Does Red Meat Give You Colon Cancer?

Have you heard? There’s a new “red meat will kill you” study. This time, it’s colorectal cancer.

Here’s the press release.

Here’s the full study.

I covered this a couple Sundays ago in “Sunday with Sisson.” If you haven’t signed up for that, I’d recommend it. SWS is where I delve into my habits, practices, and observations, health-related and health-unrelated—stuff you won’t find on the blog. Anyway, I thought I’d expand on my response to that study here today.

How the Study Was Conducted

It’s the basic story you see with most of these observational studies. Around 175,000 or so people were asked to recall what they ate on a regular basis—a food frequency questionnaire. This is the exact questionnaire, in fact. The research team took the answers, measured some baseline characteristics of all the subjects—socioeconomic status, exercise levels, whether they smoked, education level, occupation, family history of colorectal cancer, and a few others—and then followed up with participants an average of 5.7 years later to see how many had developed colorectal cancer.

What the Study “Showed”

Those who had moderate amounts of red meat had a 20% higher chance of getting cancer.

And in the end, the increased risk was a relative risk. It wasn’t a 20% absolute increase in risk. It was a relative increase in risk. The subjects started with a 0.5% risk of getting bowel cancer. In those who ate the most processed meat and red meat, that risk increased 20%—to 0.6%!

From 0.5 to 0.6%. Sure, that’s an increase, but is it something to overhaul your entire diet for? To give up the best sources of zinc, iron, B vitamins, protein, carnosine, creatine? All that for a measly 0.1% that hasn’t even been established as causal?

Study Findings Most News Outlets Won’t Include

One head scratcher that leaps out: the link between unprocessed red meat and colon cancer was not actually statistically significant. Only processed meat was significantly linked to colon cancer.

Another head scratcher: red meat, whether processed or unprocessed, had no significant association with colorectal cancer in women. Why didn’t they highlight the fact that in women, eating red meat was completely unrelated? That’s half the world’s population. That’s you or your mom, your daughter, your grandmother, your girlfriend. And unless they were to look at the full study and read the fine print, they’d never know that red meat actually had the opposite relationship. You’d think the authors would want to mention that in the abstract or see that the press releases and media treatments highlighted that fact.

It’s probably because mentioning that red meat was neutral in women and had no statistically significant link to colon cancer in men and women would have destroyed their case for red meat as an independent carcinogen. See, carcinogens are supposed to be carcinogens. There are many meaningful differences between men and women, but a poison is a poison.

What’s the proposed mechanism for red meat triggering colon cancer in men but not in women? If they didn’t have one (and I imagine they wouldn’t have mentioned it if they did), then there’s probably something else going on.

Besides, the literature is far from unequivocal.

What Other Research Says About Red Meat and Bowel Cancer

In analyses that include consideration of cooking methods and other mitigating factors, red meat has no relationship with colon cancer.

Or what about this study, where colon cancer patients were more likely to eat red meat, but less likely to have type 2 diabetes? Should people avoid red meat and work toward getting diagnosed with type 2 diabetes?

Or how about this study, which found no difference in colorectal cancer rates between people who ate red meat-free diets and people who ate diets containing red meat? Shouldn’t the diet without any red meat at all have some effect?

Or this classic study, where rats on a bacon-based diet had the lowest rates of colon cancer. In fact, bacon protected them from colon cancer after they were dosed with a colon cancer promoter, while rats on normal “healthy” chow were not.

The Blind Spot In Red Meat Research

I don’t need to go into all the confounding factors that might predispose conventional red meat lovers to bowel cancer. Nor will I mention that it’s impossible to fully control for variables like the buns and bread and fries you eat the red meat with and the industrial seed oils it’s cooked in.

That last bit is crucial: the seed oils. It’s what nearly every cancer researcher misses. It’s not just a minor variable; it’s quite possibly the most important determinant of whether meat is carcinogenic in the colon or not. Heme iron—the compound unique to red meat that usually gets the blame for any increase in cancer—is most carcinogenic in the presence of the omega-6 fatty acid linoleic acid.

In one study, feeding heme iron to rats promoted colon cancer only when fed alongside high-linoleic acid safflower oil. Feeding MUFA-rich and far more oxidatively-stable olive oil alongside the heme prevented the colon carcinogenesis.

Another study had similar results, finding that meats containing medium to high amounts of heme—beef and beef blood sausage—promoted carcinogenic conditions in the colon when the fat sources were linoleic acid-rich corn and soybean oil.

And most recently is this paper. Mice were split into three groups. One group got heme iron plus omega-6 PUFA (from safflower oil). One group got heme iron plus omega-3 PUFA (from fish oil). The third group got heme iron plus saturated fat (from fully hydrogenated coconut oil, which contains zero PUFA). To determine the carcinogenicity of each feeding regimen, the researchers analyzed the effect the animals’ fecal water (which is exactly what it sounds like) had on colon cells. The fecal water of both PUFA groups was full of carcinogenic indicators and lipid oxidation byproducts, and exposing colonic epithelial cells to fecal water from PUFA-fed mice was toxic. The coconut oil-derived fecal water had no markers of toxicity or lipid oxidation.

I never see these (animal) studies cited in observational studies of meat and colon cancer. I think that’s a huge blindspot, and it’s one of the reasons I rarely put any stock in these scary-sounding studies.

That’s it for today, folks. Thanks for reading. Now go enjoy a steak.

mayo_640x80

References:

Bylsma LC, Alexander DD. A review and meta-analysis of prospective studies of red and processed meat, meat cooking methods, heme iron, heterocyclic amines and prostate cancer. Nutr J. 2015;14:125.

Alsheridah N, Akhtar S. Diet, obesity and colorectal carcinoma risk: results from a national cancer registry-based middle-eastern study. BMC Cancer. 2018;18(1):1227.

Rada-fernandez de jauregui D, Evans CEL, Jones P, Greenwood DC, Hancock N, Cade JE. Common dietary patterns and risk of cancers of the colon and rectum: Analysis from the United Kingdom Women’s Cohort Study (UKWCS). Int J Cancer. 2018;143(4):773-781.

If you’d like to add an avatar to all of your comments click here!

Fasting Gave Me a Better Approach To Maintain My Weight Without Restrictions

It’s Monday, everyone! And that means another Primal Blueprint Real Life Story from a Mark’s Daily Apple reader. If you have your own success story and would like to share it with me and the Mark’s Daily Apple community please contact me here. I’ll continue to publish these each Monday as long as they keep coming in. Thank you for reading!

My name is Garland Niblett and I am a nutritional consultant and co-owner of Fit & Faithful Wellness. This is my story.

In 2011 I was admitted to the Veterans Affairs hospital and diagnosed with PTSD. From there, I basically gave up on myself, both mentally and physically. I was once a 195 lbs., 3% body fat natural bodybuilder; and then, while I was in the VA hospital, I became a 301 lbs. “unrecognizable” individual. I had become overweight and was even classified as morbidly obese.

Benztropine, diazepam, cholecalciferol, Etodolac, methocarbamol, mirtazapine, amlodipine, aripiprazole, prazosin, quetiapine, and simvastatin. These were all prescribed to me while I was in the hospital. I had plenty of psychiatrists and psychologists but ultimately, I connected with a holistic therapist who helped me accept what happened to me in my past and how to manage my PTSD. Since 2016, I have managed to use only quetiapine for sleep.

