount on select HVMN products for our podcast listeners.
Shawn hey, thanks for coming on the program.
Pleasure to be here, it should be fun stuff.
Yeah, it's so as you know, our community is very interested in human performance. A lot of our listeners have experimented with intermittent fasting, ketogenic diets; and I think we see you as just taking this perhaps sub thread of keto, or just completely a new cohort, or new community of folks looking at carnivore - only eating meat. I'd like to dive deep into some of the science in the data there. But perhaps, to begin the conversation, let's talk about your n equals one. How did you get into it? What's your current protocol? Kind of the high level here.
Sure. So, you know I'm 50. I'm about to turn 52. I've been an athlete my whole life. When I got into my mid-40’s, even though I was still very heavily involved in high-level athletics, I noticed my health was declining. I was running in a difficulty with energy, fatigue, not sleeping well, developing metabolic syndrome, I was heavier than I needed to be. I then embarked on about a six-year journey into nutrition, starting with what I thought was the right thing to do as a physician; and I went on a low-fat, low-calorie diet, I increased my exercise. I lost weight, you know that certainly works, and I went from about 285 pounds to about 235 in about 3 months; I dropped by five pounds pretty quickly. But once it happened, I found out I just can't sustain that type of diet; I mean, I just wasn't able to do that, I couldn't stand being hungry all the time; which is really what was going on. I'm very disciplined. I've been disciplined my whole life, to be able to succeed in multiple areas; but I found that you know eventually, you got to respond to your hunger; eventually your biology is going to ask of you and you have to return to that. And so then I regressed through different diets, I went on to a more paleo-ish diet; felt a little better with that. Started reading some of the literature out there on a low carbohydrate diets; read several books, experimented; it felt good with that. Eventually ended up on a ketogenic diet, which I did for about two and a half years, and generally was doing well. And then I just continue to read, and kind of stumbled upon this community of people that were doing an all meat diet; and they kind of looking back into the some of the historical and anecdotal stuff that pointed to, it is possibly being little more superior and particularly would go with athletics; so, I experimented with that.
At this time, I'd started posting online, so I had a small following but it’s just kind of a joke, almost that I'm going to do a 30-day carnivore experiment. And you know we kind of had fun with that. People told me I was going to die of scurvy, my colon was going to come out, my arteries are going to clog them instantly; and you know, obviously none of that stuff happened. And so I did that for 30 days and at the end of it I said: that's been a pretty critical experiment. And then I went back to my kind of more normal diet for a short period of time and honestly, I just didn't feel this good and I said: well, I really didn't miss eating a bunch of salads and spinach; it was nothing I really craved, even to this day. Honestly, if there's anything I would say I'd want to eat would be some dessert. I'm honest about it. So, I just continue with doing that, now I'm approaching my second year. I've been about 23 months on carnivore, consisting mostly of red meat; mostly the fattier cuts of meat, which kind of more closely mimic ketogenic style of eating; not necessarily quite as fat dense. My macros probably aren't up or on the 80% range; or probably from fat caloric standpoint, they probably run from 60 to 70% on most days. I was very acutely familiar with musculoskeletal problems, and I'd had a few of my own because I've been an athlete all these years; and as you get older, these aches and pains creep up on you; and I noticed some things that I had for a decade or more, that I had resigned myself that I was going to have to deal with this little bit of pain and injury and work around that. I mean those things completely went away; which you know, they had done someone on a ketogenic diet, but I just noticed complete resolution on a fully carnivorous diet; which I thought was very intriguing, very interesting. You know that I started exporting these to other people and seeing similar results, which I still think is very worthwhile of tremendous setting. I think that's going to happen in the near future, I'm trying to help make some out happen.
Like RCT Style. Just try to get it through peer review.
Yeah that, obviously it takes some funding. I've done some online stuff where we just collect the data. We had people run 30 days, 60, 90 day experiment. Assessing what they were doing, at least objectively, and the results should be pretty good. So yeah, it would be nice to get some more modified studies done on this stuff. I think that needs to happen. I think it will happen. I think there's an interest now. I think there's enough anecdotal stuff that's coming in all the time, it's going to push someone's hand to take a closer look.
In fact, researchers contacted me today about launching a study. So, I'm going to look over his proposal. But the other thing I noticed for me in particular and again, like I said, I always been an athlete and so I've been training literally for 40 years. I'm not a novice. I'm not a newbie to this stuff. I've been training in a high level, and I’ve noticed for me a relatively significant game within a several months after adopting a fully carnivorous diet. I calculated my performance output on a couple metrics. I've always been a very good competitive dead lifter and I’ve noticed, again about a 78% increase in strength without any changes to training style or intensity.
Just from shifting in a carnivorous diet.
Just shifting on a diet. And the same thing I saw in my rowing, as you may know, I'm a competitive indoor rower; which you know, it's kind of a crazy oddball sport but it still is very physically taxing; and I saw about an 8% increase in my power output, and I’ve already had an American record in that sport as a 49 year old; and then when I went to as a fifty-year-old, I increased my record by several seconds on a 500 meter row; which is actually quite a bit of improvement just by changing the diet without any significant change in training style. So, health improvements, athletic performance improvements; I know you probably are a big into cognition. Some people will debate and say my cognition is very poor, depending on who I talked to. I think that works very well as well. So that's been my story.
