Diet Doctor Podcast #11 — Amber O’Hearn

September 26, 2019 0 By William Morgan


Welcome to the Diet Doctor podcast
with Dr. Bret Scher.
Today I’m joined by Amber O’Hearn.
Now Amber has become one of the leading
personalities of the carnivore movement.
I don’t know that she’s set out to do that.
She sort of just came to it
by her own health issues
and because of her intellect
and her thought process
and her very good way of examining things
and explaining things.
She’s really become a sort of a go-to person
to learn more about this carnivore movement
and it’s fascinating because on the one hand
there are all these preconceptions
that it shouldn’t be,
that people shouldn’t be living this way,
that there are all these risks,
but they’re mostly theoretical.
And we’re going to talk a lot about that.
Are there any proven risks,
what do we need to be careful of,
and what are the potential benefits and
who can this be a wonderful thing for?
And it’s interesting to explore that
especially as a cardiologist
with 20 years of training
saying that this would be something
that’s awful for people to do.
But I think hopefully you’ll learn a lot today
from her balanced approach.
We’ll also talk about evolution
and of course about fiber,
which is a very misconstrued component
as well
about how necessary and healthy that is.
So I’m sure you’ll appreciate
Amber’s approach, she’s very thoughtful,
and this is a very interesting feel
that we don’t know a lot about
and we’re continuing to learn a lot
about from personal experiences
and people sharing their very intimate
personal experiences like Amber has.
So please enjoy this interview
with Amber O’Hearn.
Amber, thank you so much for joining me
on the Diet Doctor podcast today.
Thank you so much for inviting me,
it’s a great pleasure.
You are one of these personalities
in the low-carb world
that just everybody loves,
everybody wants to talk to you,
everybody wants to be around you,
everybody wants to hear your story.
And you have quite an amazing story that
you’ve been very open and honest about
that maybe sometimes can be difficult
to talk about, but for you it doesn’t seem so.
And it’s a story that involves
weight loss and pregnancies,
but then also some psychiatric challenges.
So give us a brief introduction about
your transition into the low-carb world.
Well, you know I wasn’t always
quite as open about it,
but over time it’s become easier,
in part because I think so many people can
benefit from hearing what happened to me.
So I did use to tell my story
primarily as a weight loss story,
because that’s how I started on it,
that’s how I got into low-carb.
I don’t think I ever would have come
to the low-carb world
if I hadn’t been overweight
a few times in my life.
So the first time that I tried low-carb
it was for weight loss
and that was just a regular low-carb diet
and it was back in 1997
and I had tried other things,
I tried to exercise, I tried veganism
and they hadn’t helped me
with the weight loss
and I finally thought, “Maybe there is
something to this low-carb stuff.”
So I had been on a low-carb diet
very successfully for many years
and I do think pregnancy had something
to do that or maybe aging,
but I was gaining weight over time.
So I’m 5/6 and I would say my ideal weight
is maybe around 130 pounds
and by the time I got to the end of 2008,
I guess I was about 35,
I weighed almost 200 pounds.
I’d actually stopped looking at the scale
because it was too depressing.
Right.
But I was doing a low-carb diet
and periodically I would stop
because I thought, “What’s even the point
if I’m continuing to gain weight?”
But then I would gain weight
even faster
and so I would eventually go back
on the low-carb diet.
It wouldn’t take too long.
I again was facing a weight loss issue,
a weight gain issue,
and I found some people
talking on the Internet
about doing what they were calling
a zero-carb diet.
That name is a little bit confusing
because it really has to do
with animal foods versus plant foods.
And so it was an all meat diet,
no plants included.
and when was this?
How long ago?
It was in the end of 2008.
Wow, so really early times
for that movement.
Yeah, there weren’t a lot of people
talking about it,
but the people that were talking about it
were people like me
who had been on a low-carb diet,
had studied some of the low-carb science
and were convinced that that was healthy
but it wasn’t quite enough for them
and only when they gave up the plants
were they able to see the results they wanted.
And I didn’t think about it
as a kind of lifestyle change.
I thought well I could do that
for a little while
and lose this weight maybe if I’m lucky
and then I could just return
to my garden-variety low-carb diet.
Right.
So I made a plan
and it took me I would say about
three weeks to really work myself up to it
and I planned to go on it for three weeks
and then have a low-carb birthday cake
for my birthday.
And that birthday cake never came because
the results were so great for weight loss,
but they profoundly affected my mood
and so that’s why I’m still
on a plant free diet today.