By accepting my PTSD, I was able to move forward with my life. My therapist taught me how to be mindful about what was around me, emotionally, mentally and of course, nutritionally. I was more conscious of what I was putting in my body. In 246 days, I was able to lose 105 lbs. I felt great, but I fluctuated with my weight and wanted to find a better approach to maintaining my weight without restrictions. I was used to consuming over 5,000 calories, spread out during the day, eating most of my calories in the morning. During this time, I wasn’t overweight, but I still had chronic pain throughout my body. My stomach was constantly upset, bloated and felt sore from my workouts and daily movement.

Looking into the research on Intermittent Fasting, I became fascinated and wondered if this would work for me. And so, the journey of fasting began.

I started with the basic 16/8, giving up my 2,000-caloric breakfast. I struggled and was a bit hungry and moody but was persistent and did not give into my cravings. Soon thereafter, I was doing 18/6, 20/4 and now, 24-48 hours fasting. I noticed a momentous change with my body composition but most importantly, I felt great. I had more energy, an incredible amount of endurance and basically no soreness or inflammation. I had become Fat Adapted. No hunger cravings, stable mood and plenty of energy. My average blood sugar levels are 64 ml/dl, with mental clarity, balanced hormones, low inflammatory levels and a healthy stress response. My current weight is 195 lbs. and I have maintained this weight for the past two years.

Intermittent Fasting has been part of life now for over two years. Before intermittent fasting, my weight fluctuated from 220-240 lbs. I would have never thought it would be possible for me to run 8-10 miles in the morning and not desire food until later in the evening. No muscle loss but plenty of body fat reduction. I truly believe that fasting may be an alternative for individuals that are seeking healthier lifestyle options, weight loss, better mood and mental awareness.

I recommend intermittent fasting to my clients that struggle with weight loss, type 2 diabetes, and if they have chronic inflammation. I also recommend to my clients that they read The Primal Blueprint and The Keto Reset Diet, which talk about fasting and being mindful of the nutrients you choose to put in your body.

Intermittent fasting is amazing and since the beginning of this year I no longer have to rely on Quetiapine to help me sleep. I am now 100% medication free, thanks to intermittent fasting.

The readers featured in our success stories share their experiences in their own words. The Primal Blueprint and Keto Reset diets are not intended as medical intervention or diagnosis. Nor are they replacements for working with a qualified healthcare practitioner. It’s important to speak with your doctor before beginning any new dietary or lifestyle program, and please consult your physician before making any changes to medication or treatment protocols. Each individual’s results may vary.

steak_sauce_640x80

If you’d like to add an avatar to all of your comments click here!

Weekly Link Love — Edition 25

Research of the Week

Statins linked to diabetes, again.

A ketogenic diet helps relapsing MS patients lower fatigue, reduce depression, and lose weight.

Indigenous Australians traded pottery with Papua New Guineans for thousands of years.

A fatty liver epidemic in young people is bad news and simply shouldn’t be happening (but is).

Narcissists make better citizens.

New Primal Blueprint Podcasts

Episode 328: Dr. Loren Cordain: Host Elle Russ chats with the creator of the original Paleo Diet, Dr. Loren Cordain PhD.

Episode 329: Dr. Lindsay Taylor: Host Brad Kearns chats with Dr. Lindsay Taylor, PhD and co-author of the Keto Passport.

Health Coach Radio Episode 8: Kama Trudgen: Kama Trudgen runs health retreats for the indigenous Yolngu people of Northeast Arnhem Land, Australia, helping them reclaim health using traditional diets and lifestyle practices.

Each week, select Mark’s Daily Apple blog posts are prepared as Primal Blueprint Podcasts. Need to catch up on reading, but don’t have the time? Prefer to listen to articles while on the go? Check out the new blog post podcasts below, and subscribe to the Primal Blueprint Podcast here so you never miss an episode.

Media, Schmedia

Not grazing on junk all day long is “starving,” apparently.

Irish soil contains microbes that fight drug-resistant bacteria.

Interesting Blog Posts

Ancient animal urine could reveal the history of animal agriculture.

A sandwich with pickles instead of bread? Sure, why not.

Social Notes

Enter now to win a Cuisinart Airfryer, $200 in Primal Kitchen loot, and a $100 gift card to PrimalKitchen.com.

My quick, effective road workout when I’m traveling light without gym access.

Everything Else

This seems like a good use of GMO technology: blight-resistant American chestnut.

Google pulls the plug on its glucose-monitoring “smart lens” they’d been working on since 2014.

Raw eggs in milk, carrots, steak, lamb chops, liver, and the odd ice cream sundae: Marilyn Monroe’s diet.

Things I’m Up to and Interested In

Virtual health summit you should attend: Habits to Thrive, a 7-day summit hosted by Deanna Wilcox, Anya Perry, and 17 other Primal Health Coaches.

Study I found interesting: Drug and alcohol use and life satisfaction.

Positive side effect I’m hoping develops: Scientists are mad that T-rex bones are going for millions on eBay rather than remain in the public trust. But what if high prices and private sales spur more finds and more discoveries?

I think there are better ways to lose weight: Than swallowing 3-dimensional cellulose matrix tabs that expand in your stomach and take up space.

I can’t think of a better way to gain weight: “…eating behaviors of modern consumers may be guided by a predominant goal to attain the subjective experience of complete fullness.”

Question I’m Asking

Some high-end coffee places are banning milk, sugar, and cream, arguing that the extra additions detract from the true coffee experience. What do you think of food establishments with draconian policies like that—snobs or real artisans?

Recipe Corner

Time Capsule

One year ago (Apr 14– Apr 20)

Comment of the Week

“What about a half scoop of metagenics thermaphaseprotein detox powder in water? Will this break my fast?”

– Depends which ThermaPhase tier you’ve reached. Tier 2 and below you’d better go a quarter scoop if you want to maintain the fast. Tier 3 ThermaPhase or higher actually extracts calories from you.

steak_sauce_640x80

If you’d like to add an avatar to all of your comments click here!

Top 12 Keto Blogs

With the explosion of keto, there’s an ever growing constant stream of new information about the significant benefits, supposed risks, and varying “rules” for how to adopt a keto diet. As with most things, it’s easy to get sucked into information overload. (And that doesn’t even take into account the hype that unfortunately gets distributed like wildfire around the Internet.) You want sources you can count on for facts, reason, and utility. Here are twelve solid sources I’d recommend for intelligent commentary, sound science, and useful ideas.

1) Mark’s Daily Apple

Sure, this isn’t an exclusively keto blog. It’s a Primal living blog—with attention to all the components that figure into a healthy lifestyle and fulfilling life. But keto is a powerful tool I use within the Primal Blueprint template. As most of you already know, I approach keto specifically through a Primal lens—what I call a Primal-keto approach to keto living that prioritizes optimum nutrition with the least amount of pain, suffering and sacrifice. I know it’s been working for a lot of people, and I’ll continue to to write on it as well as all the other elements of a healthy life. Four particular resources I’d suggest to folks new to keto: the MDA Keto Hub, our Keto Recipes, the Primal Blueprint Keto Podcast, and our private Keto Reset Facebook Group. They’re all free resources for anyone to use and enjoy. For those who want to receive an additional Mark’s Daily Apple monthly email with exclusive information and commentary on keto, you can sign up below for the Keto Reset Digest (also free).