That's super interesting. There's definitely like a meme coming up with the last I would say, six months 12 months, where it's really captured folks in Silicon Valley, in our community; where it kind of reminds me of what happened with intermittent fasting and maybe keto, like two three years ago. What's a sense from your perspective where your oftentimes seen as The Godfather or like a spokesperson that talks about this diet? What's it like been for you personally as you're just sharing your n equals 1 and then collecting data?
Yeah, I want to give credit. There are many people have done this before I did that. Obviously the first guy I probably did it with some homo erectus guy. That's where it probably originated if we really want to be honest about this. But this is gone in and out over the years; Dr. Salisbury back in the 1800’s, the steak is named after him. Some of you guys might remember from TV dinners; it featured the Salisbury steak. Going back to the guys like him, and like Donaldson, and you know even Mike kind of touched on that; other people have been kind of dancing around this for years. So, this is not by any means a new thought. There's very few new thoughts out of the sun obviously, but I think it certainly ties into the ketogenic intermittent fasting. Arguably, there are people that get good results from those strategies; and I think this has some features that are shared with that; I think it's certainly the case. I think we're finding that the current sort of Paradigm the way humans are getting the nutrition these days is not compatible with our species of all. I think this round-the-clock access to food; this snacking every two or three hours in an effort to keep your blood glucose up to a certain level at all times; it's kind of our downfall. And then, and not to say that the foods that are available, the things have been introduced in the human diet, particularly over the last fifty to a hundred years has certainly been dietary. So this again, when you get rid of that stuff, if you're doing a ketogenic diet correctly, hopefully you're not filling it with a bunch of processed keto products, you're sticking to whole foods. You know intermittent fasting, obviously, if you're not eating, you're not eating junk food; and a carnivorous diet in the same sense, you're not eating junk food. Some people argue that meat is dangerous and bad, and causes heart disease, and increase your risk of colon cancer, and all that stuff. I disagree with those things. I think at it's very core, it is incredibly nutritious food. I think humans are ideally adapted to it.
I think our evolution was driven that way, but as far as the social aspect of it, certainly it's been taking off. Obviously, social media is the game changer, we're involved in this right now. This is going on social media, people listen to it. This is how people get their information these days; they're not waiting for a guy in Harvard to stand up on his Podium and read all the latest study to you, that's just not happening anymore. So, people are taking it into their own hands. I think there is a democratization of either medicine or health, and I think it's a good thing. Certainly, there's some negatives that come out of that, and social media has a lot of negativity associated with that; but at the same time, I think there's some good to come out of this and I think we're seeing that more and more people sharing the stories. We now have the ability for millions of people to say: Hey, I’ve tried it and it work too. Ultimately the cream will rise to the top. Ultimately some of the stuff, whether this last five years or one year, 10 years or a hundred years; I don't know if it stops working for me, I'm not going to stick with it. That's the bottom line. I'm doing what works well for me and makes me perform, and hopefully keeping good health. And so that is ultimately what’s going to happen. Something works, people find out about it, more people do it works well, they continue to do it.
A hundred percent.
Certainly some people are doing it for the novelty, for the fun, for the curiosity. Many people don't need to do this. I've been accused of saying everybody in the world needs to do this and there's nothing further from the truth. I said, this is an option for you. If it works well, it may or may not; in many cases it seems to, go ahead and try it. There's nothing wrong with it. What great risk is there for eating a bunch of steaks for a couple months? I just don't see the big problem with that; and if you decide you want to continue doing that, good for you; if you don't, then do something else.
A hundred percent. Just like the most open-minded scientific approach. If people are afraid to even ask the question, which I think some folks in traditional medicine or traditional nutrition, are scared to even like open the question or open the Pandora's box; I think that's unscientific. A hundred percent on what you're talking about opening this course, looking at data; that's the scientific method, that's scientific process. And I think it sounds like, you're not dogmatic on this, and I think in nutrition Twitter, or just people that love keto, hate keto, hate carnivores; it's very easy to get into this holy war; and at the end of the day, a hundred agree with you, when you say cream rises to the top. Like if this doesn't work for people, if this makes you feel like crap; you're not making money off on telling people to buy steaks and not eat salads, right? It’s just we think we have something that's interesting, whether that's set pattern of eating or a set protocol. We just want to share it.
That’s generally the case. There are some nutritional folks, and I'm going to pick on the vegans, you're a little bit did and absolutely will tell you, we think other people should not eat any other way than we do. They tied in ethics. I don't have any belief in that. I'm not worried about saving the world's tomato population. Again, do what works well for you with regard to your health; and I think that's the only point we're making here. And you're very right about scientific method, you make an observation; if I've got 20 people to tell me their Crohn's disease went away when they gave up eating fiber in plant foods and that's valid observation. We shouldn't just say, that's crazy.
Anecdotal like this is worth nothing. The signal that’s running studies; the signal to run a randomized control trial.
That's the exact case. What I'm doing right now is, I'm collecting a lot of anecdotes certainly and I think those are powerful. And the reason you and I are talking right now is because of anecdotal data.
