carnivore diet science researchFollowing up on last week’s big carnivore post, today I want to look at some of the main reasons people choose a carnivore diet in the first place.

There are those who just like meat a whole heckuva lot and don’t want to be bothered with vegetables, but I don’t think they represent the majority of the carnivore crowd. From what I can tell, most people come to the carnivore diet because they’re dealing with persistent health issues that aren’t being adequately resolved through conventional means. Maybe they’ve been trying something like Primal, paleo, or keto for a while, but there’s still room for improvement. Others are doing well but wish to see if they could achieve another level of awesomeness by doing something different or, dare I say, more extreme.

In these cases, carnivore is a sensible experiment for a number of reasons:

Carnivore diets combine the advantages of ketogenic and elimination diets, both of which are already popular for dealing with intractable health problems.

A nose-to-tail carnivorous diet is highly nutritious, providing bioavailable vitamins and minerals, plus plenty of protein, that the body needs.

If carnivore puts you in ketosis—and it almost certainly will—you get the anti-inflammatory benefits of ketones, plus mitochondrial biogenesis, increased fat-burning, appetite suppression, and more.

By removing potentially problematic plant foods, carnivore diets contain little or no:

  • FODMAPs
  • Oxalates
  • Lectins
  • Phytates
  • Glycoalkaloids
  • Salicylates

Carnivore lends itself to intermittent fasting and caloric restriction, both of which have noted health benefits.

You know I’m a fan of self-experimentation. Like any good scientist, you should start by educating yourself. In that spirit, today’s post is a roundup of available research. Use it as a jumping-off point for your own investigations if you are considering going carnivore. As always, I am not providing medical advice here. Please consult your doctors before using carnivore, or any diet, therapeutically.

What Does the Research Say?

Unfortunately, I can’t find any randomized controlled trials looking at carnivore for any health issue. There are a small number of published case studies, and Shawn Baker is currently trying to crowdfund some research. Otherwise, we have to rely on anecdotes and inferences from studies on other related diets (low-carb, high-protein, keto, low-FODMAP, and so on). Anecdotes are important, but they’ll never replace well-designed empirical studies. You can find confirmatory anecdotes supporting any of your beliefs if you find the right subreddit.

I pulled together the best of what I could find for today, but as you’ll see, we still have a lot to learn. The medical conditions included here are ones I’ve been asked about personally or that seem to be popular in carnivore forums. If you’d like me to address another in the future, drop me a comment below.

Carnivore Diets and Autoimmune Conditions

The carnivore diet has been launched into the public consciousness in large part thanks to people like Mikhaila Peterson, who credit carnivore with saving them from debilitating autoimmune illnesses. Using dietary interventions in this context is nothing new. There are more than 100 autoimmune conditions with different etiologies, triggers, and symptoms. What they usually have in common is gut dysbiosis and systemic inflammation. Removing pro-inflammatory, high-glycemic, insulinogenic foods is key to overcoming them.

Many folks are already using low-carb, ketogenic, or gluten-free diets to keep their symptoms at bay. The carnivore diet simply takes those a step further. But does it work? Anecdotally, yes, for some people anyway.

Does Carnivore Heal Leaky Gut?

Many doctors say that autoimmune issues “start in the gut,” since so many autoimmune conditions are characterized by increased intestinal permeability, commonly called leaky gut.https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3957428/‘>2 Of course, different isn’t always better. I guarantee that an all-Oreo diet will produce some pretty profound changes, too, but I wouldn’t call them favorable.

In this case, though, we have some promising evidence from the Paleomedicina clinic in Hungary. They use a protocol they call the Paleolithic Ketogenic Diet (PKD), which starts out as full carnivore, though patients are ultimately allowed to include a small amount of approved, organic vegetables. Doctors administer a test called the PEG400 intestinal permeability test to all patients and claim great success in bringing patients into normal ranges with their protocol.https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC1754463/[ /ref] greater fish intake,[ref]https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5740014/‘>4 and omega-3 supplementationhttps://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/10895373‘>6

A single report from The Medical Journal of Australia in 1964 reports the success of using a high-protein, gluten-free diet to successfully put 20 rheumatoid arthritis patients into remission for a period of up to 18 months.https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6592837/‘>8 and a gluten-free diethttps://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/31309536‘>10 https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/31634384‘>12 seem to help psoriasis sufferers. Higher intakes of omega-3 fatty acids do as well, which might be expected on a carnivore diet rich in small, oily fish like anchovies and sardines.https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/8219661‘>14 On the other hand, case studies going back decades suggest that high-protein and high-fat diets are not effective and in fact worsen psoriasis symptoms.https://jamanetwork.com/journals/jama/article-abstract/279740‘>16 https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/29605673‘>18

This is one case where I’d tread cautiously. Of course, a quick Google search turns up plenty of people whose symptoms were improved after going carnivore. It can work, and there’s one case study of a patient who was helped by a low-carb, high-protein ketogenic diet.https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4642427/‘>20 “Residue” is the undigested stuff in food—the leftovers, if you will—that passes through the gastrointestinal tract and gets excreted. Carnivore is an extremely low-residue and low-fiber diet.

