Inflammation gets a bad rap in the alternative health world: “Inflammation causes heart disease, cancer, and autoimmune disease! It’s at the root of depression.” These are all true—to some extent.
Name a disease, and inflammation is involved.
Crohn’s disease is inflammatory.
Major depression is inflammatory.
Heart disease is inflammatory.
Autoimmune diseases, which involve an inflammatory response directed at your own tissues, are inflammatory.
Arthritis is inflammatory.
Even obesity is inflammatory, with fat cells literally secreting inflammatory cytokines.
Yes, but the story is more complicated than that. Inflammation, after all, is a natural process developed through millions of years of evolution. It can’t be wholly negative. Just like our bodies didn’t evolve to manufacture cholesterol to give us heart disease, inflammation isn’t there to give us degenerative diseases.
So, Why Does Inflammation Happen?
When pain, injury, or illness hit, the first responder is the acute inflammatory response. In other words, it is brief, lasting several days or less. All sorts of things can cause an acute inflammatory response. Here are a few:
- Trauma (punch, kick, golf ball to the head)
- Infection by pathogens (bacterial, viral)
- Burn (sun, fire, seat belt buckle on a summer day)
- Chemical irritants
- Allergic reaction
Things happen pretty fast in an acute inflammatory response and involve several different players, including the vascular system (veins, arteries, capillaries and such), the immune system, and the cells local to the injury.
- First, something painful and unpleasant happens; choose one of the above injury options.
- Then, pattern recognition receptors (PRR) located at the injury site initiate the release of various inflammatory mediators, which in turn initiate vasodilation (or widening of the blood vessels). This allows increased blood flow to the injury site, which warms the site, turns it the familiar red, and carries plasma and leukocytes to the site of the injured tissue.
- The blood vessels become more permeable, thus allowing the plasma and leukocytes to flow through the vessel walls and into the injured tissue to do their work. Emigration of plasma into tissue also means fluid buildup, which means swelling.
- At the same time, the body releases an inflammatory mediator called bradykinin, which increases pain sensitivity at the site and discourages usage of the injured area. These sensations—heat, redness, swelling, pain, and a loss of function—are annoying and familiar, but they’re absolutely necessary for proper healing.
Why Is (Acute) Inflammation Essential?
Allow me to explain why the four primary symptoms of acute inflammation are necessary, despite being unpleasant:
- Increased blood flow warms the injury and turns it red, which can be irritating and unsightly, but it also carries the guys—leukocytes—that will be cleaning up the injury site, mopping up pathogens, and overseeing the inflammatory process.
- Swollen body parts don’t fit into gloves, are really sensitive, and don’t work as well as their slim counterparts, but a swollen finger is a finger that’s full of a plasma and leukocyte slurry and therefore on the road to recovery.
- Pain hurts, but if an injury doesn’t hurt and it’s serious, you’ll keep damaging it because you won’t know not to use it.
- Loss of function prevents you from using what could be one of your favorite body parts, but you don’t want to make it worse be re-injuring it. Besides, it’s only temporary.
What About Chronic Inflammation?
These symptoms both indicate and enable inflammation (and, thus, healing), but what’s the deal with inflammation being linked with all those chronic illnesses—like obesity, heart disease, and depression? How does something normal and helpful go haywire and become implicated in some of the most crushing, tragic diseases of our time?
When inflammation becomes chronic and systemic, when it ceases to be an acute response, when it becomes a constant low-level feature of your physiology that’s always on and always engaged, the big problems arise.
The inflammatory response is supposed to be short and to the point. And because a big part of inflammation is breaking the tissue down, targeting damaged tissue and invading pathogens, before building it back up, the inflammatory response has the potential to damage the body. That’s why it’s normally a tightly regulated system: because we don’t want it getting out of hand and targeting healthy tissue. But if it’s on all the time—if chronic inflammation sets in—regulation becomes a lot harder.
Acute vs. Chronic Inflammation
A perfect example of the acute inflammation versus chronic inflammation dichotomy is exercise.
A single hard workout raises inflammation. It’s a stressor, a damaging event imposed upon your body. See for yourself.
A hard run spikes C-reactive protein for up to two days.
During exercise, skeletal muscle releases the inflammatory cytokine IL-6, a marker of damage.
Volleyball practice elicits spikes in IL-6 in both male and female elite volleyball players.
Acute exercise spiked CRP in cardiovascular disease patients (but a four-month exercise program lowered it).
This table of inflammatory responses to strenuous endurance events shows some massive spikes in CRP, some up to 20-fold the baseline value.
Yet, study after study (epidemiological and clinical alike) shows that extended exercise programs generally reduce markers of inflammation (like C-reactive protein) over the long-term:
- In elderly Japanese women, a 12-week resistance training program reduced circulating levels of inflammatory markers compared to baseline; reductions in CRP were associated with increases in muscle thickness.
- American adults who engaged in frequent physical activity tended to have lower CRPs than adults who were more sedentary.
- In type 2 diabetics, (key term coming up) long-term high intensity resistance and aerobic training reduced inflammatory markers over the course of a year (independent of changes in body weight, meaning activity was the key factor).
- Endurance combined with resistance training reduced CRP in young, healthy women better than endurance training alone.
- In obese, post-menopausal women, a basic moderate cardio program lowered CRP without really affecting body weight either way over the course of a year.
There are many more out there, but the general gist is that regular exercise tends to lower markers of systemic inflammation while acute exercise increases markers of acute inflammation. And sometimes what’s acute can become chronic. How do we make sense of this? How do we avoid making those acute spikes a chronic, constant thing?
Identifying Chronic Inflammation: Objective Markers
First, we need to be able to identify chronic inflammation. What symptoms and biomarkers can we use to track our inflammation levels?
CRP, or C-Reactive Protein
CRP is a protein that binds with dead and dying cells and bacteria in order to clear them from the body. It can always be found (and measured) in the bloodstream, but levels spike when inflammation is at hand. During acute inflammation caused by infection, for example, CRP can spike by up to 50,000-fold. CRP spikes due to acute inflammation peak at around 48 hours and declines pretty quickly thereafter (post acute-phase inflammation CRP has a half life of 18 hours). Thus, if the incident causing the inflammation is resolved, CRP goes back to normal within a few days. If it persists, the infection/trauma/etc. probably persists as well.
Highly sensitive to many different kinds of stressors, CRP rises in response to essentially anything that causes inflammation. This makes it valuable for determining that inflammation is occurring, but it makes it difficult to determine why that inflammation is occurring—because it could be almost anything. But if you’re looking for confirmation that you are chronically, systemically inflamed, an elevated CRP (in absence of any acute infections, injuries, burns, or stressors) is a useful barometer.
“Normal” CRP levels are supposedly 10 mg/L. Absent infection or acute stressors, however, ideal CRP levels are well under 1 mg/L. You want to stay well below 1; you don’t want “normal.” Between 10-40 mg/L (and perhaps even 1-9 mg/L, too) indicates systemic inflammation (or pregnancy), while anything above that is associated with real acute stuff. Note that exercise can elevate CRP, so don’t get tested if you’ve worked out in the last couple days.
IL-6, or Interleukin-6
T cells (type of white blood cell that plays a huge role in the immune response) and macrophages (cells that engulf and digest—also known as phagocytosing—stray tissue and pathogens) both secrete IL-6 as part of the inflammatory response, so elevated IL-6 can indicate systemic inflammation.
Tissue Omega-3 Content
This is a direct measurement of the omega-3 content of your bodily tissue. It’s not widely available, but it is very useful. Remember that anti-inflammatory eicosanoids draw upon the omega-3 fats in your tissues and that inflammatory eicosanoids draw upon the omega-6 fats. People having a higher proportion of omega-6 fats will thus produce more inflammatory eicosanoids. Now, we absolutely need both inflammatory and anti-inflammatory eicosanoids for proper inflammatory responses, but people with high omega-6 tissue levels make way too many inflammatory eicosanoids. Studies indicate that people with the highest omega-3 tissue levels suffer fewer inflammatory diseases (like coronary heart disease).
Research (highlighted and explicated here by Chris Kresser) suggests that omega-3 tissue concentrations of around 60% are ideal, which is a level commonly seen in Japan—the seemingly paradoxical land of high blood pressure, heavy smoking, and low coronary heart disease rates.
This measures the EPA and DHA, the two important omega-3 fatty acids, as a percentage of total fatty acids present in your red blood cells. It doesn’t correlate exactly to tissue amounts, but it’s pretty good and a powerful predictor of cardiovascular disease risk. The omega-3 index doesn’t measure omega-6 content, but those with a low omega-3 index are probably sporting excessive omega-6 in their red blood cells.
Anything above 8% corresponds to a “low risk,” but levels of 12-15% are ideal and roughly correspond to the 60% tissue content mentioned by Chris’ article. Four percent and below is higher risk and can be viewed as a proxy for increased inflammation (or at least the risk of harmful systemic inflammation developing from normal inflammation).
Heart Rate Variability
Systemic Inflammatory Response Syndrome Score
There’s the systemic inflammatory response syndrome, which is incredibly serious and has four criteria. If you have two or more of them at once, congratulations: you qualify—and should probably see a health professional immediately. This isn’t relevant for low-grade systemic inflammation, like the kind associated with obesity or autoimmune disease.
- Body temperature less than 96.8 F (36 C) or greater than 100.4 F (38 C).
- Heart rate above 90 beats per minute.
- High respiratory rate, 20 breaths per minute or higher.
- White blood cell count fewer than 4000 cells/mm³ or greater than 12,000 cells/mm³.
Of these objective markers to test, I’d lean toward CRP, HRV, and one of the omega-3 tests. CRP is pretty comprehensive, HRV is a two-fer (inflammation and general stress/recovery), and, while omega-3 tissue or blood cell content doesn’t necessarily indicate the existence of systemic inflammation in your body, it does indicate the severity of the inflammatory response you can expect your body to have. Taken together, these tests will give you an idea of where you stand.
Identifying Inflammation: Subjective Markers
There are also subjective markers. They may be harmless artifacts, but they may indicate that something systemic is going on.
Flare-up of Autoimmune Conditions You Haven’t Heard From In Ages
Sore joints, dry, patchy, and/or red skin, and anything else that indicates a flare-up. For me, this is usually mild arthritis.
Acute inflammation is often characterized by swelling at the site of injury. The same effect seems to occur in states of systemic inflammation, although they aren’t localized, but rather generalized.
If you feel stressed, you’re probably inflamed. I’m talking about the kind that has you rubbing your temples, face palming, sighing every couple minutes, and pinching the space between your eyes very, very hard.
Persistent But Unexplained Nasal Congestion
Could be allergies, sure, but I’ve always noticed that when I’m under a lot of stress and generally in an inflamed state, my nose gets clogged. Certain foods will trigger this, too, and I think it can all be linked to a persistent but subtle state of inflammation.
If you fit the bill for the eight signs of overtraining listed in this post, you’re probably inflamed.
Ultimately, though? It comes down to the simple question you must ask yourself: How do you feel?
I mean, this seems like an obvious marker, but a lot of people ignore it in pursuit of numbers. If you feel run down, lethargic, unhappy, your workouts are suffering, you struggle to get out of bed, you’re putting on a little extra weight around the waist, sex isn’t as interesting, etc., etc., etc., you may be suffering from some manner of systemic, low-grade inflammation. Conversely, if you’re full of energy, generally pleased and/or content with life, killing it in the gym, bounding out of bed, lean as ever or on your way there, and your sex drive is powerful and age appropriate (or inappropriate), you’re probably not suffering from chronic inflammation.
Causes of Chronic Inflammation
We need to determine why inflammation is “on” all the time—and then take the steps to counter it. I’m going to fire off a few things that both induce inflammation and tend toward prevalence in developed countries. You let me know if anything sounds familiar to you.
- Toxic diets: High-sugar, high-processed carb, high-industrial fat, high-gluten, high-CAFO meat, low-nutrient food is a pretty accurate descriptor of the modern Western diet.
- Insufficient omega-3 intake: Omega-3 fats form the precursors for anti-inflammatory eicosanoids, which are an integral part of the inflammatory response. Poor omega-3 status means insufficient production of anti-inflammatory eicosanoids and a lopsided inflammatory response to normal stimuli.
- Excessive omega-6 intake: Omega-6 fats form the precursors for inflammatory eicosanoids, which are an integral part of the inflammatory response. High omega-6 status (especially when combined with poor omega-3 status) means excessive production of inflammatory eicosanoids and a lopsided inflammatory response to normal stimuli. The more omega-6 you eat, the more omega-3 you crowd out for anti-inflammatory eicasonoid formation.