Or anecdotal stories. And I do believe that's incredibly powerful tool, that's why I encourage people to submit those stories. I've created a website called meatheals.com, you the names kind of goofy people make fun of that, but it's catchy. It's short. It's easy to remember. You may disagree with the exact message, but it focuses people on the fact that these guys are eating a carnivore diet, and good things happen to their health. Rather than dismiss that we should be saying: wait a minute, let's test that. Maybe there's something there. Maybe there's something in the diet, we can find out what's causing the problem. We don't necessarily need to have everybody going carve up. Maybe we can find out, maybe it's those damn vegetable oils; maybe it's whatever component in the diet that’s causing it; and maybe it's the oxalates. I don't know what it is yet, but at least we can say: okay, we've got a platform, a baseline to start from now; we can start investigating this up. And just because we don't understand everything about how something works, there's people out there saying you got to understand the mechanism of. Well, I'm like, that's fine. Find out the mechanism. But in the meantime, there's people that just want to get the results. As a physician, I'm interested in the results, most people are interested in results. The mechanistic information can come later. I don't think there's any reason to tell some person that: hey this is working, try it. If it works, well great. We can figure out the mechanism later. Maybe we can find out a mechanism and then suddenly there's other alternatives, but for now you do what works.
I think one question would be, while we are understanding the mechanism, how are the biomarker data? How are your blood panels? How are the quantitative measures of how a carnivorous diet is affecting you versus the subjective effects? I'm sure you're collecting data on LDL, HDL triglycerides. What's your sense on how a carnivore affects those?
I can talk about my specific data and I can talk about the general data that I've streamed from hundreds of people. I think, in general most people we'll see an improvement in things like your triglycerides; that's consistent with multiple carbohydrates, which we know, which isn't surprising.
That make sense.
Most people will see a little bit of a rise in HDL, which is also pretty much expected. I think the LDL cholesterol, the total cholesterol, invariably some people see a pretty precipitous rise, some people see no change at all, some people even see a decrease. So, I think that's been an invariable response. In my particular case, my cholesterol didn't do much. My LDL total cholesterol was about the same as it was five years ago. My HDL went up slightly. My triglycerides came down quite a bit. We are seeing, in general again, most people will see markers of inflammation; both clinically with regard to joint pain.
C-reactive protein coming down, mine was 0.6 or four, I can't remember the last time I checked it, but very low. That's generally what I’ll see consistently. We’ll see markers of liver function. Generally, those are normal, they don't see any rises in there. We see that Iron studies tend to be normal. One of the concerns was, this is obviously a very high iron diet full of heme iron, particularly if you’re feeding mostly red meat, iron studies tend to be normal. The ferritin levels tend to be normal. Those things are interesting. Blood glucose, for most people, tends to be very stable and generally tends to be a little bit lower; most people that have, the diabetics have seen pretty remarkable drops in their hemoglobin A1C, with good blood glucose stability; where they don't have the big postprandial rises.
Facet insulin as well.
Facet insulin tends to be lower. Mine was around 26, very low. The interesting thing about my particular data, and this raised a lot of red flags, was my glucose was actually really elevated; it was around 125, 126, I believe.
Which is like pre-diabetic, diabetic.
Which is pre-diabetic, which is very interesting. And so of course, that got my attention. I basically started getting glucose monitor and checking in all the time. What I was seeing is that my blood glucose postprandial was very low. It would be 85, 90 then it would go up two, three points maybe five points, or even drop. And so what I’ve noticed was it’s very stable, but I still wanted to reconcile the fact that we've got this higher fasting blood glucose. When I looked through the literature, it's very interesting, now they're testing athletes with continuous glucose monitors and they're seeing; there's a nice study that came out 2016, the exact title I can't remember, it was something like - Glucose Levels Amongst Sub Elite Athletes Using a CGM. If you look at that study, they’ve found out that about 40% of their athletes actually had blood glucose readings in the pre-diabetic and diabetic range. That's 60 to 70% of their blood glucose was there; and these guys were in shape, lean people; and interestingly the ones that had the highest prevalence of that were the guys that were eating lowest carbohydrates and exercising the hardest. I had another researcher on my podcast, we've got a podcast - myself and Zach Bitter; and he's done research on Olympic level athletes, he sees the same phenomenon - guys that are very athletic, particularly involved in high intense spreading type activity; which is exactly what I do. We'll see an elevation in their blood glucose, but my blood glucose although it was elevated, I saw tremendous insulin sensitivity marks, Homa IR score was 0.8. Triglyceride glucose 8.1; all these measures show extremely good insulin sensitivity.
How about your hemoglobin A1C? Was that elevated as well?
It was elevated to like six weeks. I don't doubt it was elevated, which is interesting.
But your insulin level was low, which is why it's like very interesting because typically you expect both to be directly linear.
Right. If you have diabetic pathophysiology, you will see that your insulin will be rising and initially it’s high. Some people are thinking you're a burnout diabetic, you're sick and then I'm like one breaking World Record athletically, so that doesn't make sense; but outside of my case, generally, the situation has been that most people find it their glucose tends to be very, very stable. If you you hook them up to a CGM, it's a flat line, it really is. There's almost no bump. We see with higher protein, you'll see that the glucose sends the rise a little bit lower instead of that half hour Spike, you'll see something more along the four or five-hour range. But again, it tends to be very gradual and very low. There's a nice study, I can’t remember which one I think maybe it was in 2000, I am blank on the year now; but they looked at fasting versus a zero carbohydrate diet, and I looked at the response of glucose insulin c-peptide and they saw that the fasting line was very similar to the no carbohydrate line; the meat-based line with a little bit higher amounts, but overall is very low; that pretty much showed low steady glow peaks, not high levels of glucose, not high levels of insulin; which I think again, we can talk about what's causing pathophysiology. I think many people, at this point, believe that keeping insulin levels steady, avoiding these high levels of glucose levels really high, is probably ultimately the best thing to do.
Yeah. The area under the curve rather than as opposed to any, just spot-check. Interesting. Have you looked at the ketone levels as something that you guys are tracking whether yourself personally or within the community?