So when you were having
your weight challenges,
was that when you were also having
challenges with bipolar type 2 disorder?
Yes in fact if you look back at the timeline
of various mood and weight times in my life,
the times where I had
the worst mood problems
were corresponding to the times
that I had the biggest weight problems.
And it was only recently that I really looked
back at that on a timeline Birdseye view
and said, “Oh these are really
pretty deeply connected.”
So I was diagnosed with major
depressive disorder when I was 20
in my first year of university…
it was really disruptive.
And then I was on antidepressants
for a long time.
And in my 30s I was re-diagnosed
with a form of bipolar disorder
called bipolar type 2
and the difference between that
and traditional bipolar 1
is that you don’t have the psychotic mania
states.
So you have the depressive side
and you have a milder form of mania
called hypomania.
And so then I was actually really happy
to be diagnosed with that
even though it sounds much scarier,
because I thought, “Oh, this is why
I haven’t been able to get any real results
with my depression treatment
because they’re treating the wrong disorder.
And so I then went on this horrendous ride
of a variety of bipolar medications
which never really helped.
But then the carnivore diet did help?
Is that when you saw the biggest change?
It is and you know it’s funny
because bipolar and depression
can sometimes be slow-moving.
So if you see yourself having a great mood
within a couple of weeks,
you don’t necessarily think
that your bipolar disorder is cured,
but it also seemed qualitatively different.
Another problem with bipolar disorder,
and it’s a clinical problem,
is that people who have bipolar disorder
often don’t have the self-awareness
to know what’s going on
or when they’re in what state.
And so I’d kind of learned
to distrust my own mind.
So it took a long time to regain that
and to say, “Yes I really am better.”
But I’ve been med-free for nine years
unless you count coffee.
I think that counts for something
but not as bad as medicines in this case.
So nine years, that’s impressive.
Now people talk about the ketogenic diet
as being “restrictive”
and those who are in it
obviously know it’s not restrictive.
But then you talk about the carnivore diet
and the people in the keto community,
someone called the carnivore diet
restrictive and crazy
and for you to be doing it for so long,
did you have a part of this cognitive distance,
like “I’m feeling better
but I’m not supposed to be doing this
and maybe I’m doing something wrong”?
Have you been wrestling with that?
Well, maybe for a very short time
as far as the feeling of restriction.
I mean obviously it is more restricted
just from a technical standpoint,
but the feeling of restriction is actually
I think a lot less.
For one thing when you’re not eating anything
that has any trace of sweetness in it
the cravings for sweet and for other foods
really go away.
I think even when you’re on a ketogenic diet
you can see this.
If you’re in a bakery and
walk past those cakes with the blue icing
and you say, “Does that even register
as food? Probably not.”
Makes you more nauseous than craving.
Right, so when I walk
through the products section,
I wouldn’t say it makes me nauseated
but it’s like pretty flowers or something.
So I don’t feel restricted and I also
don’t have to try to eat a certain amount
the way that even sometimes
on ketogenic diets you do,
you have maybe a protein restriction
and that might make your meals
a little more restricted.
Very interesting.
Now why do you think this works?
I mean I know there is
such a fascinating wild West feel
that we don’t have science
or data on this necessarily
to say this is what works and why.
So is it because it’s an elimination diet?
Is it because there’s something beneficial
about that much meat?
Is it because of a gut imbalance?
I mean can you think of what–?
And you’ve obviously done
a lot of research into this
and you approach things
from a very intellectual standpoint.
So what is your thought
that you’ve come across
as to why this has worked for you
and for so many others?
It’s really the million-dollar question
but I’ve had a lot of time to think about it
and my thinking about it
has changed over the years.
So when I started– you had asked earlier
if I felt like maybe I shouldn’t be doing it,
and everyone tells you
that you need to eat vegetables,
that’s the narrative
even in the ketogenic community.
And so at first when I’ve realized
that I felt so well,
I thought I’m feeling better in spite
of the fact that I’m not eating vegetables.
And it didn’t occur to me for a little while
to think, “I’m really feeling better
because I’m not eating vegetables”,
even though obviously
it has to be that in some way.
So one of the first insights that I gained
about it was from reading Dr. Georgia Ede,
who has written a lot about the fact
that we evolved– plants evolved…
in order to survive they had to have
a kind of biochemical defense
because they can’t run away.
And so there’s been this arms race
between herbivores including insects
and plants on the other hand
always trying to get this survival.
And so it hadn’t been until I saw her work
that I thought, “The things that are in plants
many of them are actually toxins.”
And so maybe that could be
part of the problem.