- Lack of sleep: Poor sleep is linked to elevated inflammatory markers. Poor sleep is a chronic problem in developed nations. Either we go to bed too late, wake up too early, or we use too many electronics late at night and disrupt the quality of what little sleep we get. Or all three at once.
- Lack of movement: People lead sedentary lives, by and large, and a lack of activity is strongly linked to systemic, low-grade inflammation. People don’t have to walk to get places, they take escalators and elevators, they sit for hours on end, and they don’t have time for regular exercise.
- Poor recovery: Other people move too much, with too little rest and recovery. When I ran 100+ miles a week, I certainly wasn’t sedentary, but I was chronically inflamed. Overtraining is a form of chronic inflammation.
- Chronic stress: Modern life is stressful. Bills, work, commuting, politics, exercise that you hate – it all adds up and it doesn’t seem to let up or go away. And if it becomes too much for you to handle (I know it’s too much for me at times), your body will have a physiological, inflammatory response to emotional stress.
- Lack of down time: When you’re always on the computer, always checking your email/Facebook/smartphone, you are always “on.” You may think you’re relaxing because your body is stationary, but you’re not relaxing.
- Lack of nature time: We spend too much time contained in cubicles, cars, trains, and cities, away from trees, leaves, and soft earth. In a way, nature is home for us. Going home certainly has its measured benefits.
- Poor gut health: The gut houses the bulk of the human immune system. When it’s unhealthy, so is your inflammatory regulation. A healthy gut is also selectively permeable, allowing beneficial compounds passage into the body and keeping toxins out. An unhealthy gut often becomes leaky, allowing toxins into the body to stimulate an immune, inflammatory response.
- Poor acute stressor/chronic stress ratio: We respond far better to acute stressors than repeated, sustained stress – even if the latter is of a lower intensity.
See what I mean? Since we’re set up for acute stressors requiring an acute inflammatory response, all this other low-level, evolutionarily-discordant, superficially mild stuff set against a backdrop of misaligned fatty acid ratios and impaired gut health throws us off and sets us up for a lifetime of chronic inflammation.
Inflammation is a complex physiological process that can go wrong in a lot of ways. But luckily, sticking to the tried and true dietary and lifestyle measures will get you most of the way toward preventing inflammation from becoming chronic and untamed.
If you have any further questions about inflammation, fire away down below! Thanks for reading.
Eliakim A, Portal S, Zadik Z, et al. The effect of a volleyball practice on anabolic hormones and inflammatory markers in elite male and female adolescent players. J Strength Cond Res. 2009;23(5):1553-9.
Lara fernandes J, Serrano CV, Toledo F, et al. Acute and chronic effects of exercise on inflammatory markers and B-type natriuretic peptide in patients with coronary artery disease. Clin Res Cardiol. 2011;100(1):77-84.
Ford ES. Does exercise reduce inflammation? Physical activity and C-reactive protein among U.S. adults. Epidemiology. 2002;13(5):561-8.
Balducci S, Zanuso S, Nicolucci A, et al. Anti-inflammatory effect of exercise training in subjects with type 2 diabetes and the metabolic syndrome is dependent on exercise modalities and independent of weight loss. Nutr Metab Cardiovasc Dis. 2010;20(8):608-17.
Daray LA, Henagan TM, Zanovec M, et al. Endurance and resistance training lowers C-reactive protein in young, healthy females. Appl Physiol Nutr Metab. 2011;36(5):660-70.
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Older people (and those headed in that direction, which is everyone else) are really sold a bill of goods when it comes to health and longevity advice. I’m not a young man anymore, and for decades I’ve been hearing all sorts of input about aging that’s proving to be not just misguided, but downright incorrect. Blatant myths about healthy longevity continue to circulate and misinform millions. Older adults at this very moment are enacting routines detrimental to living long that they think are achieving the opposite. A major impetus for creating the Primal Blueprint was to counter these longevity myths. That mission has never felt more personal.
So today, I’m going to explore and refute a few of these top myths, some of which contain kernels of truth that have been overblown and exaggerated. I’ll explain why.
1) “Don’t Lift Heavy: You’ll Throw Out Your Back”
Obviously, a frail grandfather pushing 100 shouldn’t do Starting Strength right off the bat (or maybe ever, depending on how frail he is). That’s not my contention here. My contention:
Lifting as heavy as you can as safely as you can is essential for healthy longevity. That’s why I put it first in the list today. It’s that important.
For one, lean muscle mass is one of the strongest predictors of resistance to mortality. The more muscle a person has (and the stronger they are), the longer they’ll live—all else being equal. That’s true in both men and women.
One reason is that the stronger you are, the more capable you are. You’re better at taking care of yourself, standing up from chairs, ascending stairs, and maintaining basic functionality as you age.
Another reason is that increased lean mass means greater tissue reserve—you have more organ and muscle to lose as you age, so that when aging-related muscle loss sets in, you have longer to go before it gets serious. And that’s not even a guarantee that you’ll lose any. As long as you’re still lifting heavy things, you probably won’t lose much muscle, if any. Remember: the average old person studied in these papers isn’t doing any kind of strength training at all.
It doesn’t have to be barbells and Olympic lifts and CrossFit. It can be machines (see Body By Science, for example) and bodyweight and hikes. What matters is that you lift intensely (and intense is relative) and safely, with good technique and control.
2) “Avoid Animal Protein To Lower IGF-1”
Animal protein has all sorts of evil stuff, they say.
Methionine—linked to reduced longevity in animal models.
Increased IGF-1—a growth promoter that might promote unwanted growth, like cancer.
Yet, a huge study showed that in older people, those 65 or older, increased animal protein intake actually protected against mortality. The older they were and the more protein they ate, the longer they lived.
Meanwhile, low-protein diets have been shown to have all sorts of effects that spell danger for older people hoping to live long and live well:
- Slow the metabolism, increase insulin resistance, and cause body fat gain.
- Impair the immune system and make infections more severe.
- Reduce muscle function, cellular mass (yes, the actual mass of the cell itself), and immune response in elderly women.
- Impair nitrogen balance in athletes.
- Increase the risk of osteoporosis.
- Increase the risk of sarcopenia (muscle wasting).
And about that “excess methionine” and “increased IGF-1”?
In both human and animal studies, there’s a U-shaped relationship between IGF-1 levels and lifespan. Animal studies show an inverse relationship between IGF-1 and diabetes, heart disease, and heart disease deaths (higher IGF-1, less diabetes/heart disease) and a positive association between IGF-1 and cancer (higher IGF-1, more cancer). A recent review of the animal and human evidence found that while a couple human studies show an inverse relationship between IGF-1 and longevity, several more show a positive relationship—higher IGF-1, longer lifespan—and the majority show no clear relationship at all.
3) “You’re Never Getting Back That Cartilage—Once It’s Gone, It’s Gone”
Almost every doctor says this. It’s become an axiom in the world of orthopedics.
But then we see this study showing that people have the same microRNAs that control tissue and limb regeneration in lizards and amphibians. They’re most strongly expressed in the ankle joints, less so in the knees, and even less so at the hip—but they’re there, and they’re active.
I’ve seen some impressive things, have been able to personally verify some stunning “anecdotes” from friends and colleagues who were able to regrow cartilage or at least regain all their joint function after major damage to it. Most doctors and studies never capture these people. If you look at the average older person showing up with worn-down joints and degraded or damaged cartilage, how active are they? What’s their diet?
They are mostly inactive. They are often obese or overweight.
They generally aren’t making bone broth and drinking collagen powder. They aren’t avoiding grains and exposing their nether regions to daily sun. They aren’t doing 200 knee circles a day, performing single leg deadlifts, and hiking up mountains. These are the things that, if anything can, will retain and regrow cartilage. Activity. Letting your body know that you still have need of your ankles, knees, and hips. That you’re still an engaged, active human interacting with the physical world.
4) “Retire Early”
This isn’t always bad advice, but retiring and then ceasing all engagement with the outside world will reduce longevity, not increase it. Having a life purpose is essential for living long and living well; not having one is actually an established risk factor for early mortality. And at least when you’re getting up in the morning to go to work, you have a built-in purpose. That purpose may not fulfill your heart and spirit, but it’s a purpose just the same: a reason to get up and keep moving.
Retiring can work. Don’t get me wrong. But the people who retire early and make it work for their health and longevity are staying active. They’re pursuing side projects or even big visions. They have hobbies, friends, and loved ones who they hang out with all the time.
The ones who don’t? Well, they are at at increased risk of dying early.
You don’t have to keep working a job you hate, or even a job you enjoy. You can retire. Just maintain your mission.
5) “Take It Easy As You Get Older”
As older people, we’re told that sex might be “too strenuous for the heart” (Truth: It’s good for it). We’re told to “take the elevator to save our knees.” They tell us “Oh, don’t get up, I’ll get it for you.”
They don’t tell me that because, well, I’m already up and doing the thing. I’m active and obviously so. I don’t take it easy.
Stay vigorous, friends. Stay vivacious. Don’t be foolhardy, mind you. Be engaged.
“Take it easy” quickly becomes “sit in the easy chair all day long watching the news.” Don’t let it happen.
That’s not to say you shouldn’t rest. Rest is everything. Sleep is important. But you must earn your rest, and when you have the energy, take advantage of it. Don’t rest on your laurels.
As you can see, there are tiny kernels of truth in many of these myths. We should all be careful lifting heavy things and pay close attention to technique and form. Everyone should care for their cartilage and avoid damage to it. No one should continue working a job that sucks their soul and depletes their will to live if they can move on from it. And so on.
What we all need to avoid is sending the message to our brain, body, and cells that we’re done. That we’ve given up and our active, engaged life is effectively over. Because when that happens, it truly is over.
Someone asked me when aging begins. How old is “old”?
I think I know now. Aging begins when you start listening to conventional longevity advice. As I said on Twitter earlier today, healthy aging begins when you do the opposite.
Want more on building a life that will allow you to live well into later decades? I definitely have more on that coming up. A perceptive reader shared the news in one of the Facebook groups already, so let me mention it here. My new book, Keto For Life: Reset Your Biological Clock In 21 Days and Optimize Your Diet For Longevity, is coming out December 31, 2019. I’ll have more info, including a special bonus package for those who preorder, in just a few weeks. In the meantime, you can read more about it here on our publisher’s page.
That’s it for today, friends. Chime in down below about longevity or any other health topics you’re thinking about these days. What are the most egregious aging myths you’ve heard? What do you do instead? Take care.
Karlsen T, Nauman J, Dalen H, Langhammer A, Wisløff U. The Combined Association of Skeletal Muscle Strength and Physical Activity on Mortality in Older Women: The HUNT2 Study. Mayo Clin Proc. 2017;92(5):710-718.
Malta A, De oliveira JC, Ribeiro TA, et al. Low-protein diet in adult male rats has long-term effects on metabolism. J Endocrinol. 2014;221(2):285-95.
Carrillo E, Jimenez MA, Sanchez C, et al. Protein malnutrition impairs the immune response and influences the severity of infection in a hamster model of chronic visceral leishmaniasis. PLoS ONE. 2014;9(2):e89412.
Castaneda C, Charnley JM, Evans WJ, Crim MC. Elderly women accommodate to a low-protein diet with losses of body cell mass, muscle function, and immune response. Am J Clin Nutr. 1995;62(1):30-9.
Gaine PC, Pikosky MA, Martin WF, Bolster DR, Maresh CM, Rodriguez NR. Level of dietary protein impacts whole body protein turnover in trained males at rest. Metab Clin Exp. 2006;55(4):501-7.
Wu C, Odden MC, Fisher GG, Stawski RS. Association of retirement age with mortality: a population-based longitudinal study among older adults in the USA. J Epidemiol Community Health. 2016;70(9):917-23.
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Today’s post is offered up by the good people at Joovv, a company devoted to researching and harnessing the science of red light therapy. I’ve gotten to know (and love) their technology over the last year, and my family has, too—especially my daughter and son-in-law. Today I’ve invited Scott Nelson and his team to share some of their research into red light therapy, a topic I’ve written about now and then over the last few years. It’s an area of ancestral health I find fascinating—and one where modern science can help us recreate or even enhance natural ancestral inputs to foster better well-being today. Enjoy—and be sure to check out the giveaway below.
Diet and fitness are the pillars of a healthy life built on ancestral principles. But food, water, and exercise aren’t the only factors that affect your health and function on a day-to-day basis. Natural light is also a major pillar of a healthy, ancestral lifestyle, and unfortunately, many people don’t get nearly enough of it.