Not myself personally just because it's not something that I personally wanted to play with. Probably ketone level is, after a certain point in their studies is a sort of back this up, as you become better and better keto adapted, particularly as athletes, you end up getting much more efficient at utilizing those ketones; and so, you may have a low level of ketones, you might say 3.0 is no better than 0.5. The point becomes how much you’re making, how much you’re using, how much you’re wasting. But I will tell you that I've seen a lot of people do track ketones in their diet, and I would say a large percentage of them do note that they are in ketosis for much of the time. Despite eating 150, 200, 250 grams of protein a day, which is sort of countered to what’s expected; and so we're seeing that in real time and real people testing this out that: yes, you are indeed probably spending a significant period of time in ketosis on this diet.
Yeah. I was saying that Benjamin Bikman, he is a researcher based in Utah, he was saying that the gluconeogenesis story run too much protein isn't really panning out. So, if you are being very, very low carb and you have a little bit of a higher range of protein, it's not going to necessarily kick you out of ketosis; which is interesting for folks that are looking at the benefits of having elevated presence of ketones for some of the signaling affects there. To give you a sense of a little bit of my story, I cycle in and out of a ketogenic diet fairly regularly, for 6-8 weeks blocks at a time. And sounds like a lot of the biomarker changes that you're seeing with a carnivorous diet are reflective with the ketogenic diet, right? You typically see a flat lining or an elevation LDL, and there's a question of whether that's a bad biomarker. I think there's a lot of work showing that, perhaps LDL and of itself, is not a strong predictor for cardiovascular risk; you see elevation of HDL, lower triglycerides. It sounds a lot of the biomarker endpoints or some of the keto; but sounds like the thesis here is that, carnivore is even more restrictive or tighter version of keto, with some potentially beneficial effects. That sounds like, with some people with autoimmune diseases. But you're also just seeing that in your n equals one, you sync better athletic performance going carnivore, beyond on a typical vanilla keto diet.
I think it's fair to import some evolutionary speculation on; if we say ketogenic diet has benefits whether the cognitive, whether the ketones have a benefit, then you have to say: well, what did prehistoric man do to go into a ketogenic diet? He wasn't drinking bulletproof coffee, he wasn't sucking down MCT oil. So, how would he have restricted his fats [enough], you’ve restricted his carbohydrates [enough to] fats. Well, if we look around what was available to him, he had a bunch of [megafauna] big fat mammoths, which we clearly.
[[Geoff]Ate a ton of them.
We clearly hunted down. So, if you're sitting around and you have an option of forging for [tubers], which by the way back then we're very fibrous and didn't yield very much calories; they were hard, they were a lot of work to do; or you could go out and kill a mammoth. It's very interesting when I talked to Anthropologist about this and people that studied that still do this; killing an elephant is not that hard for human to accomplish even with just spear technology. And so those animals, because they don't run, they use their sizes or just defense; a tiger or saber-toothed cat is not going to easily take down a mammoth. So, they're pretty safe. So, a [cute] little man walks up to them, they don't run away. But all of a sudden [lo and behold], they stick them with a spear in the side of their gut, then they bleed to death. There are pretty interesting papers coming out of some of the anthropology literature saying that, man basically had access to Mammoth meat whenever he wanted it. Up until about 25,000 years ago, when we started to see significant die-off of these animals and then what happened is, the strategy had to change; then we had even leaner animals to get our protein. We probably started breaking the bones to get more marrow, eating more than visceral organs to get more fat, and that sort of become more difficult that we had to add more carbohydrate into our diet.
An agricultural revolution.
Right. I think from an evolutionary standpoint, if we say ketogenic diet was good, then how would human beings have done that. It's just basically, we've sat there and ate a bunch of fatty animals. It’s not to say that they didn’t eat some berries here and there, they didn't need a few things here and there; but I think the primary part of their nutrition was these animals, that they lived on. And so, this diet sort of mimics the fact that many people, as we see, have a lot of problems with their gastrointestinal tract. I think that is becoming more and more clear, that a lot of these diseases have at least a relationship to poor absorption, leaky gut syndrome, dysbiosis, microbiome problems. Some of the research that I've seen, the research group particularly [paleomedicina] are hungry; which is kind of spearheading some of this research around the gut, is showing a very significant improvement with gut permeability vis-à-vis a carnivorous diet. They have what they call a Paleolithic ketogenic diet, which is basically a meat-based ketogenic diet; which means more meat is thrown in there. But they're saying significant improvement in gastro intestinal permeability via test using some polyethylene glycol, which can kind of tell you what our gut permeability like. They're seeing significant improvement in gut permeability; at the same time, they're seeing biomarkers of inflammation rapidly go down when they do that Tumor Tumor Necrosis Factor Alpha; and things like [high C] C-reactive protein. All those things drop when they go on the diet; at the same time, they're seeing these diseases start to remit autoimmune diseases, in particular. They're seeing this particular success with people with crohn's disease, ulcerative colitis, diabetes, and all these rheumatoid arthritis, psoriatic arthritis; all these things seem to be improving on that protocol, and their postulation is coming from the gut. Interestingly, when gut permeability membrane is breached, there's also an indication that other membranes are breached, like the blood-brain barrier. We may have these metal things. That's why a lot of people in the diet noticed improvements in both cognition, but equally as importantly are things like mood, and depression, and anxiety are improving with this; and so they may be all related, again it's all speculation at this point. Well lots of testing needs to be done, but the neat thing is we're seeing that data start to emerge.