One of the great things
that I learned this year was
I went to visit a clinic in Hungary,
the paleo medicine clinic,
and they are treating patients
with chronic diseases using an all meat diet,
a very ketogenic form of the all meat diet.
Interesting.
And their theory is completely based
on intestinal permeability.
How long have they been doing that,
how long has that clinic been around?
I think it’s on the order of five years,
I’m not sure exactly.
Very interesting.
When I first heard
of intestinal permeability,
I thought it couldn’t possibly apply to me
because I’d heard of Cordain’s work
and he was talking
about the lectins in grains
and how they might cause
intestinal permeability
and then go on to cause
autoimmune problems.
So on the one hand the difference between
my feeling better and feeling worse
had nothing to do with grains,
I already wasn’t eating grains.
And on the other hand I didn’t think
of a psychiatric issue
was having anything to do
with autoimmunity.
So I saw those papers
and didn’t look into them really.
But I didn’t realize that many plants have
the ability to cause intestinal permeability
or on the other hand if you already have
an intestinal permeability issue
then the toxins in plants that might not
even be causing it so much on their own
can start causing problems
that they wouldn’t have
if you didn’t have intestinal permeability.
And that makes it hard because you see
so many people eating plants
and doing just fine mean.
And most people can tolerate plants
and say, “Well if there are toxins in these
plants why aren’t they affecting everybody?”
And it might have something to do
with just pre-existing intestinal permeability
or a genetic predisposition and you sort of
have to think of yourself as a special case,
which we don’t always want to do.
So was that a part of, “I’m different,
I don’t want to be different, but I am”?
Yes, I mean you’re absolutely right about
seeing individuals who are able to eat plants.
It’s a little bit like in the low-carb world
we see for example
modern hunter gatherer societies
that have a higher carb intake and don’t
have any signs of metabolic syndrome,
diabetes or heart disease,
and so we say, “There you go,
carbs can cause a problem.”
But I think that you get to a certain point
where you have a certain amount of disorder
and now you’re no longer able
to eat those carbs and still be healthy.
So I think there’s a parallel kind of situation
where if you have a certain–
maybe it’s an intestinal permeability issue,
maybe it’s something else,
but you’ve gotten to a point
where the plants are no longer safe.
Right, so the Kitavans are sort
of the classic example of a high carb diet,
but yet relatively healthy when we talk
about the chronic diseases
and the diseases that we’re fighting now
presumably due to carbohydrates.
But the same thing can be said
about the “Blue Zones” populations,
that they eat their whole grains
and their fruits, and their vegetables,
but we have to factor in their whole lifestyle
and just how they live their life
with their relaxation and their connection,
and their exercise
and what the other quality of their food are
that they’re eating
and possibly even their genetic.
So they’re going to be a separate subset
and we can’t assume that we’re all the same,
that we’re all going to be like that.
So you’ve made this transition years ago.
And would you ever think of going back?
Well, honestly I don’t really like
to play around with it much,
because the consequences are so severe.
I’ve had a couple of situations where
something that I had added to my diet,
be it a supplement,
I don’t normally use much supplements,
but I’ve tried things here and there
and I’ve ended up lying on my bed,
looking up at the ceiling wishing I was dead
and thinking, “Wait a second,
I’ve been here before.”
That’s dramatic, yeah.
It really is and so from that standpoint
it’s not something that I’ve been
eagerly trying to test things out
and see if I can reintroduce them.
I’m also pretty satisfied with my lifestyle
as I said before,
you know, the cravings just disappeared
and beef and other meats
are quite satiating.
But that said, you know,
if I learned something new,
I try to really keep an open mind
and I’m not at all averse to the idea
of learning more
and finding myself somewhere different
10 years from now than I expected to be.
So one of the most interesting concepts
I think when thinking about a carnivore diet
is thinking of it as a short-term intervention
to fix something versus a long-term lifestyle
and the difference between those.
So as an example, you do it short-term,
it’s elimination diet
and then as you’re feeling better
you slowly start adding things in,
like just some spinach, some broccoli
or cauliflower, whatever the case may be,
until you find something that’s a trigger
so that you can start experiencing
and enjoying vegetables
and find out what you can and can’t eat.
Or just say, “I’m feeling better,
I’m sticking with it.”
So I think the main question is,
“Is there a danger? Is there a risk?”
And obviously we don’t know
the answer to that question.
Yet another million-dollar question.
Is your question,
“Is there a risk to adding things back?”
or, “Is there a risk
to not adding things back”?
Sorry, “Is there a risk
just staying carnivore long-term?”