Likewise, low-FODMAP diets show considerable promise for relieving the pain and other unpleasant symptoms of IBS.https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/24830318/‘>22 Remember, FODMAPs are fermentable short-chain carbohydrates that often cause gastrointestinal distress for people with existing GI dysfunction. You won’t find them on a carnivorous diet.

The Paleomedicina team also published a case study of an adolescent boy with Crohn’s disease—a severe form of IBS—who was able to go off his Crohn’s medication after just two weeks on the PKD. After ten months on the diet, ultrasounds of his intestines were normal, and there were no longer markers of intestinal permeability.https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0166223613000088‘>24 https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3285451/‘>26 Therefore, any diet that improves gut health and reduces inflammation is potentially useful.

Psychiatrist Dr. Georgia Ede has become an outspoken advocate of carnivore for depression, as well as other mental health disorders, on these grounds. She also correctly points out that the brain requires fat, including cholesterol, and other nutrients that are much more abundant in animal foods than in plant foods, such as choline, carnitine, omega-3 fatty acids EPA and DHA, and vitamin B12.https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/25465596/‘>28 Likewise, one study found women who consume less red meat were at greater risk for major depression.https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/17012733‘>30 https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/19405829/’>32

  • A pilot study showed that when ten participants ate a low-carb (<130 grams per day), high-omega-3, nutrient-dense diet that sounds quite like a typical Primal diet, gum health significantly improved after just six weeks.https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/30941800/‘>34
  • Carnivore for weight loss

    There’s every reason to suspect that carnivore diets should promote weight loss. If you’ve ever tried, you know it’s hard to overeat protein. Because protein is highly satiating, it tends to lead naturally to caloric restriction.https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/pmc2858200/‘>36 https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/16129086‘>38 And of course, we know that ketogenic diets can be great for burning excess body fat.

    Potential Negative Health Impacts of Carnivore?

    Detractors will tell you that carnivore must be bad for your health, what with all that carcinogenic red meat and artery-clogging cholesterol (/sarcasm). Not surprisingly, I don’t put much stock in those arguments. Nevertheless, in the spirit of open-minded pursuit of truth, let’s see what the data actually say.

    Carnivore Diet and Colon Cancer

    I have already debunked the shoddy epidemiological studies that fuel the belief that red meat causes colon cancer, but it’s one of those conventional wisdom “truths” that won’t seem to go away. Sure, don’t eat a ton of processed meats, and don’t eat your red meat on a white-flour hamburger bun alongside fries cooked in rancid oil. But where’s the evidence that a proper nose-to-tail carnivore diet increases cancer risk?

    I can’t find any, but I did find two case studies from the Paleomedicina team that are relevant to this question:

    Emerging research also suggests that ketogenic diets exert anti-tumor effects with certain colon cancers.https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5852782/‘>42 https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3572016/‘>44 On the flip side, people who follow a high(ish)-protein Atkins diet have lower serum uric acid levels.https://www.fda.gov/about-fda/fda-basics/has-stevia-been-approved-fda-be-used-sweetener‘>1

    And, there are limits. According to government standards, you should not exceed a daily intake for stevia glycosides of 4mg per kg of bodyweight.http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/16278783‘>3

    Another study looked at the postprandial effects of stevia, sucrose, and aspartame in human subjects. Compared to sucrose eaters, stevia eaters showed lower postprandial (after eating) blood sugar levels. Compared to both sucrose and aspartame eaters, stevia eaters had far lower postprandial insulin levels. Furthermore, eating stevia did not induce increased appetite throughout the day, indicating stable blood sugar and satiety levels.https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/17744732/‘>5 That said, it is not a reliable form of birth control, so it’s not advisable to use it for that purpose.

    Any Other Effects?