2) Virta Blog

Virta is a groundbreaking health organization using keto to treat—even reverse—type 2 diabetes and associated metabolic disorders. The Virta Blog is an must-read, providing a mix of cutting edge science, easy to understand articles regarding practical aspects of going keto, and inspiring success stories.

3) Tuit Nutrition

I love Amy Berger’s common sense approach to keto on Tuit Nutrition. She calls her approach Keto Without the Crazy, and that about sums it up. Her articles are long but very worth reading.

4) Ruled.me

At Ruled.me you’ll find mostly long-form articles that contain a ton of information about the keto diet. The site also provides an extensive recipe collection and other resources.

5) Healthful Pursuit

Healthful Pursuit is the home of Nutrition Educator and keto guru Leanne Vogel. Leanne provides a blend of blog posts, videos, and recipes to help you go keto in a healthy way. Much of the content is focused on keto for women, but men and women alike can benefit from the info provided.

6) Calories Proper

At Calories Proper, Dr. Bill Lagakos covers a wide range of topics related to nutrition, fasting, circadian biology, and much more. While it’s not a keto blog per se, keto is a frequent topic. In any case, you’re sure to learn a lot from the content here, which is heavily focused on reviewing and critiquing empirical research studies in an understandable way.

7) Ketogenic Athlete

Ketogenic Athlete is a well-rounded blog for strength and endurance athletes who are interested in using keto for training and performance.

8) The MAF Files at philmaffetone.com

Dr. Phil Maffetone has been using low-carb and keto diets to help athletes achieve breakthrough athletic performance for decades. His 180-age formula is a cornerstone of my Primal Endurance approach to become and fat- and keto-adapted athlete. The MAF Files covers a variety of topics that will be of interest to Primal and keto athletes.

9) HVMN

HVMN offers the only commercially available ketone ester supplement. The blog reflects their target audience: athletes and other high performers who are interested in using diet and lifestyle modifications—and possibly exogenous supplementation, of course—to harness the power of ketones.

10) Elana’s Pantry

Elana Amsterdam has long been one of my go-to sources for healthy, delicious paleo recipes, but more recently she has been using keto as part of her strategy to address her MS. I’ve never made an Elana’s Pantry recipe that wasn’t excellent. She also writes about a variety of topics related to health.

11) Castaway Kitchen

Christina Kurp shares how she used a combination of AIP and keto to fix her own health issues. Part wellness blog, part scrumptious recipe collection, Castaway Kitchen is a great resource for anyone looking for food inspo, especially if you have dietary restrictions.

12) Cast Iron Keto

Plainly put, Cast Iron Keto has food I like to eat: simple, delicious, keto-friendly. You’ll find lots of keto-fied classics here suitable for kids and non-keto types (making dinner that much easier).

Thanks for stopping in today, everyone. Have a favorite you didn’t see here? Share down below. Take care.

protein_bars_640x80

If you’d like to add an avatar to all of your comments click here!

Weekly Link Love — Edition 23

Last call to enter the Mark’s Daily Apple Ultimate Coffee Giveaway. This one closes Monday (4/8/19) at midnight PDT.

Research of the Week

Testosterone-induced aggression may be mediated by dopamine.

Cognitive reappraisal can make a workout seem easier.

In alcoholics, brain damage progresses even after they stop drinking.

Scientists may have debunked the existence of “depression genes.”

Sugar crash, not sugar rush.

Was fat more important for human brain development than meat?

Omega-3s tied to less asthma in children.

Both low and too-high intakes of sodium are linked to increased mortality. Around 4.5 grams per day seems to be optimal.

New Primal Blueprint Podcasts

Episode 323: Ste Lane: Host Elle Russ chats with Primal Health coach Ste Lane.

Episode 324: Keto: Discipline, Structure, Accountability, and Social Influences: Host Brad Kearns gets into social contagions.

Health Coach Radio Episode 6: Dr. Bo Neichoy: Dr. Bo Neichoy is a bariatric doctor whose clinic is staffed almost entirely by health coaches.

Each week, select Mark’s Daily Apple blog posts are prepared as Primal Blueprint Podcasts. Need to catch up on reading, but don’t have the time? Prefer to listen to articles while on the go? Check out the new blog post podcasts below, and subscribe to the Primal Blueprint Podcast here so you never miss an episode.

Media, Schmedia

Unhealthy diets are bigger killers than cigarettes and hypertension, experts say. Gotta love how they lump red meat in with “processed meat, sugar-sweetened beverages, and trans fats.”

The VA is set to partner with VirtaHealth to help vets with type 2 diabetes try low-carb.

Interesting Blog Posts

How blind people think about color.

How to use embodied movement practice to improve your squat.

Social Notes

Taking Dear Mark queries.

Everything Else

Another disease of civilization: “slowness rage.”

The Fall of the Vegan Prince.

A lot of incredible news came out on April 1st, but cloned mammoth meat has really got me interested.

Intermittent chemo.

Things I’m Up to and Interested In

I was surprised to see “April 2”: Snorting sugar could help fight respiratory illness.

I laughed: Morning routines normal people swear by.

Concept I found interesting: ADHD as the entrepreneurial trait.

I’m not holding my breath: “…followers of low-carb eating are hoping for a nod of approval in the upcoming U.S. dietary guidelines that advise Americans on what to eat.”

Another April 1st near miss: Oral sex associated with less miscarriage.

Question I’m Asking

Are you hoping for an official embrace of low-carb/Primal/keto eating by the authorities/experts/medical community?

Recipe Corner

Time Capsule

One year ago (Mar 31 – Apr 6)

Comment of the Week

“About to have my first child (Wife is in early labor now) I think i am going to need some coffee.”

– You don’t know how right you are, Brett.

collagenfuel_640x80

If you’d like to add an avatar to all of your comments click here!

Dear Mark: Exercise-Induced Asthma, CBD for Diabetes, Warm-ups In the Morning

For today’s edition of Dear Mark, I’m answering three questions from readers. First, what’s the deal with exercise-induced asthma? Is there anything we can do to lessen its impact and incidence? Second, is CBD oil helpful for diabetics? And finally, do bodyweight exercises always require warm-ups? What about workouts in general—do you need to warm-up before every single session?

Let’s find out:

The first question comes from Caue Cavallaro:

since you are the go-to person when it’s about health, for me, do you have any material related to exercise induced asthma? I had it every now and then but since I started training for triathlon it’s happening more often. Thank you!

This is a classic response. When I was doing triathlon (and training others in the sport), exercise-induced asthma was incredibly common. These were some of the fittest people on the planet, and yet they were wheezing and coughing like they were completely out of shape.

The common denominator was inflammation and oxidative stress. Back then, most of us didn’t know anything about either—and we were loading our bodies with tons of both. Anything you can do to reduce excess inflammation and oxidative stress in a healthy, sustainable manner will help.

First and foremost, how are you training? I’d really consider getting your hands on Primal Endurance or reading this post. The quick and dirty version is that to train the aerobic pathway, you have to go easier and slower than you think. Take 180 and subtract your age. That’s your target heart rate. Stay under it to remain aerobic. You’ll go so slow and so easy that it won’t even feel like you’re training. This will increase how fast you can go while remaining in the aerobic fat-burning zone, and it will limit your tendency to overtrain. Overtraining is the primary reason for exercise-induced asthma because when you overtrain, you’re heaping excessive inflammation and oxidative stress on your system. And you’re doing it every single time you train.