I think that’s the main question.
The risk of adding things back,
you will notice,
because if you went carnivore for a reason
and something improved
and you start adding things back
and you feel those again,
then you know you can’t add those back.
Because the way I think of carnivores
it’s a great intervention
to try and fix something,
change something,
but then I want to get people
back to a variety of vegetables.
Now why do I feel that way?
Because again I’ve been ingrained
for decades
that this is not necessarily
a healthy long-term option?
Do I have any data saying that?
Do I know that for sure?
I don’t, but it’s hard to overcome
some of those personal beliefs
and yet here you are 10 years later
obviously doing just fine.
So do you have any concerns
for long-term health or sustainability for you?
I would want to enter that
a couple of ways.
One is, would you say the same thing
for a low-carb diet?
Would you say,
“Well it’s a good short-term intervention,
“but eventually I want to see people adding
back potatoes and grains
so they can get back to a regular diet?”
I would not.
But of course we do have a lot more data
for the low-carb situation,
but it wasn’t too long ago
that we had a lot less data
and we had to kind of go
with our gut feeling
of this is creating a better health situation
for you, so why mess with it?
The other thing that I would bring up is
these more recent societies
that we have in the recent past
that have been living on very low plant diet.
So for example the Inuit,
although their diet is quite different
in terms of things
like the polyunsaturated fatty acids.
The Masai are often brought up,
the Mongolians who at least
before the introduction of wheat
lived for very long time.
They had two words for food;
there was red food and white food.
And that was meat and dairy and they
basically didn’t eat plants either
and they were not known
for their wimpiness.
So I think we at least have some reasons
to believe that it could be quite sustainable.
It’s interesting, with the Inuit,
some people say they ate sea vegetables
and berries
and with the Masai they traded for bananas
and other…
So I guess there’s an argument there
if it was truly 100%…
does it matter if it’s 1% versus 100%?
I mean it’s still a very low amount.
But interestingly I think
that a lot of people
who will say that there is no evolutionary
or population base
who’s done this as a comparison
are sort of the vegans.
And you can say the same thing
about vegans,
there has been no society
that existed as vegan,
but yet somehow that seems more
acceptable among the general population
than the carnivore.
The carnivore movement seems
have created much more of an uproar
again because of our dietary guidelines
and where we’ve come from
and what we think are healthy.
But when the question comes down
to the nutrient deficiencies…
So with a vegan diet,
which is a very restrictive diet,
it’s well accepted
that there are nutrient deficiencies
and you need to supplement
with B 12 and Omega-3’s
and maybe vitamin D and other.
So with a carnivore diet
there’s the same concern,
magnesium and selenium
and a number of others.
So do you find that you do supplement
or that you would recommend people
supplement if they are on a carnivore diet?
I don’t supplement
and these though were traditional
but I have been in this phase for a while,
the traditional wisdom
among the carnivores that I know
is that supplementation usually leads
to more problems than it solves.
One of the things that’s really interesting
about nutrient deficiencies in a carnivore diet
is that a carnivore diet
is also a ketogenic diet if only mildly so.
And as one of the speakers
at the conference here was saying today
when you are in a ketogenic state,
a whole host of metabolic pathways
become different.
And what vitamins are technically,
are enzymes for metabolic processes,
or coenzymes I should say.
And so if you’re using a whole host
of different metabolic pathways
it shouldn’t be a surprise that some
of those coenzymatic needs
are going to change in their levels.
And so in some ways I think
we are back at the beginning,
the RDAs are all based on high carb dieters
and there are so many different factors.
For example there are absorption factors.
If you’re eating grains or legumes
then you’re going to need a higher level
of zinc than if you’re not,
because there are phytates for example
that interfere with the absorption of zinc
to a very large degree.
And so if you remove
the plants from your diet
all of a sudden the balance of nutrients
is going to change
in ways that we can’t necessarily predict.
That’s a very good point.
So all the RDAs all the assumptions
about what we need and we don’t need
are for a grain-based type of diet
or high carbohydrate type of diet
so this changes that dramatically.
So it really is sort of a period
of unknown though, isn’t it?
It is. It’s fun and of course
not without risk.
Right, but one of the other concepts
when you compare it to evolutionary societies
is they ate differently
even from a carnivore standpoint.
They ate nose to tail,
they ate organ meats,
they made use of the whole animal.
And I don’t know about you personally
but a lot of people in the carnivore community
eat sirloin steaks and ground beef
and that’s it,
more of the muscle meat.
Do you have concern from that standpoint?