What do you think, in [platte] matter, is causing these leaky gut syndrome sort of like diffusion of the membranes? Is it the fiber? Is that the phytonutrients? What's in this plant matter that's causing this?
I can tell you what their research shows.
Some of the things that they've shown, some of the food substances that tend to cause a lot of problems are: vegetable oil for one, all these processed industrialized canola oil, safflower oil, cottonseed oil, soybean oil; all the stuff that's been introduced, so that causes problems. They're seeing problems with certain medications and supplements. Some of those things said to cause disruption of the gut membrane [there]. They are seeing problems with dairy, for some people. Dairies it's not completely plant-based, but sometimes dairy can be a problem for some people. They're seeing problems with sugar and sweeteners, being an issue when they tested this. And they're seeing problems with some of it like: nightshade vegetables, some of the grains, the gluten, the gliadins; possibly some of the lectins in the plants. Those things seem to be causing problems, might be missing one. But those are ones that they've tested in have seen issues with, that's speculative. It's hard to say for sure being, I know we’ve talked about phytonutrients, they're basically phytochemicals. Some of them can be beneficial in certain circumstances. There are phytochemicals that are problematic: oxalate, salicylates, there's a whole list. There's phytates, lectins, there are literally thousands of chemicals in these different foods we eat, which ones are the culprits, that may take a long time to sort out. And so, while we're waiting for that to sort out, some of the answer may just be get rid of all of it for now. Fix your gut. And then what's interesting is, what I see is honestly most people are not going to stay in a [full carnivorous] diet for the rest of your life, I don't even know that I will; but there are a lot of people that do it for three months, six months, eight months, nine months, a year; and then they noticed that their tolerance to other foods has now improved. Instead of getting those joint flare ups or skin flare ups after they eat something, now that their gut integrity is restored, they have the capacity to tolerate some of that food. Maybe it was the vegetable oils that’s causing the problem, they just avoid that. Now, they can eat raspberries again, or blueberries again. I think that's great. I think people kind of misinterpret what I'm saying. To say, I want everyone to stay on a meat-based diet only for rest of their life. I think if you can fix yourself and utilize this as a tool, and then you can get back to eating some other things that you might enjoy, that's great too!
Yeah, that seems a lot more sensible. Sounds like, it’s kind of, as you see it like a smart elimination diet in a way that reduces a lot of these biomarkers; in a way that's even more strict in ketogenic diet; and then with your end personal subjective feeling you can start incorporating additional foods if it fits your lifestyle, which I think seems like a sensible approach.
If you're trying to solve a problem, you eliminate the variables. You drop it down in one variable, then all of a sudden it becomes very easy. What can I add in now? Either you can or can't; the one caveat to that is the microbiome [react will make]. You might have to sort of distinguish, why did I go into a diet? I went on a diet because I was depressed, or I have rheumatoid arthritis; and those are the symptoms that I'm trying to avoid. But if you go back and you start sticking avocados back in there, all of a sudden, well my guts don't feel good; well that could just be the microbiome re-adjusting, you have to be fair when you reintroduce these things; to give it a little time for your microbiome to readjust. And then see, now if you still get those rheumatoid arthritis symptoms, or you still find out your mood is off or whatever reason, then it might be safe to say that: hey man, I really still need to avoid the stuff. I think that's a way to look at, because a lot of people, once they’ve changed their microbiome; and that happens with any diet, you change over; if I were to change over to a strict vegan diet right now, my guts would not be happy for, neither would yours, for a period of time; and I think that's just a natural thing. But we have to sort of put aside the gut microbiome from what other symptoms were trying to resolve. Some of it's just a gut period. People [crows] it’s easier on bowel syndrome, that's kind of a special case.
We work a lot on elite athletes and folks in the military and some of their concerns, and this is kind of interesting gossip topic for me, I recently went on a three-week carnivorous diet block. I want to get back onto it because I think from a safety perspective, it's a hundred percent safe. If I'm on a ketogenic diet [flung blocks] of time and I see reasonable biomarker improvement, I think people are going carnivore diet if it's sensible. It's kind of on par, right? Instead of eating some nominal amounts of spinach or fibrous plant matter, just moving that, it wasn't that big of a difference for me; to go from a keto to a carnivore diet, and I'm curious to go back on it and do more biomarker tracking. But I think the biggest question they ask is, how does it affect the gut microbiome up? I think you put it quite well, the gut microbiome adapts to what diet you were consuming. There’s going to be some adaptation period, but I think even within the first few days of just shifting to a carnivorous diet, I felt like pretty reasonable on a carnivorous diet. It wasn't like the crazy transition, and ostensibly you want your body to be metabolically be flexible to have. The ability to switch between different types of diets, right? It would be relatively fragile. If you could only survive on like one specific thing all the time, maybe it's optimal but perhaps it’s a sign of inflexibility in your metabolism, if one can only survive on one specific thing.
Depends on where you live. If you are living in [Greenland] your options would be limited, so you better be able to survive on what you have around. We obviously have every food in the world right now available to us, and we decide we want to have some [brie], I think that's fine to do if you want to choose to do so. You shouldn't paint yourself into a corner necessarily; but just to go back on the microbiome, because one of the knocks is there's no fiber in the diet.
Yeah, the fiber question.