This “easier” style of endurance training is totally applicable to triathlon. Spend a good month or so (longer for most, but you’re probably reasonably fit and ahead of the game) focusing on that for the bulk of your training, building that aerobic base. Pepper in some more intense stuff, some “race pace” running/swimming/biking, some strength training and sprints.

How are you eating? Too many seed oils high in omega-6 fats and too many refined carbohydrates (to support the overtraining, of course) will tilt the balance toward inflammation and oxidative stress. Switch over to more saturated and monounsaturated fat sources, like butter, coconut oil, avocado oil, and olive oil. Be sure to eat fatty fish or take fish oil to balance out your omega-3:omega-6 ratio. Eat fewer carbs, and even consider going keto to enhance your fat-adaptation. The low carb approach goes hand in hand with training easier in the aerobic zone, as it demands less carbohydrate.

You’ll want to support your glutathione production with whey protein, raw dairy, and NAC supplements. Glutathione is the body’s premier in-house antioxidant. We most famously use it to detoxify harmful substances like alcohol and reduce oxidative stress, but glutathione also combines with nitric oxide to become a potent bronchodilator called nitrosoglutathione. Bronchodilators open up the airways and facilitate air flow. Having inadequate glutathione can impair your production of nitrosoglutathione and make your asthma worse—or trigger it.

Choline can help. Studies have shown that getting some extra choline reduces the airway inflammation and oxidative stress in people with asthma. You can take a choline supplement or eat a few egg yolks each day.

Good luck!

Regarding CBD/hemp oil, Carmen asked:

Is there oil for diabetics??

They’ve actually looked at CBD for diabetics. In animal studies, it reduces the incidence of diabetes and shows promise against diabetic complications like high glucose-induced endothelial dysfunction.

But the only human study was a bit of a dud. It compared CBD alone, CBD with THC, and THC alone in people with type 2 diabetes. Only the THC alone improved blood sugar, pancreatic beta cell function, and lipid numbers. CBD was ineffective, if harmless.

When you say, as soon as you wake up, do a quick superset of pushups – doesn’t it require a warm-up session beforehand? Can you really do them right away, as soon as you get out of bed? Is a warm-up not always essential?

I mean, you don’t have to do them right away. I can definitely see an argument for brushing the teeth and having some coffee first. For waking up a bit to get the most out of your workout. But if you work out on a regular basis and have a good base level of strength—which our commenter seems to have—you should be able to do basic bodyweight exercises without much of a warm-up.

If pushups are a major effort for a particular person, then a warm-up is a good idea.

As for the essentiality of warm-ups in general? Warm-ups become necessary when we stop moving for most of the day and do a big workout a few times a week. Warm-ups are necessary when we sit for 10 hours a day, using terrible posture the entire time. Warm-ups are important if you’re going really hard, really intense, and really heavy (think a big CrossFit WOD, a set of heavy deadlifts, or something similar). Warm-ups aren’t as essential if you make your entire lifestyle a movement session.

Thanks for reading, everyone. If you have any comments, input, or questions, leave it down below!

Take care.

phc_webinar_640x80

References:

Mehta AK, Singh BP, Arora N, Gaur SN. Choline attenuates immune inflammation and suppresses oxidative stress in patients with asthma. Immunobiology. 2010;215(7):527-34.

Weiss L, Zeira M, Reich S, et al. Cannabidiol arrests onset of autoimmune diabetes in NOD mice. Neuropharmacology. 2008;54(1):244-9.

Rajesh M, Mukhopadhyay P, Bátkai S, et al. Cannabidiol attenuates high glucose-induced endothelial cell inflammatory response and barrier disruption. Am J Physiol Heart Circ Physiol. 2007;293(1):H610-9.

Jadoon KA, Ratcliffe SH, Barrett DA, et al. Efficacy and Safety of Cannabidiol and Tetrahydrocannabivarin on Glycemic and Lipid Parameters in Patients With Type 2 Diabetes: A Randomized, Double-Blind, Placebo-Controlled, Parallel Group Pilot Study. Diabetes Care. 2016;39(10):1777-86.

If you’d like to add an avatar to all of your comments click here!

The Definitive Guide To Autophagy (and 7 Ways To Induce It)

Biological systems are self-maintaining. They have to be. We don’t have maintenance workers, mechanics, troubleshooters that can “take a look inside” and make sure everything’s running smoothly. Doctors perform a kind of biological maintenance, but even they are working blind from the outside.

No, for life to sustain itself, it has to perform automatic maintenance work on its cells, tissues, organs, and biological processes. One of the most important types of biological maintenance is a process called autophagy.

Autophagy: the word comes from the Greek for “self-eating,” and that’s a very accurate description: Autophagy is when a cell consumes the parts of itself that are damaged or malfunctioning. Lysosomes—members of the innate immune system that also degrade pathogens—degrade the damaged cellular material, making it available for energy and other metabolites.  It’s cellular pruning, and it’s an important part of staving off the worst parts of the aging process.

In study after study, we find that impairment to or reductions of normal levels of autophagy are linked to almost every age-related degenerative disease and malady you can imagine.

  • Cancer: Autophagy can inhibit the establishment of cancer by removing malfunctioning cellular material before it becomes problematic. Once cancer is established, however, autophagy can enhance tumor growth.
  • Diabetes: Impaired autophagy enables the progression from obesity to diabetes via pancreatic beta cell degradation and insulin resistance. Impaired autophagy also accompanies the serious complications related to diabetes, like kidney disease and heart failure.
  • Heart disease: Autophagy plays an important role in all aspects of heart health.
  • Osteoporosis: Both human and animal studies indicate that autophagy dysfunction precedes osteoporosis.
  • Alzheimer’s disease: Early stage Alzheimer’s disease is linked to deficits in autophagy.
  • Muscle loss: Autophagy preserves muscle tissue; loss of autophagy begins the process of age-related muscle atrophy.

Okay, so autophagy is rather important. It’s fundamental to health.

But how does autophagy happen?

The way it’s supposed to happen is this:

Humans traditionally and historically lived in a very different food environment. Traditionally and historically, humans were feasters and fasters. While I don’t think our paleolithic ancestors were miserable, wretched, perpetually starving creatures scuttling from one rare meal to the next—the fossil records show incredibly robust remains, with powerful bones and healthy teeth and little sign of nutritional deficits—they also couldn’t stroll down to the local Whole Foods for a cart full of ingredients. Going without food from time to time was a fundamental aspect of human ancestral life.

They worked for their food. I don’t mean “sat in a cubicle to get a paycheck to spend on groceries.” I mean they expended calories to obtain food. They hunted—and sometimes came back empty handed. They dug and climbed and rooted around and gathered. They walked, ran, stalked, jumped, lifted. Movement was a necessity.

In short, they experienced energy deficits on a regular basis. And energy deficits, particularly sustained energy deficits, are the primary triggers for autophagy. Without energy deficits, you remain in fed mode and never quite hit the fasted mode required for autophagy.

Now compare that ancestral food environment to the modern food environment:

Almost no one goes hungry. Food is cheap and plentiful, with the tastiest and most calorie-rich stuff tending to be the cheapest and most widely available.

Few people have to physically work for their food. We drive to the store and walk a couple hundred steps, hand over some money, and—BOOM—obtain thirty thousand calories, just like that. Or someone comes to our house and delivers the food directly.

We eat all the time. Unless you set out to do it, chances are you’ll be grazing, snacking, and nibbling throughout the day. We’re in a perpetually fed state.