Do you think it should be more varied
or even adding fish and eggs into that as well?
Well I’m going to play devil’s advocate
a little bit.
How do you know that during our evolution
we were eating nose to tail?
That’s a great point,
that’s an assumption,
because when you had to kill, you didn’t
know when your next one was going to be
and we’ve been taught that they made
the most use of that animal
and they ate all of it.
I don’t know any science that proves
that were not,
that’s the sort of the assumption I guess,
isn’t it?
It’s a little bit difficult to know.
I’m not totally objecting to the idea
that we might have
and certainly if you are in a time
of less abundance
you wouldn’t want to throw anything away
that you could use.
But even if you look at our use of plants,
we don’t eat the rinds necessarily
and we were also, at least in certain times,
possibly competing with other carnivores
who might have for example
gotten to the carcass first,
so if we were scavengers at one point
we might’ve been eating a whole different
set of part of the body than the whole.
There are also anecdotes
from Stefansson for example
that the Inuit weren’t eating
the whole animal,
that they were sharing a lot with their dogs
and they were preferentially give organs.
On the other side of the coin we know that
organs tend to be high in certain nutrients
that are important,
critical for the brain in fact,
so some people argue that you should
be eating the liver and the brain
and I feel I have to be a bit agnostic
at this point;
I eat organs myself because I like them,
but I’m not really sure what the true
importance of them is.
So you mentioned the Inuit,
what about the Masai
and modern hunter gatherer societies?
We can still see how they eat.
Do they tend to eat nose to tail?
That’s an excellent question
that I haven’t looked into for the Masai.
What I know about the Masai
is that they mostly eat blood and milk
so they’re keeping the animals alive
and that would suggest that they don’t get
a lot of access to the organs.
But I imagine that at some point
they probably do eat them.
And what about the absolute amount
of protein?
So in a ketogenic diet
there’s a lot of controversy about protein.
To oversimplify it,
the risk of oversimplifying it,
the more insulin resistant you are,
the less protein you can have
to remain in ketosis
and the more insulin sensitive you are
the more protein you can have to stay in ketosis.
I think is a relatively fair
oversimplification.
But then when you go to carnivore
your protein levels go up dramatically.
Is there a concern of too much protein
not only from a ketones standpoint
but an overstimulation
of mTOR and growth pathways
and potential IGF-I cancer risk
down the road?
Because that’s something that’s been talked
about and examined quite a bit as well.
I really like the way you articulated that
because I do think that a lot of it
depends on your insulin damage state
and I know that some people in the keto world
and even in the carnivore world
seem to do better on less protein.
But it’s not all about ketogenesis
in the carnivore world,
which was really surprising to me actually
because a lot of the benefits seem to come
just from the abstinence from plants.
And so there are people who I think eat
so much protein on a carnivorous diet
that they are in very mild ketosis
or maybe more infrequent ketosis
and yet they still seem to be getting
the full benefit of that.
So for example you could imagine that
someone whose reason for being carnivore
is that they have
irritable bowel disease,
they wouldn’t necessarily have
an insulin problem
and so they wouldn’t have
as much therapeutic need for ketosis.
The other idea though
that I would like to bring up
is that maybe using a glucose based system
that’s on demand
when you need it to be made
from your liver
is a still much healthier state
than bringing in exogenous carbohydrates.
So that you’re always on this kind of,
“I’ve got too much” or “I’ve got too little”
and having to adjust to the outside intake.
If you’re eating protein,
most of your metabolic processes
are still being predominantly glucose,
if that’s coming from gluconeogenesis
that still might be a healthier state
than being on a high carb diet where
you’re always having these blood sugar swings.
That’s a good point, where your glucose
comes from matters for sure.
So you’ve mentioned a couple of things,
we talked about you and specifics…
so there was weight loss
and psychiatric effects
and you mentioned irritable bowel
or even inflammatory bowel,
it seems like there is a certain autoimmune
component to what a carnivore diet can benefit.
So would that sort of be your go-to
if somebody said,
“Who do you recommend this with autoimmunity
sort of top the list for you?”
Absolutely, autoimmunity is
the number one place where I’ve seen anecdotes
and it’s not just that the carnivore diet
has had a lot of good results in those diseases,
but those diseases
have no other place to go.
That’s a great point yeah.
So why not try it?
So whether it’s Mikhaila Peterson with her
horrible autoimmune arthritis that got better,
whether it’s people
where their thyroid disease improves,
or whether is Hashimoto’s thyroiditis or
other inflammatory bowel conditions…
I mean what’s the examples that you’ve seen
of people who have had dramatic improvements?