Some of it is. Maybe there's some animal fibers, people debate some of the material and animal can consider fiber. But generally, the concern is we look at these bacteria that inhabit our lower GI tract that can utilize fiber to convert that into short-chain fatty acids like butyrate; and that has been shown to have a beneficial effect upon some of the [interior sites] or the [colada sites]. But we're seeing further on, we look at that biochemistry, is those short chain fatty acids are then converted to ketones, right? And then those ketones have the beneficial effect on those cells. Well guess what, if you're already on a ketogenic diet those cells are already be getting.
Get ketones directly.
They're going to get them anyway. It's six in one half-dozen of the other. I don't buy them, the microbiome. First of all, I think we are so far in our infancy on understanding the microbiome and it's so incredibly complex. Look at that, we're still debating about cholesterol and we’ve been studying that for a hundred [seventy] years, and we still haven't figured it out. And so, you're going to tell me we're going to automatically know the right answer on a microbiome; which infinitely more complicated with all the moving parts, and different species, and amounts change based on so many things that we can understand that now. I just don't buy it. I think that the most sensible thing I've seen said about the microbiome is, your microbiome is healthy when you are. I think that is just something you can you can kind of hang your hat on. Instead of putting out the cart before the horse, and saying you're not healthy unless you have X amount of species of this sort of.
There's no science behind that.
I think there is some science behind it, but I don't think there's enough where you can say: this is what we need to hang our hat on. I just don't think it’s there yet. I don't know that. I don't know if it'll ever be quite honestly.
Yeah, that's my understanding of the space as well. I think there's a lot of interesting citement in the microbiome and how that affects the brain; the gut brain acts as a popular term of research, but I think you're absolutely right that it's too early to make any broad recommendations. And then I guess to get a sense of, why didn't the fiber story is something that I think he picked up on? Do you think that's just a kind of a dogmatic thing that people have been inculcated of thinking fiber is so important? I was reading some of the Travis Statham, who I know is a moderator on a lot of these carnivorous forums, was mentioning; I don't remember the book, but some researchers sort of unpacking the fiber story; on it really being pushed by Mr. Kellogg, trying to sell cereal back in the day. Clearly, there's reasonable data why fiber is associated with better colo risk outcomes and colon cancer outcomes; but it seems like you're starting to unpack that can of worms there. What do you think is the debate there? Why don't we have the full picture yet?
I think clearly there is some scientific data to support fiber is beneficial. I don't doubt that you know, but I think much of that research is based on epidemiology as is most of our nutritional research; and the problem with epidemiology is it's so highly confounded to answer the question we really want to know. It can't be done in nutrition, or at least it can't be done unless you have an extreme amount of money, volunteers who are willing to live their whole life a certain way. You'd have to take a bunch of twins and lock them up in a metabolic ward and control every single variable except for diet, and track them for 40 or 50 years to make it a real outcome. Now we're left with these second best measures and some people will say, you know study a bunch of numbers with epidemiology that has been widely criticized. Nutritional epidemiology is just awful, it's not helping us at all.
It’s like an Ouija board, whatever you want to say, you can make it happen.
That's 80% of nutrition. The rest of the stuff is when you start looking randomized control trials on fiber, the ones that are involved with gut health, IBS and diverticulitis have been a big negative. They don't show any benefit at all, if you look at the body of literature on that; if you look at things like blood pressure, again, doesn't really make much of a difference. I saw one meta-analysis where fiber was, it lowered their systolic blood pressure by two points. I'm like that's nothing. Why even bother to report that, it's so minimal. It makes no clinical impact, but what it does show is that if you have fiber in your diet, it can mitigate a glucose response, I think that's fair to say. The problem is, assuming you're eating a diet that is high in glycemic type foods, you're eating a junk food diet or a sugary diet fiber and the diet is going to help you. And again, this is all relative; but if you're not eating that, if you're eating a low glycemic diet or an all meat diet, God forbid, you're not going to have to worry about fiber mitigating your glucose response. You're not going to have a big glucose response from no carbohydrates in your diet.
It makes a lot of sense, yeah.
And then the other thing is that it can lower cholesterol, and that's been shown. There's a modest lowering of total and LDL cholesterol. Again, we can debate whether or not that's a good thing or not. I think that is a very contentious subject these days and becoming more and more contentious. There's people that obviously, it's not that cholesterol isn't a known risk factor for cardiovascular disease, but the question is how big of a risk factor is it is to relative to other things, and does it apply equally in all populations? And so, if you and I are on a low-carbohydrate ketogenic diet, heart cholesterol goes up, but at the same time our HDL triglycerides are more favorable, our blood pressure is more favorable, our body composition is more favorable, our inflammation markers are more favorable; what's the net effect there? And I think that's what we have to get in this big picture. We're not isolated variables. We're entire complicated systems, and I don't think we can understand, and I'm not smart enough to understand it, but I'm smart enough to know that it's not based on one variable; certainly, can't be. Otherwise, everybody that had a heart attack, there'd be nobody with a heart attack that has a cholesterol under 200; we see that all the time. The majority of people that have heart attacks have cholesterol under 200.
The wrong answer is, let's just get it lower and lower, lower, lower; let's get it down to zero. And those people are actually talking about the latest round of drugs; was it the PS canine inhibitors, where they can just bring it out even lower and lower and lower. At some point, you’ve got to say: why do we even have cholesterol? What's the purpose of cholesterol? It has purposes, and so we can't just assume that to try to get rid of every last possibility of cardiovascular is not going to have a negative outcome on a whole host of other things; whether it be cancer risk, regenerative risk, immune susceptibility, hormone problems, so on and so forth.