The average person in a modern society eating a modern industrial diet rarely goes long enough without eating something to trigger autophagy. Nor are they expending enough energy to create an energy deficit from the other end—the output. It’s understandable. If our ancestors were thrust into our current situation, many would fall all over themselves to take advantage of the modern food environment. But that doesn’t make it desirable, or good for you. It just means that figuring out how to trigger autophagy becomes that much more vital for modern humans.

Here are 7 ways to induce autophagy with regular lifestyle choices.

1) Fast

There’s no better way to quickly and reliably induce a large energy deficit than not eating anything at all. There are no definitive studies identifying “optimal” fasting guidelines for autophagy in humans. Longer fasts probably allow deeper levels of autophagy, but shorter fasts are no slouch.

2) Get Keto-Adapted

When you’re keto- and fat-adapted, it takes you less time to hit serious autophagy upon commencing a fast. You’re already halfway there.

3) Train Regularly

With exercise-related autophagy, the biggest effects are seen with lifelong training, not acute. In mice, for example, the mice who are subjected to lifelong exercise see the most autophagy-related benefits. In people, those who have played soccer (football) for their entire lives have far more autophagy-related markers of gene activity than people of the same age who have not trained their whole lives.

4) Train Hard

In studies of acute exercise-induced autophagy, the intensity of the exercise is the biggest predictor of autophagy—even more than whether the athletes are in the fed or fasted state.

5) Drink Coffee

At least in mice, both caffeinated and decaffeinated coffee induce autophagy in the liver, muscle tissue, and heart. This effect persists even when the coffee is given alongside ad libitum food. These mice didn’t have to fast for the coffee to induce autophagy.

Certain nutrients can trigger autophagy, too….

6) Eat Turmeric

Curcumin, the primary phytonutrient in turmeric, is especially effective at inducing autophagy in the mitochondria (mitophagy).

7) Consume Extra Virgin Olive Oil

The anticancer potential of its main antioxidant, oleuropein, likely occurs via autophagy.

Disclaimer: The autophagy/nutrient literature is anything but definitive. Most studies take place in test tube settings, not living humans. Eating some turmeric probably won’t flip a switch and trigger autophagy right away, but it won’t hurt.

Autophagy is a long game.

This can’t be underscored enough: Autophagy is a lifelong pursuit attained by regular doses of exercise and not overeating every time you sit down to a meal. Staying so ketotic your pee tests look like a Prince album cover, doing epic 7-day fasts every month, fasting every other day, making sure you end every day with fully depleted liver glycogen—while these strategies might be “effective,” obsessing over their measures to hit some “optimal” level of constant autophagy isn’t the point and is likely to activate or trigger neurotic behavior.

Besides, we don’t know what “optimal autophagy” looks like. Autophagy isn’t easy to measure in live humans. You can’t order an “autophagy test” from your doc. We don’t even know if more autophagy is necessarily better. There’s the fact that unchecked autophagy can actually increase existing cancer in some cases. There’s the fact that too much autophagy in the wrong place might be bad. We just don’t know very much. Autophagy is important. It’s good to have some happening. That’s what we have to go on.

Putting These Tips Into Practice

Autophagy happens largely when you just live a healthy lifestyle. Get some exercise and daily activity. Go hard every now and then. Sleep deeply. Recover well. Don’t eat carbohydrates you don’t need and haven’t earned (and I don’t just mean “earned through glycogen depleting-exercise”). Reach ketosis sometimes. Don’t eat more food than you need. Drink coffee, even decaf.

All those caveats aside, I see the utility in doing a big “autophagy session” a few times a year. Here’s how mine looks:

  1. Do a big training session incorporating strength training and sprints. Lots of intense bursts. This will trigger autophagy.
  2. Fast for two or three days. This will push autophagy even further.
  3. Stay busy throughout the fast. Take as many walks as possible. This will really ramp up the fat burning and get you quickly into ketosis, another autophagy trigger.
  4. Drink coffee throughout the fast. Coffee is a nice boost to autophagy. Decaf is fine.

I know people are often skeptical of using “Grok logic,” but it’s likely that most human ancestors experienced similar “perfect storms” of deprivation-induced autophagy on occasion throughout the year. You track an animal for a couple days and come up short, or it takes that long to make the kill. You nibble on various stimulants plucked from the land along the way. You walk a ton and sprint some, then lift heavy. And finally, maybe, you get to eat.

If you find yourself aging well, you’re on the right track. If you’re not progressing from obesity to diabetes, you’re good to go. If you’re maintaining and even building your muscle despite qualifying for the blue plate special, you’ve probably dipping into the autophagy pathway. If you’re thinking clearly, I wouldn’t worry. Obviously, we can’t really see what’s happening on the inside. But if everything you can verify is going well, keep it up.

That’s it for today, folks. If you have any more questions about autophagy, leave them down below and I’ll try to get to all of them in future posts.

Thanks for reading!

fuel_640x80

References:

Yang ZJ, Chee CE, Huang S, Sinicrope FA. The role of autophagy in cancer: therapeutic implications. Mol Cancer Ther. 2011;10(9):1533-41.

Barlow AD, Thomas DC. Autophagy in diabetes: ?-cell dysfunction, insulin resistance, and complications. DNA Cell Biol. 2015;34(4):252-60.

Sasaki Y, Ikeda Y, Iwabayashi M, Akasaki Y, Ohishi M. The Impact of Autophagy on Cardiovascular Senescence and Diseases. Int Heart J. 2017;58(5):666-673.

Florencio-silva R, Sasso GR, Simões MJ, et al. Osteoporosis and autophagy: What is the relationship?. Rev Assoc Med Bras (1992). 2017;63(2):173-179.

Li Q, Liu Y, Sun M. Autophagy and Alzheimer’s Disease. Cell Mol Neurobiol. 2017;37(3):377-388.

Jiao J, Demontis F. Skeletal muscle autophagy and its role in sarcopenia and organismal aging. Curr Opin Pharmacol. 2017;34:1-6.

Schwalm C, Jamart C, Benoit N, et al. Activation of autophagy in human skeletal muscle is dependent on exercise intensity and AMPK activation. FASEB J. 2015;29(8):3515-26.

De oliveira MR, Jardim FR, Setzer WN, Nabavi SM, Nabavi SF. Curcumin, mitochondrial biogenesis, and mitophagy: Exploring recent data and indicating future needs. Biotechnol Adv. 2016;34(5):813-826.

Przychodzen P, Wyszkowska R, Gorzynik-debicka M, Kostrzewa T, Kuban-jankowska A, Gorska-ponikowska M. Anticancer Potential of Oleuropein, the Polyphenol of Olive Oil, With 2-Methoxyestradiol, Separately or in Combination, in Human Osteosarcoma Cells. Anticancer Res. 2019;39(3):1243-1251.

If you’d like to add an avatar to all of your comments click here!

Weekly Link Love — Edition 21

Research of the Week

“Thermally-abused” (great term) soybean oil promotes breast cancer progression.

Big moralizing gods came after the rise of civilizations.

Strong weed linked to psychosis.

Reindeer brew alcohol in their bodies to deal with cold winters.

The link between statins and type 2 diabetes is even stronger than we thought.

“Ancient monkey bone tools.” That is all.

Case study: ketogenic diet (plus exercise and time restricted eating) rescues cognition in patient with Alzheimer’s disease.

Paleo ketogenic diets for cancer: more case studies.

Military personnel who maintained strict adherence to a ketogenic diet lost weight, lost visceral fat, and improved body composition without compromising physical performance.