You can complement your diligence in the kitchen and your hard work in the gym with the “nutrients” that come from natural light. This post gives an overview of photobiomodulation (aka “red light therapy”), a natural health intervention that’s helping people get the light their bodies need for optimal health and fitness.
The Problem With Modern Light Exposure
Our Ancestors Lived with an Abundance of Natural Light. We Don’t Get Nearly Enough.
One of the biggest differences between our modern lives and those of our ancestors is the amount of time we spend outside and how much natural light we experience every day. Even if you’re eating well on a Paleo or Keto diet and exercising every day, odds are you spend most of your days indoors. In fact, the average American spends more than 90% of their time inside.  That’s not nearly enough natural light for our bodies, and it’s a far cry from our ancestors’ lifestyles.
In the past, people were outdoors every day out of necessity. The human body and our biology evolved in the presence of lots of sunlight, and light is still essential to our health. It helps regulate our sleep cycle, powers our cells and energy production, which allows our bodies to function as they were intended.
To make matters worse, we’re currently faced with a modern light problem as well. All of our overhead lighting, plus the bright blue light from our phones, TVs, and computer screens, is negatively affecting our health. Many of our sleep problems can be traced back to the abundance of bright, artificial light we take in at all hours of the day. 
Similar to how our diets have grown to include more grains and processed foods, and our physical activity has dwindled as we became more sedentary, the negative effects of artificial light combined with a lack of natural light have separated us even further from the roots of good health.
Using Red Light Therapy to Get the Natural Light You Need
Jobs, school, busy schedules, and changing seasons prevent many of us from getting outside every day, even if we want to. That’s where red light therapy comes into play: it’s a natural, noninvasive health intervention you can use in your home to get a full day’s worth of natural light, even if you can’t get out in the sun.
Light therapy is a non-invasive, convenient treatment that powers your cellular function with concentrated, natural light. This natural light stimulates the mitochondria in your cells, which helps you produce more adenosine triphosphate (ATP), which is used by your body for muscle and skin healing, pain relief, and clearer skin. We’ll get into detailed health benefits later, but check out Joovv’s learn library now if you want to dig in now.
Many people are still in the dark when it comes to red light therapy. There’s a lot to know and a lot of misleading information out there. Let’s explore what red light therapy is, how it works, and how it can help maximize your health and Paleo goals.
How Does Red Light Therapy Work?
A quality red light therapy device—like a Joovv— delivers concentrated wavelengths of natural red and near infrared light directly to your skin and cells. All you really have to do is sit or stand in front of the light for a few minutes every day. In other words, red light therapy is very easy to do, but it produces some pretty incredible health results that have been demonstrated across hundreds of peer-reviewed clinical studies.
On top of ATP production, red light therapy increases circulation and reduces oxidative stress associated with cell injury and things like muscle fatigue, joint pain, and inflammation. A treatment only takes 10-15 minutes with a professional-grade device. Because red light therapy is natural and non-invasive, there are virtually no side effects or risks either.
Red light therapy is backed up by a large base of clinical research, originally driven by NASA’s involvement in the 1990s. After that, red light therapy devices could only be found in expensive and exclusive spas. With advancements in LED technology, combined with more awareness of the therapy, there are now many light therapy devices on the market. We’ll break down some of the most important factors to consider in a light therapy device towards the end of this post.
Natural Health Benefits of Red Light Therapy
The benefits of red light therapy are backed up by a large base of clinical research. Here are some of the most studied and well-documented health benefits, complete with links to the published and peer-reviewed studies:
More Restful Sleep and a Healthy Circadian Rhythm with Red Light Therapy
Light exposure is one of the biggest factors in our sleep quality, and it also has a major impact on our sleep cycles, a.k.a. our Circadian Rhythm. Our bodies and brains take cues from the light we’re receiving at any given time. For example, when we get way too much bright, artificial light in the evenings, our bodies get the signal that it’s time to be awake. 
Light therapy helps your body produce more natural melatonin, unlike artificial blue light, which hinders your body’s melatonin production. Many people will take supplements and sleep aids to boost melatonin, but it’s much healthier and more effective for your body to make its own melatonin. 
For a full overview of how red light therapy helps you sleep, check out this post.
Improving Physical Performance and Muscle Recovery with Natural Light
Muscle cells require a lot of energy, and show significant improvements with natural light treatments. In study after study, red light therapy has been found to enhance physical performance when paired with exercise.  That’s a big reason why so many pro athletes and personal trainers have incorporated red light therapy systems into their training facilities.
Red light therapy improves speed, strength, and endurance for women and men, and people at every level of fitness. [8,9] Researchers looking at red light’s effects specifically on middle-aged and older women of all fitness levels saw the same performance enhancing qualities.  And after an intense workout, red light therapy reduces post-exercise muscle fatigue and has also been found to help people recover more quickly after exertion. [11,12]
It only makes sense that when you give your body and muscles the fuel they need, they’re going to perform better, and heal and recover faster. Check out this article for a rundown of all the ways red light therapy enhances physical performance and muscle recovery.
Red Light Therapy for Joint Pain and Inflammation
Light therapy has a natural anti-inflammatory effect.  Natural light treatments increase circulation and helps clear out the swelling that keeps us feeling sluggish. This anti-inflammatory effect is what helps people recover from surgery while reducing their pain.  Reducing inflammation has a big effect on joints and pain too. Researchers have also found red light therapy to be a helpful natural treatment for rheumatoid arthritis, hand osteoarthritis, and knee osteoarthritis. [15,16,17]
Better Cognitive Function with Natural Light
The most important muscle of all—your brain—also performs better when your body is exposed to healthy, natural light. In one of the first human studies to test cognitive performance and red light therapy, researchers found the light treatments improved reactions times, increased memory, and boosted positive moods.  Light therapy has even been found to help treat Alzheimer’s Disease and dementia symptoms in some very encouraging preliminary research. [19,20]
Check out this article to learn more about red light therapy’s positive effect on brain health and cognitive functions.
More Collagen and Healthier, Younger-Looking Skin with Natural Light
Collagen is essential to your physical function. Red and near infrared light has been found to naturally increase collagen production, which is critical for skin health too.  Thanks to the collagen increasing properties of light therapy, treatments have been found to reduce fine lines and wrinkles as well as other signs of aging, leading to all-around clearer, younger-looking skin.  Researchers have found specifically that light therapy is beneficial in helping children recover from scars and helping middle-aged women look younger. [23,24]
These collagen and skin benefits are why you’re seeing more skincare professionals like estheticians and dermatologists offer red light therapy treatments in their practices. Here’s an informational article you can check out to get the full picture on the rejuvenating benefits of red light therapy.
What to Look For in a Red Light Therapy Device
There are numerous red light therapy options out there. So where do you start? What should you look for in a red light therapy device? The basics are size & coverage, power, and design quality. Let’s look at these major factors to help you pick the best device for your health needs.
Bigger Devices for More Coverage
The most important and simplest thing to remember when it comes to red light therapy devices is that bigger is better. Medical professionals and independent diagnostic testing labs agree that bigger devices that offer full-body coverage are more effective than smaller devices that only treat targeted areas.
A larger coverage area translates to more of your body that is able to take in the energy in natural light. And the more your body can take in, the more your cells can use that energy and the more positive health effects you’re going to see. Don’t fall for a cheap, small device that advertises big power and benefits.
With a larger device, you’re getting more total light energy, which takes irradiance and surface area coverage into account. Harvard Medical School photomedicine researcher Dr. Michael Hamblin, a member of Joovv’s scientific advisory board, explains why total delivered energy is needed:
“Total light energy is the most accurate and comprehensive way to measure the power of light therapy devices and treatments,” says Dr. Hamblin. “If you only account for irradiance—versus how much total energy a device delivers—you miss the larger picture of how light therapy positively benefits the person using it.”*
Power Matters, and So Does Independent Verification
Beyond size, the main spec you’ll want to look for is total energy, or how much clinical power the device can deliver to your skin and cells. One issue you might run into with power stats is how easy it is for a company to throw out a big number without much behind it. You’re going to see a lot of red light therapy companies make claims about the power of their devices. One quick way to see through their claims is to make sure they have had these power specs verified by an independent testing lab.
Joovv contracted ITL (Independent Testing Laboratory) to conduct a series of radiometry tests on our devices and the devices are other light therapy brands to verify the claims made by different companies. Those independent results showed that Joovv offered the most powerful light therapy available.
So many of the small and cheap devices you’ll find haven’t been tested independently. There’s no way to know if the numbers they throw around are valid or not. What’s worse is that a lot of these devices aren’t registered with the FDA either, nor do they follow GMP (Good Manufacturing Practices), which makes sure products are up to the industry-regulated quality standards.
Design Quality and Versatility
There are a wide variety of red light therapy devices on the market right now. Some look like space-age showerheads, some look like orbs you hold in your hands and move around your body. There are even some that you wear like a belt or a shirt.
Most companies offer a single device that is meant to be your only purchase, a one-and-done approach that amounts to “you get what you get.” Joovv’s patented modular design is unique in the light therapy world, and allows you to start with a smaller device and build it into a larger one over time by adding more lights for more power and coverage, as needed. Joovv’s devices work together and can pair up to form larger, full-body systems like the pros use.
Joovv is known for its larger, full-body devices, but we also make a portable handheld model called the Joovv Go that’s ideal for clinical-grade light therapy away from home.
Better Health and Fitness with Red Light Therapy
Our ancestors thrived on lots of natural light, and our bodies are still designed to function that way. We’ve gotten away from these principles and surrounded ourselves with unhealthy artificial light almost 24/7. With red light therapy, it’s possible to still get the natural light your body needs every day, in the comfort of your home.
Red light therapy is backed by hundreds of peer-reviewed, clinical studies and analyses that show significant improvements in sleep quality, skin health, muscle performance and recovery, joint pain relief, inflammation relief, and improved cognitive function. A common theme across these studies is that natural light treatments from a medical-grade device like a Joovv have virtually no side effects or risks.
If you’re looking for a natural health intervention that fits the paleo or keto lifestyle, consider getting more natural light every day with a quality light therapy device.
Now, For the Giveaway…
Intrigued? Interested to learn more or give it a go? Why not enter to win a Joovv device?
I’ll be choosing two random winners to receive a Joovv Go, plus $100 in Primal Kitchen® products.
The winners will be announced and contacted via direct message on Instagram on October 22, 2019. Good luck, folks!
Sources and References:
 Klepeis NE, Nelson WC, Ott WR, et al. The National Human Activity Pattern Survey (NHAPS): a resource for assessing exposure to environmental pollutants. J Expo Anal Environ Epidemiol. 2001 May-Jun.
 Lunn RM, Blask DE, et al. Health consequences of electric lighting practices in the modern world: A report on the National Toxicology Program’s workshop on shift work at night, artificial light at night, and circadian disruption. The Science of the Total Environment. 2017 Dec 31
 Moore, R. “Suprachiasmatic nucleus in sleep-wake regulation” Sleep Med. 2007, Dec 8
 Morita T., Tokura H. “ Effects of lights of different color temperature on the nocturnal changes in core temperature and melatonin in humans” Journal of Physiological Anthropology. 1996, September
 Loeb LM, Amorim RP, et al. “Botulinum toxin A (BT-A) versus low-level laser therapy (LLLT) in chronic migraine treatment: a comparison.” Arquivos de neuro-psiquiatria. 2018 Oct
 Naeser MA, Zafonte R, et al. “Significant improvements in cognitive performance post-transcranial, red/near-infrared light-emitting diode treatments in chronic, mild traumatic brain injury: open-protocol study.” Journal of Neurotrauma. 2014 Jun
 Leal-Junior EC, Vanin AA, et al. Effect of phototherapy (low-level laser therapy and light-emitting diode therapy) on exercise performance and markers of exercise recovery: a systematic review with meta-analysis. Lasers in Medical Science. 2015 Feb
 dos Santos Maciel T, Muñoz I, et al. Phototherapy effect on the muscular activity of regular physical activity practitioners. Lasers in Medical Science. 2014 May
 Dellagrana RA, Rossato M, et al. Photobiomodulation Therapy on Physiological and Performance Parameters During Running Tests: Dose-Response Effects. Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research. 2018 Oct
 Paolillo FR, Corazza AV, et al. Phototherapy during treadmill training improves quadriceps performance in postmenopausal women. Climacteric. 2014 Jun.