    There are other potential benefits to using stevia unrelated to its apparent benefits on glycemic control. Here are a few studies I was able to dig up:

    • When combined with inulin, a soluble prebiotic fiber, low-dose stevia increased HDL while lowering overall lipids in male rats.http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/20010904‘>7 I couldn’t dig up exactly how they were “treated,” however, but they were given doses of 10 mg/kg.
    • In another study, mice memory was impaired by administration of scopolamine, an anticholigernic found in the intensely hallucinogenic jimson weed (or devil’s weed) and datura. Impaired mice were given oral stevioside (250 mg/kg) and tested for memory retention. Memory deficit was largely reversed with administration of stevioside, which also reduced the brain oxidative damage caused by scopolamine.http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/14693305‘>9 Patients either took a 500 mg capsule of stevioside or a placebo three times a day for two years. The hypertension situation improved across the board and no downsides were reported or detected. Also of note is the fact that slightly more patients in the placebo group developed left ventricular hypertrophy, a pathological thickening of the heart muscle. Of course, another study using far lower doses (up to 15 mg/kg/day) found no anti-hypertensive effects,http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/12444299‘>11

    We can think about stevia as a Primal sugar alternative with some potentially beneficial effects. Kind of like cinnamon or turmeric, we don’t consume it for the calories or as literal fuel for our bodies, but for flavor, variety, and, possibly, the health benefits. It may induce insulin secretion, but it increases insulin sensitivity, reduces blood glucose (i.e., the insulin is doing its job), and does not increase appetite. It’s been used by humans for hundreds of years and by diabetic patients in Asia for decades. I’m a fan of the stuff and recommend it as a Primal way to satisfy a sweet tooth.

    What do you guys think of stevia? Love it? Hate it? Have you ever used its potential therapeutic effects? Let me know in the comment section!

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    dealing with a difficult partnerOne of the biggest challenges of going Primal (or Keto or anything that goes against the norm of the Standard American Diet) is dealing with people who have no clue why you’d ever do such a thing. Even though there have been tons of studieshttps://bmcmedicine.biomedcentral.com/articles/10.1186/1741-7015-12-12‘>2

    The good news is, it works the other way too. In a trial funded by the National Institute of Health, researchers looked at the ripple effect of healthy behaviors in a household. Participants and their spouses were placed into two groups: an intensive lifestyle intervention (which included a specific diet and physical activity) and a care plan that included only education and support. Researchers weighed the couples at the beginning and end of the trial and found that approximately 25% of the spouses in the intensive intervention lost 5% more of their baseline weight compared to less than 10% of the spouses in the other group.https://psycnet.apa.org/record/1997-04812-007‘>4 In this case, a more gradual approach might be more beneficial if you want your partner to follow your lead.

    5. Get your priorities in order

    Another thing to keep in mind is that this is YOUR health journey. You’re the one who’s embarking on this change, not your significant other, your spouse, or even your kids. That’s why it’s crucial that you get clear on what message you’re putting out there. Sure, it would be great if everyone in your household ate the same thing (who likes to make two dinners anyway?) and no one ever brought cookies or Halloween candy or artificially colored and flavored juice drinks into your home, but that’s not necessarily realistic. It’s not necessary to your success either.

    So, asking yourself: is your partner being difficult because they’re not supporting you? Or because they’re not eating and moving their body exactly how you’re doing it? Good questions to ponder. Someone can be supportive yet choose to not live a Primal lifestyle. And that’s okay.

    6. Find common ground

    Assuming that your SAD-loving partner would prefer to eat Twinkies and mac-n-cheese all day isn’t just unfair, it’s unproductive. Take a step back and figure out what foods you both enjoy eating (there’s got to be at least one, right?). Maybe you both like eggs or salmon or grilled asparagus. Or a great rare steak. By finding a favorite food in common, you can come up with meals that satisfy both of your eating preferences. Plus, the effort of wanting to find common ground with your partner can reduce the tension of a ‘my way or the highway scenario’.

    7. Join a supportive community

    If you’re not getting the support you need at home (or not enough support), there are tons of online groups you can engage with. Right now, the Mark’s Daily Apple Facebook group has more than 200,000 members. Keto Reset has 32,000 members. And Primal Blueprint has more than 20,000 members. If that’s not enough, reach out to a friend, a family member, or one of our expert health coaches.

    Participating in a group gives you the opportunity to be with people who have a like-minded purpose. Not only will you be interacting with those who understand what you’re going through, it can help you feel less isolated, less anxious, and less stressed out.

    8. Reflect on your own journey

    You might be all-in when it comes to your keto or Primal lifestyle now, but think back to the beginning of your health journey. Transitioning away from a morning toast and OJ routine, or sandwich-and-chips-on-the-go isn’t always easy. And it’s not something to take lightly. So, if your significant other isn’t diving into Primal in one fell swoop, relax a little. They may need an approach that feels less scary — where they’re less likely to fail. Just remember that everyone’s journey is different. Even the people who live under the same roof as you.

    What’s worked for you? Tell me if you’ve used any of these tactics or other strategies, when dealing with a difficult or unsupportive partner.

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