New Primal Blueprint Podcasts

Episode 321: Maria Emmerich: Host Elle Russ chats with keto nutritionist Maria Emmerich.

Health Coach Radio Episode 4: Laura Rupsis: Erin Power interviews her co-host, Laura Rupsis.

Each week, select Mark’s Daily Apple blog posts are prepared as Primal Blueprint Podcasts. Need to catch up on reading, but don’t have the time? Prefer to listen to articles while on the go? Check out the new blog post podcasts below, and subscribe to the Primal Blueprint Podcast here so you never miss an episode.

Media, Schmedia

Amazon removes some anti-vaccine books. Other tech companies are following suit. Maybe that’s a pretty safe target, but what about when they start targeting “dietary misinformation”?

The BMJ stops carrying infant formula advertisements.

Interesting Blog Posts

Why nutritional psychiatry is the future of mental health treatment.

How we’ll know AI is conscious.

The liver is not a filter.

Social Notes

How I train my abs.

Everything Else

Bhang, a traditional cannabis-infused drink popular during the Indian festival of Holi.

Some doctors are saying you should wean yourself off antidepressants very slowly—over months or years rather than weeks.

The fascinating effect soft foods had on human language.

Tucker Goodrich responds to Gary Taubes on seed oils.

Who were the Neanderthals?

Things I’m Up to and Interested In

Always glad to be included in “hot health trends.”

I’m glad to hear: Scientists come out against the abuse of statistical significance.

Concept I found interesting: A futurist’s dim view of the future smart home.

Guide I’m reading: The EWG’s 2019 guide to pesticides on produce.

I agree: We need to re-assess the impact of intensive grazing on carbon balance.

I’m flabbergasted: You mean I shouldn’t be injecting fruit smoothies into my veins?

Question I’m Asking

What’s your vision of the future—optimistic or dystopian?

Recipe Corner

Time Capsule

One year ago (Mar 17 – Mar 23)

Comment of the Week

“Oh, man. Thanks for the bonus ab workout from the hilarious gummy bear link.”

– Just be careful of overtraining, whitedaisy.

saladdressings_640x80

If you’d like to add an avatar to all of your comments click here!

Keto Bloat: Separating Fact from Fiction

Move over, keto crotch. There’s a new fear-mongering anti-keto media blitz forming: keto bloat.

According to the “good scientists” of the Kellogg company food lab, an unprecedented number of young people are walking around with bloated guts and colons packed to the brim with impacted fecal matter, and it’s all because they’ve embraced ketogenic diets and “forsaken” fiber.

If this sounds like nonsense, that’s because it is.

Are millions of keto dieters suffering from bloating and constipation? I can find no evidence of this.

Is fiber necessary to prevent bloating and constipation? It’s complicated. I’ll explain later. But probably not.

Does the ketogenic diet necessarily exclude fiber? Not at all.

Are ketogenic diets as commonly practiced low in fiber? No.

What Is “Bloat” Anyway?

There are two things that people refer to as bloat: constipation and abdominal distension.

Constipation has different components. It’s being unable to make a satisfying bowel movement. It’s also feeling like you have to poop but are unable to. It’s being able to poop only a little bit. It’s struggling on the toilet bowl. Mostly, it’s being unhappy with your performance on the toilet.

Abdominal distension also can be different things. It might be trapped gas. It might be feeling “heavy” or “full.” It might mean your pants don’t fit after eating.

So, “bloating” can be any or all of these. You can pass hard small stools and feel like you’re bloated. You can poop just fine but have a lot of gas and feel like you’re bloated. You can spend hours on the toilet with not much to show for your effort and be bloated. So “Keto bloat” is difficult to pin down. That makes it easy to make claims and hard to disprove.

Let’s see how frequent bloating and constipation occurs in the ketogenic diet literature.

What Does Research Say About Constipation?

In a study of children with epilepsy placed on an olive oil-based ketogenic diet, about 25% of the subjects experienced constipation. So, was ketosis slowing them down? Not exactly. Those who experienced constipation were actually less likely to be in ketosis. Constipation went up as ketone readings went down, and epilepsy symptoms returned. Constipation improved as ketone readings went up and epilepsy symptoms subsided.

In adults with epilepsy on a ketogenic diet, constipation occurred in just 9% of patients. The authors note that this rate is lower than some other ketogenic studies and attribute the difference to “the heavy focus on importance of fiber from nutrient dense (fiber rich) vegetables, nuts, and seeds.” Note that they weren’t getting fiber from pills and powders. They were eating nutrient-dense foods that just so happened to contain fiber.

Another ten-year study compared the classical ketogenic diet, MCT oil-based ketogenic diet, and modified Atkins keto diet. They were all equally effective at reducing epilepsy symptoms in children, but the occurrence of constipation varied greatly. It was most common in the classic keto diet and medium chain triglyceride-based diet, both of which restrict protein. In the modified Atkins diet, which does not restrict protein, constipation was much rarer. Another study on the modified Atkins diet had similar results, with just 2 of 26 subjects reporting constipation.

Constipation does seem to be a common occurrence. However, the majority of keto diet studies are in epileptic populations following very strict clinical Keto diets. The extreme nature of these therapeutic ketogenic diets—extreme protein (7% of calories) and carbohydrate restriction—makes them an imperfect representation of how most people are eating Keto. And in studies of less-extreme, more realistic versions of the diet, such as modified Atkins (which allows more protein) or the version with “heavy focus” on vegetables, nuts, and seeds, constipation occurs at a much lower rate.

What Does Research Say About Bloating?

The only instance of something approximating bloating in the ketogenic diet literature occurred in studies using medium chain triglyceride-based diets. These are ones that use huge amounts of MCT oil to increase production of ketone bodies. It works great for curbing epilepsy symptoms, but it can also cause cramping, diarrhea, and abdominal pain. That’s not bloating per se. It’s literally the closest I could find.

Causes Of Bloating While Keto?

Okay, say you are dealing with constipation or bloating on a keto diet. What could be going on?

Not Enough Food

Constipation is often a consequence of low energy status. Everything that happens in the body requires energy, and if energy levels are low or energy availability is poor, basic functions will suffer. Bowel movements are no exception. The muscles and other tissues responsible for moving things along your digestive tract use energy. If you aren’t providing adequate amounts of energy, you’re depriving your tissues of the ATP they need to work best and sending your body a signal of scarcity which will only depress energy expenditure even more.

Low carb diets in general and keto diets in particular are very good at causing inadvertent calorie reduction. Great for fat loss, but some people take it overboard and go too far. I’m talking 800-1000 calories a day on top of CrossFit. That’s a recipe for disaster.

Water and Mineral Loss

When you go Keto for the first time, you shed tons of water. For every gram of glycogen you lose, you drop 3-4 grams of water. You also lose sodium and potassium with the water, and you need extra magnesium to regulate your sodium and potassium levels.

The water content of stool is what gives it that smooth texture we all desire. If you’re dehydrated, even mildly, you’ll have less water available for your bowel movements and be more likely to suffer from constipation.

Drink a big glass of salty water with lemon juice in the morning and sip on salty broth throughout the day. Zucchini is a great source of potassium, as is avocado.

Also, if you’re going to eat more fiber, you need to increase water intake for it to work.