 Leal Junior EC, Lopes-Martins RA, Dalan F, et al. Effect of 655-nm low-level laser therapy on exercise-induced skeletal muscle fatigue in humans. Photomed Laser Surg. 2008 Oct
 Borges LS, et al. Light-emitting diode phototherapy improves muscle recovery after a damaging exercise. Lasers in Medical Science. 2014 May
 Hamblin M. “Mechanisms and applications of the anti-inflammatory effects of photobiomodulation”. AIMS Biophys. 2017
 Langella L., Casalechi H., Tomazoni S., Johnson D., Albertini R., Pallotta R., Marcos R., de Carvalho P., Leal-Junior E., “Photobiomodulation therapy (PBMT) on acute pain and inflammation in patients who underwent total hip arthroplasty-a randomized, triple-blind, placebo-controlled clinical trial”. Lasers Med Sci. 2018 Jun.
 Brosseau L, Welch V, et al. Low level laser therapy for osteoarthritis and rheumatoid arthritis: a meta-analysis. The Journal of Rheumatology. Aug 2000
 Paolillo AR, Paolillo FR, et al. Synergic effects of ultrasound and laser on the pain relief in women with hand osteoarthritis. Lasers in Medical Science. Jan 2015
 de Paula Gomes CAF, et al. Incorporation of photobiomodulation therapy into a therapeutic exercise program for knee osteoarthritis: A placebo-controlled, randomized, clinical trial. 2018 Oct
 Barrett DW, et al. Transcranial infrared laser stimulation produces beneficial cognitive and emotional effects in humans. 2013 Jan.
 Berman MH, Halper JP, et al. Photobiomodulation with Near Infrared Light Helmet in a Pilot, Placebo Controlled Clinical Trial in Dementia Patients Testing Memory and Cognition. Journal of Neurology and Neuroscience. J Neurol Neurosci. 2017 feb.
 Saltmarche AE, Naeser MA, et al. Significant Improvement in Cognition in Mild to Moderately Severe Dementia Cases Treated with Transcranial Plus Intranasal Photobiomodulation: Case Series Report. Photomedicine and Laser Surgery. 2017 Aug.
 Barolet D, Roberge CJ, et al. Regulation of skin collagen metabolism in vitro using a pulsed 660 nm LED light source: clinical correlation with a single-blinded study. Journal of Investigative Dermatology. 2009 Dec.
 Wunsch A and Matuschka K. A Controlled Trial to Determine the Efficacy of Red and Near-Infrared Light Treatment in Patient Satisfaction, Reduction of Fine Lines, Wrinkles, Skin Roughness, and Intradermal Collagen Density Increase. Photomedicine and Laser Surgery. 2014 feb.
 Alsharnoubi J, Shoukry K, et al. Evaluation of scars in children after treatment with low-level laser. Lasers in Medical Science.
 Kim HK, Choi JH. Effects of radiofrequency, electroacupuncture, and low-level laser therapy on the wrinkles and moisture content of the forehead, eyes, and cheek. Journal of Physical Therapy Science. 2017 Feb.
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Hypertension is a problem. It raises the risk of heart disease; it’s one of the most consistent risk factors for that condition, as well as others like kidney disease. But before you start freaking out about your high blood pressure, make sure you actually have it. A single elevated reading does not a hypertension diagnosis make. Readings are snapshots in time. They can be a part of a trend, or they can be an isolated case. Don’t assume based on one bad reading.
I can remember going to the doctor about ten years ago for a routine checkup, showing 140/100, and almost getting a prescription based on that. It was absurd, so absurd that I took matters into my own hands and got a fancy blood pressure device to measure my own over the next couple weeks. The result?
There was almost no pattern. Maybe it was a lot lower after dinner, due to relaxation, but other than that there weren’t any trends. Sometimes it was high, mostly it was low-normal. It all depends on stress
Okay, say that’s not you. Say you have a legitimate problem with protracted and consistently high blood pressure. What can you do in addition to (or besides, if your doctor says it’s safe to wait) opt for the prescription?
1) Eat More Potassium
A common cause of salt-related blood pressure increases is inadequate potassium intake. Very few of us eat as much potassium as we evolved eating.
The pre-agricultural environment was potassium-rich and sodium-poor. That’s why we have a physiological taste for salt, and why salted food tastes so good: we had to seek it out. That’s why we don’t have a physiological taste for potassium: it was everywhere. Loren Cordain estimates some hunter-gatherer groups got upwards of 10-12 grams of potassium a day, whereas the average American gets about 2.5 grams.
Studies show that both sodium-sensitive and potassium-deficient subjects with high blood pressure see the biggest improvements with increased potassium intake.
I love sodium, and it’s actually beneficial for endothelial health when consumed with enough potassium, but you have to eat potassium too.
2) Improve Your Insulin Sensitivity
Ever since earlier studies established that hypertensive patients tend to exhibit abnormally high insulin responses to standard glucose loads, researchers have wondered about a connection between insulin and blood pressure. It turns out there is a powerful connection.
- In non-diabetic people with normal blood pressure, insulin levels and shifts in blood pressure are related—higher insulin, higher blood pressure; lower, lower.
- In both diabetic and non-diabetic subjects, lower insulin sensitivity predicts elevated blood pressure.
- Insulin increases sodium retention in the blood, which increases blood volume and pressure. The less insulin sensitive you are, the more insulin you’ll release in response to a given stimulus, and the more sodium you’ll shuttle into the blood.
- Both insulin resistance and the compensatory hyperinsulinemia (elevated insulin levels) that results have distinct pro-hypertensive effects.
Luckily, there are dozens upon dozens of ways to improve your insulin sensitivity. Choose a few, or all of them (a better proposal, actually), to not only improve your blood pressure but also your health and life in general.
3) Earn Your Carbs With Physical Activity
The ones you earn through physical activity, that is. Let’s look at two scenarios.
First: You eat way more carbs than you actually earn through training. You haven’t trained, so you’re more insulin-resistant than the You from the alternative universe who did train. This means any carbs you eat will cause a greater spike in insulin, which has been shown to increase blood pressure.
Second: You only eat the carbs you’ve earned through training. Since you’re training, your insulin sensitivity is high, and you don’t actually secrete all that much insulin in response to the carbs. Training also upregulates non-insulin dependent glycogen repletion, meaning you can shove glycogen into muscles post-workout without even using insulin.
Once or twice, this isn’t an issue. But if you’re consistently eating more carbs than you need, the resultant elevation in insulin will raise blood pressure. At the very least, it won’t help.
Not only that, but regular training improves endothelial function and reduces the risk of high blood pressure on its own.
4) Eat Fermented Dairy
Milk fermented with the L. helveticus bacteria has been shown to lower blood pressure in people with hypertension in a number of studies.
In one, they drank the fermented milk for 21 weeks.
In another, they drank the milk for 10 weeks.
Look for products that include Lactobacillus helveticus, such as kefir, aged cheese (Swiss, emmental, pecorino romano, cheddar, parmigiano reggiano),
5) Get Your Zinc (Red Meat and Oysters)
Zinc is an essential nutrient for regulating the nitric oxide synthase system in the body. Without adequate zinc, your ability to produce nitric oxide—which increases blood vessel dilation and thus regulates blood pressure—is hampered.
6) Get Sunlight
There are consistent relationships between adequate vitamin D levels and normal blood pressure, though it’s unclear whether this is causal. Studies haven’t found a consistent blood pressure effect of actually supplementing with vitamin D. What might be going on is that vitamin D is acting as a marker for sun exposure, because we know that sunlight increases the production of nitric oxide, a compound that improves the function of your blood vessels.
Sure enough, human studies show that sun exposure causes the conversion of nitrogen oxide in the skin to nitric oxide, lowering blood pressure and improving endothelial function.
7) Address Your Stress
Stress might be the biggest trigger for hypertension, especially since most of us live lives laden with hidden, inevitable stressors—commutes, jobs we don’t like, bills, and the like. It’s everywhere, we can’t really escape it entirely, so we have to figure out how to deal with it.
I know how I do it (paddling, Ultimate, walks, quality time with family, smart supplementation). There are other ways, like adaptogens, or this, or this. You can rethink stress entirely. You can meditate, or try alternatives that achieve similar things. What are you going to do?
If your blood pressure is resistant to dietary, exercise, or lifestyle changes, make sure you manage it with your doctor.
8) Take ACE Inhibitors or AR Blockers If Warranted
The body uses a hormone called angiotensin to raise blood pressure in a couple ways. First, by directly constricting blood vessels and increasing flow pressure. Second, by promoting the release of aldosterone, a hormone that shuttles sodium to the blood to increase blood volume. ACE inhibitors inhibit angiotensin secretion and AR blockers block angiotensin receptor sites. While I know we’re usually suspicious of drugs that block or inhibit the secretion or action of hormones, ACE inhibitors and AR blockers appear to be quite safe and effective. And there’s even evidence that normotensive subjects who take them live longer than normotensive subjects who don’t.
They do tend to lower zinc status, though, so keep up with your zinc intake.
That’s it for today, folks. The good news is that high blood pressure is manageable with diet and lifestyle changes, and even if that doesn’t work, the available medications seem better than most.
How do you manage your blood pressure? What’s worked? What hasn’t?
Sebastian A, Cordain L, Frassetto L, Banerjee T, Morris RC. Postulating the major environmental condition resulting in the expression of essential hypertension and its associated cardiovascular diseases: Dietary imprudence in daily selection of foods in respect of their potassium and sodium content resulting in oxidative stress-induced dysfunction of the vascular endothelium, vascular smooth muscle, and perivascular tissues. Med Hypotheses. 2018;119:110-119.
Filippini T, Violi F, D’amico R, Vinceti M. The effect of potassium supplementation on blood pressure in hypertensive subjects: A systematic review and meta-analysis. Int J Cardiol. 2017;230:127-135.
Takano T. Anti-hypertensive activity of fermented dairy products containing biogenic peptides. Antonie Van Leeuwenhoek. 2002;82(1-4):333-40.
Seppo L, Jauhiainen T, Poussa T, Korpela R. A fermented milk high in bioactive peptides has a blood pressure-lowering effect in hypertensive subjects. Am J Clin Nutr. 2003;77(2):326-30.
Jauhiainen T, Vapaatalo H, Poussa T, Kyrönpalo S, Rasmussen M, Korpela R. Lactobacillus helveticus fermented milk lowers blood pressure in hypertensive subjects in 24-h ambulatory blood pressure measurement. Am J Hypertens. 2005;18(12 Pt 1):1600-5.
The post A Primal Guide to Blood Pressure: 8 Common (and Not So Common) Interventions appeared first on Mark’s Daily Apple.
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The ketogenic diet has exploded in popularity over the last few years. Hordes of people are using it to lose body fat, overcome metabolic diseases, improve their endurance performance, attain steady energy levels, make their brain work better, and control seizures. And increasing numbers of researchers and personal experimenters are even exploring the utility of ketogenic diets in preventing and/or treating cancer. After all, back in the early part of the 20th century, Warburg discovered an important characteristic of most cancer cells: they generate their energy by burning glucose. If a particular cancer loves glucose, what happens if you reduce its presence in your body and start burning fat and ketones instead?
It’s taken a while, but the research community is finally beginning to take a few swings at this and similar questions.
So, what do we know?
First, let’s just go through a few recent human studies and case studies.
Keto and Cancer Treatment
Women with endometrial or ovarian cancer improved energy levels, appetite, and physical function on a ketogenic diet.
A Bayesian approach to studying the effects of ketogenic diets in humans and animals with high grade glioma (a brain cancer) found an “overall survival-prolonging effect.”
In gliomas, an analysis of available case studies using ketogenic diets found increased overall or progression-free survival. These were not randomized controlled trials, however, so they say nothing definitive.
A recent review paper gives a good overview of the current state of ketogenic diet and cancer research, finding that:
- Ketosis targets tumor metabolism.
- Ketosis improves effectiveness of conventional therapies.
- Ketosis has favorable effects of anti-cancer gene expression.
One thing you might notice is that there are no studies showing that standalone ketogenic diets cure cancer. There aren’t very many randomized controlled trials in general.
What there are are studies showing that ketogenic diets are safe and potentially effective adjuvant treatments—treatments that supplement conventional cancer treatments. You don’t see keto “defeating” cancer alone. You see keto enhancing the effect of chemotherapy. You see keto enhancing the effect of radiation. You see keto protecting normal cells and increasing the vulnerability of cancer cells to conventional treatment.
That’s not to say that keto can’t beat cancer. Maybe it can. But the clinical research simply isn’t there to say one way or the other.
Where keto seems even more promising is in prevention of cancer.