Asthma, Lyme disease, allergies even
for autoimmune
and obviously Crohn’s.
Then mood disorders is the second one
that I would bring up
and I don’t know if that’s because
mood disorders actually have
an underlying autoimmune component
that we don’t know about.
There is a theory,
I don’t remember what it’s called,
but it has to do with permeability
of the blood brain barrier.
So if you imagine
that there’s intestinal permeability
that’s affecting your immune system
and you’ve got that compromised,
so you have now agents that shouldn’t be in
your bloodstream
and if you also have a permeability problem
in your brain barrier
then that could also have
a similar kind of consequence.
But regardless of mechanism
we have found, at least anecdotally,
that there are people like me who have
either bipolar disorder, anxiety disorder,
depressive disorder.
I haven’t heard anecdotes
about schizophrenia,
but I have a high level suspicion that it could
be helpful for those people as well.
And like you said
is what other options exist
and schizophrenia is one that not a lot
of great options exist for them
to be functional and feeling better
off medications with side effects.
And that’s a very big challenge.
So if this could serve that role
why not try it?
I don’t know if you’re familiar
with the paper…
it was Dr. Westman and somebody else…
they had a case study with someone
with schizophrenia on a ketogenic diet
and they speculated
that the improvement that they saw,
which was drastic by the way…
This was an elderly person
who had been schizophrenic
with severe psychosis her entire life
went on a ketogenic diet and had complete
like no more hallucinations.
They suspected that there might’ve been
a role for gluten
and the absence of gluten
in that particular case.
And so if gluten is a problem then maybe
intestinal permeability is a problem
and maybe a completely carnivorous diet
would help people.
One of the things about ketosis
is I generally like people to get into ketosis
and try it for at least 30 days
because there is this concept,
“You don’t know what you don’t know”.
You don’t know
how much better you could feel.
You may think you’re fine,
but maybe you could feel better.
Would you take it one step further and say
everybody straight carnivore for 30 days?
Because you don’t know,
maybe you’ll feel better?
Is that a statement you’d make
or am I putting words in your mouth?
No, I absolutely would.
it’s really funny because people think
that they can reason
from everything they know about nutrition
or biological science
and say, “I know what the effect of that diet
would be and it’s not going to help me.”
But if you’ve been through this process
of trying a ketogenic diet
and being really amazed at the, you know,
half-dozen things that happened to you
that you didn’t expect and that nobody
told you that you could expect,
positive side effects if you will.
The same kind of thing happens
on a carnivorous diet
and it sounds silly saying it, but it really
has to be experienced to be believed.
Very interesting.
Let’s transition a bit away
from the carnivorous diet,
because one of your other topics that
you’ve written a lot about and spoken about
is evolution.
And I’ve seen
a number of papers recently
saying that agriculture and grains happened
far earlier than we thought they did,
so maybe we evolved with grains
and not without grains
and then others saying our ancestors
were mostly plant-based
and we’ve got it all wrong and again
it’s hard to understand the science,
because we’re talking about something that
happened thousands of years ago
and it is hard to separate science
from propaganda,
from people just powering opinion.
So what have you learned
in this process of studying evolution
and trying to figure out the contributions
of meat versus plants versus grains?
Well, I think that we probably always had
some contribution of plants in our diet,
but I think that a lot of the time
it was very low.
If we narrow down what we’re talking
about in terms of the period,
I like to think about the period from when
the Homo Genesis started,
a couple of million years ago,
and when our brain
started really expanding.
The thing about the ability to get
the energy that we required
in order to feed not just our bodies
but our brains,
which actually require
a whole lot of energy;
the more brain tissue you have,
the more energy you need,
because it’s a very expensive tissue.
In order to have been able to get that
from grains and tubers
we would’ve had to have
a consistent supply of them
and we would’ve had
to have had cooking.
And there really isn’t any evidence that
we had the widespread controlled use of fire
until maybe
a hundred thousand years ago
which is much later than when
all this brain expansion took place.
And so you know I think a lot of people
get really excited
when they find some grains at a site
and say, “See? We had grains back then.”
But just because we had a few–
I mean obviously
we had to have come to it gradually.
We didn’t just suddenly one day
start farming grains.
We had to have discovered grains
and been using them a little bit
and then using them more.
There’s a great theory that the reason
that we wanted to use grains
was actually because of the opioid effects
and because or because of beer–
That’s a different story.
But whatever led us to be motivated
to do grain agriculture
was a gradual process.