That's well said. Cholesterol is such a primal building block for all of our hormones. It's in our system for a reason; and I think there's a lot of discussion, as you mentioned around like our statins is actually effective; though [the statins drug] have church drop LTL, and sounds like cardiovascular risks remains the biggest killer of Americans. Even though, a lot of people are on the statins of like: are these drugs even effective, at this point? Or are there other mechanisms that are more of a root cause? I think you paint the picture really well. There's a system of interactions like isolating one specific biomarker or cholesterol marker as the one God-given truth of clinical predictive factors; it’s like to reductionist as I would say. More of a practical question. When I went on a carnivorous diet , a lot of people would ask me did you poop at all? You don't have any fiber? How does that work? My [geo] is completely fine; I would just have less volume, I guess; that would be one way to describe it. And one of the explanations that I had seen recently is that most of meat protein gets digested in the small intestinal tract. So, not a lot of material left for the large intestine; not to get overly gross, but in the broad observation of carnivore sights; does that seem pretty reflective on its kind of applications of people's experiences?
It was interesting. A lot of people are doing fasting now, and extending fasting; and no one's out there saying: well, how do you know that? We're not saying this, Oh my God, how do you poop? They still, even people on fast, they still go to the bath. They still have bowel movements, and they're less frequent. The bottom line is, meat is digested in the small intestine, this is where we digest this; and we absorb that. We know that from looking at patients that have ileostomy, these are patient that no longer have colons; and we can watch what comes out to the [really ostomy patches]; and when they eat meat, they’d tell you, I've talked to many of them. They'll say the only thing that comes out is a small amount of liquid. The volume that's actually reaching the colon is very small and it tends to be [disliquid]. Some people actually end up with the converse, end up with loose stool or some diarrhea; and that's just because the colon, which previously was used to a lot of fiber volume, it is having a stool that wasn't particularly wet, now they're getting pure liquid, like when I was a baby. When you're a baby, you're drinking just milk. You're having your own pure liquid diet, right? So, your colon has to reabsorb that fluid and it hasn't been doing that for 20 or 30 years, right? It's not as efficient at that; a lot of times people will find it takes several weeks before that colon kind of regains that capacity, sometimes even longer for some. It's just a matter of you are no longer wasting what you eat. So, when you're on a high fiber diet, it's kind of funny I had an interesting post the other day; in the United States, 40% of our food that we produce ends up in landfills. We waste 40% of the food we produce, what we eat in this country. The vast majority of our fruits, vegetables, and bakery goods; baked goods. We're wasting all that, and then when we eat much of that when we eat fruits and vegetables, much of that nutrition also ends up in the toilet because it goes right through us tied up into fiber. It's kind of funny. That's why because animal products, particularly meat, is so nutrient efficient. I think that's a good term, nutrient deficiency because just all of it is absorbed. You have very little to get rid of, so if you would analyze feces you’ll see how much bacteria; you might see some epithelial cells gets lopped off, and a very small residual whatever food you didn't digest; but when you're on the more heavily fiber based diet, much of that stool volume is just a bunch of fiber, which still contains quite a bit of the nutrition that you adjusted. So, you kind of just wasted your money a little bit on that.
One question that I'm thoughtful about when considering a carnivorous diet, is that how do you balance omega-3 fats versus Omega sixes? Obviously, a lot of your grain fed beef is going to be hiring omega-6s, do you try to make sure you have enough seafood or more grass fed steak? How does this look like practically? Or is that something that you think about as you're just transitioning your diet?
I think in practical terms, in real world terms; I'm not convinced that is a huge issue for someone on an all meat diet. I think the problem we have in this country, with regard to Omega 6’s is, we eat just a tremendously high amount of that; and the majority of that is coming through.
Processed foods and vegetable oils. So, if we look at the absolute amounts of Omega 3’s and Omega 6’s, and beef in particular, it's not very much. Even if you ate a lot of meat, you're not going to get very much Omega 6. I think it's more of an absolute amount that a specific ratio; both of them are essential, Omega 6 is an essential fatty acid, just like Omega 3. So, you have to have some in your diet. So, the question becomes, is it a perfect ratio that you have to have or is it just a certain amount? I think probably the latter is probably more accurate; but if you're really concerned about it, certainly you could include some fatty fish in your diet once a week; and that would jack you up relative to your Omega 3, your Omega 6 ratio quite easily. So, if you're really concerned about that and again, I think it's still debatable whether or not that ratio is set in stone as something when; you know we base that ratio based on wild animals. That's where the ratio came from. There's no real scientific long-term RCT that says, if you have an Omega 6 ratio of this, you're going to live longer than you have it of that.
It's more of an evolutionary argument that, the diet that we think the cavemen ate is going to be more balanced in terms of Omega 3’s and Omega 6’s.
Right. This is another question because as part of this journey, I've spent a lot of times talking to people who raise animals; cattle ranchers and stuff like that. And when you talk to a cattle rancher, a lot of them will say: if you put a [cattle past] your right, they'll eat the grass; and then when in June and July, when the grass turns to seed, guess what? The first thing they'll do is eat the grass seed, and grass seeds or grains. So, the question is what is a cow's evolutionary appropriate? I don't even know if we know that. So, again it's kind of speculative. In real world terms, the people that I've seen; and I've looked at literally thousands of people doing this diet now, because I've become this focal point; the people that are eating grain fed beef tend to be, from the best that I can tell, in just as good a health as people that eat grass fed.