Keto and Cancer Prevention
Diabetes is a disease of carbohydrate intolerance. It’s a disease in which carbohydrate consumption results in elevated blood sugar, exaggerated insulin response. The way most people with diabetes eat leads to chronically high levels of insulin and blood sugar. Yeah, yeah, I know about all the badass Primal eaters who are “technically” diabetic but keep their blood sugar pristine and insulin minimized by watching what they eat, exercising regularly, and just generally leading a healthy lifestyle—but those people aren’t a large enough a group to have an effect on the category known as (and studied as) “diabetics.” Most people with diabetes unfortunately keep eating the same junk that got them there.
What does research say about the cancer rate of most people with diabetes? It’s usually higher.
One of the most consistent risk factors for many types of cancer is having diabetes and experiencing all the metabolic fallout that entails—high fasting insulin, insulin resistance, elevated blood glucose. Cancers of the liver, pancreas, breast, endometrium, bladder, and kidney all have strong associations with type 2 diabetes. This should come as no surprise. Not only do many cancers thrive on glucose as fuel, the high insulin levels typical of people with diabetes and insulin resistance increase the availability of growth factors that promote cancer growth.
Meanwhile, therapies that are known to reduce the symptoms of diabetes—lower fasting insulin, increase insulin sensitivity, normalize blood sugar, etc—tend to lower the risk of cancer. A perfect example is metformin.
Metformin activates AMPK, the same autophagy pathway activated by exercise, fasting, polyphenol consumption, and reduced calorie intake. It lowers blood sugar, increases insulin sensitivity, and extends the lifespan of type 2 diabetics.
Metformin also seems to protect against cancer. It lowers hyperinsulinemia and may protect against insulin-related cancers (breast, colon, etc). Early treatment during adolescence, for example, protects rats against later tumor growth.
What does this have to do with ketogenic diets?
Ketogenic diets have many similar effects. They activate AMPK. They lower blood sugar. They’re great for fat and weight loss, which enhances insulin sensitivity. Recently, researchers have even used ketogenic diets to resolve type 2 diabetes.
Now, not all cancers are linked to diabetes. For example, diabetes doesn’t increase the risk of gastric cancer. That’s because it’s linked to bacterial infection, not elevated blood sugar. And that’s why taking metformin doesn’t reduce the risk of gastric cancer. This actually supports my hypothesis that, when diabetes does not increase the risk of a cancer, neither does metformin reduce it—like gastric cancer. Diabetes doesn’t increase it, so metformin doesn’t reduce it. That’s the mechanism in play.
Nor do all cancers burn glucose exclusively. Some thrive in a ketogenic environment.
There is a mutation called BRAF V600E in certain cancer cells that allows them to utilize ketone bodies to stimulate growth. About 50% of melanoma, 10% of colorectal cancer, 100% of hairy cell leukemia, and 5% of multiple myeloma cases exhibit the ketone-utilizing BRAF V600E mutation. Indeed, a cancer cell’s inability to break down and metabolize ketone bodies is the best predictor of whether a ketogenic diet can even help against a given cancer.
But if we’re talking prevention. If we accept that not developing diabetes—all else being equal— probably reduces the risk of getting cancer, then using ketosis to improve all the same symptoms linked to diabetes should also reduce the risk of getting cancer. And if it doesn’t reduce the risk, it probably won’t hurt. I mean, is there a doctor alive who claims that increasing insulin sensitivity, lowering hyperinsulinemia, and losing body fat will increase the risk of cancer?
A Few Takeaways To Consider
As I see it—and this is not medical advice—the most promising use of ketogenic diets in cancer are as follows.
Adjuvant therapy: Using ketosis to enhance the efficacy of conventional therapies like chemotherapy and radiation, increasing the susceptibility of cancer cells to treatment and increasing survival of healthy host cells.
Prevention: Using ketosis (whether intermittently or long term) to lower fasting blood glucose, reduce diabetes risk (or resolve extant diabetes), and improve your ability to burn fat and not rely on exogenous glucose so much should in theory reduce your risk of most cancers.
Whatever you do, if you’re an actual cancer patient, discuss this with your doctor. Make sure your particular variety of cancer isn’t partial to ketones. Make sure it’s one of the cancers that actually craves glucose. If you end up with a cancer that thrives on ketone bodies, and you go deep into perpetual ketosis, you could be making an enormous mistake.
But the bottom line is that, assuming you don’t already have one of the cancers known to utilize ketones, going into ketosis from time to time isn’t going to hurt—and it will probably help reduce the risk of cancer.
I’m going to close this post with an anecdote from one of my employees. His father passed away a dozen years ago from multiple myeloma, a type of white blood cell cancer. This was before he worked at Primal Nutrition; he was just getting involved in alternative forms of health and nutrition research. What struck him most, particularly in retrospect, was how his father’s appetite changed during his battle with cancer. He began craving candy—Reese’s peanut butter cups, Hershey’s kisses, Now-and-Laters, and all other kinds. As he says it, looking at his dad’s snack drawer was like looking at the archetypal bag of Halloween candy.
I don’t know if this is evidence of anything. Can cancer actually tap into your specific appetites? Can it change how you perceive and desire specific foods? Was his father actually being programmed by his cancer to over-consume sugar?
What I do know is that no one needs garbage candy. A few seconds of momentary gustatory pleasure, followed by regret and the incessant need to repeat—is it worth it? Is it worth the off chance that eating lots of sugar feeds and promotes cancer? Don’t do it, folks. I know my longtime readers are right there with me. I know you guys who’ve been here from the beginning are probably getting egged on Halloween because you’re giving out collagen packets and mini-kettlebells. But if you’re new to this site and way of eating in general—maybe a co-worker passed my info along to you, maybe you’re trying to make a big change in the way you eat and live—avoiding the obviously terrible-for-you stuff like candy and baked goods is the biggest change you can make. And not just for cancer.
So, do I want you to walk away from this post thinking that keto is a cancer cure? No. I’m a fan of ketosis, and I think almost everyone should spend time in that metabolic state, but I don’t consider it to be magical. The jury is definitely still out. Does ketosis look like a strong candidate for improving efficacy of various therapies in certain cancer patients? Yes. Can keto improve health markers shown to reduce a person’s risk of getting cancer in the first place? Yes.
The keys to good health are generally speaking pretty consistent.
- Maintain good insulin sensitivity.
- Avoid glucose intolerance.
- Get plenty of sleep.
- Consume hormetic stressors.
- Avoid obesity. Lose body fat.
- Exercise, or at least move every day.
- Dip into ketosis on a regular basis, either from ketogenic dieting, fasting, meal skipping, or (non-chronic) hard training—or all of the above.
There’s no guarantee against cancer, but I think the advice I just mentioned supports a good fighting chance.
Take care, everyone. Be well.
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For today’s edition of Dear Mark, I’m answering another round of questions asked by Twitter followers. First up is a three-parter, including a query about extra virgin olive oil, one about supplements everyone should take, and one about autoimmune arthritis in an athlete. Second, I cover whether sauna is a hormetic stressor or a way to relax (or both). Next, I give my recommendation for staying keto or carnivore while camping (it’s a quick one). And finally, I explore a potential protocol for using exogenous ketones to curb autoimmune inflammation.
1. Is very-high-polyphenol EVOO legitly far superior to easily-avail. qual EVOO?
2. What handful of supplems (broadly defined) make sense for almost everyone?
3. Any advice for age 20 elite athlete cursed w genetic autoimmune arthritis where keto, paleo, Mediterranean all failed? Carnivore?
All else being equal, very high polyphenol EVOO should be superior to normal EVOO. Be careful in weighing messaging around this, however.
But, yes, the more polyphenols your oil has, the better it will resist oxidative damage when exposed to heat, light, and the ravages of time. By extension, the more an olive oil is sheltered from heat, light and the ravages of time, the more polyphenol content will be preserved.
And when you consume high polyphenol EVOO, your LDL actually becomes more resistant to oxidative damage. One study found that men who ate high polyphenol extra virgin olive oil had lower oxidized LDL levels than men who ate normal EVOO. They even had higher HDL levels, another indication of improved heart health.
Supplements for all:
Collagen—vast majority of people don’t get enough collagen/gelatin in their diets, whereas historically people were eating the entire animal, including skin, bones, tendons, fascia, ligaments, and cartilage (about 40-50% of animal by weight). A couple scoops of collagen gets you most of the way there.
Magnesium—vast majority of people don’t get enough magnesium. Our water is stripped of it and our soil is deficient in it. Foods that a generation or two ago were excellent sources of magnesium are now middling. Get one of the magnesium “-ates,” like citrate, glycinate, or threonate.
Vitamin K2—another nutrient most people miss that’s absolutely crucial to heart, bone, dental, and hormonal health.
Egg yolks—best source of choline and a great source of many other nutrients in a highly bioavailable package.
Liver—eat it once a week at least.
If you don’t get sunlight or eat a lot of vitamin D-rich foods (wild salmon, pastured eggs, salmon eggs), vitamin D is a good one.
If you don’t eat seafood regularly, a good fish oil is worthwhile. Omega-3s are a critical nutrient.
Autoimmune arthritis in athlete:
I saw that the athlete in question has done “everything right”: Primal, paleo, the whole nine. Right?
Assuming that’s the case and they’re not eating grains, seed oils, sugar, and other things known to be inflammatory and irritating:
Carnivore is an option. Mikhaila Peterson battled a particularly severe case of autoimmune arthritis for most of her life and reports that going carnivore was the only thing that really fixed things.
Elite athletes often overdo it. I certainly did. And although exercise is a crucial part of preventing, recovering from and defeating arthritis, too much exercise can have the opposite effect. It can be too much. It can increase stress rather than mitigate it. It can overload the tissues rather than strengthen them.
I’d also consider trying exogenous ketones to blunt autoimmune inflammation. Check out the last answer in today’s post for more insight on that one.
Is sauna best utilized as a relaxing tool for recovery like meditation or as a hormetic stressor like a challenging workout?
Physiologically, saunas are stressful. A 30-minute sauna session at 174 ºF/80 ºC raises body temperature by almost 1 degree C, spikes your flight-or-flight hormones, raises cortisol, and triggers a powerful hormetic response by the rest of your body. That’s a stressor.
But ultimately, they reduce stress by making you more resistant to it. After such a sauna session, for example, subjects report feeling “calm” and “pleasant.” This isn’t a surprise, if you’ve ever completed a tough workout. That’s how a training session makes you feel, isn’t it?
Just because sauna resembles exercise doesn’t mean you have to keep them separate. It even gets better when you stack the two. For instance, people who frequent the sauna and the gym have a drastically lower risk of heart attack death than people who do either alone. That combo also reduces 24-hour blood pressure in hypertensive patients and confers special protection against all-cause mortality above and beyond either variable alone.
That said, post-workout sauna appears to be especially good at enhancing the training effect.
In runners, post workout sauna use increased time to exhaustion by 32%, plasma cell volume by 7.1%, and red cell volume by 3.2% (both plasma cell and red cell volume are markers of increased endurance performance).
In cyclists, post workout sauna increased plasma volume. This is important because increasing plasma volume improves heat dissipation, thermoregulation, heart rate, and cardiac stroke volume during exercise.
Any thoughts on how to stay keto/ carnivore when camping or backpacking?
There’s a Facebook group devoted to Ketogenic Backpacking. Join that for some ideas.
As for car camping, it’s the easiest thing in the world to do keto or carnivore.
Bring some cast iron pans, some meat, and a cooler full of ice.
Gather a ton of wood.
Light the wood on fire. Allow it to cook down to coals.
Place cast iron over fire. Cook meat on cast iron.
Repeat as needed.
What should the timing and dosage be if you are planning to use exogenous ketone supplements as part of treatment for an autoimmune condition or flare?
Unfortunately, this stuff is so new that there aren’t any established guidelines. However, a recent case study gives a hint at a protocol someone might want to try. This isn’t medical advice, mind you—just a suggestion for further reading and consideration.
The subject had Crohn’s disease, a pretty serious autoimmune gastrointestinal condition characterized by chronic inflammation, painful and frequent bowel movements (around ten per day in this subject’s case), and elevated inflammatory markers. In other words, something that ketone bodies should be able to help.
Every morning for two weeks, he took 4 grams of sodium betahydroxybutyrate (BHB). This helped, but after two weeks he increased the dosage to 8 grams split between sodium BHB, magnesium BHB, and calcium BHB. He took half in the morning and half in the early afternoon. Did it work?
Following the intervention, the subject reported feeling “dramatically better” with significantly lower GI issues and trips to the bathroom. The subject provided weekly urinary and blood ketones following supplementation to ensure a significant rise in ketone levels. Blood glucose levels fell back into the normal range after the intervention (105 mg/dl to 94 mg/dl). White blood cell (WBC) count, neutrophils, and monocytes returned to the normal range following the intervention. The most remarkable finding was that following the intervention, C-reactive protein returned to the normal range from 62.5 mg/l to 4.4 mg/l.