And so it shouldn’t be surprising if we find
some evidence of some use of grains
going farther back
than the onset of agriculture.
The other thing about evolution
is the concept of intermittent fasting,
because we didn’t always have
fresh meat available.
The kills would be sort of intermittent
theoretically
and so we would have to be fasting
for some part of that.
Do you think that should play in–?
I’m going back to the carnivore diet.
Now do you think because of just saying
that was part of evolution
that that should also be
part of the carnivore diet?
It’s another one of those things
that’s hard to say
without actually being there
because there’s some reason to believe
that the abundance of animals
was actually quite a bit more at that time
if you compare for example–
you can look at bone evidence
and see how much famine periods
that societies went through by looking at–
there’s a marker in the bone
that shows fasting periods.
And there’s actually evidence
that agricultural societies had much worse
and more frequent famines
and I think that’s because they were reliant
on this supply
that could be killed for an entire year.
One bad hailstorm away
from famine basically.
Exactly, but the other thing
to take into account
is that the animals that we had access to
before agriculture
we had megafauna,
they were much larger
and there were probably
a lot more of them,
so you could have one kill
that could perhaps last months
if you knew how to store it.
Right, that’s a good point.
So without freezers
that would be tricky but not impossible.
Yeah there’s evidence
that we would put them underwater
or that we could dry them.
I think we really don’t know a lot
and there’s a lot of debate
on what really happened.
Yeah, but people surely like to talk
about it like the new what happened.
Yes.
I find myself falling in the same trap,
like this is what I’ve heard, it makes sense,
so therefore must be true
but you bring up a nice perspective that way;
“We need to think about this differently”.
Well I’m certainly susceptible
to it myself.
Now another quick transition into fiber,
because we hear a lot about healthy fiber,
that we all need our fiber.
And the gut microbiome,
we need to feed the microbiome with fibers
so that they get
their short chain fatty acids.
And the diverse microbiome
is a healthy microbiome.
So I guess that’s a lot
right there to digest.
It is a lot right there to digest.
So let’s start with fiber.
Why don’t you need your fiber?
What makes you so special?
Well, I don’t think I’m special
in that regard actually.
So fiber first came into people’s awareness
I think with Burkett
where he was comparing some
modern hunter-gatherers to Westerners
and trying to figure out
what was it about their diet
that would make them so much healthier.
And he noticed that they had more fiber,
the one the particular people
he was looking at had more fiber in their diets
and so he proposed that as the reason.
And I don’t think
it’s really held up to scrutiny.
So for example one reason
that people have latched onto
is that, “Oh, it lowers your blood glucose.”
Well that may be true if you’re eating
a lot of digestible carbohydrates,
but it absolutely has no bearing
on someone on a low-carb diet.
Another reason that I have heard
it can actually fill your gut
and thereby cause you to not over eat.
And I think that you need to give your body
a little bit more credit.
If it’s not getting the calories it needs,
the signal will get there.
Right, if you’re eating a lot
of processed foods and high carb foods
you’re not going to get the nutrients and
you’re going to continue to be hungry
and maybe adding fiber
can help in that situation.
But if you’re already eating
satiating foods
then the fibers are not going to serve
the same kind of role.
Yeah, but let’s talk a little bit
about the short chain fatty acid idea.
So one thing that I have learned
is that you can get short chain fatty acids
whether or not you’re eating plant fiber.
So for example I have seen
a study in dogs
where they gave them
a completely meat-based diet
and one that included
some plant fibers in it.
And the short chain fatty acids
that came out as a result
were exactly the same.
Really?
So the gut bacteria will adapt
to what you feed it.
You don’t have to plant
gut bacteria in there.
You feed them and they will come.
So if you change what you’re eating
the gut biome will change very quickly.
There will always be those that are
producing short chain fatty acids.
But then how important
are those short chain fatty acids?
A lot of people point to butyrate
in particular
and say, “This is really important
for the health of the colon.”
I’ve looked at a lot of the studies
on the putative health benefits
of butyrate in the colon
and a lot of them seemed to come back
to this idea of feeding with colonocyte.
What happens when you give the butyrate
to the colonocyte
is that it breaks it down
into the metabolite beta hydroxybutyrate.
Isn’t that interesting!?
Where have we heard that before?
Another piece of data
that might be interesting
is if you look at the literature
in germ-free animals–
so a mouse for example
that’s been brought up
without any source of bacteria
to fill up their guts,
it turns out that they live longer and that
they have less fat on their bodies
and for the most part
they’re more active
and they certainly don’t seem
to be compromised by it.