Too Much or Too Little Fiber

The relationship between fiber and constipation is mixed. Some interventions do seem to help. Psyllium husk and flaxseed have both been shown to improve constipation. Galactooligosaccharides, a class of prebiotic fiber, improve idiopathic constipation. And inulin, another prebiotic fiber, improves bowel function and stool consistency in patients with constipation.

But there’s also evidence that more fiber can make the problem worse. In one 2012 study, patients with idiopathic constipation—constipation without apparent physiological or physical causes—had to remove fiber entirely to get pooping again. Those who kept eating a bit or a lot of it continued to have trouble evacuating. The more fiber they ate, the worse their constipation (and bloating) remained. Another review found mixed evidence; some people get less bloating and constipation with more fiber, others get less bloating and constipation with less fiber.

Personally, my toilet performance is stellar with or without a constant intake of voluminous levels of plant matter. Most days I eat a good amount—Big Ass Salads, broccoli, sautéed greens, berries—but on the days I don’t, I don’t notice any difference. I’m suspicious of the widespread calls for bowel-rending levels of fiber as the universal panacea for all things toilet, and I’m also suspicious of the people who claim fiber is unnecessary or even harmful.

Fiber helps some people and hampers others. There’s no one-size-fits-all with fiber, especially since there are many different types of fiber.

Too Many Sugar Substitutes

I get it. There are some interesting candies out there that cater to the Keto set and use various sugar alcohols—non-alcoholic, low-or-no calorie versions of sugar—artificial sweeteners, and fibers to recreate popular treats. It’s fun to eat an entire chocolate bar that tastes pretty close to the real thing and get just a few net carbs. But that’s a lot of fermentable substrate your gut bugs are more than happy to turn to gas.

If you want the opposite problem, you can always turn to Haribo sugar-free gummy bears.

FODMAP Intolerance

FODMAPs stands for fermentable oligosaccharides, disaccharides, monosaccharides, and polyols—the carbohydrates in plants that our gut bacteria usually mop up. Most people have gut biomes that can handle FODMAPs; indeed, most people derive beneficial short chain fatty acids from their fermentation. But some people’s gut biomes produce too much fermentation when they encounter FODMAPs. Fermentation begets hydrogen gas, which gathers in the gut and causes great distress. Common complaints of the FODMAP intolerant are bloating, stomach pain, and visits to the toilet that are either unproductive or way too productive—all of which fall into the bloating category.

The myth is that Keto people are eating salami and cream cheese for every meal. The reality is that many people go Primal or Keto and find they’re eating way more vegetables than they ever have before. These are great developments, usually, but if you’re intolerant of FODMAP fibers, you may worsen the bloating.

What Can You Do?

Eat enough protein. Most people can get away with eating 15-25% of their calories from protein and still stay in ketosis. Most people can eat even more protein and still get most of the benefits of fat-adaptation. The keto studies which had the lowest rates of constipation were far more tolerant of higher protein intakes.

Eat FODMAPs unless you’re intolerant. Most people can eat FODMAPs. In most people, FODMAPs improve gut health and reduce constipation and bloating. But if your gut blows up after a few bites of broccoli or asparagus, consult the FODMAPs list and try a quick FODMAP elimination diet.

Make sure you’re truly constipated. Your stool volume and frequency of toilet visits will decline on a normal ketogenic diet because there’s less “waste.” Make sure you’re not misinterpreting that as constipation or bloating. If there’s less poop, there’s less poop. If there’s more poop but it’s just not coming, and you have to go but can’t, that’s when you have an issue.

Experiment with fiber. Fiber clearly has a relationship to bloating and constipation. You just have to figure out what that looks like in your diet.

  • If you’re bloated and constipated on a high-plant Keto Diet, eat fewer plants.
  • If you’re bloated and constipated on a low-plant Keto Diet, try eating more plants. If that doesn’t help, go zero-plant.
  • If you’re bloated and constipated on a zero-plant Keto Diet, try eating more plants. .

We all have to find our sweet spot.

So, to sum up, “keto bloat” is mostly a myth. There’s a glimmer of truth there, but it’s highly exaggerated. Constipation is common on the most restrictive clinical keto diets, while eating fiber from whole plant foods, being less restrictive with protein, and making sure you’re drinking enough water and eating enough calories and electrolytes seems to avoid the worst of it.

What’s been your experience with bloating and constipation? How have you handled it?

collagenfuel_640x80

References:

Ho KS, Tan CY, Mohd daud MA, Seow-choen F. Stopping or reducing dietary fiber intake reduces constipation and its associated symptoms. World J Gastroenterol. 2012;18(33):4593-6.

Müller-lissner SA, Kamm MA, Scarpignato C, Wald A. Myths and misconceptions about chronic constipation. Am J Gastroenterol. 2005;100(1):232-42.

Guzel O, Uysal U, Arslan N. Efficacy and tolerability of olive oil-based ketogenic diet in children with drug-resistant epilepsy: A single center experience from Turkey. Eur J Paediatr Neurol. 2019;23(1):143-151.

Roehl K, Falco-walter J, Ouyang B, Balabanov A. Modified ketogenic diets in adults with refractory epilepsy: Efficacious improvements in seizure frequency, seizure severity, and quality of life. Epilepsy Behav. 2019;

Liu YM. Medium-chain triglyceride (MCT) ketogenic therapy. Epilepsia. 2008;49 Suppl 8:33-6.

Arnaud MJ. Mild dehydration: a risk factor of constipation?. Eur J Clin Nutr. 2003;57 Suppl 2:S88-95.

Noureddin S, Mohsen J, Payman A. Effects of psyllium vs. placebo on constipation, weight, glycemia, and lipids: A randomized trial in patients with type 2 diabetes and chronic constipation. Complement Ther Med. 2018;40:1-7.

If you’d like to add an avatar to all of your comments click here!

The Curious Phenomenon of “Keto Crotch”

I have a confession to make: I, Mark Sisson, suffer from keto crotch.

It’s embarrassing, really. I thought maybe it was just the change in climate moving from Malibu to Miami—the humidity, the heat, the fact that I’m paddling and swimming more often now. There’s a whole lot of moisture down there. Perpetual steaminess.

But then I met up with my writing partner and good pal Brad Kearns, who’s been working with me on my upcoming book. Brad lives in Northern California, which is far from hot or humid right now. He’s also a staunch keto guy most of the time, and, well, let’s just say I could smell him before I could see him. We met up at a coffee shop and cleared out everyone in a fifteen foot radius. We sampled a new exogenous ketone product he’s been trying and not one, not two, but three separate individuals approached to inquire if we were salmon fishermen.

Okay, let’s get serious. Does “keto crotch” really exist? And, if it does, what can you do to prevent it?

I’m writing this not because of overwhelming demand from loyal followers of the Keto Reset plan. In fact, I hadn’t ever heard of “keto crotch” before last week. There’s a good chance almost no one heard of it before March 2019, if Google Trend data for “keto crotch” searches is any indication. I’m writing this post because the barrage of news articles, Twitter hashtag campaigns, and extremely serious warnings from people with lots of acronyms after their name has led people to ask me if it’s a legitimate phenomenon. A few acquaintances have brought it up in social situations. Our marketing director found herself fielding keto crotch questions at a dinner for Expo West last week.

So, are women following a ketogenic diet experiencing an epidemic of stinky vaginas?

Probably not.

Is Keto Crotch Even Physiologically Plausible?