I’d say 4 grams of BHB would be a safe start. If your bowels tolerate it—no small feat, as exogenous ketones can really hit that hard—and they seem to be helping, move toward 8 grams. As always, work with your physician and discuss supplement protocols or changes to them.
That’s it for today, everyone. Take care, be well, and comment down below if you have anything to add or ask.
The post Dear Mark: EVOO, Supplements, Autoimmune Arthritis, Sauna, Keto Camping, Ketones for Autoimmune appeared first on Mark’s Daily Apple.
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I’ve been around the block. I’ve spent thousands upon thousands of hours in the gym, on the track, on the bike, in the water. I’ve tasted glory and defeat. I’ve been sidelined with injuries, I’ve gone stretches where I felt invincible. I’ve trained with, and trained, some of the best to ever do it. And along the way, I learned a lot: what to do, what not to do, what matters, what doesn’t.
Last week a comment from a reader gave me a great idea for a post: Give fitness advice to younger Groks. Help them avoid the mistakes I made and capitalize on the wins.
Let’s get right to it.
“Gain As Much Muscle As You Can Through Natural Means.”
Lean mass, which primarily includes muscle mass but also connective tissue and organ reserve, is in my opinion the single most important variable for overall health, wellness, physical capacity, and performance. The more muscle you have, the better you’ll age. The younger people will assume you are. The more capable you’ll be. The less frail. The harder to kill. The better to conceive children, give birth, and be an active parent (and eventually grandparent). You’ll have more energy. Basically, more muscle allows you to resist gravity, and gravity is what slows you down, breaks you down, and makes you feel old.
The more muscle you have when you’re younger, the more muscle you’ll retain as you grow older. Because when you’re older, you can still gain muscle, but not as easily. You’ll need more stimulus and more protein to get the same effect. And entropy is working against you.
And by “natural means,” I mean don’t take anabolics unnecessarily (unless you have low/lower testosterone and a doctor helps you gain physiological levels via TRT). Don’t spend three hours a day in the gym. Don’t let strength training take over your life.
“Listen To Your Gut. If Something Feels Wrong, or Even Not Right, Back Off.”
I realized that every single time I hurt myself, I knew it was coming on some level. I had a premonition that I shouldn’t train or perform that day. Sometimes that message would come hours before the injury. Sometimes it would come moments before. It was usually non-specific, often nothing more than a vague sense of disquiet. But there was always something.
That time I strained my bicep tendon maxing out on bench, I remember waking up in the morning feeling like I probably shouldn’t go for the PR. Still I went for it and paid the price.
And last year during a set of pull-ups, I’d noticed I was leading with my chin—something I’m usually good about avoiding—and told myself to stop. But I thought I had another rep in me and, sure enough, as I was trying to finish the next pull-up, I felt something to the left of my ear and down around my trap give. I actually did keep the chin neutral but still got hurt. Leading with my chin was my body’s way of indicating that I was reaching the limit. I ignored that indicator and regretted it.
It’s not always a physical sensation or “pain” at all. Sometimes it’s just a weird feeling in my gut that says “this isn’t right.” Listen to that feeling. One day it won’t just be a tweaked shoulder or tendon. It might be downright catastrophic.
“Pull More Than You Push.”
Your phone. Your desk job. Look around at the average person walking around—their shoulders are rolled inward, internally rotated. Are yours? Society pulls our shoulders inward at every turn, and then you go to the gym and do a bunch of push-ups, bench presses, and dips, followed by a few sets of rows. That’s not enough. To maintain shoulder health (and build a strong, stable back from which to exert great shoulder force), you should train with a 2:1 pull:push ratio. That means for every 10 reps of presses (dips, pushups, bench, overhead press, etc) you do 20 reps of pulls (rows, pullups, face pulls, etc). If you already have problems with your shoulder or posture, bump that up to a 3:1 ratio.
“Focus On Compound Movements, But Include Some Isolation/Bodybuilding Movements As Well.”
While compound, multi-joint movements are the best way to build total body strength and athleticism, it turns out that training the “beach muscles” is important too. For instance, an exercise like curls can go a long way toward building up your bicep tendons and ligaments, preparing you for placing more stress on the muscles themselves and helping you avoid injuries down the line.
Plus, they make you look good—which is its own benefit but also motivates you to keep going.
“Compete With Yourself.”
Competition is good. Competition compels us to be greater, to improve ourselves. Just be wary about whom you’re competing with. These days, you have billions of potential competitors. You can hop on social media and find hundreds of people with better bodies, stronger lifts, faster times, and more perfect technique than you. It’s fine to use these people as motivation to improve yourself, but don’t beat yourself up—or, worse, get yourself injured—trying to beat them. Not everyone can do everything. We have different skills, different capacities, different priorities.
What you can and should do is compare your current self to your past self. Are you getting stronger than that person? Faster? Fitter? Leaner? Great. That’s how you do it. That’s what matters most.
“Walk Every Day.”
You won’t get the physiological/fitness effects right away, but they build up over time. Walking every day for the rest of your life is all about accruing compound interest.
“Get a Tribe.”
There’s research showing the physiological benefits of training in a group setting, but that’s tangential to my main point: having a fitness tribe—a group of friends, a sport, a training school—creates accountability, which promotes consistency. When someone’s counting on you, expecting you, you’re more likely to stick with the training. When you train with your friends or tribe toward a common goal, it becomes a joyous occasion. And even when it’s downright difficult and miserable, you can endure by drawing on the energy of the others.
If you can figure out a way to train in a way that you love and truly enjoy on an intrinsic level, you’ll never be out of shape.
For some people, that means CrossFit. Or powerlifting. Or bodybuilding. Or running, martial arts, wrestling, parkour, or rock climbing. Dancing, mountain biking, surfing. There are many ways to skin the cat, but what really matters is that you enjoy the act of training for its own sake.
For me, I trained in the opposite manner. I loved the feeling of finishing a race. I liked the accolades and pride I felt and received when I won. But the act of racing? The moment to moment experience of training all those days? Miserable. That should have been an indication that I shouldn’t be doing it. I ignored it, though, and paid a price.
“Train To Support Your Goals.”
These days, as I’m fond of saying, I train to play. I train to support my Ultimate Frisbee match every weekend. I train so that I can get out on the paddle board twice a week. I train so I can try all the fun new fitness gadgets. If I were to do heavy squats and deadlifts 3 times a week, I wouldn’t be able to play Ultimate very well or go paddling whenever I wanted. I’d be recovering. Since my goal is to play, my training has to support that.
Search within your soul and figure out what your goals are, then hew your training to them. Are you trying to get as strong as possible? As fast? To build up your VO2max? To look good naked? Then align your training with your goals.
“Don’t Think You Have To Squat and Deadlift and Press With a Barbell.”
Those lifts are fantastic for building strength and developing athleticism, but they aren’t the only paths. Lunges, single leg deadlifts, kettlebell swings, trap bar deadlifts, and dumbbell presses are excellent alternatives that work many of the same muscles and can even be gentler on the body than the Big Three lifts.
There’s probably way more that can be said on this subject, but that’s where you come in. Down below, let me know what you’d say to your younger self who came to you asking about fitness tips. What would you do differently? What would you keep the same?
The post Fitness Advice From A Primal Elder to Younger Groks: What To Focus On and What To Let Go Of appeared first on Mark’s Daily Apple.
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For the vast majority of human history (and prehistory), men, women, and children had near-constant contact with the natural world around them. They were walking on the ground. They were playing in the dirt. They were digging for roots and grubs. They were eating with their hands. They were field dressing animals and wiping their hands on the grass. Nothing was sterilized; the tools to sterilize the environment didn’t exist. You could boil water, but that was about it. Bacteria were everywhere, and humans were constantly ingesting it. Even as babies, preindustrial infants nursed for almost four years, so they were getting a steady source of breastmilk-based probiotic bacteria for a good portion of their early lives.
The Agricultural Age: Farms and Fermented Foods
After agriculture and animal husbandry hit the scene, human diets changed, but their environmental exposures didn’t so much. Every day they interacted closely with the soil and/or animals (and their respective bacteria). And they also continued ingesting probiotic bacteria on a regular basis through the use of fermented food—for at least the last 10,000 years. Honey into mead, grains into beer, fruit into wine, alcohol into vinegar.
We know that fermented dairy has been an integral part of any traditional dairy-eating culture because fermentation is the natural result of having milk around without refrigeration. You take raw milk and leave it out for a couple days at room temperature, and it will begin to separate and ferment. Introduce an animal stomach and you can make cheese. Introduce specific strains of bacteria, and you can make yogurt or kefir. But the point is that dairy fermentation—and, thus, the consumption of dairy-based probiotics—was unavoidable in pre-industrial dairy-eating societies.
Modern Diets, Modern Environments
Here’s my point to all this: probiotics in one form or another have been a constant input in the human experience… until today.
Today? We live sterilized lives.
- We wipe everything down with anti-microbial agents.
- We wash all our plates and eating utensils with ultra-hot water and powerful soaps.
- We wear shoes.
- We don’t touch (or see) dirt for days, weeks at a time.
- We stay indoors most of the day.
- We pasteurize our dairy. We render shelf-stable (and thus inert) our sauerkraut and pickles.
- We sterilize our water.
- We take antibiotics.
- We eat processed, refined food that’s been treated with preservatives and anti-microbial additives designed to remove all traces of bacteria.
- We employ tens of thousands of scientists, bureaucrats, and agents whose primary role is to ensure our food supply is as sterile as possible.
I get all that. There are good reasons for doing all these things, and on the balance I’d of course rather have clean water, clean food, and antibiotics than not, but there are also drawbacks and unintended consequences. We live in a sterile world, and our guts weren’t built for a sterile world. They’re meant to house a diverse array of bacteria.
What Are the Consequences Of Living a Sterile Life?
Hippocrates, the father of medicine, said that “all diseases originate in the gut.” The most obvious example, digestive issues, are some of the most common in the post-industrial world. Constipation, diarrhea, bloating, and general digestive distress affect tens of millions. Food intolerances and allergies, which also have a link to gut health, are rising.
At least since Biblical times (and probably earlier), humans have identified a connection between the gut and our emotions. “I’ve got a gut feeling…” or “I feel it in my gut.” Though it’s usually portrayed as “merely metaphor,” this connection isn’t spurious and can feel quite real. Remember when you held hands with that pretty girl or handsome guy for the first time? You felt those butterflies in your gut. Or how you had to rush to the bathroom before giving that big talk in front of your college class? You felt the nervousness and anxiety in your gut.
Evidence is accumulating that our gut bacteria can manufacture and synthesize neurotransmitters like serotonin and GABA, and even sex hormones like testosterone. We’ve even identified a legitimate physiological pathway running from the gut to the brain and back again. Couple that with the fact that gut health seems to play a role in depression, anxiety, and other related conditions, and it starts looking like our lack of exposure to probiotic bacteria could be triggering (or at least exacerbating) the rise in mental health issues.
Supporting Our Guts In the Age of Sterility
The foundation of gut health has to be diet: 1) Eating fermented foods to provide probiotic bacteria and 2) eating plant and animal foods that provide prebiotic substrate to feed and nourish those bacteria. That’s been the way of humans for tens of thousands of years—from ingesting soil-based and animal-based bacteria on the food we ate as foragers to directly producing and consuming fermented food—and it should remain the primary mode of probiotic procurement.
But there’s also a place for probiotic supplementation. Food alone probably can’t atone for the sterile existence we’ve built for ourselves. Food alone can’t counteract the several years of breastfeeding you didn’t get, the dirt you didn’t play with, the antelope colons you didn’t handle with bare hands, the untreated water you didn’t drink. You may get it now, but what about ten years ago? What about when you were a kid?
Evolutionarily novel circumstances often require evolutionarily novel responses to restore balance.
And probiotics aren’t even that “novel.” We’re clearly designed to consume probiotics in the food we eat, and probiotic supplements utilize the same ingestion pathway, especially if you consume them with food. The dosages may sound high. Primal Probiotics, the one I make (and take), contains 5 billion colony forming units (cfu, a measure of bacteria that are able to survive digestion and establish colonies in the gut) of good bacteria per dose—but that’s right in line with (or even well under) the dose of probiotics found in common fermented foods.
A single milliliter of kefir can have up to 10 billion cfu.
A cup of yogurt can contain up to 500 billion cfu.
A tablespoon of sauerkraut juice can contain 1.5 trillion cfu. Kimchi is probably quite similar.