Interesting.
So there are a lot of reasons to think that
what we think we know about the gut biome
isn’t necessarily so.
So one of the arguments
is that breastmilk has precursors
that help your gut biome mature
and turning into short chain fatty acids
and make it more diverse
which is a healthier microbiome.
Well, hold on now.
The only place that I’ve seen
that’s a source of the idea
that a more diverse gut biome is healthier
was a comparison with the Hadza.
Right, so maybe I’m confusing
my evidence here.
Because the Hadza definitely said
that they were more diverse
compared to the industrial societies
with completely different diets.
So scratch that one from the record,
scratch the more diverse,
but that is important for the development
of the microbiome…
With the breast milk.
So would you say that
that’s a short-term need
and once it’s developed in longer-term
you don’t need the same precursors more?
I just don’t think that we know.
I think that the gut is extremely important
and I wouldn’t want to be understood
as saying that I didn’t think
that the got health is important,
but I just think that manipulating it
from the outside
might not be the best way to do that.
Another reason that we might think
we need gut bacteria
is because some people
who have taken prebiotics
have said that it’s helped them
with digestive problems.
And my answer to that
is if you’re trying to digest something
that you need certain bacteria
to be able to digest it,
then feeding prebiotics that help that strain
grow might be useful.
But if you’re not eating cabbage then why
do you need the bacteria in sauerkraut?
I guess this is the point.
You don’t need
those particular bacteria
because you’re not trying to digest
those particular foods.
Yeah, very good point.
Now do you follow yourself with labs?
Are you an N of one tester
or do you want to make sure
that there aren’t any signs
of deleterious effects down the road?
I’m terribly behind in this project.
It’s not that I don’t think it’s important but
the last labs that I got were five years ago…
Oh, interesting.
So I actually have some labs lined up.
I had ordered some this summer
and they fell through…
actually they were all lost
by the company that took them
so I need to do them again.
But I’m really interested in that kind of data,
it just hasn’t been a priority.
Yeah, because when it comes to sort
of the general population understanding
what a carnivore diet is and what it can
represent and how can change things
a big example is Dr. Sean Baker
and as amazing as he is that’s what
makes him such a terrible example
because he such a high-end athlete
setting world records
and his energy demands are off the charts.
So I think to try and use his labs and say,
“This is what can happen on a carnivore diet.”
It’s not such a great example.
And that’s where people like you
and a more less extreme person
on a carnivore diet would be very helpful.
Are there communities where people
are sharing their labs
or sharing especially their hemoglobin A1c
and their CRP’s and the lipids
and so forth about what happens?
-In carnivores?
-Yeah.
Not that I know of.
It could be happening.
I think that would be very interesting.
If you get your labs and share them
that would be wonderful.
I mean there’s so much that we don’t know
but I think it’s clear what we do know
is that this can be helpful
for a number of people
and I like your perspective
when there’s not many other alternatives,
the potential risks seem a lot smaller.
I think that’s a very good way
to look at it.
Yeah and you know the risks
as far as I know at this point are theoretical.
Very theoretical… Interesting.
Well, Amber, thank you so much
for coming on today to have this discussion.
Any last words and where can people learn
more about you?
I know you have a lot of material online
that can be very helpful for some people?
Thank you for asking.
I can be followed on Twitter,
my handle is @KetoCarnivore
and I’m very open to answering questions
as best as I can.
I have two blogs.
One of them it’s
a kind of a funny historical story.
I made two blogs because I was so averse
to talking about this carnivore idea
that I didn’t want to put it on my main blog
which was about the science
of ketogenic diets.
So I have written some articles
about ketogenic diets
and that’s on ketotic.org.
And then I started writing more personal
experiences about the carnivore diet
on empiri.ca.
Why were you averse
to talking about it?
Because it felt so unscientific.
I couldn’t bring to bear a clinical trial.
All I could say was this is what I’m doing
and this is what’s happening
and I was very uncomfortable
with mixing that up with the other site
which I really wanted to present
as this is what the literature shows.
In retrospect I think that was maybe a bit
more fractured than I needed to be.
Well but I think that says a lot
for your integrity.
Both your scientific integrity
and just as a person
that you don’t want to represent something
as being something that is not,
certainly with a level of evidence.
So I appreciate that and I think
that’s important for everything,
for people to understand
where it’s N of one, where it’s N of many
and where it’s scientific trials.
They are all valuable but we need
to interpret those differently.
So I think it’s great that you did that.
Thank you.
Thank you so much for coming on today,
I really appreciate it.