Vaginal odor does change. It fluctuates naturally, and sometimes it can get worse. The most common cause of unpleasant changes to vaginal odor is bacterial vaginosis, which occurs when something upsets the balance between the beneficial lactobacilli bacteria that normally live in the vagina and pathogenic bacteria. What can upset the balance?

The vagina is supposed to be an acidic environment; that’s how the healthy lactobacilli thrive. If something upsets that pH balance, tilting it toward alkalinity, unhealthy bacteria gain a foothold and become predominant, and begin producing unpleasant-smelling amines like putrescine, tyramine, and cadaverine. This is bacterial vaginosis. As it turns out, the lactobacilli bacteria normally present in the vagina are instrumental in maintaining an acidic pH. They consume glycogen, spit out lactic acid, and exert antimicrobial and antifungal effects that block common vaginal pathogens like candida, e. coli, and gardnerella from taking hold and causing trouble.

The interaction between diet and vaginal biome is understudied. To my knowledge, there exist no direct controlled trials that address the issue. It’d be great to have a study take a cohort of women, split them up into different dietary groups, and follow them for a year,  tracking their vaginal pH and bacterial levels. Alas, we do not.

We do have a study that provides a hint. In 2011, researchers looked for correlations between dietary patterns and bacterial vaginosis in a cohort of nearly 2000 non-pregnant mostly African-American women aged 15-44. While there probably weren’t many keto dieters, and the diets as a whole were of the standard American variety, glycemic load—which basically boils down to carb load—was the strongest predictor of bacterial vaginosis. Other markers of food quality, like a person’s adherence to “healthy eating guidelines,” initially seemed to reduce the chance of bacterial vaginosis, but those relationships were almost abolished after controlling for other factors. Only glycemic load remained highly significant.

This connection between dietary glycemic load and bacterial vaginosis starts looking more causal when you realize that diabetes—a disease where one’s “glycemic load” is perpetually elevated and exaggerated—is another risk factor for bacterial vaginosis.

There’s also a 2007 study that found “high” intakes of dietary fat, particularly saturated and monounsaturated fat, were a significant predictor of bacterial vaginosis. In this study, “high fat” meant around 39% of energy from fat. That leaves 61% of energy from carbohydrate and protein, the kind of “high-fat, high-carb” Standard American No-Man’s-Land that’s landed the country in the current metabolic predicament. High-fat intakes in the presence of high-carb intakes may very well be bad for your vagina, but it says nothing about the likelihood of keto crotch.

At any rate, neither study was a controlled trial, so we can’t say anything about causality.

What about a yeast infection? The most common offender is candida, which usually favors sugar for fuel, but there’s also evidence that it can metabolize ketones. Could keto make a latent yeast infection worse and lead to smelly “keto crotch”?

Perhaps keto can make candida worse (that’s for another day), but that’s not the cause of “keto crotch.” Candida vagina infections don’t smell very much, if at all, and they certainly don’t smell “fishy.” That’s only caused by bacteria and the aforementioned amines they can produce.

Free glycogen levels in vaginal fluid are a strong predictor of bacterial vaginosis. If ample glycogen is available, the good lactic acid bacteria have plenty of food and produce plenty of lactic acid to maintain the acidic pH conducive to vaginal health. If inadequate glycogen is present, the lactic acid bacteria have less food and produce less lactic acid, increasing the chances of the pH tilting toward alkalinity. An alkaline vagina is a vagina where pathogenic bacteria—the ones that produce stinky amines—can establish themselves.

The question then is if ketogenic diets lower free glycogen in the vaginal fluid. That’s a fair question. I wasn’t able to find any solid answers. I guess “ketosis effect on vaginal glycogen” isn’t the most lucrative avenue of scientific inquiry.

Should I Worry?

Even assuming this is a real phenomenon, it’s a rare one. The vast, vast majority of people following a ketogenic diet aren’t coming down with keto crotch. Other than a few Reddit posts from the past 5 years, I haven’t seen anyone at all in our neck of the woods complain.

Maybe people doing Primal keto are eating more nutrient-dense ketogenic diets than people doing conventional (or caricature) keto. Salads, steaks, eggs, and lots of non-starchy veggies are a great way to stay keto and obtain micronutrients. And there are links between micronutrient status and bacterial vaginosis. The most common relevant deficiencies include vitamin D (correcting the deficiency can cure the vaginosis) and folate. Hard to get adequate folate if your diet is based on salami and cream cheese.

We also know that the health of your skin biome tracks closely with that of your gut, and that eating plenty of non-starchy veggies, fermented foods (yogurt, kefir, sauerkraut, kimchi, etc), and colorful produce can provide prebiotic fiber, prebiotic polyphenols, and probiotic bacteria that nourish your gut biome. If the vaginal biome is also connected to the gut biome (and it is), tending to the latter should also have positive effects on the former.

The Primal brand of keto tends to emphasize micronutrients and gut health a bit more than some other types of keto I see floating around. If—and it’s a very big “if”—keto crotch is legit, that may explain some of the discrepancy.

Finally, be sure to check out this very interesting Twitter thread where the author lays out his suspicions that the whole “keto crotch” phenomenon might be a manufactured stunt designed to vilify the ascendant ketogenic diet. Nothing definitive, but it’s certainly food for thought.

If You’re Concerned…

Okay. Say you’ve recently gone keto and your vagina is smellier than usual. (And you’ve ruled out other, more obvious potential causes like changes in soaps, etc.) It’s hard to ignore, and I wouldn’t want you to. What can you do?

  • Confirm that you have bacterial vaginosis. Seriously, get it checked out.
  • Make sure you’re getting enough folate and vitamin D. Supplement if need be.
  • Eat prebiotics and probiotics. Fermented food and/or a good probiotic supplement.
  • Try a carb refeed. If ketosis depletes vaginal glycogen and increases pH, the occasional carb refeed could restore glycogen by 30-50 grams and should do the trick. Note that this is entirely theoretical; I’m not saying it’s a “problem” on keto.
  • Hang out in the keto zone. I’ve written about the keto zone—that metabolic state where you’ve reached full keto and fat-adaptation and find yourself shifting in and out of ketosis as you please due to increased metabolic flexibility. A few carbs here, a fasting day there, a few more days of keto. Again, if full keto is theoretically depleting vaginal glycogen, maybe relaxing your restrictions will solve the issue while maintaining your fat adaptation. This is actually where I hang out most of the time.

That’s it for today, folks. Do you have “keto crotch”? Do you know anyone who does? Or did your vaginal health improve on keto? I’m curious to hear what everyone’s experiences have been, so don’t be shy.

Take care and be well.

paleobootcampcourse_640x80

References:

Thoma ME, Klebanoff MA, Rovner AJ, et al. Bacterial vaginosis is associated with variation in dietary indices. J Nutr. 2011;141(9):1698-704.

Kalra B, Kalra S. Vulvovaginitis and diabetes. J Pak Med Assoc. 2017;67(1):143-145.

Taheri M, Baheiraei A, Foroushani AR, Nikmanesh B, Modarres M. Treatment of vitamin D deficiency is an effective method in the elimination of asymptomatic bacterial vaginosis: A placebo-controlled randomized clinical trial. Indian J Med Res. 2015;141(6):799-806.

Dunlop AL, Taylor RN, Tangpricha V, Fortunato S, Menon R. Maternal vitamin D, folate, and polyunsaturated fatty acid status and bacterial vaginosis during pregnancy. Infect Dis Obstet Gynecol. 2011;2011:216217.

If you’d like to add an avatar to all of your comments click here!