A single gram of soil can contain almost 10 trillion cfu. A gram of soil is easy to consume if you’re eating foods (and drink water) directly from the earth.
Now, Primal Probiotics isn’t the only option. It may not even be the best option if you have specific conditions that other strains are particularly adept at addressing. (I’ll cover this in a future post.) But the way I designed Primal Probiotics was to be a good general, all-purpose probiotic with particular applications for Primal, keto, and other ancestrally-minded people living their modern lives.
For instance, one of my favorite strains I’ve included is Bacillus subtilis, the very same bacterial strain that’s found in natto, the traditional Japanese fermented soybean. B. subtilis addresses many of the issues we face in the modern world. It helps break down phytase in the gut and turn it into inositol, an important nutrient for brain and mood and stress. It helps convert vitamin K1 (from plants) into vitamin K2 (the more potent animal form of the vitamin). It can even hydrolyze wheat and dairy proteins to make them less allergenic.
There’s also Bacillus clausii, an integral modulator of the innate immune system (PDF)—the part of the immune system that fights off pathogens, toxins, and other invading offenders. Innate immunity is ancient immunity; it’s the same system employed by lower organisms like animals, plants, fungi, and bacteria. It’s the foundation of what we know as the immune response. What’s funny is that B. clausii has such a powerful effect on our innate immunity that one could argue B. clausii is an innate aspect of our gut community.
I’ve also included a small amount of prebiotic substrates in the latest iteration. I use raw potato starch (for resistant starch) and a blend of fructooligosaccharides and galactooligosaccharides. The prebiotic doses are low enough that they shouldn’t exacerbate any gut problems or FODMAPs intolerances and high enough to provide enough food for the probiotics to flourish.
Again, you don’t have to take Primal Probiotics. It’s my opinion that they provide the perfect combination of strains for most people’s needs, especially when combined with regular intakes of fermented veggies like sauerkraut and fermented dairy like yogurt, cheese, and kefir, but the actual strains themselves aren’t proprietary. You can find them elsewhere if you want to get individual probiotics. Hell, you may not even need a probiotic supplement. Depending on your personal health background, the level of sterility in your life history and current life (if you grew up on a farm drinking raw milk, for example), and the amount of fermented foods you currently consume, you may not need supplemental assistance.
But it’s sure nice to have around.
Anyway, that’s it for today.
How do you get your probiotics? Do you find them necessary for optimum health? What kind of benefits have you experienced from taking probiotics, either via food or supplementation?
Thanks for reading, everyone. Take care.
The post Life In the Sanitized Bubble (Or Why Probiotics Are So Important) appeared first on Mark’s Daily Apple.
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In nutrition, there are very few universal consensuses. Conventional wisdom says that fat makes you fat and whole grains are essential, and millions of people agree, but the ancestral health and keto communities (and reality) disagree. Primal and keto folks don’t worry much about saturated fat and limit polyunsaturated fat; conventional health advocates do the opposite. The opinion on meat intake varies wildly, with some people suggesting we eat nothing but red meat, others recommending “palm-sized” pieces of strictly white meat, and still others cautioning against any meat at all. Pick a food and you can find a sizable group that hates it and a sizable one that loves it. You can find researchers who spend their lives making the case against it and researchers who spend their lives making the case for it.
But not fish. Fish is about as close to a universal as any food. Barring the vegans and vegetarians (some of whom, however, are sneaking wild salmon when their followers aren’t watching), everyone appreciates and extols the virtues of eating seafood. Including me.
Sea Food = Sea Change: The Evolutionary Story
Remember: I always view things through an evolutionary prism. It’s where I begin. If something doesn’t make sense in the light of evolution, it probably doesn’t make sense at all. And seafood has been one of the most important dietary factors in human brain development. Without the selenium, iodine, zinc, iron, copper, and DHA found abundantly in fish and shellfish, human brain encephalization—the massive increase in relative size and complexity of the brain representing a shift toward higher order thought—wouldn’t have been easy to pull off. Maybe impossible.
If the human brain came to rely on the nutrients found in seafood for its evolution, it stands to reason that they remain important. The studies bear this out. Fish offers unique and important benefits to humans living today.
- More omega-3s in your red blood cell membranes, less heart disease.
- More omega-3s in your diet, lower expression of inflammatory genes and less airway inflammation if you have asthma.
- More EPA in your diet, improved depression.
- More EPA and DHA in your diet, less progression from inflammation into full-blown arthritis and improved rheumatoid arthritis symptoms.
- More omega-3s in your diet, stronger anabolic response to strength training.
Not to mention the imbalanced, inflammatory omega-3:omega-6 ratios most of us have, or had. Even if you’ve been Primal for ten years, you spent a good portion of your life eating the standard Western diet full of industrial seed oils high in omega-6 fatty acids. Omega-3s from seafood help correct that balance.
The Modern Picture: Calm the Alarm
But there’s a problem, isn’t there? If you listen to the alarmists, our seas are overfished and full of toxins, and the fish that remain are dripping with mercury, cadmium, and other heavy metals. Farmed fish are even worse, some say; they swim in tepid baths of antibiotics, soybean oil, and glyphosate. Besides, oceanic acidification is killing all the delicious fish and shellfish and crustaceans. Pretty soon the only thing served at Red Lobster will be fried jellyfish.
Though there are glimmers of truth to all those claims, they’re certainly exaggerated:
- There are still plenty of excellent and sustainable seafood choices to make, according to Seafood Watch, which takes environmental impacts, overfishing, and other ecological and safety concerns into account.
- While some species are indeed overburdened with heavy metal contamination, plenty aren’t. Eat salmon, sardines, mackerel, younger, smaller tuna. Besides, most seafood—in one study, this included shrimp, crabs, squid, and tropical fish in the Atlantic Ocean—is high enough in selenium that it binds to and prevents absorption of mercury.
- Jellies may be taking over, or they may be following the natural 20-year boom and bust cycle observed throughout history.
- Even farmed salmon isn’t as bad as we might assume. And farmed mollusks—oysters, clams, mussels—are as good as wild, since they live no differently from their wild cousins.
Even if all those claims were totally on the level, we’re faced with a grand overarching truth: You have to eat something. What, are you gonna eat vegan meat patties instead of cod, salmon, sardines, and oysters? Drink Soylent? Go vegan? Go Breatharian?
Of course not. You need to eat seafood. You know you should.
But isn’t it too expensive?
For one thing, I already mentioned that safe farmed fish exists. Farmed salmon probably isn’t as bad as we’ve been led to believe (or assume), as long as you watch out for the egregious ones. U.S.-farmed trout, barramundi, and catfish show up with very low toxin levels and good nutrient profiles. And farmed bivalves like oysters, clams, and mussels are raised like they’re wild. There’s basically no difference between a farmed oyster and a wild oyster. They both live out in the ocean attached to rocks, munching on what the sea provides.
Two, wild seafood isn’t always expensive.
Restaurant supply shops, Walmart, and other large stores often have frozen wild salmon, cod, and other wild fish for cheap, about $5-6 per pound.
At Costco, you can get wild caught salmon (at least on the West coast) in season for $5-6 pound. You might have to buy it whole, though (recipe down below). They also have other types of wild fish for good prices.
Canned seafood is a viable option.
Fish and Seafood: How To Optimize the Benefits
Why We Need Seafood
First, evolutionary precedent, which I already discussed. It’s folly to ignore the long history of humans eating seafood. It’s higher folly to ignore the importance of seafood in human brain evolution. Wherever they have access, people eat seafood.
Second, the benefits are well-established. Even if the links to better health are purely correlational (and they’re not, since we have controlled trials listed above), seafood looks great on paper: bioavailable protein, high levels of essential nutrients, the best source of long chained omega-3 fatty acids.
Third, seafood is a reliable source of important micronutrients that may be lacking on a terrestrial Primal, keto, or carnivore diet. Selenium, magnesium, folate, astaxanthin, and vitamin E can be tough to get if you’re just eating steaks and ground beef.
A recent study on the ketogenic Mediterranean diet had great results feeding its participants over two pounds of fish per day. Two. Pounds. Mostly salmon, sardines, and mackerel, which are fatty omega-3 rich fish very low in contaminants.
But what about those who say they’re meat eaters, turf people who claim grass-fed beef and pastured pork is enough for them? Fish is meat. Fish are animals. You’re seriously limiting your options—and selling your ancestors short—by willfully avoiding seafood. And you’re probably missing out on some important nutrients. Like iodine, for example, which doesn’t show up in the standard nutritional databases but is incredibly important for brain and thyroid health and almost certainly appears most abundantly in seafood.
What Exactly Should I Eat?
Okay, so should I just throw in some salmon and be on my way?
Salmon is a great start, but there’s way more fish (and bivalves, crustaceans, and cephalopods) in the sea.
Can’t I just take fish oil? As a fish oil purveyor, I wish I could say that fish oil is enough. It offers incredible benefits not to be dismissed, but it’s not equivalent to food either. The fact is, I do both. Seafood contains a ton more than just the omega-3s. Just check it out….
- Salmon: Vitamin D3, B-vitamins, magnesium, iron, selenium.
- Cod: B-vitamins, magnesium, selenium, potassium
- Halibut: B-vitamins, vitamin D3, magnesium, selenium, potassium
- Sardines (canned): B-vitamins, vitamin D3, selenium, calcium (if bone-in), iron, copper
- Scallops: Vitamin B12, magnesium, folate, selenium, zinc.
- Oysters: B-vitamins, magnesium, selenium, zinc, copper, iron, omega-3s, manganese
- Mussels: B-vitamins, selenium, zinc, manganese, folate, omega-3s
- Clams: Vitamin B12, iron, magnesium, vitamin A
- Shrimp: B-vitamins, magnesium, selenium, zinc, astaxanthin (a potent carotenoid, great for ocular and mental health)
- Crab: B-vitamins, vitamin E, magnesium, folate, selenium, zinc, copper
- Lobster: B-vitamins, vitamin E, selenium
- Squid: B-vitamins, magnesium, iron, copper, zinc, selenium, vitamin E
- Octopus: B-vitamins, magnesium, iron, copper, zinc, selenium
Although I didn’t mention it, every single sea creature you can eat is a very good source of highly bioavailable protein and, usually, creatine.
And some studies even suggest that fish proteins themselves offer unique benefits.
- In one study, rats with injured muscles saw faster recovery when fed cod protein as opposed to casein or peanut protein.
- In people with insulin resistance, cod protein reduces the inflammatory marker CRP and increases insulin sensitivity.
- Fish protein may even enhance fat loss and muscle gain compared to other protein sources.
Most of the research is in animals, but it’s compelling and another good—if speculative—reason to include fish in your diet.
I’m Sold. How Much Should I Eat?
Keeping in mind the contamination in certain varieties, eat much as you can afford/tolerate. It’s hard to eat too much seafood. In my experience, there seems to be a built-in regulatory mechanism that reduces the palatability of seafood at a certain level of consumption. A big slab of wild sockeye salmon is fantastic, but I can’t eat pounds of it like I can with a grass-fed ribeye.
You can also use omega-3:omega-6 ratio as an indicator. Run the numbers on the seafood you’re eating and aim for a 1:1 or 1:2 ratio and you should be golden.
In my opinion, leaner fish has no upper limit. Eat as you desire.
Keep in mind that the keto Mediterranean diet study I recently discussed gave over 2 pounds of fish to participants every day, and they had great results. Two. Pounds. Mostly salmon, sardines, and mackerel, which are fatty omega-3 rich fish very low in contaminants. After 12 weeks of that:
- They lost 30+ pounds.
- Their BMIs dropped from almost 37 to 31.5, from the middle of class 2 obesity to the bottom of class 1 obesity.
- They lost 16 centimeters, or 6 inches, from their waist.
- Fasting blood sugar dropped from 118 (pre-diabetic) to 91 (ideal).
- Triglycerides dropped from 224 to 109.
- HDL increased from 44 to 58.
- They went from prehypertensive to normotensive.
- Their liver enzymes and liver fat reduced and in some cases completely resolved.
- All 22 subjects started the study with metabolic syndrome and ended it without metabolic syndrome.
As always, pay attention to how you feel. Eat and observe. Make it an official N=1 experiment and look for the feedback it provides.
How I Do Seafood
Okay, but how do you eat it? How do you prepare it?
Admittedly, there’s a lot less room for error with seafood. It goes bad more quickly, cooks faster, and simply isn’t as forgiving. We’ve all had the experience of buying some salmon fresh from the butcher, keeping it in your fridge a half day too long because we weren’t sure how to prepare it, and having to throw it out. That’s the worst.