It’s funny because I have an affiliation with butcher box. And so, if I were out here to say everybody needs to eat grass fed beef, I would actually be better off financially; but I want to just be as objective and dishonest as I can about that. I have not seen a big difference on this. And so, I think that there may be reason, it may turn out that eating grass fed beef is ultimately better for us than eating wild-caught. Intuitively, it does seem to make sense. I'm not going to deny that argument, but I'm just saying from the objective data; Texas A&M did a study a few years back where they actually compared grass-fed, grain-finished beef on biomarkers, looking at things like: blood pressure, HDL, LDL, inside triglycerides; and they saw really no difference. Granted these people were not on a carnivorous diet, but they saw basically no difference in. In fact, that study slightly favored grain-finished [beef]. So, I guess maybe that data will come in, maybe as more and more people do this time, maybe we can get the studies where we can do some RCT, where you go: you guys eat grain fed, you guys eat grass fed; and let's see how people fair.
So again, we can debate about what biomarkers [are a probe]; it's an endless argument. But for now, I can't make a blanket statement saying that everybody should eat grass fed beef, or everybody needs to eat organ meats, or everybody needs to eat this [right]; I think in practical terms, maybe in Silicon Valley you guys have the access, buy whatever you want. Most people are in that situation. Many people are like: I'm barely scraping by men, all I can do is go get the cheap ground beef at Kroger's or whatever, and I think that's okay too. I think to sit there and tell people, avoid the diet and price them out of being able to do the diet, is doing people the service; because in my mind it doesn't seem to make much of a difference yet. Maybe it will change.
I think it's sensible. Yeah. I know we could probably go on for another hour here, but I know we need to wrap up here. So, what's next for you? Sounds like the carnivore tribe is growing. It sounds like you're getting a lot of success starting to spin up the RCT versions of what is happening in the community as n equals 1. You're on Twitter. Where do people follow you and what are some big projects for the rest of the year and 2019?
I've got a book coming out. It's at the editor right now and will be published, I think early next year, called The Carnivore Diet; surprisingly, very surprising name. But that's going to be coming out, I'll probably do some speaking. I've been invited to some speaking things, I'll probably kind of do that stuff. I do some online consulting with people that didn't want to get more specifics on how to implement it in dealing with their. In fact, that's what I'm gonna do right after this, you can talk to people about how this might be incorporated in their diet and I've got other tools in my toolbox. I've been an athlete my whole life. I understand athleticism and performance; those things as well. But I think the real thing is, wanting to be a part as this grows, and as we challenge some of the conventional Dogma out there; and it's not that all of it is wrong, but I think some of it's wrong; and I think we need to use this as a catalyst to say: Okay. Well, let's really test these things. I think a lot of assumptions were made about health and nutrition back a hundred years ago, which for instance when human beings adopted agriculture in a grain based diet, we didn't do an RCT to determine if that was healthy for everybody, right?
We just did it.
We just did it. For Better or For Worse. That's what we're stuck with. And so again, the same thing we just kind of assumed that humans have to have a wide variety of foods in their diet; and my question is maybe we don't, maybe we can do just like a lion or a zebra does, and we can eat kind of a monotonous diet and thrive. Maybe that's the key to thriving. Maybe it's not the funnest way to do it. Maybe it's boring and maybe the fact that we don't have 50 different flavors of Gatorade that we can drink. Maybe that's upsetting to some people, but ultimately, I think the truth is going to come out here if people want to pursue that. It's exciting for me to see people resolving lifelong illnesses, whether you lose weight, get a six-pack and whatever, that's all fine and dandy, that's nice. But really what's motivating me is, when I see these people that are literally they have tried and tried than their lives, have been turned upside down by various illnesses and that goes away; and now they can live again. To me, that is why I do this and why I continue to do this, and why I put up with all the crazy insults and attacks and ad hominem things that come my way every single day. I'm constantly paid it as some kind of evil Hitler guy, because I'm advocating people to eat animals.
But you're quite sensible. I think our conversation is a quite civil and quite sensible. Right?
Well, I mean, that's the thing; but you know social media is a circus, right? And you know, it's hard to come across in a two hundred eighty-character tweet, and logical, and well-thought-out; and that's why I like doing these talks and talking to people in real life because they see that there's Nuance here, [subtly] there and there's compromise here. But at the same time if you don't do the silly stuff, and I think our presidential elections going to point to that, if you don't get the attention, if no one can hear you it doesn't matter what your message is. So, you got to sometimes where the funny wig and be the clown, so people will see who you are and then they'll at least stop by and take a notice and listen, to spend five minutes listening; and some of those people will listen say: wait a minute, there's some sense here and they tried to get better; but I think that's the nature of social media, quite honestly.
Performance start to get the message out there. Well, thanks so much for taking the time to engage in this conversation. I think whatever the hyper, the buzz around the carnivorous diet, I think you're quite sensible here. And I think it's something that I think is interesting. I want to do more experiments myself personally. So, I love to have you back on when the book comes out and all of that. So, appreciate the time Shawn.
Geoff. I appreciate it man. Have a good day and maybe I'll get up to San Francisco next month or something.
Every month, we offer a new discount on select HVMN products for podcast listeners.
Food is thy medicine. In our newsletter, we share the best ways to utilize food as fuel, medicine, and as a tool to reach your goals. Empower yourself and join the club below.
Once a week, we'll send you the most compelling research, stories and updates from the world of human enhancement.