I’m not a big “recipe” guy (I have people who help me parse out my creations into legible formats for blog posts and cookbooks). I like to improvise. A dish here, a dash there. So, I’m just going to give a freeform account of how I eat fish, shellfish, and other seafood. If you need clarification on something, feel free to ask in the comment board.
I like doing a kind of pseudo-ceviche using any high quality lean fish—halibut’s great—marinated in Primal Kitchen® Greek Dressing & Marinade with a few splashes of tamari or soy sauce and some diced fresno chile. Let it sit for 5-10 minutes, then plow into it. Really good, even though if you tried to serve this in Peru they’d probably arrest you.
I always have canned sardines from Wild Planet in my pantry. A favorite quick (and keto-friendly) meal is to do a can or two of sardines mashed up with an avocado and a tablespoon or two of Greek Goddess dressing.
If I’m doing salmon, I’ll sometimes marinate the fish in the Primal Kitchen No-Soy Teriyaki.
Another great way to cook fish is in a curry. Sear the fish, making sure to get crispy skin if it’s on. Set aside. In the same pan without washing or draining, heat up some garlic, ginger, chili peppers (if you like it hot), and onions (or shallots), adding more fat if you need it. Salt. When they’ve softened, add the curry powder or paste. Cook for a minute or so. Then add some bone broth and coconut milk. Reduce until you’ve reached the texture you desire. I’ll keep gelatin powder on hand to whisk in if it doesn’t have enough body. At the last moment, add the fish back in and toss to coat.
Scallops? Either raw at a good sushi joint, preferably separated by thinly sliced lemon, or seared in butter followed by a pan reduction with white wine and butter. By the way, for those who are interested, Butcher Box has some killer scallops now (it’s literally the last day to grab the deal—apologies to anyone reading this tomorrow.) And full disclosure—I’ve always been a proud affiliate. They do things right there.
Clam chowder is still the best way to eat clams, roasted on an open fire on the beach with a little sand still in there. Maybe it’s just the New England in me.
Anytime I’m out at a decent restaurant I trust with oysters on the menu, I order them. At least a half dozen, raw. I also like the canned smoked oysters from Crown Prince.
Mussels I like the classic way: cooked in butter, white wine, and garlic. Only modification I make is after the mussels have cooked, I remove them from the pan, sprinkle in some gelatin powder, and reduce down to make a viscous sauce.
Cod or other similar lean white fishes are best in lots of butter and garlic, followed by a squeeze of lemon.
Whole salmon? Clean, gut, and scale. If you can, keep the liver. It’s delicious. Salt and pepper the interior and exterior of the salmon. Cut some deep vertical slashes in the outside, on both sides. Stuff shallots, garlic, and lemon slices into the interior and inside the slashes. Coat with avocado oil, then grill over indirect heat with the cover on until skin is crispy and flesh is lightly pink and flaky, or bake at 375 for 30-40 minutes.
If I’m ever cooking a cephalopod, it’s all about the Instant Pot. Throw some bone broth, lemon juice, and olive oil in the pot with the squid or octopus and cook on manual for 15-20 minutes. If you like, you can take it out, allow it to cool, then grill it over coals or open flame. Save the broth.
Whenever I cook fish, I use either monounsaturated fats (as found in avocado oil and olive oil) or saturated fats (as found in butter and coconut oil). Both types of fats enhance absorption of omega-3 fatty acids, whereas omega-6 fats inhibit it. Both omega-3 and omega-6 compete for the same absorption pathway.
When applicable (as in curry), I also use turmeric to cook my fish. Turmeric and its curcumin enhances absorption of omega-3s, specifically increasing DHA levels in the brain.
I know seafood is intimidating for some people. They don’t like the “fishiness.” They don’t know how to cook it. It’s “too expensive.” It goes bad too quickly. Hopefully, after today you feel a bit better about cooking and eating seafood. Hopefully, you feel equipped and empowered to incorporate some salmon, cod, trout, oysters, and other marine animals into your diet.
Take care, everyone, and please leave your favorite ways to eat seafood down below. How much seafood do you eat? What’s your go-to recipe? What underrated sea animal do you covet but others do not?
Thanks for reading!
The post The Definitive Guide To Fish: Why and How To Eat It appeared first on Mark’s Daily Apple.
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The fitness industry is in the midst of a renaissance. Flawed and dated strategies like sedentary recovery practices or overly stressful HIIT workouts are being replaced with cutting-edge practices that offer more efficiency and return on investment. Today I’m covering one emerging fitness strategy: performing brief feats of strength in the routine course of a day. Let’s call them microworkouts.
I’m talking here about dropping for a single set of deep squats in the office, hitting a set of max effort pull-ups whenever you pass under a bar in a closet doorway, or stocking your backyard with a hex deadlift bar or bench press and busting out a single set every time you pass by while taking out the garbage.
Banking Benefits With Less Stress
Microworkouts deliver two distinct and awesome benefits: First, when you add up the energy expenditure of these brief but frequent efforts, you obtain an incredible cumulative training effect. In essence, you are banking a lot of strength/power/explosiveness “mileage” without disturbing the necessary stress/rest balance of your official workout schedule or prompting the stress hormone production and cellular depletion that occurs from an extreme weekend warrior-type session. That is, a set of pull-ups, or even three sets over the course of 12 hours on a typical day, is not going to mess up the next day’s CrossFit session or even an ambitious arms and chest session. Rather, these micro sessions (Dr. Phil Maffetone calls the concept, “slow weights”) will raise the baseline from which you launch you ambitious full-scale workouts.
Think about it: If you do a single set of six deadlifts with 200 pounds on the bar every time you take out the garbage, that’s 1,200 pounds of work accomplished. Perhaps you can find your way to doing that 1-2 times a day, five or six days a week? That’s lifting an extra 10,000 pounds a week! When it’s time to perform a formal session, such as the popular 5 x 5 protocol (where you complete five sets of five reps, and perhaps add an upper body exercise to each set), you’re poised for fitness breakthroughs as well as faster recovery times. An “official” workout is no longer this tremendous athletic performance vastly outside the normal pattern of your largely sedentary life, but instead an upgrade of what you do every day to some extent. Does this concept ring a bell? Yes, microworkouts are modeling the behavior patterns of our hunter-gatherer ancestors! Grok and company likely had some harsh days that might rival today’s CrossFit WOD or obstacle course race, but they also likely had routine daily chores entailing lifting heavy things or scrambling up steep embankments in between their legendary leisure time.
Interrupting Prolonged Inactivity
The second benefit of microworkouts is perhaps even more profound: these short efforts help you combat the extreme health hazard of prolonged periods of stillness that characterize hyperconnected modern life. The adverse health consequences of stillness have been well-chronicled, and you’ve heard me talk about them for years. Studies show that even a few days of inactivity can generate a significant decline in glucose tolerance and increase in insulin resistance. In Primal Endurance, I quote Nutritious Movement queen Katy Bowman on the destruction of cellular health caused by stillness: “When you use a single position repetitively, such as curling your body into a comfortable work chair for hours every day, muscles, joints, and arteries will adapt to this repetitive positioning by changing their cellular makeup and becoming literally ‘stiff,’ with reduced ranges of motion and an actual hardening of the arterial walls in those areas.”
Strange as it may seem, it’s now becoming clear that increasing all forms of general everyday movement is a greater health priority than conducting ambitious workouts. Microworkouts, along with continued devotion to JFW (Just F—ing Walk) takes on increasing importance as daily life gets more effortless. Even if you’re a devoted gym rat, those few hours a week when you’re pushing weight around isn’t enough to combat a lifestyle of commuting, office work, and digital entertainment leisure time. The active couch potato syndrome is a scientifically validated concept revealing that devoted workout enthusiasts who lead otherwise sedentary lifestyles are subject to the same level of disease risk as inactive folks.
Optimizing Movement For the Most Advantageous Genetic Signaling
But none of this is new. A decade ago now Time magazine offered a memorable title, “The Myth Of Exercise.” The story detailed how a strenuous workout (particularly the common workout patterns and strategies of today that can become chronically stressful) depletes cellular energy and prompts a compensatory response in the form of an increased appetite along with decreased activity for the rest of the day. More recently, I wrote about the constrained model of energy expenditure as well as the amazing study of the Hadza that’s helping us reframe the purpose and intended benefits of exercise.
As I’ve been saying since the introduction of the 10 Primal Blueprint Laws over a decade ago, it’s not about the calories but about the movement and the genetic signaling that movement prompts. The Myth of Exercise concept aligns with my longtime assertion that 80% of your body composition success is dependent on your diet—specifically, minimizing the wildly excessive insulin production that happens from a grain-based, high carbohydrate diet and prevents you from burning stored body fat.
How To Incorporate Microworkouts
Armed with the insight to no workout is too short, and any kind of movement delivers a health and fitness benefit, you can elevate microworkouts to the forefront of your fitness plan. Reject the all or nothing mentality that causes you to fail with fitness commitments because you get too busy with work and life. We all have time for a set or two or three of deep squats during the workday or during leisure time.
Look for opportunities over the course of every day to put your body under some kind of brief resistance load. Even if you only work hard for one minute (or less) at a time but are relatively faithful incorporating these “micro” opportunities into your daily routine, the cumulative effect will still be incredible.
Word of Caution: Going from a prolonged inactive state to a performing a heavy lift carries an obvious risk factor. Truth be told, I generally precede my random sets of pull-ups, deadlifts or even cords by a minute of walking, a few dynamic stretches, or some specific warm-up moves like doing a set with a much lighter weight, followed by a “real” set with a respectable weight. It’s not a lot of time or effort, but it’s a good habit to add the resistance after you’ve been up and doing something for a few minutes (e.g. taking out the garbage, bringing in groceries, finishing an indoor/outdoor chore).
Beyond that, also realize that when you make micro-workouts a daily habit, you’ll discover that you’re much more adaptable to brief explosive efforts without a long warm-up. You’ll be able to pop up from your work desk to hustle down a flight of stairs at work without hearing the creaks and cracks that are so familiar, especially to aging jocks. My longtime writing partner Brad Kearns (our next book will be a comprehensive education and action plan on the topics of longevity—due out in December) swears that his brief morning flexibility/mobility routine. He says it’s transformed his recovery from sprint workouts. No more next-day stiffness and soreness and occasional minor injuries—just because he spends 12 minutes every morning working on drills specific to sprinting that challenge the glutes, hamstrings and core.
Dr. Art DeVany, Ph.D., author of The New Evolution Diet and one of my earliest and greatest inspirations for Primal-inspired health practices, says that the lion never has to stretch before a workout, and we shouldn’t have to either. No, our modern creakiness can be attributed to overtraining patterns (in the case of morning issues) or extended stillness without a movement break when you get up and hobble during the day. Our ancestors most certainly had to run for their lives with zero warning on a routine basis. It’s a good Primal skill to have still.
Micro workouts are also applicable to cardiovascular fitness. A few minutes here and a few minutes there have a similar cumulative effect. Dr. Phil Maffetone explains that any stimulation of the aerobic system, even really low intensity stuff that a hard-core athlete might not choose to count as an official workout, helps improve your cardiovascular health and fitness. There’s really no lower limit to the aerobic exercise zone.
Anytime you get up from a chair and walk, you’re getting an aerobic benefit. A couple minutes recruiting major muscle groups with Stretch Cordz confers a new advantage. A cruise ship analogy works well here. When the floating city is out on the open ocean, cruising at 20 knots en route to the next port, all twelve turbine engines are cranking at full throttle. When it’s cruising in the harbor at two knots in preparation for docking, only a couple turbines are operating at half power. However, the two turbines operating at half speed in the harbor are still being “trained” to perform when they’re called up on in the open ocean. Note: I’ve revised my position on this concept over the years as research filled in the picture. Early on, I used to designate an aerobic zone of 55-75% of maximum heart rate. I’m not saying abandon time in that range, but know that anything outside of it also counts for something, and that should be good news.
If you so much as jump up from your desk, scramble down the stairs and out to your vehicle, then return with a few floors of ascent and back to your desk—total time five minutes and eight seconds. You’ll be turbocharging fat burning, increasing oxygen delivery and blood circulation to the brain, and flooding the bloodstream with neurotransmitters that elevate mood and improve cognitive focus. Similarly, anytime you haul off a set of pushups or squats, you’re making a meaningful contribution to your fitness and longevity.
Every effort, however modest, can be a small win. How does that shift your mindset? How does it open up possibilities for you? Let me know down below, and share any questions you have while you’re at it. Have a great week, everybody.
The post Are You Doing Microworkouts? Here’s Why You Should. appeared first on Mark’s Daily Apple.
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